You are viewing all posts about nonprofit

It starts today. If it is anything like last year, we can expect to see students dancing, free food and lots of emotion in the pit this week.

Every year the Dance Marathon committee members take on the daunting task of recruiting 1,600 dancers for the February marathon.

The UNC Dance Marathon is a year long fundraiser that raises money to benefit N.C. Children’s Hospital. This year they have planned several events, including the Battle of the Bands in December. This week students can sign up online or in the pit.

Everything culminates in a 24-hour dance marathon in February where hundreds of students pledge to stand for 24 hours to support the patients and families at N.C. Children’s Hospital. Over the past few years, they have not only been able to support the For The Kids fund, but have also been able to give out different grants at the hospital which have been able to support programs and divisions like Healthy Steps, Parents Night Out and the Center for Clinical Excellence.

You can follow the UNC Dance Marathon Blog or Twitter to keep up with the fundraising efforts.

Mark Sullivan feels that making any budget cuts in the mental health sector this coming year is a step in the wrong direction.

“Cutting funding for our already underfunded mental health services is like saving money on car maintenance by not changing your oil,” Sullivan said.

But the executive director of the Mental Health Association in Orange County may not have a say in the matter.

With a projected $3.3 billion state shortfall expected by the next fiscal year’s budget, the pressure on mental health agencies to become more cost-effective is increasing. In response, the Orange-Person-Chatham Area Program has begun work on the budget nearly eight months in advance, but their outlook at the last council meeting was far from reassuring.   The consensus of board members seemed to be that cuts in funding are inevitable.

The MHA in Orange County could the impact of such cuts.  Yet its importance in the community is that it is improving care by offering free programs to families and clients for little cost to the county, Sullivan said.

“Our place in the mental health community is as a non-clinical service provider,” Sullivan explained.  “We don’t do psychiatry or therapy. . . but we try to augment those services in innovative and cost-effective ways.”

The MHA, founded in 1966, is a nonprofit group that provides care to the mentally ill and their families via independent offices across the country. While many agencies rely on the professional experience of counselors as the backbone of their services, the MHA in Orange County utilizes the personal experiences of those who have worked with the association before, either directly or indirectly, to help clients and families.

One of their most popular programs, the Family Advocacy Network, comprises parents with challenged children who meet to discuss treatment and education, share coping skills and provide a sense of community to parents who often feel left out of the health and education process. Three women oversee the program; all have special needs children and know the process of getting children what they need.

“We support parents on their level,” said Linda Boldin, family advocate and parent of two children with learning disabilities. “We can say to parents, ‘We know how you feel about that meeting at school. We, as parents, have been there and have been in that meeting. We’ve felt left out, uneducated, not having the knowledge to navigate the process.’’

The network hosts workshops and discussions once a month, with the next scheduled for November 13 at the Orange County Methodist Church.

The MHA also supports clients through its volunteers. The Compeer program is designed to match volunteer companions with sufferers of severe mental health issues, particularly schizophrenia. The program began in Rochester, New York in 1973 and has since expanded to more than 100 affiliates, according to the MHA website.

Aimee Vandemark, a licensed clinical social worker who oversees the program in Orange County, said the experience is one that many people in treatment need in order to improve their circumstances.

“It’s really essential,” Vandemark said. “Mental illness can be really isolating. . . so just being able to have somebody to be out and about with socially is really important.” She added that the program has been shown to improve mental health and decrease hospitalizations amongst participating clients.

After an initial application, training seminar and face-to-face meeting, volunteers are expected to spend at least one hour a week with their matches for a year. This often leads to long-lasting friendships, and many volunteers and clients have been matched for several years, Vandemark said.

The MHA in Orange County receives 88 percent of its funding through a combination of foundation grants and support from the federal, state and local governments. The other 12 percent comes from private donations, but the fact that most of the people that assist those in need are volunteers cuts costs considerably, said Sullivan.

“We do rely on public funds to a degree to keep our doors open,” Sullivan said. “And that includes money from OPC.” The Orange-Person-Chatham Area Program manages the budget for county mental health programs.

Not all organizations rely on state funding. Groups such as the Inter-Faith Council, which assists the homeless and, by extension, some mentally ill individuals, relies on private funding alone. Volunteers for Youth, which operates mostly through state funding, still found a way to keep its youth mentoring program for disadvantaged children in tact after the state cut its funding last year.

The MHA in Orange County finds itself in the middle of these situations.  Though much of its funding comes from private donations, each of its programs relies on state funding in one form or another, according to Sullivan.  And while the organization’s outlook remains positive, there is no telling where next year will lead them.

“I’m very concerned,” Sullivan said.  “It’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen, and for years now I think that a lot of people who are concerned about mental health in North Carolina have said, ‘well, it can’t get any worse than this. . . how much worse can it get?’ And it continues to get worse.”

This article was reported as part of the J253 Reporting course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.