Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Awards Finalist Interview with Amy Cress, Director of Communications, Easter Seals Serving DC | MD | VA
1. What is your mission and vision?
We provide exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities.
Easter Seals is the region’s leading provider of intensive intergenerational human services that address the holistic and evolving needs of individuals and families to maximize their independence, inclusion and contributions to society.
2. How does your organization achieve its mission?
Easter Seals Serving DC | MD | VA has a five-year strategic plan that was approved by our Board of Directors in May 2013. The plan serves as the guiding beacon for the future of Easter Seals in the region. It provides the milestones we need to achieve and metrics against which we measure our efforts, investments, and success in delivering on our vision and promise: to be the region’s leading provider of intensive inter-generational human services that address the holistic and evolving needs of individuals and families to maximize their independence, inclusion and contributions to society.
By increasing our ability to serve and support more children, adults and seniors, veterans and military personnel, caregivers and their families throughout the region, we strengthen our shared community.
Adults and Seniors – 1 in 8 Baby Boomers will be impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, and as aging Americans live longer, more will be required to age in place.
Children – The rates of autism are increasing: 1 in 68 children is expected to be diagnosed, and diagnoses are occurring as young as 18 months.
Family Caregivers - Nearly 30% of the U.S. adult population provides care for someone who is ill, disabled or aged.
Veterans and Military Families - Over one million members of the Armed Forces will be leaving military service over the next four years and those individuals face a higher rate of unemployment.
Our goals are ambitious and achievable. In order to respond to identified community needs, and meet our goal of serving more individuals more efficiently and effectively by 2017, Easter Seals will need to double the number of individuals we serve on a monthly basis and be a nationally-recognized thought leader on innovative practices that improve outcomes and lower societal costs.
3. How have your programs directly impacted the Northern Virginia Community?
Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA provides critical services for children and adults with special needs, including military families in Northern Virginia.
In Fairfax County, Easter Seals provides the Senior Plus program in eight senior centers. This program offers additional, skilled oversight to nearly 200 seniors who need extra assistance with activities of daily living due to mild dementia, decreased mobility or other medical conditions. With assistance from Easter Seals staff, seniors in Northern Virginia are able to maintain their independence and socialize with their peers. In addition, nearly 100% of our participants and their caregivers report that they are glad they chose to enroll in the Senior Plus program.
The Easter Seals Child Development Center of Northern Virginia, located in Falls Church, provides inclusive, early intervention education and development for children with and without disabilities. We deliver full-day, year-round childcare in a fulfilling learning environment for children as young as six weeks until kindergarten, regardless of their family's ability to pay. Through our Little Warriors scholarship program, serve children of wounded warriors in Northern Virginia. Service members can focus on their recovery, knowing that their young children have a safe haven and educational opportunities to remain on the path for a lifetime of success.
Our Child Development Center offers parental support and inter-generational activities to maximize the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of every child. Our goal is to serve approximately 35% of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays, including autism, ADD, ADHD, vision, hearing and other sensory disorders.
Easter Seals Veteran Staffing Network (VSN) adds value to both the veterans and employers we serve. Our skilled coaches and groundbreaking online assessment and training help veterans build the skills and confidence they need to develop a long-term career, not just get a job. The VSN operates as a staffing agency, which minimizes risks for employers and helps them meet their hiring goals with highly skilled, trained and prepared veterans. Furthermore, we understand the job does not end at the placement. We provide continued support as needed for veterans and their families to ensure lifelong success.
In the past 18 months, the VSN's innovative venture philanthropy model placed 445 veterans, guard and reservists, and military spouses, many of whom are from Northern Virginia, in meaningful civilian careers. They are now on a path of self-sufficiency to avoid the numerous challenges that put so many veterans and their families at risk of homelessness. The VSN has also demonstrated a powerful return on investment. Veterans placed in careers have earned nearly $10 million in annualized salaries and returned nearly $3 million to the economy as unemployment benefits are replaced by income tax payments.
4. What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to your mission?
The Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA team embraces our mission to provide exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities. Across the region, our programs are led by highly trained professionals who have a personal commitment to every individual we serve.
Early intervention is the foundation of all our programs and services, from helping a child overcome developmental delays to prepare for kindergarten, to coaching a veteran to find a post-military career and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to homelessness, to finding a way for a senior with dementia to communicate through art or music. Our team is energized and empowered by helping children and adults with disabilities and special needs overcome their challenges to reach their individual milestones.
5. What advice would you give to other nonprofits trying to make an impact in their community?
All organizations, whether for profit or nonprofit, can have an impact in their community by becoming an integral part of the community. By creating strong relationships and collaborating with key constituencies – donors, elected officials, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, and corporations – Easter Seals Serving DC | MD | VA has become a vital part of the communities we serve. Our ability to leverage our strong relationships has been critical to remain innovative and adapt to the growing and changing needs of the individuals with disabilities and special needs we serve throughout the region. Our Veteran Staffing Network is a prime example of the public-private partnerships we have forged to address the needs of the growing numbers of veterans throughout the region. Seed funding from key corporate and philanthropic partners helped launch this vital program.