Manna Food Center

Manna Food Center is a food bank headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland focused on eliminating hunger in Montgomery County, Maryland. It’s a little more localized than the non-profits I usually spotlight; but with something like eliminating hunger I believe it’s more effective to focus locally and spread.

Who They Are 

Manna Food Center is a food bank – they provide food to approximately 40k people each year; in addition to supplying soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters throughout the County. As a food pantry they’ve established distribution sites to enable those who need the help to readily access it. Before meeting with them I had no idea what the difference was between a food bank and food pantry – a food bank stores the food and products; the pantry is what actually distributes the food. A food bank could (and Manna does) supply multiple food pantries.

I was shocked to learn 1/3 of students attending public schools receive free or discounted lunches – because of how wealthy I’ve perceived Montgomery County to be. To be clear – Montgomery County is wealthy, but they also have a large population of seniors and those with disabilities who may struggle given the high cost of living and additional healthcare expenses.

What They Do 

Manna Food Center serves over 3,700 families each month! Rather than list out their strategic plan in detail, I invite (and encourage) you to read about it here. In brief, they have (3) priorities (from their website):

(1) Participant-centered & data driven program delivery

(2) Community Leadership & Advocacy

(3) A values-based business model that supports the people who make our work possible.

What Else Should I Know

They’ve repurposed an old school bus into a mobile kitchen and pop-up pantry; bringing nutritious foods AND providing the opportunity for those living in the communities reached to learn how to prepare them.

Manna doesn’t just provide a handout. They do their best to help those they serve understand the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices, provide them with the opportunity to do so and in many cases bridge the gap when families hit a rough spot; something I think all of us can relate to – even though maybe not to the extent we didn’t know where our next meal(s) were coming from.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Manna Food Center and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

A Mother’s Rest – Retreats for Families of Children with Extra Needs

A Mother’s Rest was founded to give families a chance to get away, by a mother who understands what families like ours experience daily. I’ve never used respite, when my wife was alive I don’t remember it even being a conversation – and it wasn’t because we didn’t want it; I don’t recall ever hearing it presented as an option. I think many families are like mine – we would love a rest/break, but don’t know where to go or feel we can trust anyone else with our children. A Mother’s Rest answers where to go, it has partnerships with B&B’s across the country; and they are actively working to form partnerships with organizations, like Jill’s House, to provide child care.

Who They Are 

“A Mother’s Rest is designed to be a quiet, peaceful sanctuary of fellowship for myself (founder) and others who really understand the fatigues that can come with special needs parenting”. (Retrieved from https://www.amothersrest.org/thefounder).

I think what appeals most, to me, is their belief “RESPITE is not only a period of time, it is a place and a feeling. It’s a reprieve, even if short-lived, from the hardships of everyday life.” When I was on Active Duty my wife was often living as a single mom, and at the time I had no idea how stressful it may have been – now as a single dad of a teen I’m learning first hand about some, but certainly not all, of the challenges she faced and how important getting a break is.

What They Do 

A Mother’s Rest offers affordable retreats across the country, by partnering with B&B’s to give moms, dads and couples an opportunity to get away, unplug, and if desired, hang out with fellow travelers on our journey. Alternatively these retreats offer opportunities to completely unplug – the only agenda I’m aware of is recharging one’s emotional and psychological batteries.

Some other opportunities A Mother’s Rest include grants of up to $2,500 for children and adults with disabilities to attend day or sleep-away summer camps. What an amazing opportunity, not only as a break for parents; but as an opportunity for those attending to learn/improve their social and independent living skills. A Mother’s Rest needs your help to make this a reality – seeking volunteers and donations (more information found here).

 

What Else Should I Know

A Mother’s Rest is the passion project of a mom who is living it, she really understands what it means to raise a child with disabilities, and how important it is to stay grounded – for you and your child. If you have children, with or without disabilities, I believe you can relate to wanting to “get away”. A Mother’s Rest helps us do so; and they are looking to do much, much more. I encourage you to check out their website to learn more.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of A Mother’s Rest and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

Pathfinders for Autism

Pathfinders for Autism was founded in February 2000 by parents of children with Autism, creating a Resource Center shortly after. In the years since Pathfinders was founded it has grown to be Maryland’s largest Autism organization (to the best of my knowledge). Their most recent effort towards raising awareness has been with the staffo of emergency rooms throughout the state, helping nurses and doctors understand the additional complications which may be present when an individual with Autism arrives – for example non-verbal or seeming lack of comprehension to questions asked.

Who They Are 

Pathfinders’ Mission statement is short and to the point (from their website) – “to improve the lives of individuals with autism and the people who care for them. We accomplish this through a variety of programs and services, all of which are offered free of charge.” Personally, I continue to refer clients and other professionals to their website because of the immense amount of information to be found there. I’ve also been fortunate enough to participate in a few of their programs, and I was blown away by how well they were run.

What They Do 

Pathfinders does so much, it’s difficult to capture it in a format like this – so I am going to highlight a few of the things which impress me the most and encourage you to check out their website. I want to stress – many of the resources and information provided isn’t just for Autism, it can be applied equally well to just about any disability.

The Pathfinders for Autism Resource Center is how they originally started, and remains a significant part of their daily activities. Pathfinders’ staff will respond personally to all inquiries made – whether through Facebook, e-mail or phone; and they distribute monthly “Parent Tips” covering a wide variety of topics.

They sponsor workshops around the state – bringing in experts on topics like vocational rehab, financial planning and dietary interventions, to name a few. Annually they are a sponsor of Honestly Autism Day, combining a resource fair with well-known Key Note speakers and break-out sessions.

As mentioned above, they train First Responders – this includes Law Enforcement, Fire Fighters, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and, most recently, Emergency Rooms. These trainings are more than powerpoint presentations, Pathfinders will bring self-advocate volunteers and provide scenario-based instruction – which in my opinion is really the only way to help people truly understand what they could be faced with.

What Else Should I Know

As I stated, Pathfinders for Autism does so much more than I can fit into this medium. Personally I’ve used their “Autism by Age” tab on their website to help me figure out what to do after my wife passed away, and I continue to refer to it even today. Their Resources and Help tab offers information for residents and non-residents alike, as well as a search tool for providers and services (and much, much more).

Pathfinders for Autism is an authorized 501(c)3, you can find their 990 and other financial information on their website. They sponsor a Run Wild for Autism 5k Race and 1 Mile Fun Run & Walk at the Baltimore Zoo, or you can donate online. In my opinion, they have proven themselves to be extremely good stewards of the funds received, and are a most deserving organization.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Pathfinders for Autism and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

Madison House Autism Foundation

Madison House Autism Foundation (“Madison House”) was founded to help families give their sons and daughters with Autism opportunities to live independently, or as independently as possible, upon transitioning from High School. They recognize the lack of services currently available to individuals with Autism after the supports provided during the school years have been removed; and are working with communities to create natural support networks. To name just a few of the ways they are doing this: through supporting/promoting public policy, training first responders and partnering with other, like-minded organizations.

Who They Are 

 

Madison House Autism Foundation was founded in 2007 by JaLynn and Gregory Prince, and named for their son Madison. Rather than try to tell their story for them, follow this link: How We Began

What They Do 

Where to begin?! they offer a host of resources on their website – including links for housing, medical and jobs (and much, much more)! Their housing programs include Madison Fields; envisioned as an “agrihood” found on a 400-acre farm complete with a barn and fields for hippotherapy (therapeutic horse-back riding).

The Medical tab takes you to another page, with a video interview of a physician (Faith Frankel, MD) and links to yet even more resources. If you’re still not convinced you need to at least learn more about Madison Fields, consider how few resources there are for parents like you and me, who either have or will have, adult children on the Autism Spectrum. Autism is not a disease, and there are no factors affecting mortality – so our children can fully expect to live a long life – how full and enriching of a life is in a large part up to us as parents.

 

What Else Should I Know

I love how much information Madison House was able, and willing, to aggregate and share. There are no requirements to become a “member”, everything is open-sourced with links addressing the questions I often find myself dwelling on, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent doing so. Questions like “What are my adult child’s employment options?” and “How will we pay for our adult child’s everyday living and service needs?

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Madison House Autism Foundation and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). I’m doing my best to continue posting about one organization a month, using information and notes I took when I met with them – as well as additional research I completed online. The featured image is a picture I took while visiting Madison Fields. All opinions and views are my own.

Charitable Giving – A Gift to Yourself

I think most of us know it’s possible to receive a deduction from your income taxes when you donate to a charity, whether it’s clothes, cash or even a vehicle; but if you’re like me this in and of itself is not enough incentive to give.

I need to understand the organization’s mission, and believe in it, before I give of myself – either time or money. Understanding and believing in a mission gives me a sense of reward when I donate, because I know my contribution is going to something larger than myself and I can often see the results of the work the organization is doing. My bias is towards organizations helping those with disabilities and veterans, because of my background; and I think it helps to have a personal connection when deciding which charities to support.

Let’s discuss financial giving. Many non-profits subsist entirely from public donations. They create their annual budgets from the contributions they expect to receive, supplemented with any assets they’ve accumulated; and although they would love to have a dollar for dollar match of contribution to their mission, the unfortunate truth is most have overhead to pay – salaries, rent, utilities, etc. For this reason it can be more favorable for the non-profit to receive a commitment in level monthly contributions rather than sudden large sums. Imagine getting your entire year’s salary on January first, and planning every week’s/month’s expenses around this.

I don’t have any published studies I can reference, but I believe the vast majority of us are willing, and able, to donate to charity – but many are not now because either they haven’t found any that resonate with their beliefs and/or they don’t feel what they can afford to give would have impact.

Both of these are valid concerns. To find a non-profit which resonates, I recommend setting an hour or two aside and asking yourself what you’re truly passion about. It’s going to be different for everyone, but I think there is a non-profit aligned with just about everybody’s passions. Another way to find a non-profit is to ask friends, family and/or trusted advisors.

With regards to the value of your donation, although it sounds trite and overused, every dollar really does count. Let’s imagine every working adult donates 1% of their annual income. Using the United States Census Bureau’s median income of ~$54,000/year (rounded up to nearest thousand, source: Census Bureau), each individual would donate $540/year, or $45/month. Let’s assume a community of 500 people give this to the same non-profit every year; the money available to the non-profit has increased to $270,000!!! What an impact!!!!!

Maybe you can’t afford to give cash, but you’re willing to volunteer (2) hours every month. You could save the non-profit money by offering your skills and/or services. For example, using the same median income of $54,000/year, your hourly wage would be approximately $26/hour. $26/hour times 2 hours/month equals the equivalent of $624 per year saved by the non-profit. Even if the volunteer hours you provide are for unskilled labor, and we use the Federal minimum wage as a guide ($7.25/hour, Dept of Labor), you would be saving the non-profit an equivalent of $174/year. This number will scale up as the number of volunteers increases, but the need will be driven by the type of work the non-profit does. For example, Habitat for Humanity will likely have many more opportunities for volunteers than the Arc United States may.

I hope this illustrates the impact we can ALL have, regardless of income level. And I can’t begin to describe the feeling when you find the right fit; but in my opinion it becomes its own reward. The trick is finding the right fit, and not becoming discouraged if the first attempt or two isn’t successful. Take your time and do your homework, there are free resources like GuideStar to help you research non-profits; as well as working with Financial Planners like myself. Speaking only for myself, I enjoy connecting my clients with non-profits and helping them realize their philanthropic goals!!!!