When families cannot easily provide necessities to make life easier for a child, community groups that focus on children with disabilities – or on children’s issues – can often fill in the gaps.
What are community-based organizations?
Often times, being a child with Cerebral Palsy – or a parent of a child with the condition – means finding ways to compensate for what isn’t there.
A child’s movement can often be augmented through assistive equipment and computers as well as communication devices that make it possible to communicate efficiently and effectively.
But what happens when a parent or family cannot afford such necessities? What if a parent cannot provide a simple modification, afford utilities for the month, or require new equipment not covered by insurance that would improve the quality of life for their child? What if a parent lacks the skills to build a ramp in front of their house to create a bridge from the insular home to the outside world? What if a power wheelchair was financially inaccessible for a family?
This is where community-based organizations, fraternal organizations and nonprofit groups can be the answer to a bewildered parent’s prayer. Luckily, there are some remarkable people who care about the health and welfare of children enough to donate their time, skills, and money to help others in need.
Many national community-based organizations, or CBOs, exist for community membership and local advocacy. The organizations typically have local chapters that can be contacted easily; often these groups have the resources, manpower and desire to help families build a ramp, make a home repair, purchase a communication device, offer a computer or cover the cost of something that is not covered with insurance or government assistance.
In their most significant role, CBOs are a source of supplemental strength and support that can help conserve family’s emotional and financial resources. Additionally, CBOs conduct research, educate and provide programs such as family support groups, respite care, athletic programs, arts instruction, peer counseling, and job training, to name a few.
The following organizations may not focus exclusively on children with special needs; however, they are known to provide significant assistance to families in need in the communities in which they serve. A well written letter of need or a phone call to the constituency can open doors for support. They may be able to release funds or create a fundraiser to assist.
- The American Legion
- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks
- The Fraternal Order of Eagles
- Kiwanis International
- Knights of Columbus
- Lions Clubs International
The American Legion
Chartered by Congress in 1919, The American Legion is the country’s prominent veteran’s organization devoted to supporting service veterans and their families. In July 1954, the American Legion formed the Child Welfare Foundation. To date more than $11 million has been awarded to benefit America’s youth organizations and projects.
Today, the organization has 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide that are organized into 55 departments (one for each of the 50 states, as well as District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines). They focus in four primary service areas that include children and youth support, family support network, temporary financial assistance, and child welfare programs. They mentor and educate children on sportsmanship, citizenship and fitness.
Child Welfare Foundation, founded in 1954 as a separate 501(c)3 corporation promotes the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual welfare of children. To date, this foundation has committed $11.8 million to assist the nation’s children through grants to worthwhile youth organizations and children’s projects. These include, allocations to the Academy of Pediatrics’ “Connected Kids” program, the Mercy Flight Southeast, Inc., and the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also support foundations for juvenile diabetes, cancer, organ transplant, Leukemia, Huntington’s Disease, and immune deficiency.
In 1990, The Legion created the Family Support Network to assist families of deployed service members. Local posts offer temporary financial assistance to help meet the expense of shelter, food, utilities and health expenses. They have been known to provide community service such as mowing lawns, babysitting and more.
The American Legion has raised over $250,000 for college scholarships for children of servicemen killed on or after September 11, 2001. They continue active participation in mentoring youth and sponsoring wholesome programs in communities to continue their support of active service members, veterans and their families through benefit programs, career counseling, education services, health assistance and shelter initiatives.
For more information, visit The American Legion.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks
Commonly referred to as “the Elks,” their purpose is to promote common good and enhance happiness among its members and the community where the chapter is located. Often times, the Elks will take part in volunteer projects, fundraising and charitable activities that help local families.
For instance, some of the projects that Elks members have created in communities include a week-long camp for disabled children in Lockport, NY; a soup kitchen that serves about 30 low income residents of Alexandria, Va.; and a children’s gathering where volunteers will serve young people a wholesome meal and provide help with homework at the lodge based in Wheeling, W.Va.
In 2011, the Elks in Cranford, NJ hosted a motorcycle run that generated $100,000 to send children with disabilities to a local camp.
For more information, visit The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles
The Eagles were founded in 1898 in Seattle. The women’s auxiliary was founded in 1927. The nonprofit’s broadly-stated goal is to help foster equality and promote peace and prosperity. Often, local chapters will have goals specific to their community that aim to help children. Nationwide, there are more than 850,000 people that have joined the Eagles, and more than 1,400 local chapters in the United States and Canada.
The Eagles support maintaining Social Security benefits and advocate for universal access to health insurance coverage for all children to ensure the health and welfare of young people.
The F.O.E. donates more than $100 million a year to local communities, fundraisers and charities. Most significantly, the Eagles allocate 100 percent of the funds they generate to local communities, fundraisers and charities. The group uses a grant-making program to distribute the funds to local groups that are commensurate with the Eagles’ mission.
Nationally, the Eagles raise funds for eight major charities that include kidney, heart, cancer and spinal cord injury nonprofits.
For more information, visit The Fraternal Order of Eagles.
One of the largest CBOs in the United States which is devoted exclusively to children’s health and welfare is Kiwanis International. They promote a family of servant leaders with the following intent “Kiwanis clubs focus on changing the world by serving children, one child and one community at a time.” Their club memberships provide service opportunities and fun. Their clubs are categorized by age groups. They include:
- K-Kids Club – primary school children
- Builders Clubs – adolescents
- Key Clubs – teens
- CKI Clubs – university students
- Aktion Clubs – adults living with disabilities
Currently based in Indianapolis, the Kiwanis club was founded in 1915 in Detroit. Today, there are more than 7,000 chapters internationally. Kiwanis stages nearly 150,000 service projects that raise approximately $100 million yearly for the communities they serve, the families they service and the projects they implement.
A large component of the Kiwanis organization involves children’s health. The Kiwanis has worked with other organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund to enact medical standards that helped reduce iodine deficiency, which causes cognitive challenges in infants. They also paired with UNICEF to create neonatal tetanus, a problem in underdeveloped countries.
Kiwanis organizations also engages in community specific activities, including fundraisers and charitable events through its sponsorship of high school Key Clubs. The group has sponsored activities such as food drives that help disadvantaged families.
Also, the local Kiwanis volunteers have raised money and donated time to constructing parks with equipment that is fully-accessible to children with disabilities.
For more information, visit Kiwanis International.
Knights of Columbus
One of the oldest and most respected charitable organizations in the United States, the Knights of Columbus, is a Catholic fraternal order that was formed in 1882 in Connecticut. Originally, the Knights were formed to help sick or otherwise needy members; this would later shift focus to social welfare, war relief, insurance and religious programming.
Since its inception, the Knights have grown from a single order to more than 14,000 councils consisting of 1.8 million members. The organization has councils in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Poland, Panama, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico, as well as several other countries around the globe.
In 2011, the Knights estimated that $154 million was raised worldwide to support charitable activities. Sixty percent of these funds are expended in local communities, many of which involve children, and the disadvantaged. Additionally, members expended more than 70 million volunteer hours to various efforts in the communities they serve.
The Knights have taken a particular interest in children and adults with disabilities. In 2011, members of the supreme council and local chapter councils donated more than $4.8 million to the Special Olympics. The Knights have also offered support to the Global Wheelchair Mission, which provides new wheelchairs and mobility aids to children, teens and adults throughout the world. The organization is a supporter of Coats for Kids and Food for Families, a Knight-led food program for low income families.
For more information, visit Knights of Columbus
Lions Clubs International
The Lions Clubs International is a well-known charitable organization that mainly focuses on helping children and adults that are vision impaired, but in recent years, the Lions’ mission has broadened considerably.
The club was initially formed in Chicago in 1917, but today, the organization is comprised of more than 46,000 clubs with 1.35 million members in the United States.
One of the first projects the Lions tackled included providing eyeglasses for children, and since then, the group seized on helping people see as part of its mission.
Among the projects the Lions have supported include the Childhood Blindness Project, which provides children with resources to help children with vision loss communicate. They also help fund vision screening, hearing screening and hearing aides.
For more information, visit Lions Clubs International