I received a call from an old friend who served on the Board of Associates of KidsPeace Georgia since it opened a Residential Treatment Facility in Bowdon in 2004. He invited me to join him for a tour to learn more about its mission of caring for some of Georgia’s most troubled youth. The idea of learning more about a non-profit that addressed the needs of such kids appealed to me.
On the tour I learned that the youth receiving treatment were adolescents who suffered from behavioral and mental health issues stemming from trauma suffered earlier in their lives. And I learned of examples of neglect and abuse that are typical for the kids there. As I met and saw the kids, it came to me that they may have been victims of the abuse and neglect I learned about… and that, if not for the “birth lottery,” my children could have endured those same circumstances with the same result.
I was asked to join the BOA, and it did not take me very long to say “yes” and to commit to do what I could to help those kids find “Hope, Help, and Healing.”
But I learned very soon that that commitment would involve a significant challenge. KidsPeace was in the process of developing plans to construct a gym for recreational therapy, but the funding would have to be raised from private sources. While the challenge was daunting, we on the BOA knew that failing to take it on was not an option.
To make a long story short, the funds were raised and the gym was built, and it continues to be a tool in KidsPeace treatment protocols and a joy to the kids who play, perform and celebrate together there. From my personal perspective, when I see the kids use the gym, I am gratified and my eagerness to support the kids at KidsPeace grows.
So, what was next? Christmas gifts!
Kids at KidsPeace have been deprived of many of the pleasant experiences that most children in America enjoy. One of those is a safe and happy Christmas celebration with Christmas gifts, so we raised funds to give them gifts. After opening his gift, one of the kids exclaimed, “This is the best Christmas ever!” Another youngster opened his gift of shoes and looking at them with glee said, “…and they’re new!”
The big things that KidsPeace does by putting these kids on the path to a better life confirm that giving some of my time and resources to their cause is worth it, but the vignettes like the Christmas gift reactions are the ones that put my heart in the effort and moves me to continue.
The KidsPeace Georgia Board of Associates has continued its success in helping the kids in programming at Bowdon — including a major facility expansion, events like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and homemade birthday cakes for each child, as well as new programming such as K-9 and Equine Therapy and a ropes course and climbing wall. (I want to note that these successes came about through the dedication of the BOA’s members and amazing leadership on the part of their chairpersons.)
Setting the right “Foundation”
In 2009 I was asked to join the KidsPeace National Board of Directors, and I soon came to the conclusion that the National Board needed to make a more vigorous effort to raise donations in support of the other services it provides for children and adults. If we could increase the donations and grants received at the national level, we could expand and amplify the quality services already provided to kids. Along with some staff members, we began to develop messages about what we do, the nature of the kids we serve, the circumstances that brought them to us, and the effectiveness of what we do for them.
But we needed more—we needed an organization solely devoted to the fund-raising effort, with a leader dedicated to the effort and who got up every morning devoted to making it successful. So in 2017 we completed the legal work to create the separate nonprofit KidsPeace Foundation, overseen by a Board of Trustees under the leadership of Ann McCauley as Foundation President.
The first challenge for Ann and the Trustees was to develop a focus and commitment of many to the cause. Today the Foundation enjoys 100% support from the Board of Trustees, KidsPeace’s National Board of Directors, the Trustees of the Foundation, and the KidsPeace organization’s Executive and Senior Leadership Teams. Through their support, and the work of volunteers on eight local Boards of Associates, the Foundation has raised a total of more than $14 million. And those efforts are supported in turn by Ann’s outstanding Development team, who work every day to match funding opportunities with the needs of KidsPeace’s vital programming.
The KidsPeace Foundation has certainly been a successful initiative and I am proud to have advocated with the National Board for its establishment. But if I had to choose one KidsPeace Foundation initiative as my favorite, it would be the annual KidsPeace Foundation Awards. Our Trustees fully fund the awards and then select the projects and KidsPeace Associates to be recipients. In this way, members of the KidsPeace family can propose creative ideas and strategies that need funding to become reality. With the funding provided by the KidsPeace Foundation they are better empowered to have impact and make a difference in the lives of the children we serve. Projects with names like “The Coping Skills Tool Box” and “You are Special” provide helpful strategies and tools and celebrate special occasions like birthdays – which many of our children have never celebrated before. I am proud to read and hear the creativity, passion and enthusiasm of our Associates in going above and beyond to bring a smile to a child’s face – and I am proud as well of the KidsPeace Foundation’s role in making those smiles possible.