As the season of gratitude commences, we are reminded of the gifts big and small that spark that fire of gratefulness and, in turn, inspire us to give back. However, this season is a year-round mission for the more than 21,000 registered nonprofit organizations that provide crucial, unwavering, life-changing, and often life-saving support to countless babies, children, adults, and families across the state. And even in a tough year that has Arizona nonprofits operating a loss of nearly $53 million, according to the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, they provide precious resources to help those in need face another day. For them, it’s not about giving back. It’s purely about giving. Here, we shed a spotlight on a few that don’t seek it, yet deserve it.
Best Buddies Arizona
To everyone who’s ever been a part of the organization, Best Buddies is more than just its name. State Director Lisa Cleary can attest to this with the countless bonds created between typical youths and their peers with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD).
“The energy and compassion changes the entire school campus. This is not just mentoring. It’s a true genuine friendship that lasts a lifetime,” Cleary says of the 2,000 students in elementary, middle, high school and college who’ve participated in the friendship program across Arizona.
While this program is the most visible, Best Buddies in Arizona’s reach goes beyond with other services. Among them is a new integrated employment program that secures jobs for people with IDD, allowing them to earn an income, pay taxes, and continuously and independently support
themselves. The national program holds a 92% employee retention rate while bringing diversity into the workplace.
“I love being able to see with my own eyes so many positive transformations within people, whether they have IDD or not,” she says. “It gives me a lot of hope for the future… that the world could be a better place.” BestBuddies.org/Arizona
By the time a pregnant mom reaches out to this nonprofit, she and her unborn child are desperate. They are living in a car or couch-surfing with friends. Most haven’t had a prenatal exam or been to a dentist. Some are in recovery and newly sober.
“It’s pretty urgent by the time they come to us. If they have an option, it’s not a safe one,” CEO Laura Magruder says of those her 20-year-old organization was created to save.
This year, Maggie’s welcomed its 1,000th mom. The organization offers more than 30 programs, including transitional and family reunification housing, plus resources vital to getting mom and child back on a secure track, whether it’s a GED or mental health services. MaggiesPlace.org
Veterans Medical Leadership Council Charities
Since 1999, this nonprofit has been giving men and women who served this country what Council President Tom Eisiminger, Jr. calls a hand up, not a handout. Last year alone, it did just that for nearly 500 veterans by providing services like housing assistance, medical support, and vehicle repair so veterans.
The Annual Heroes Patriotic Luncheon, held virtually this year Nov. 5, is a hallmark honoring veterans. Eisiminger talks about the lives saved or changed. There’s a Tucson-area veteran whose bone marrow transplant recovery was made possible thanks to the nonprofit’s support. A Valley woman who was living with her young child in a car was given a place to live, and a result, she used her GI Bill to get a college degree, today holding a professional career.
“Sometimes, people just need to know there’s someone there to help, and somebody to care.”
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC)
Since 1997, SARRC’s unique expertise in working with individuals with autism across their lifespan has perfectly positioned it to accommodate the changing face of autism.
The breadth and depth of programming designed for practically all ages—currently, the youngest client is 6 months and the oldest in his 60s—has been a powerful tool for the more than 1,000 children, teens, and adults that the nonprofit serves each year.
“We used to think of just little kids having autism. Now we’re thinking about adults with autism and helping them to become independent,” says President and CEO Daniel Openden.
SARRC’s multi-pronged approach also focuses on improving the behavior and skills of the communities in which they live. The annual Community Breakfast fundraiser is one way to educate and inform business leaders, legislators, and educators. Connections with employers, schools, and recreational programs further that integration.
Openden speaks enthusiastically about being fortunate to witness SARRC’s positive impact. Seeing a child who once was nonverbal and now speaks fluently and has made friends, and adults who lacked social or vocational skills are now gainfully employed and living independently are among them. “That’s seriously life-changing stuff that drives what we do every day.” AutismCenter.org
Other Nonprofits to Know
Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona
An organization using the arts to help abused and homeless children build resiliency and learn to trust and heal. FreeArtsAZ.org
Arizona Small Dog Rescue
A no-kill rescue shelter saving homeless, unwanted, abandoned, neglected, and abused dogs under 20 pounds. AZSmallDog.org
Kids in Focus
Dedicated to empowering at-risk youth using photography to ignite their imagination and build their sense of confidence. KidsInFocus.org
The Board of Visitors
Arizona’s oldest women’s charitable organization, it organizes fundraising events to benefit nonprofits serving the healthcare needs of women, children, and the elderly. BoardOfVisitors.org