The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation is pleased to announce its Community Champions for the third quarter of FY14. These employees were nominated by their colleagues and are being recognized for their work with local non-profit organizations, where they donate their time and energy to improve quality of life for their neighbors. The Champions’ chosen nonprofits will receive a $500 grant from The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.
Lyrae Tull is the Director of Volunteers at StandUp For Kids (SUFK), a nonprofit organization in southern California dedicated to ending youth homelessness in Orange County. StandUp For Kids carries out their mission by sending volunteers into the community to locate, stabilize and otherwise help homeless and street kids improve their lives, without condition or judgment.
Volunteering over 60 hours per month, Lyrae helps organize activities, events and programs to benefit homeless children between the ages of 11 and 24 through the SUFK program. Under Lyrae’s direction, SUFK’s volunteers support homeless youth by accompanying them to court appointments and school events—including parent/teacher conferences as well as helping with the everyday necessities, such as haircuts and shopping excursions. “We step in and say “We Care,” Lyrae explains. “A lot of these kids have disdain for the county, so we try and be a positive intermediary. At the very least, we try to get them the benefits they’re entitled to, so that they can be off the streets and have a roof over their heads.” Lyrae has taught youth how to ride the bus, utilize food programs, and has matched them with apartments, job training programs and employment opportunities. “I can’t help them all,” she said. “But I can get them off the street, which is better than when they met us.”
In addition to her work at StandUp For Kids, Lyrae works full-time as a financial controller at CareMeridian, a partner of The MENTOR Network, in Aliso Viejo, CA. “I have known Lyrae since 1996 and the core of who she is has not wavered one bit over the years,” says Mary Beth Formby, Chief Financial Officer at CareMeridian. “She has a huge heart and a great capacity to help others. She just can’t say no to anyone who is in need and offers assistance without reservation or judgment. She has a strong will to do the right thing, in the workplace and in life.”
StandUp For Kids is a national campaign to end youth homelessness across America, and Lyrae encourages everyone to get involved. “It’s just a wonderful organization and I love it,” declared Lyrae, who has recruited numerous volunteers over the years, including her three teenage sons. “You never know the story behind a homeless kid with a sign.”
To learn more about StandUp For Kids, visit their website,www.standupforkids.org.
Direct Support Professional, REM South Central Services
Eight years ago, Cathy began volunteering with Special Olympics of Minnesota, an organization that provides year-round training and competitions for 17 Olympic-style sports for children and adults with disabilities. Over time, Cathy has taken on increasing amounts of responsibility and has risen to the Head of Delegation, where she oversees the entire southwest Minnesota territory. In this role, Cathy ensures that coaches and teams are properly certified and registered for each event, in addition to scheduling practices, transportation, and other event logistics. She also assists with fundraising and expansion initiatives for the Redwood Falls chapter, including implementing the first Young Athletes program in the area, which has had more than 70 children, ages 2 to 7, participate. Cathy attends all competitions in the southwest Minnesota region and loves supporting the teams. “My day is made just by seeing the smiles on the faces of the athletes,” she said. “I volunteer with Special Olympics because I want these athletes to have the best possible life they can, with as many positive opportunities that they can.”
Cathy works as a Direct Service Professional with REM Minnesota, a partner of The MENTOR Network, and also works as a paraprofessional educator for special needs students in the Redwood Area School District. Between her connections with REM, Special Olympics, and the school district, Cathy has created two new teams that will participate in Special Olympics events this year; a “school” team and a “community” team. She’s also encouraged many community members to become Special Olympics coaches, and recruits both students with and without disabilities to help staff the sports events, creating an incredibly strong bridge of support between the athletes and their community. “I truly believe that having the connection with Redwood Area School is key,” Cathy said. “Not only do they have a gym and community center that individuals with disabilities can utilize, but the students support each other, which is very important.”
Cathy’s work is especially meaningful to The MENTOR Network because many of the adults she serves at REM Minnesota are also athletes in the program. “The importance of Special Olympics can easily be seen in the individuals that take part in it; the smiles, the pats on the back, the all-important ribbons and medals from the people cheering them on,” explained Jim Eischens, Area Director of REM South Central in Minnesota. “It gives our individuals a great sense of pride and you can see this by the way they walk with their head held high after an event.”
Cathy has truly played an integral role in expanding and enhancing the Redwood Falls chapter of Special Olympics Minnesota, and her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She was awarded Special Olympics Minnesota’s Outstanding Spirit Award for 2013, and the award has brought a lot of positive attention to the Redwood Falls chapter, including a recent invitation for athletes to be recognized by the Minnesota Twins at an upcoming baseball game. At Cathy’s request, the grant awarded by The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation in honor of Cathy’s volunteerism will go toward funding this excursion.
To learn more about the Special Olympics, visit their website, www.specialolympicsminnesota.org
Lead Life Skills Trainer, NeuroRestorative National Capitol
Katie volunteers as a “puppy parent” at Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), a non-profit organization in Brookeville, MD that breeds and trains therapy dogs to support wounded veterans in the Maryland area. Katie is also Life Skills Trainer at NeuroRestorative’s Germantown program, a partner of The MENTOR Network, where she plays an integral role in providing dog therapy to the veterans served by NeuroRestorative.
Katie’s passion for working with veterans started with her father, a double-leg amputee from Vietnam. She was inspired to dedicate her career to working in therapeutic care for veterans and discovered the benefits of canine therapy for the veterans she serves at Warrior Canine Connection, where she immediately felt a connection and became involved. The first participant Katie worked with had a profound effect on her. “When the dog was introduced to the participant, I could sense a difference immediately,” she recalls. “His behavior changed and his quality of sleep was enhanced. After weekly visits I began to see a dramatic change.”
Katie’s work at WCC and NeuroRestorative prompted her to become a “puppy parent,” overseeing the care and training of dogs that will eventually become permanently placed with a veteran. For the past two years she oversaw the training of Navi, a gentle Golden Retriever, at NeuroRestorative’s National Capitol program – a community based residence for veterans and active duty service members living with brain injury. Upon Navi’s graduation from the WCC training program in November 2013, Navi was permanently placed in the residence due to the incredible difference he made in the lives of the veterans. “Navi’s calm demeanor really helps calm participants,” said Katie. “I’m thrilled that the National Capital program has been selected as his permanent assignment.”
Katie is now training a new puppy, an energetic Yellow Labrador named Breeze. Because Breeze’s personality is very different from Navi’s, Katie will take a different approach in her training, to ensure that the dog’s personality will be matched with the right veteran. She is equally excited about the therapeutic possibilities Breeze can provide. “There are things dogs can do that people just cannot do in terms of therapy,” said Katie. “It’s a very powerful feeling to hand someone their dog’s leash and feel the sense of camaraderie and calm that comes over them. I feel beyond fortunate to be a part of this every day.”
“Katie was one of the first employees of our National Capital Area program in Germantown. She has contributed not only to the development of this unique program but has also received the highest accolades from residents and families for her willingness to do that little extra that comes from her compassion and commitment to the men and women we serve,” said Jerry Villemain, State Director of NeuroRestorative Maryland, a partner of The MENTOR Network. “Katie truly represents what we would hope for from all of our NeuroRestorative employees.”
To learn more about the Warrior Canine Connection, visit their website atwww.warriorcanineconnection.org
To learn more about therapy dog Navi, visit his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/WCCs-Navi/367904409968624?ref=br_tf
About The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation
The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation is committed to transforming the delivery of human services through the generation of new ideas and best practices. We seek to advance an agenda based on quality, accountability and respect for the individual. The focus of our giving is on organizations that take a fresh look—through research, innovative thinking, direct care and programming—at how people with disabilities and youth and families facing emotional, behavioral and other challenges are cared for in our society. The Foundation also works to expand opportunity for the people we serve through employment and educational support.