WILKES-BARRE — At the recent Luzerne Foundation Non-Profit Forum, one thing became quite clear — everybody in the room had one thing in common.
Each of the 33 organizations presenting was in need of funding to further their particular mission and each was worthy of consideration.
The problem is, as generous as the Luzerne Foundation is and always has been, the needed help it provides is just not enough to guarantee not just the implementation of new, challenging, needed programs — it cannot guarantee the perpetuation of these organizations that are so needed in our community.
The 33 groups that presented their cases are just the tip of the local non-profit iceberg. There are numerous charities out there that have experienced cutbacks in federal and state funding and with that, the search for new funding sources has become extremely competitive.
And that’s a shame because most, if not all, of these organizations provide critical services. Many of them provide programs that go beyond their original mission — so much so, should they be reduced, or even eliminated, the effects on the people they serve would be catastrophic.
Whether the cause benefits children, seniors, the mentally and/or physically challenged, the needy or disowned cats and dogs, they all deserve support. The question is: Where does that support come from?
And you can be certain this collective need, if you will, is year-round. The issues these organizations face daily become more and more demanding as the weeks and months go by. And society must respond every way it can.
An organization near and dear to me, Victory Sports, does what it can for adults with mental and/or physical challenges. We are entering our eighth year of providing athletic and social activities for adults 19 and older.
When we began in 2011, we had about 40 participants — this year, we expect to have 100. The participants play baseball in the summer, basketball in the winter and we hold several dances, in addition to other activities like movie nights, yoga classes and bowling outings. We provide pizza, soda, water and ice cream at events. There is no charge to the participants.
Parents tell us they have seen a remarkable change in their children — they have become more social, they lose weight, they make friends, they smile, they look forward to going out and participating. In essence, their quality of life is vastly improved.
Victory Sports is just one small example of the need that is out there. We would like to do more for our participants. And they would enjoy having more to do. But with limited funding, it’s difficult, if not impossible to plan things like a trip to an amusement park, or a baseball game, or a zoo, for example.
Like all of these worthy charities, we want to grow. The problem is, because of the limited amount of funding out there and the competition to secure donations, growth is usually a dream — reality is keeping the status quo. And all too often, having to make cuts happens all too often.
I have a very real attachment to the Victory program, having had two parents with disabilities. So at a very young age, I gained a very real appreciation for the abilities of people with disabilities.
To see the joy on the faces of the Victory participants makes it all worth it for me. Each participant has a story — each has had to cope with issues most of us will never encounter. And these kids, as I call them, face them with the best of attitudes.
We, those who volunteer with Victory, are their advocates. We are the ones who have to do our best so our participants can have some sort of bite out of the apple of “normal” life.
I tell people about our Victory participants all the time. Like Reynold Derenfeld, a man in his mid-40s who has enjoyed playing baseball since the first time he stepped on the Victory diamond.
The first time Reynold played Victory, he was all decked out in his Phillies uniform. He had a good day, as all Victory participants do — never getting out and reaching base every time he got up to bat.
When the game was over, Reynold stopped me and said this, “This is the first time I ever wore a baseball uniform and played on a real baseball field.”
Reynold was speaking for most of our players. That’s why we have to speak for them.
And that’s why we all have to do our part — following the Luzerne Foundation’s lead — to help where we can.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]