It is widely accepted that Americans are extremely charitable and willing to reach into their pockets to change a life, inevitably changing themselves. According to the Giving USA Foundation, American individuals, corporations, and foundations gave a total of $303.75 billion to charities in 2009, proving that “red-white-and-blue” may ultimately mean “in the black” for countless nonprofit organizations. But that number proved a downswing from the year prior - a shift linked to economic woes that serves as a reminder that charities, more than ever, need more funding to fulfill their goals.
“Although the people of Southern Maryland are known to be quite generous in giving their time, talents, and money, the economy has had an effect on many of the nonprofits in the area,” according to Dorothy Harper, president and CEO of United Way of Charles County. “United Way of Charles County has seen a definite decrease in the donations over the last three years. [We rely] on the generosity of individuals who give through their payroll-deduction plan at their place of employment. Approximately 85 percent of our funds come from these donors who give through the school system, county government, and private sector, and through the federal government workplace through the Combined Federal Campaign,” she explains. “[However], the most important thing for people to remember is that nonprofits are struggling to help people in the community at a time when the community is not giving as much to the nonprofits.”
In this article, we spotlight three Southern Maryland charities and examine some of the lives they have touched, the challenges they have overcome, and the strides they are making. The charities are:
— Calvert County-based The Arc of Southern Maryland, which runs services and programs for the intellectually and developmentally disabled and whose 350 employees tri-county-wide, and core of devoted volunteers, are enriching the lives of those living with disabilities, as well as working one-on-one with their families;
— St. Mary’s County-based Leah’s House, a shelter for women and children that receives widespread grassroots support and whose current facility came together with the help of dozens of businesses and organizations, and the public, in 2008; and
— Charles County-based Throw-aways’ Rescue Foundation Ltd., a small nonprofit whose volunteers live the credo that every cat’s life has value and believe that spaying and neutering can help reduce the amount of animals needlessly put to death each year.
All of the charities are in compliance with the Maryland Solicitations Act. More information on charities, including disclosure and financial statements, query and search links, and information on giving wisely, is available online at www.sos.state.md.us/charity/charityhome.aspx.
A Charitable Calling
In Maryland, there are 9,562 organizations registered to solicit charitable contributions in the state, according to Michael Schlein, an investigator with the Charities and Legal Services Division of the Office of the Secretary of State.
Although a similar statistic does not exist for the tri-county region, the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) lists hundreds of public charities operating in Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties. These charities’ grassroots causes are divergent and include help for the impoverished, services for those with substance abuse problems, shelter for the homeless, aid to animals, care for the sick and dying, advocacy and services for the disabled, and concern for the environment and the area’s history. Often, their missions extend beyond the causes célèbres, and their work is constant and far from glamorous.
Charities can impact their communities in ways of which some people may not be aware: debunking stigmas, helping children, providing services that narrow gaps even government programs have been unable to close, and educating the public about important issues. As The Arc of Southern Maryland’s executive director Harriet Yaffe explains, “We are totally obsessed with our mission. This is not just a job - it’s a calling.”
The Arc’s Arch to the Community
The Arc of Southern Maryland is one of the leading advocates in Southern Maryland for children and adults with intellectual and development disabilities. Its programs include 24-hour residential support, employment training and placement, recreational and socialization programs, and family support. The Arc is an undeniable indicator of how those with disabilities are transitioning from being warehoused, labeled, and misunderstood to having fuller lives and greater community support.
Twenty-six-year-old Lusby resident Brandon Scicluna, for instance, receives services through The Arc’s supported employment program. He has a touchstone, The Arc employee Mary Gosnell, who acts as a liaison between Scicluna and his employer, Fastop. Gosnell visits Scicluna’s job site, talks with Scicluna about how his job is going, hones in on the job skills and resources that Scicluna needs to excel, and interfaces with his employer to help work through any issues. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Scicluna and Fastop have an employer-employee relationship that benefits both.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like not having The Arc,” says Scicluna’s mother, Mary Sutton. She recalls what it was like trying to find her son a job after high school and not knowing where to turn to help him fulfill his vocational capabilities. Years later, The Arc would surface as a godsend.
Although there is much more to be done nationwide, Yaffe points out how nonprofits like The Arc bring to the fore a discussion of how those with disabilities are portrayed in the media, the disrespectful and hurtful terms that have been used for years, and the value of public information and programs that link the disabled with those in their communities. She points to The Arc’s clients working with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) volunteers during a Halloween Haunt as having a lasting impact for both groups.
The Arc is well-entrenched and well-known, with a total operating budget of about $13 million annually. However, its existence and the credibility is has built in the tri-county region are proof that nonprofits, overall, must build long-term sustainability through varying funding streams: donors and contributors, organizations, businesses, government partners, grants, and specific fundraising programs and events. The Arc is also evidence that larger charities are hurting as they try to stay afloat financially during the economic downturn and funding cuts.
“Ninety-four percent of [our annual budget] represents earned income for the services we deliver,” says Yaffe. “This income comes from state, federal, and local governments, and clients fees. Six percent of the budget represents charitable contributions, including United Way, membership, and direct donations. More and more, we rely on our charitable contributions to help people who fall between the cracks.”
The Arc has had a presence in Southern Maryland since the 1960s, when it was just a vision shared by a small group of people. But today its success is indicative of how perseverance and strategies - such as tapping major grants and focusing on well-honed communications - can yield positive results and build awareness. (Its 2009 annual report featured someone holding up a sign that read, “Please don’t cut my funding.”) In the 1980s, Arc was helping about 28 people; in its last fiscal year, it provided support for more than 1,300 adults and 271 children.
For more information about The Arc of Southern Maryland, visit www.arcsomd.org.
Women Changing Their Worlds
It is a late afternoon in the fall on a remote 3-acre property in St. Mary’s County. Tucked down the hill is a warm, clean, and comfortable doublewide modular home where a small group of women are rebuilding their lives at a shelter for women and children. On a kitchen bulletin board are pamphlets, emergency information, and flyers about resources for victims of abuse and domestic violence and those struggling financially.
It is a telling backdrop for the time. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 50 percent of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2005 identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness, and about half of all women and children experiencing homelessness in the U.S. are fleeing domestic violence.
At a dining room table sit two women - each with a very different story of hardship, but both who find themselves in need of help.
One is a 27-year-old who previously lived with her mother but who became homeless after her mother lost her home. Many nights, the young woman would sleep in her car or at her job (unbeknownst to her employer). “I felt hopeless,” she says. “I didn’t always have faith that things would work out. I was down, but it was a new thing for me because I had always had a roof over my head. Now I have faith again.”
Next to her sits a young woman whose story is more unusual. The woman, 29, is originally from Eastern Europe and fled an abusive household and relationship tied to her marriage with an older American man. Through Leah’s House and its broader contacts, she is being given a fresh start and a place to live as well as other support, such as food, clothes, medical care, legal assistance, translation services, and access to English language classes and counseling. “I am happy,” she says. “I had nowhere to go, and I am at Leah’s House now.”
Beyond providing shelter and everyday amenities, part of how Leah’s House functions is by connecting its residents with the services they need, as well as leveraging what programs exist in Southern Maryland to help their residents eventually flourish in a new life. A need might be as basic as transportation or as serious as safety and anonymity.
“We address the whole wellness of a woman,” explains Camille Holt, director of client services. “This means we want to look at all aspects of how we can help them or get them help - psychologically, emotionally, socially, educationally, and physically. We want to empower them.”
Leah’s House was founded in 2005 by pastor Marguerite Morris, a tri-county transplant who also started the New Beginnings Christian Worship Center. The impetus for the nonprofit was the large number calls the church received from women in crises who needed emergency shelter and help, along with the lack, at that time, of this kind of permanent facility in St. Mary’s County. Now, the final goal is an on-site campus environment where clients would have access to classes, childcare, job training, and other supportive services.
Leah’s House is the prototypical fledgling nonprofit, facing the same struggles that small charities often face as they strive to survive and provide much-needed services for a segment of society some ignore. Yet Leah’s House also represents how Southern Maryland businesses, volunteers, and organizations can make things happen that might seem impossible. The nonprofit’s current home, as an example, was purchased through the help of an anonymous local foundation.
Also, “in early 2008, Great Mills Trading Post demolished and removed the existing building, and the engineering firm of Mehaffey and Associates, Chesapeake Trails Surveying, along with the architectural firm of J.F. Jochum, carried the organization through preliminary site plan approval,” according to Morris. “Leah’s House was selected as the 2008 Community Project for Christmas in April, which brought hundreds of volunteers on site for site clearing and improvements. Additional improvements, including decking and wheelchair ramps at the shelter home, were brought to the site by area churches, like volunteers from Patuxent Presbyterian. And in 2009, United Way’s Day of Caring brought the children of Leah’s House a playground.”
Morris is also making progress by challenging the status quo and hoping to address what she sees as a sea change. She is working to secure funding from agencies, such as the Department of Social Services, and receive ongoing referrals so that St. Mary’s County survivors of domestic violence do not have to go out of the area to larger shelters, such as Angel’s Watch in Hughesville or Safe Harbor in Calvert County.
The Leah’s House 2010 annual budget is $387,578; this fall, the charity had so far brought in $233,401, reports Morris. “Since our inception, we have provided over 12,000 bed-nights to over 200 women and children,” adds Morris. “This year alone, over 1,900 safe and warm bed-nights were provided to homeless women and children, including survivors of abuse.”
For more information about Leah’s House, call 301-994-9580 or visit www.leahshousemd.org.
A Cat’s Tale
Among the charities changing people’s lives are also those that focus on the love and appreciation people have for pets and animals. Throwaways’ Rescue Foundation Ltd. is a no-kill organization that through a small group of committed volunteers is saving lives, educating the public, and advocating for cats who need care.
Its founder, Heather Davis, is more than a nonprofit leader. She is a zealot working to change statistics that she finds unsettling, such as the several thousand cats, including feral cats, that were euthanized at the Tri-County Animal Shelter in 2009 and the thousands of cats waiting for compassion, homes, and medical care. According to Davis, she alone spends close to $60,000 yearly (from her own salary) to keep her nonprofit from failing and to fulfill its mission. “This is my life’s work and when I die, I want to know that I put all that I could into accomplishing this and saving these cats’ lives,” Davis explains.
Throwaways’ Rescue is meeting Davis’s goals by fostering kittens and cats, getting them the medical care they need, and finding them good homes. But the organization’s linchpin is neutering and spaying feral cats - what Davis calls “community” cats - so that the ferals can live in safe colonies with dedicated community caretakers. She hopes the result will be fewer animals that have to be euthanized or remain undernourished or otherwise unhealthy.
“We are providing a public service,” explains Davis. “I can’t emphasize how much it is [the nonprofit’s work] that we are also helping people when we help these feral cats. I can’t tell you how many people are in tears” not knowing what to do when they live or work near a growing colony of uncared-for feral cats. “[They] don’t want the answer to be, ‘Oh, just call animal control and they’ll put them down.’ They are so happy when we can catch them and turn the situation for the better.”
Throwaways’ Rescue has a 74-acre sanctuary in Nanjemoy where feral cats that cannot be adopted or released back where they were trapped can live out their lives and have access to food, shelter, water, medicine, and love through visits and interaction with Davis and Throwaways’ Rescue volunteers.
Through the efforts of Throwaways’ Rescue, which was founded in 2001, 1,600 cats have been spayed and neutered; more than 1,000 feral cats trapped, sterilized, and released; and 550 cats placed with loving families. Davis also sees to it that the cats receive important inoculations. There are more than 50 cats available for adoption, with pictures of some of them regularly featured on the nonprofit’s website. All of this is accomplished on a meager budget - about $100,000 a year.
Throwaways’ Rescue also regularly brings kittens and cats to the PETCO stores in Waldorf and La Plata, where the public can see and meet adoptable cats, learn about Throwaways’ Rescue and its mission, and start the screening process to adopt a cat.
La Plata residents Brad and Lisa Renter are among those who met a Throwaways’ Rescue cat they wanted to help at PETCO. Both animal lovers, their story is especially interesting because they didn’t just adopt a cat, they took on an extremely special case - a cat with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
“We really felt that nobody else was going to adopt him and we wanted him to have a good and comfortable life,” says Lisa Renter. She adds, with a laugh, that Miccio “has freakishly large eyes” and often gazes at them with a look that says, “Thanks for saving me.” And, so far, with the help of a stable home, affection, organic food, and the vet care he receives, Miccio is doing well.
“All rescues work together because we have a common goal: saving and improving animals’ lives,” reminds Davis. “We have received a lot of help from large and well-established charities and what we’re learning is that we can accomplish a lot when we all work together.”
For more information about Throw-aways’ Rescue and to see cats available for adoption, visit www.petfinder.com/shelters/MD171.html.
How about forgoing an expensive gift for the holidays and helping a charity instead? Given the current economic crisis, it’s more crucial than ever that charities receive community support. Just think about -
— The jobless: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in October 2010 that there are 14.8 million unemployed people in the U. S.;
— The children and their need for support services: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, reports that one in every 110 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD);
— Those losing their homes and struggling with where to live: One in every 371 housing units in the country had a foreclosure filing in September 2010, according to RealtyTrac; and
— The animals: As middle-class Americans struggle through the economic crisis, high numbers of pets are being displaced, according to The New York Times.