With its range of programs serving people of all ages with disabilities, Central Alabama Easterseals is offering a “hand up” that ends up benefitting the entire community.
At Easterseals in Montgomery, everyone is eager to share a story — a story about a young child struggling with a learning disability who’s now a successful college sophomore; a senior citizen who found herself living below the poverty line who’s now purposefully employed; or an adult with severe physical disabilities who’s now working at a hospital and receiving full benefits.
These stories each represent a life changed through Easterseals. They provide a glimpse into how the organization helps people with disabilities live, learn, work and play in our community.
“This is very rewarding work,” said Debbie Lynn, the Executive Director of Easterseals Central Alabama. “You get to know the families you serve, and you get to see the positive difference you’ve made in their lives.”
Lynn, who has been with Easterseals for nearly 13 years, leads the community rehabilitation program site in Montgomery, one of eight sites throughout the state. Camp ASCCA, the world’s largest barrier-free recreational camp, is also a program of Easterseals. Each site has the same mission — to provide services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical and mental disabilities, and other special needs.
However, programs vary by location. “Our programming is not cookie-cutter throughout the state,” said Easterseals Alabama CEO Lynne Stokley. “Each location provides services for the unique needs of that particular community through therapy, training, education and support services.”
“In Central Alabama, the bedrock of their work is in adult education — helping those living with a disability train and apply for jobs, but they also serve hundreds of children and senior citizens every year through various programs,” added Stokley.
Delivering Inclusion & Empowerment
In 2018, Easterseals Central Alabama served more than 2,000 children and adults in 31 Alabama counties. The staff also opened the doors to a brand new facility just behind its old building next to Baptist Medical Center South. While it isn’t as large as the previous building, its smaller footprint coincides with the changing approach of adult rehabilitation. Rather than sheltering their consumers to train inside Easterseals’ facilities, they integrate them into the community. “We want to help them navigate real life – not keep them separated from it,” said Lynn. “It is more of an empowerment model.”
Local businesses like Chappy’s Deli, Koch Foods, Big Lots Distribution Center and Diversified Maintenance regularly hire employees referred by Easterseals. The jobs are sometimes the first opportunity these adults have been given to independently thrive in their community. “All their lives, they have been told what they cannot do. With our program, we show them what they can do,” added Lynn.
Easterseals’ new building has also been a gamechanger for its children’s programs, filling a gap in services for autism and other developmental disabilities. “Particularly in Montgomery, there is just so little out there. We were finding that families were having to drive several hours away to get answers to their questions,” said Lynn.
Today, the Easterseals facility offers a one-stop autism clinic where children can be diagnosed and treated in all three rehabilitation disciplines: occupational, speech and behavioral therapy.
Easterseals also offers the CARE project, which helps people acquire no-cost medical equipment that has been refurbished, repaired and sanitized. Additionally, a Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) program and an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting program are both available to the public.
Strengthening the Easterseals Mission
The services and programs offered by Easterseals are costly, and the organization never turns anyone down. “When you have a consumer base of 72 to 73 percent Medicaid, the numbers just don’t work,” said Lynn. “Also, autism evaluation is very expensive.”
While Easterseals qualifies for some national and state funding, the organization also relies on local support. The annual Autism Mudbug Ball, organized entirely by a volunteer committee, is the group’s largest annual fundraiser, and all the money raised goes straight to autism-related ser-vices. Easterseals is also a program of the River Region United Way.
Donations and grants from the business community are crucial, too. Montgomery-based Shaw Technology, one of Easterseals’ donors, started out as the facility’s IT provider. After seeing the impact firsthand, Shaw’s leaders decided to get involved. “Everyone there is kind and courteous, and it’s clear that they make an incredibly positive impact on Central Alabama. It’s been a pleasure to see them flourish and impact the lives of so many children with special needs in our area, and we’re happy to be a small part,” said Channing Allen, Shaw’s Director of Sales and Marketing.
For Debbie Lynn and her staff, they couldn’t be more grateful for that support. When it comes to return on investment, she says, giving to Easterseals is a no-brainer. “For every dollar you spend on vocational rehabilitation, you are putting $30 back into the community through wages, consumers’ ability to purchase goods and services and taxes paid. It just makes sense to be able to put people to work and to get them to a place where they can contribute,” she said.
Easterseals is a national organization and is the leading non-proﬁt provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical and mental disabilities, and other special needs. Easterseals Alabama was founded in 1926; its name then was the Alabama Society for Crippled Children. The national organization at that time was called the National Society for Crippled Children. The current name (both here and nationally) comes from the stamp-like seals that were ﬁrst created in 1934 to raise money for the organization’s services. The name change came in 1967. Learn more about Easterseals Central Alabama at eastersealscentralalabama.org.
Benefits to Business:
Easterseals’ multiple programs provide obvious benefits for the many people they serve, but they also offer an upside for local businesses. Easterseals’ Vocational Evaluation Department uses interviews and standardized vocational tests to assess vocational and academic skills, aptitudes and interests and then helps match individuals with an appropriate position. Its Employment Program assists employers with manpower needs, helping them find and place job-ready individuals in their open jobs. And Project Search Montgomery, held at host site Baptist Health, gives high-school students the chance to explore careers and develop job skills and at the same time, allows Baptist the opportunity to evaluate potential employees.
Trustmark Celebrates Month of Thanks and Week of Giving
In December 2018, Trustmark celebrated its 129th anniversary with a Month of Thanks and Week of Giving initiative on its social media platforms. Throughout the Month of Thanks, Trustmark shared posts of thanks for their associates, customers and com-munities throughout its marketplace. Trustmark created the Week of Giving initiative through which the company donated $129,000 to nonprofit organizations across its footprint. Three community organizations in each of the five states where Trustmark is located shared in $25,000 based on the number of “likes” received via Trustmark’s social media platforms during the Week of Giving initiative. The organization with the most “likes” received $15,000, the second most “likes” received $7,500 and the third most “likes” received $2,500. The remaining $4,000 was gifted to the organization having the most overall number of “likes” during the campaign. In Alabama, Montgomery’s Valiant Cross Academy got the most “likes” and received $19,000.
MAX Helps Local Non-Profit Bring Christmas Joy
MAX, in conjunction with the MAX4Kids Foundation, hosted a shopping trip benefitting local non-profit Common Ground Montgomery’s 12th Annual Christmas Store. The store gives kids in the community the joy of receiving toys for Christmas, offering parents and guardians of these kids the opportunity to purchase toys at an affordable rate. The MAX4Kids Foundation donated $2,500 worth of toys and also donated buggies to be used for a better shopping experience for Common Ground’s 12th Annual Christmas Store. MAX associates presented the staff at Common Ground with a $10,000 donation from the MAX4Kids Foundation.
Volunteers Impact Montgomery Zoo
The Montgomery Zoo and Mann Wild-life Learning Museum hosted its first Serve Day of 2019 on January 5. More than 30 volunteers from around the River Region and as far away as Dothan spent the day raking leaves and cleaning up the Zoo grounds. Serve Day is held every other month and provides individuals and groups an opportunity to give back to the Zoo and community through volunteer service. Volunteers play a vital role in the success of the Montgomery Zoo. More than 1,000 people volunteered at the Montgomery Zoo and Mann Wildlife Learning Museum in 2018, serving more than 6,000 hours. “Volunteers expand our ability to provide a quality attraction for the thousands of guests who visit the Zoo each year,” Melanie Golson, APR, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, explained.