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Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

The legal system can be a difficult place to navigate for anyone, but imagine a child in foster care or a homeless young adult trying to navigate the system without any professional guidance.  Today’s organization was founded to help these kids.

In 1995, an interdisciplinary group of attorneys, social workers, youth workers, judges, teachers, pediatricians, and other children’s advocates in Minnesota realized a need to create an organization that focused on increasing the impact and effectiveness of legal advocacy for foster care and at-risk children.  They established the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota in order to help them through some difficult situations and help prepare them for successful adult lives ahead.

The mission of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota is to promote the rights and interests of Minnesota’s children, especially children of color and children with disabilities, in the judicial, child welfare, health care, and education systems.  The organization’s vision is that through their work, abused and neglected youth achieve stability, hope, and opportunity.

Since their founding, the organization has trained over 650 volunteer attorneys, represented more than 1,800 foster children, and helped promote systemic change and advocacy for vulnerable youth throughout the state.  The majority of the organization’s volunteers are trained to provide legal representation for youth who are at-risk, homeless, or in foster care.  Other volunteers work on special projects such as legal research, copyediting, and graphic design in addition to other legal, paralegal, social work, and administration volunteers and interns.

Today, they serve over 560 child clients each year.  They also collaborate with individuals and organizations in the county, court, educational, and health care systems to support coordinated efforts to ensure the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable youth are legally met and optimized.

The Children’s Law Center also works on reform efforts that result in policies, procedures, and legislation that protects the safety and stability of foster populations.  They also provide education to lawyers, judges, social workers, educators, school administrators, law enforcement officials, youth, and other youth serving professionals on the issues that youth in foster care or at-risk situations face.

To better understand the difference that the organization makes, Heather Wolfgram, Director of Development, shared Steven’s story with me:

“Until he was 10, Steven lived with his mom and her boyfriend who was a pimp and drug dealer. The boyfriend routinely beat up Steven and his mom. Steven watched as the boyfriend killed his mother. Child protection placed Steven with his father who had remarried. Steven’s step mother hated and abused him. Eventually, Steven’s father kicked him out of the house and he ended up on the streets. Steven reentered the child protection system where he bounced from foster home to foster home and school to school. He began to act out at school, was put in detention almost daily, and was then placed in a special education program. This all happened before Steven was 14.

Children’s Law Center (CLC) was court appointed to represent Steven when he was 14. When the volunteer attorney took the case, child protection was about to place Steven in a residential treatment program for kids with mental health problems. The CLC attorney fought to keep him out of the facility and to get the mental health assessment that he had never been given. That assessment determined institutionalization was not needed. The attorney then fought to get Steven a stable placement where he felt welcomed and comfortable. The attorney also advocated for an education assessment that resulted in Steven being removed from the special education program and put into a mainstream high school program. As a result, Steven graduated from high school. Finally, the attorney fought the county’s efforts to discharge Steven from the foster care system on his 18th birthday and successfully advocated for transitional living education and funding for living expenses and job training. Steven currently has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.”

You can also watch Sophie’s story below:

How can you help?

  • Children’s Law Center is always in need of financial support from individuals or corporations.  You can donate via their website.
  • They also have a wish list of in-kind goods and services they are seeking on their website.
  • They also have opportunities for lawyers to provide pro-bono attorney services.  You can find information on their website.
  • In addition, they are looking to partner with groups to put together birthday and graduation packages filled with items such as boxed cake mix, frosting, a card, and a gift card for the youth they work with.  Please contact them to arrange a donation.

To learn more about Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, you can visit their website, www.clcmn.org.  You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Classes 4 Classes

Classes 4 Classes

 

Most of the organizations I write about have a personal and moving story behind their beginning.  Today’s organization was born out of an event that impacted many across the country. 

When I asked the founder of today’s organization for the story behind its beginnings, Kaitlin Roig told a story that I want to share in her words:

“On the morning of December 14, 2012, inside Sandy Hook Elementary, myself and my entire school endured one of the worst tragedies imaginable. Twenty-six lives were taken too soon, too senselessly, and too brutally. In the midst of this unimaginable loss, which could have resulted in the loss of my own life, I knew I had to find meaning again.

In the wake of the tragedy, I experienced a deep need to create positive change by choosing, love, caring, consideration, compassion, empathy, and hope. In doing so, I made a commitment to teach that to my students—to our nation’s students—by creating an opportunity for them to be a part of something incredibly meaningful through their school curriculum.

As a teacher, I was well aware that teaching a social curriculum often gets overlooked in many classrooms, where the emphasis is so heavily placed on academic testing and more traditional subject areas. I knew the importance and meaningful impact of teaching students how to treat, interact, and empathize with others, and witnessed it being lost in the mix. I experienced first-hand that children need to be taught kindness, caring, compassion, and empathy, and knew, in the moment of the tragedy, that it was part of her responsibility as a teacher to make sure this happened. This is where I got the idea for Classes 4 Classes, Inc.”

The mission of Classes 4 Classes, Inc. is to teach every child in the United States to have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others, by providing a platform through which to actively engage them in social curriculum. Students will learn kindness by being kind, they will learn to care by caring, and they will learn empathy by being empathetic. The organization enables students to learn to care for others not by talking but by doing, which cultivates a message that our lives are not separate, but connected.  When kindness, compassion, love and empathy are actively taught, there is no room for hate.

For teachers, the Classes 4 Classes website outlines a process to engage your class in a caring curriculum.  The step-by-step process guides teachers through picking another classroom to adopt through getting the funds to that classroom.  Students in one elementary school classroom give a gift that fulfills a need or educational objective of another elementary school class, anywhere in the country.  The organization promotes a “pay it 4ward” attitude because the receiving classroom is only able to accept their gift after they have selected another classroom to give to.  There are also curriculum ideas for engaging students in learning a social curriculum, not by talking about kindness and empathy but by actually living it. 

Phase 1 of the organization launched in April 2013 and they already have 14 classrooms that have launched projects to provide gifts for 14 other classrooms and nine of those projects have already been fully funded!  Donors have contributed over $9,000 to fund iPads, Kindles, textbooks, white boards, and projectors for classrooms across the country.  Additionally, $7,000 has been donated directly to support the Classes 4 Classes mission. 

Kaitlin also told me, “Classes 4 Classes’ ultimate goal is not the dollar amount provided by donors, nor the gifts that that money is funding, but the positive influence that grows out of the donor’s contributions. They allow students to participate in a project and to act on behalf of someone else this has an extreme impact on a young mind. C4C aims to positively impact the social climate through the youngest and most influential members of our society, so that they are more likely prevented from ever experiencing a tragedy like the one that occurred at Sandy Hook.”

How can you help?

  • Anyone can support the mission of Classes 4 Classes, Inc. by visiting their website, classes4classes.org.  You can scroll through the list of projects and donate directly to your favorite. 
  • You can also make a donation directly to Classes 4 Classes, Inc. on their website.
  • You can also spread the word to elementary school teachers in your community by sharing my blog post.

You can learn more about Classes 4 Classes, Inc. on their website, classes4classes.org.  You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Action For Healthy Kids

Rob Bisceglie CEO of Action for Healthy KidsI recently had the opportunity to interview Rob Bisceglie, the CEO of Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK).  This organization works to fight childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can live healthier lives.  They provide resources to volunteers in schools and school health leaders across the country to learn about physical activity and nutrition best practices in school, act through programs which promote healthy lifestyles and wellness policies in schools, and transform schools to provide healthier foods, physical education and comprehensive physical activity for all students.

Blogunteer: Rob, can you start by telling me how your organization began?

Rob Bisceglie:
We were formed in response to the December 2001 special report, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. That very sobering report examined the serious obesity problem impacting all segments of our communities and identified schools as a key setting for addressing childhood obesity.

It was such a startling call to action that in October 2002, nearly 500 experts in children’s health and education convened in Washington, D.C. at the first Healthy Schools Summit to address schools’ role in reducing childhood obesity. Out of that meeting, Action for Healthy Kids was launched with 51 State Teams (this includes Washington, D.C.) and 30 partner organizations. Dr. Satcher became the founding chair of our Board of Directors.

Since then, legions of truly dedicated AFHK volunteers – from within the ranks of our 50,000+ network – have worked diligently across the country to fight childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can be healthier. Through their efforts, we’re bringing fun physical activity and nutrition lessons and changes to classrooms, cafeterias and school playgrounds so kids can eat nutritiously and play actively every day that they attend school.
Action for Healthy Kids

Blogunteer: There are a lot of organizations working with kids, what makes Action for Healthy Kids unique? 

Rob Bisceglie:
We provide schools with everything they need – programs, grants, volunteer support and technical expertise – to create healthier environments so students can thrive.

Since our founding, Action for Healthy Kids and our 70+ partner organizations have turned the spotlight on the childhood obesity crisis so that it’s now widely acknowledged as a top priority by health and public health professionals, government leaders, school systems and the popular media.

Blogunteer: Do you have any facts you would like to share about your work?

Rob Bisceglie:
Our volunteer and constituent network has grown from fewer than 700 in 2002 to more than 50,000 (and still growing) in 2013.  Last year, our volunteers contributed more than $6 million of their time and resources to schools nationwide.  Last year, we reached more than 20,000 schools and 8 million kids through our volunteers and State Teams.

Although there are tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of fantastic non-profit and government organizations working every day to combat the obesity epidemic, the most recent projections around the epidemic state that by 2030, 50% of Americans may be overweight or obese, unless we reverse the trend.  So, there is still considerable work to be done.

Blogunteer: Sounds like there is still a lot of work to do!  What is a recent accomplishment of Action for Healthy Kids that you would like to share with my readers?

Rob Bisceglie:
Through our work to expand school breakfast programming this school year, we are supporting schools as they serve an additional 1 million breakfasts to hungry kids. I’m proud of that program given the importance of school breakfast on student health and academic achievement. We note in The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids are Healthy and Ready to Learn, for example, that on average students who eat school breakfast have been shown to attend 1.5 more days of school per year and score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests.
Blogunteer: Do you have any specific stories of how your organization has made a difference? 

Rob Bisceglie:
Yes, there quite a few. One of the things I’m proudest of is how truly committed our volunteers are to fighting childhood obesity and ensuring kids and their families understand the importance of physical activity and good nutrition.

Blogunteer:
Rob shared the story of Allison Stewart, a mom who sought out ways to make a difference when her daughter shared that she was rewarded with a cookie for doing her school work.  Allison found Action for Healthy Kids online and was impressed by the number of resources available to parents who want to make a difference in the area of school wellness.  Allison says her efforts are not just about combating childhood obesity, but also about teaching kids how to be healthy.  You can read more about Allison here.

Rob also shared the story of Linda Miller, another Colorado mom who made it her mission to get all the students at her son’s elementary school a free breakfast.  Linda did her research and shared the link between a healthy breakfast and academic success to encourage school leaders to serve breakfast to every student in school.  You can read more about Linda and other AFHK success stories here.

Blogunteer: How can others get involved in Action For Healthy Kids? 

Rob Bisceglie:
Our volunteers focus their efforts on increasing opportunities for kids to play actively and eat well. These are, after all, the two proven paths to ensuring kids are healthy and ready to learn. So, volunteers, for instance, might introduce students to “healthy” foods through tastes tests using our free program Game On! The Ultimate Wellness Challenge. They might participate in a Get in the Action event at a local school and install or refurbish playground equipment. Or, they might provide educational information to school superintendents, teachers and parents to organize statewide meetings on school health issues for legislators. Volunteer work really varies and is always based on the needs of the local schools, communities and, of course, the kids.

Here’s a sampling of how people can get involved as AFHK volunteers:

  • Help schools develop and put into place wellness policies or action plans
  • Serve on or advise school wellness councils
  • Help schools understand and bridge cultural differences
  • Offer expertise and coaching to help schools put in place Action for Healthy Kids’ programs, including Game On! The Ultimate Wellness Challenge and Students Taking Charge, that will bring their action plans to life

Anyone who is interested in volunteering with Action for Healthy Kids can do so  by clicking the “Volunteer” button right on our website.  And, starting next school year, Action for Healthy Kids will launch a new online Volunteer Center in which our volunteers will be matched to volunteer opportunities happening in their local schools.  We see this new technology as a game-changer for our field of school wellness.


Blogunteer: Any last comments you would like to share with my readers Rob?

Rob Biscegle:
Yes, please encourage your readers to visit our website, read The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids are Healthy and Ready to Learn and take the Every Kid Healthy Pledge. By doing so, they’ll become informed on the issues and learn how easily they can make the kinds of healthful changes that will benefit their children.

Blogunteer:
Thank you to Rob for taking the time to speak to me about Action for Healthy Kids.

If you would like to learn more, visit their website, ActionForHealthyKids.org.  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Flickr.

 

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Kitchen on the Street

Kitchen on the Street

Food trucks have become quite a trend.  There are food truck races on television, websites dedicated to where food trucks are parked for the day and even food truck festivals.  I was excited when a local food truck made a trip to the parking lot of the suburban office building I work at for a special food drive event.  Today’s organization is also using a food truck to make a difference.

In 2005 and 2006 Vince, Lisa and Taylor Scarpinato were volunteering around their community, but always left feeling a deeper calling.  In September of 2006, a family friend and local elementary school principal, Dennis Cagle, came over for dinner and shared stories of hungry children.  One second grade girl went through the school cafeteria and picked up discarded half-eaten foods from other children.  The principal went on to share that many children receive breakfast and lunch from the schools, but go hungry on the weekends.  That night, the family decided to start a non-profit and Kitchen on the Street was born.

The mission of Kitchen on the Street is “Turning Hunger into Hope”.  They fulfill this mission through several programs.  The first program they started was Bags of Hope; backpacks of individually portioned, shelf stable meal and snack foods for children to eat on the weekends.  In their first year, they served 30 children through the Bags of Hope program and have since expanded to serve many more.  The organization also partners with local growers, community gardens, and food banks to distribute fresh produce to families in need through their Fresh Food Distribution program.  They collaborate with local schools, churches, and community centers on events where low income families receive free fresh produce.

The newest program is the Kitchen on the Street Food Truck.  This truck is a traveling kitchen that feeds people, raises awareness, acts as a mobile classroom and helps raise funds for the Bags of Hope program.  The truck was purchased from a $100,000 grant provided by the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The truck is used to teach families about food and nutrition and to teach job skills to adults in need.  The truck also travels to a variety of locations and special events as a catering business that feeds money back into the other Kitchen on the Street Programs.

Kitchen on the Street's Food Truck

The video below talks more about the impacts of childhood hunger and how Kitchen on the Street is making a difference:

How can you help?

  • Become a fan on Facebook or subscribe to their e-news to receive notifications of volunteer opportunities with Kitchen on the Street such as backpack packing events, fresh food handouts, and a variety of other tasks.
  • You can volunteer or participate in the annual Hike for Hunger to raise awareness of childhood hunger.
  • You can also make a monetary donation through the Kitchen on the Street website by clicking the donate button.

Learn more about Kitchen on the Street on their website, KitchenOnTheStreet.org.  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Smile Network

Smile Network

I recently saw a story about encore careers on the news.  According to Encore.org, encore careers combine personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good.  Today’s organization was founded by someone seeking a change and an opportunity to do something more meaningful.

In May of 2003, Kim Valentini decided to leave the corporate world to make a difference.  In an interview in Minnesota Business, Kim said that she had a desire to do something more with her life.  She “wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have one.  What we all have in common is a need to belong…when you’re a child born with a disfigurement, you don’t fit in.”

Kim Valentini with Farzhad

Kim Valentini with Farzhad

Kim started by committing five hours a week to a charitable cause with a goal of creating one mission site in Mexico and gifting 50 smiles per year.  However, those five hours quickly turned to 55 hours per week and Smile Network International was born.  Smile Network is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and provides life-altering reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults around the world.

Since 2003, Smile Network has developed 24 surgical sites in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Armenia, India, Ecuador, and Uganda.  They recently completed their 50th mission and have provided 2,500 new smiles through their free surgeries.

Eliseo

Eliseo

Each of these 2,500 surgeries have changed a life, here are just a few of their stories:

  • Eliseo was 72 years old and had never known what it was like to sit at a table and share a meal with family because food would come out his nose.  He was born with a cleft palate and abandoned at birth.  With tears in his eyes, he begged the Smile Network team to take a risk to operate on him stating that he would rather die than to continue living this way.  This simple request was hard to deny.
  • Rosealva was a little girl abandoned by her family and left to die under a blanket because of her cleft lip.  She was was given a new life after she was found by a local mission team and brought to the Smile Network mission site.
  • David’s mother was forced to walk to the end of her village and leave her infant son to die because they thought he would bring a curse to the village causing their crops and livestock to die.  Instead, she kept walking to a mission site where David received an operation.  She and David returned to village to be reunited with their family.

Same Child

You can watch a video of one of the Smile Network’s trips to Peru from an episode of On The Road with Jason Davis from KSTP TV to see some more moving stories of lives changed.

How can you help?

  • Smile Network’s Champions of Children program allows students and schools to raise money to fund surgeries.  You can learn more about his program and read stories of schools who have participated on the organization’s website.
  • Their Global Ventures program offers individuals and groups a chance to raise money to hike the Inca Trail or Mount Kilimanjaro to bring about change.  At the end of your hike, you participate in the screening process to identify the candidates for surgeries.  To learn more about this program and to hear from others who have participated, visit their website.
  • You can also volunteer for a surgical mission to help transform lives around the world.  You can find the mission schedule and more information on their website.
  • The easiest thing to do is to make a donation.  It takes just $500 to pay for an entire surgery.  A donation of $250 covers the surgical supplies for one child, $100 covers a child’s medication, and $50 covers the care kit given to each child.  You can make a donation directly on their website.

To learn more about the Smile Network, visit their website, smilenetwork.org.  You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter or contact them via phone at 612-377-1800.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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The Edible Schoolyard Project

The Edible Schoolyard Project

I grew up watching my mother and grandmother tend their huge gardens full of vegetables and some fruits.  In the last couple years I have started a small garden at home and have watched my kids enjoy helping and even trying the vegetables we have grown (which is a breakthrough moment for my anti-vegetable daughter).  Today’s organization has been bringing vegetables into schools for over 16 years.

In 1995, Alice Waters was quoted in her local paper stating that the school she passed each day looked as if no one cared about it.  The principal of that school, Neil Smith, contacted her to see if she had an idea to help.  Alice, a chef, wanted to start a garden and teaching kitchen at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.  She saw these as tools for enriching the curriculum and the life of the school community.  The idea slowly began to take to form and through the involvement of faculty and parent volunteers, The Edible Schoolyard was born.

The garden and kitchen are not just used to teach gardening and cooking.  Lessons have included teaching fractions in the kitchen and growing heirloom grains to learn about early civilizations.  In addition, students who are involved in the garden are more likely to try the foods grown there.

The mission of the Edible Schoolyard is to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum, culture, and food program.  At Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California the Edible Schoolyard curriculum is fully integrated into the school day and teaches students how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities.

You can watch the Edible Schoolyard in action in this short video:

The Edible Schoolyard Program now supports school garden programs throughout the world by providing resources and tools for teachers, parents, and advocates.  During the summer, the Berkeley location opens their doors to host the Edible Schoolyard Academy to provide hands-on activities, presentations, guided discussions, and curriculum building sessions to provide participants with the tools for teaching edible education.

How can you become involved?

  • Explore the network of school garden programs on the Edible Schoolyard website to see if a school near you is participating.  You can also register your school program.
  • Utilize the resources for school garden programs on the organization’s website or even contribute your own resource.
  • Sign up for the Edible Schoolyard Academy to learn how to incorporate edible education into your school.
  • You can also make a monetary donation to support the Edible Schoolyard program on their website.
  • If you live in Berkeley, California, you can volunteer at the Edible Schoolyard there.  Learn more on their website.  You can also volunteer at a school program near you.  To find one, search here.

To learn more about the Edible Schoolyard, visit their website, edibleschoolyard.org.  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, as well as their newsletter and blog.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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The Blue Slide Project

The Blue Slide Project

Last summer I wrote about Dana Millington, a mom who is honoring her daughter by creating an inclusive playground in her Minnesota community.  Today’s post is about another mom who has built a playground for her son in Oregon.

When Mona Pinon’s son Isaac was just 4 months old, he was paralyzed after a cancerous tumor injured his spinal cord.  He has been in a wheelchair since he was 18 months old and is now in kindergarten.  In November of 2011, Mona visited the school where Isaac would attend kindergarten and found that he would not be able to play on the school’s playground equipment.  She met with the school principal who suggested she approach the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA).  She went to a meeting, told them what she wanted to do, and asked for help.  They agreed to support the project and Mona agreed to be the fundraiser.  The Blue Slide Project was born.

Over the summer of 2012, Mona and her team of fundraisers held a variety of events to raise money to build a new playground at the Parkside Elementary School in Grants Pass, Oregon.  They held a Bunco Night, Zumbathon, Concerts in the Park, a car wash, yard sales and more.

In July 2012, the construction of Phase 1 began.  You can see the groundbreaking in this video from KDRV TV.  In August 2012, Isaac was able to celebrate his 5th birthday by cutting the ribbon on the new playground.

IMG_7598

The community really rallied around the project to make it become a reality.  One example is a 64 year old man with Parkinson’s Disease who walked 46 miles from Grants Pass to Ashland, Oregon.  He said he was “doing what Isaac can’t.”  He ended his journey with a trip down a slide with Isaac.  Mona said she believed this was possible “because a community believed that ALL children should have the freedom to play.”  She has received e-mails from local residents thanking her for making the playground possible.  Even adults with disabilities are now able to interact with their children at the playground where before they could only watch from the sidelines.

There is a second phase to the project which will resurface the remaining area of the playground.  Anyone can purchase a tile for under $20 to help support the resurfacing.   Mona hopes to work with the local parks department to help make other local parks accessible to all as well.

I asked Mona for her tips to others who want to build an accessible playground in their community and she told me to be prepared to do a lot of research and do not be too proud to ask for help.  Ask the media to share the story of what you are doing.  “Keep your eye to the end and enjoy the people you meet along the way.”

To learn more about the Blue Slide Project, connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail.  You can also find the link to donate to the project on their Facebook page.

Watch Isaac use his blue slide here:

Related Post: Madison Claire Foundation

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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