The Ultimate Guide to Giving Back in Central Pennsylvania
There are many deserving regional groups supporting causes dear to our hearts at Susan Graham Consulting, where giving back is part of our credo.
We often hear people say, “I want to volunteer and would love to get involved, but where?” Some people prefer to give money while others would rather give of their time. We’ve put together a quick guide to giving back in the Central Pennsylvania area to help you find an organization to offer your assistance to while highlighting a few organizations we at SGC believe in.
Finding the Right Charity
Before you give your time or money to an organization, do your homework. Here are a few pointers:
- Understand where your money goes. Make sure most of it is going to people in need, not to administrative costs. Consult the Federal Trade Commission’s helpful hints on making sure a charity is legitimate before handing over any money.
- Know the charity’s reputation. Charity Navigator is an excellent resource for getting background information on nonprofits and how they rate in terms of transparency and flexibility. PennLive also runs regular listings of worthy charity organizations around the holidays.
- Talk to people who have volunteered there before. They can give you the scoop you won’t find on webpages. Remember, it works both ways – you may find, in speaking with someone who has worked with the organization, that their shortcomings are merely administrative or with communications, and that the cause really is worth your time despite the group’s difficult reputation.
- Check out the group’s website. The best charities offer full transparency. They will have copies of their annual reports available online along with a list of board members.
- Investigate their donor policy. Unfortunately, some groups make money by selling their donor lists. If you don’t see a donor policy on their website, this should be a red flag, though it doesn’t necessarily mean the nonprofit is shady. Ask directly about their policy. They may have simply neglected to put it online.
- Look at their social media accounts. You can tell a lot about an organization based on what they post on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a great way to see if you’d fit in with this team.
Our Favorite Charities — Come Volunteer With Us!
Giving back has been an important part of Susan Graham Consulting for years. From day one our team has embraced the Ronald McDonald house as a local, Hershey-based organization where we knew we could make a difference. As a team we volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House throughout the year and often bring our clients to help us cook.
Something fun Susan did this past Christmas was give money to the children of her employees, inviting them to donate to their own favorite causes — leading by example and encouraging even the youngest of children to learn how important it is to support your communities and to give back.
There are several other causes we love supporting in our free time as well. If you’re struggling with where to go to lend a hand or if you are looking for a worthy cause to support, we put together some ideas to help you get started!
Ten Central PA Charities We Think Are Great
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central PA
Located in Hershey, the Ronald McDonald House is part of a national network sponsored by McDonald’s. It offers families whose children are being treated at Penn State Hershey
Children’s Hospital a place to live, free of charge, during the child’s hospital stay.
The RMH also has a room located within the hospital, meaning families do not have to leave at all when children are critically ill. Susan has been involved with the Hershey Ronald McDonald House for decades. She even served as its first volunteer coordinator.
The Hershey RMH is the only one of its kind in the United States that promises a hot meal every night, 365 days per year. Located in a newly refurbished facility with all the comforts of home, this house is within walking distance of the MS Hershey Medical Center. Residents of the RMH have more important things to worry about than cooking themselves dinner, which is why the meal program is so highly appreciated.
To learn more about the Ronald McDonald House, visit www.rmhc-centralpa.org
Feel Your Boobies
The Feel Your Boobies Foundation is a national non-profit breast cancer organization that is based right here in Central PA. The mission of the Foundation is to promote proactive breast health to young women through the strategic use of education and social media.
Feel Your Boobies was founded in 2004 by Leigh Hurst, a Middletown, PA, native, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33 after finding a lump that went undetected by doctors. Based on her experience, she realized she never thought much about the disease prior to being diagnosed. Since most messages that are out there about breast cancer target an older population, Leigh started the Feel Your Boobies outreach campaign and its educational programs with the goal of creatively targeting young women in a way that was a little more approachable.
Susan Graham Consulting is a proud supporter of Feel Your Boobies Foundation and was a corporate sponsor of the 2015 Bras Across the Bridge event in Harrisburg, where over 900 bras were paraded down City Island and across the Walnut Street Bridge, raising nearly $15,000 to support the Foundation’s College Outreach Program. Eryn Foust, an SGC recruiter, sits on the Board of Directors for the Foundation and heads the Event Planning Committee in charge of the Bras Across the Bridge event.
To learn more about the Foundation, visit www.feelyourboobies.com
Orange 4 Owen
The tragic death of 8-year-old Owen Cole Brezitski sparked the creation of this charity, which aims to promote safety for drivers, pedestrians and children who are crossing roads. Owen was walking across a street with his family when a teenage driver became distracted and hit Owen, even though he was in a crosswalk.
Since Owen’s death in 2011, Orange 4 Owen has urged people to “slow down, be alert and save a life!”
Among the charity’s many accomplishments:
- Bought and installed solar LED crosswalk signs for Bishop McDevitt High School, where Owen was killed
- Set up a scholarship for McDevitt students in Owen’s memory
- Talked to numerous schools about the importance of using safe driving practices
Many of Susan Graham Consulting’s employees are parents ourselves, of kids near Owen’s age or of teens who are or will be driving soon. Partly because of that, this cause resonates with us.
To learn more about Orange 4 Owen, visit orange4owen.org
Capital Area Therapeutic Riding Association
Horseback riding has been shown to improve the emotional and cognitive development of children with special needs. CATRA provides a safe environment where trained volunteers can assist riders in weekly lessons.
This nonprofit is a particular favorite of Patti Gesswein, one of our recruiters. She and her family have been volunteering with CATRA for nearly a decade.
“We do everything from cleaning stalls to doing lessons with kids who may be on the autism spectrum,” she says. “We’re super passionate about it.”
More than 100 riders per week come through the Grantville facility, which is run by Ben and Shirley Nolts.
The couple relies on volunteers to help with all their needs, and they even provide scholarships for some families to allow everyone access to this incredible form of therapy.
To learn more about CATRA, visit www.catra.net
The Mechanicsburg Area School District looks out for kids who may need a little extra help at home through Operation Wildcat. School counselors identify kids within the district who need books, clothes, furniture, bikes and even holiday meals, and Operation Wildcat provides for those needs. Hundreds of families have been assisted since OW’s founding in 2006.
Our vice president, Ali Weiand, and her family live in the MASD and have participated in Operation Wildcat’s charitable efforts. Often OW reaches out through school newsletters that come home with her kids from school, letting parents know what needs are within the district.
When there’s a fire in the community, people reach out to OW right away knowing donations can be taken to the devastated family. And when OW puts out a call for a specific item, whether it’s a new desk for a boy who wants one for Christmas or a washer for a family that just moved from a foreign country, the families in the school district respond to fill those needs.
To learn more about Operation Wildcat, visit www.mbgsd.org/pages/Mechanicsburg_ASD/Community_Alumni/Operation_Wildcat
At the age of 4, Caitlin Hornung was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Over the next three and a half years, she bounced in and out of hospitals, as doctors tried to put her cancer in remission. Caitlin maintained a remarkable attitude through her ordeal, staying sunny and positive. She took great joy in art, always toting with her a bag with drawing and crafting supplies she could play with during her hospital stays.
After Caitlin passed away in 2000, her mother, Cheryl, honored her memory by creating Caitlin’s Smiles, an organization that creates goody bags full of crafts, books, Play-Doh and other fun ways to pass the time. The nonprofit distributes those “Bags of Smiles” to children undergoing lengthy stays in hospitals and clinics.
The impact of Caitlin’s Smiles is astounding. In 2014, 10 years after its founding, the group distributed:
- Nearly 12,000 Bags of Smiles
- More than 121,000 craft kits
- Almost 7,000 toys
Its Harrisburg office hosts regular volunteer meetings where people of all ages can help assemble crafts for the bags and make cards for kids in the hospital.
To learn more about Caitlin’s Smiles, visit www.caitlins-smiles.org
Vickie’s Angel Foundation
Cancer is also the focus of another one of Susan’s favorite charities. Vickie’s Angel Foundation serves as a sort of fiscal guardian angel to families with a member who is fighting cancer. The group steps in to provide financial support, easing one of the many burdens families worry about after a cancer diagnosis.
All of the money raised by the group, more than $1 million to date, goes to the families and not to any administrative costs or research. That’s very important to us – we prefer to support charities that use their money directly to help others and don’t let it get caught up in red tape. “My core belief is to give to charities where it really does make a difference,” Susan says.
Families in need can apply directly for assistance at the Vicki’s Angel site. The financial help might cover medical expenses or mortgage payments — whatever a family needs to scrape by.
The Wounded Warrior Project
The Wounded Warrior Project honors the brave men and women who have been injured serving our country. Its mission is to provide programs to help these soldiers and to help raise public awareness of their plight.
A dear young friend of Susan’s, Braydon Nichols, is a big supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. The teenage boy’s father was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. You can read all about Braydon’s amazing efforts to honor his father here.
Suffice to say, he’s a boy we greatly admire, and we love that he chooses to remember his father by giving back with the Wounded Warriors.
Those donations are wonderful, but you can’t build a balanced diet on shelf-stable food alone. Gemma’s Angels was born from the idea that everyone, no matter their economic circumstances, should have fresh fruit and vegetables on the table, too.
Susan has several close friends involved with this organization, which provides produce to local food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The food comes from donor gardens and other local resources.
Gemma’s Angels got its name from Gemma Rose Macchioni, the mother of founder Michael Macchioni. A widow who raised five children, Gemma was well known for nourishing her entire neighborhood with her fantastic food and her generosity of spirit.
To learn more about Gemma’s Angels, visit www.gemmasangels.org
Anyone who’s lived in Pennsylvania during the summer knows about the Big 33 Football Classic! This fun annual game brings together the best high school players from Pennsylvania and Maryland. But many people don’t realize that the Big 33 Foundation Inc., the nonprofit behind the game, offers college scholarships and works to provide opportunities for special needs children through the Big 33 game.
Since Susan Graham Consulting is located in Hershey, and the game is played at nearby Hersheypark Stadium, we love the excitement that buzzes around town every June when the Big 33 players arrive.
One great way to help out with the program? Apply to be a host family. The Big 33 players stay with host families around the area during the week leading up to the game. They’re also paired with kids with special needs through a buddy program that many players say has a lasting impact on them, long after they’ve stopped playing football.
Giving Back Is Its Own Reward
We hope this helps give you some new ideas and worthy causes to consider. Who knows, we may bump into you at an event some day!