Mary & Bob Brown
The Kennedy Center is fortunate to have a wonderful core of enthusiastic volunteers that are willing to share their time, talents and resources on behalf of individuals with disabilities. Whether it is serving as a board member, participating in various fundraising and advisory committees, or through the offering of generous donations, Bob and Mary Brown exemplify this spirit of volunteerism that makes The Kennedy Center a success. The Brown’s commitment to The Kennedy Center is based on deep conviction that it is the right thing to do. As Mary explains, “Founder Evelyn Kennedy invited me to volunteer, and I felt it was my moral obligation. If you have an organization that is providing positive care for your child, every parent in the same circumstance should support it.” Early in Mary’s pregnancy she contracted rubella (German measles), as a result Julie was born with multiple disabilities and started using Kennedy Center services over 30 years ago.
Bob and Mary Brown feel The Kennedy Center provided an answer to their prayers, which has positively impacted the entire family’s quality of life. So it is only natural that they support the organization that has provided their family with so much. At the same time, Bob acknowledges the importance of those who support The Kennedy Center without having a direct family connection. “Parents have a responsibility,” Bob adds, “But when someone gives just because they recognize the good of the organization, it is even more meaningful."
Diane Thompson & her husband Chip Carpenter
Familial tradition and legacy is why Diane Thompson continues to support The Kennedy Center. As the niece of Fred and Frank Ahlbin, Diane knows you do not have to have a family member with a disability to support The Kennedy Center. The Ahlbin brothers were known for having donated their Garden Street factory building in Bridgeport, as the new headquarters of the burgeoning Kennedy Center back in 1976. “I think everyone needs to choose some non-profit organization to support, and I believe in supporting locally. Often with big national organizations, you don’t always feel you know whose life you are impacting. Also, I know personally that The Kennedy Center really knows how to stretch their dollars.”
Diane fondly recalls how her family always attended The Kennedy Center’s Four Seasons Ball fundraiser that benefits Residential Services. So when Diane and her sister Julie Conley became responsible for the family trust and estate, Diane felt life had already given them a path to follow. Since 2008, Diane and her family have carried on the family custom of philanthropy. They continue to sponsor the Junior Golfer Scholarship Fund at the Charity Golf Classic and give generously to The Kennedy Center Annual Giving Campaign. More recently, Diane’s family also became supporters of The Kennedy Center’s Adopt-a-Home program. “Kennedy Center Residential homes and Community Experience programs are everywhere in the local community, so I know where the money goes and my family’s legacy of giving continues.”
Michael Lynch & Dr. Diana Paulin
Some people just do the right thing for all the right reasons. Case in point, Michael Lynch and his wife, Dr. Diana Paulin are excellent examples of people who simply care. Michael is a Financial Planner for Barnum Financial who hosts the weekly radio show, Smart Money Radio, on WICC. Dr. Paulin is a professor of English and American Studies at Trinity College. Their beautiful daughter Micaela, who has autism, is the primary reason that the couple is dedicated to helping others and giving to The Kennedy Center. Michael got involved with The Kennedy Center as a personal favor to a friend. Initially, he and his wife helped sponsor the first Magic Moments fundraiser for children with Autism. Soon after Michael met with Martin D. Schwartz, President and CEO of The Kennedy Center, to see how he could get more involved. “I liked the fact that The Kennedy Center provides housing, social groups, jobs and everything that individuals with disabilities need. I understood that if The Kennedy Center didn’t exist we would have to create it.” Even though their daughter does not receive Kennedy Center services, it was not long before their family became integral members of The Kennedy Center family.
Michael serves on the Endowment committee, the Board of Directors, and he and his wife are regular attendees at various Kennedy Center fundraising events. Yet, what makes this exceptional couple of particular interest is how they have chosen to give to The Kennedy Center’s Endowment Fund. Michael admits, “While we don’t give as much as we would like, we had to start somewhere. For most people it’s hard to write a big check, but this way it’s easy. By the yard it’s hard, by the inch, it’s a cinch.” The endowment fund allows The Kennedy Center to get through hard financial times like we see today. It also provides essential seed capital for innovative programs and projects. Today, the Lynch family gives to the endowment fund on a monthly basis. Michael determined that after three years of monthly online contributions, the Lynch family will have a Named Fund in the endowment. “I believe in endowment funds because a hundred years from now The Kennedy Center will have the money to continue serving families that need help.”
Often the concept of “giving” conjures traditional images of pulling out the checkbook. Yet, we know that giving comes in a multitude of forms. For example, for over six years Carol Karpovich has given her time, talents and energy as Volunteer Manager of the New and Nearly New Shop located at 2323 Barnum Avenue, in Stratford. Carol is a member of the Auxiliary, an independent 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization, that is a major supporter of The Kennedy Center, Inc. “I have 27 volunteers working at the shop and most of them don’t have any family connections to The Kennedy Center.” says Carol.
Formally established in 1979 as a service group, the Auxiliary sponsors annual Kennedy Center events such as the Halloween Dance, the Summer Bash, the Bowling Banquet and the Valentines Dance with the profits made from the shop. In the last six years the Auxiliary, consisting solely of volunteers, has donated over $180,000 to various Kennedy Center projects. Carol also volunteers at annual fundraisers like the Cabaret, Magic Moments, and the Charity Golf Classic. Likewise Carol and her husband Eugene take out the proverbial checkbook for the annual giving campaign. Carol imparts, “I love what I do for The Kennedy Center. They are there when families need them. Even though their funds have been cut severely in the last few years, they are still always there for local families, and that’s why I volunteer.” Thanks to individuals like Carol Karpovich, her way of giving has been improving the quality of life of Kennedy Center consumers for decades.
People are as unique as the number of ways in which they give. Ten years ago, Teri Brown decided to take out an annual life insurance policy with The Kennedy Center as the beneficiary. At the time, Teri felt she was not in a position to make as large a contribution to the organization as she would have liked and she had heard of this form of giving from various colleges. Her motivation was her younger sister Julie, who was born blind and profoundly deaf and had been receiving services from The Kennedy Center for close to thirty years. Teri explains, “My family and I feel very strongly about supporting The Kennedy Center. We want it to survive not just for our own interests, but for those who find themselves similarly situated.” Teri avidly describes The Kennedy Center as a place where everyone is supported and has shared values, much like a family.
Teri chose to make a relatively small donation each year until she could make a significant donation to The Kennedy Center’s endowment. Each year, Teri sends a check to The Kennedy Center for the annual payment for the life insurance policy. Today, in addition to the life insurance policy, Teri supports many of the annual fundraisers, participates on various committees, and contributes to The Kennedy Center through a United Way payroll deduction. Accordingly, her family has been blessed to receive services from The Kennedy Center and they consider it a duty and a privilege to give back. In depicting The Kennedy Center Teri earnestly states, “The Kennedy Center is well run, so I feel good donating to an organization that is responsible with its funds and has a direct impact on the community.”
Dottie & Gil Kellersman
It is a beautifully crisp and clear morning in summer when Gil and Dottie Kellersman begin telling the story of their daughter Lisa. Sitting at the dining room table, over the morning cup of coffee, reviewing the day’s “to do” list, they appear just like any other couple. As the story unfolds, it is easy to see that few can ever grasp the austere nature of their thirty-eight year journey as parents of a child with autism. As the character Atticus stated in the infamous To Kill a Mocking Bird, “You never know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk about in them.” Their story begins when far fewer supports for families with autistic children existed than there are today. By the age of one it was evident to the Kellersmans that their daughter had special needs. Lisa had exhibited behaviors such as failing to make eye contact, rocking on all fours for extended periods of time, and failing to verbalize as her peers. In time Lisa was diagnosed with mild Intellectual disability, autism, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Subsequently, the Kellersmans naturally sought assistance to ensure that Lisa would have the best quality of life possible.
Lisa began early intervention services through the Fairfield school district during her elementary school years. The school district did an excellent job at the time, but as Lisa grew, so did her adverse behaviors. Her positive elementary school experience was followed by a long period of escalating aggression and unrestrained control. Much to the sorrow and dismay of her parents, Lisa’s behaviors exceeded the capabilities of one autism program after another. For almost a decade the family experienced a rapid succession of programmatic failures that eventually triggered overwhelming stress and a genuine sense of helplessness for everyone. “We didn’t have help. Lisa seemed used to failing by this time, and so much valuable time that was needed to make headway in her development was lost.” Dottie explains. Finally, Lisa’s caseworker identified The Kennedy Center, Inc. after so many unsuccessful program experiences.
The Kennedy Center staff immediately met with Lisa, made an assessment and said they could work with her. “I don’t know what we would have done if it weren’t for The Kennedy Center. If they hadn’t accepted Lisa, we couldn’t imagine what our next option would have been,” states Gil Kellersman. For so many years little progress was made, but thanks to the efforts of The Kennedy Center, there was hope. The Kellersmans could actually envision a future for their daughter.
Lisa’s case was considered so exceptional that Kennedy Center staff received an Exemplary Care Grant Award from the International Crisis Prevention Institute in recognition of their accomplishment with Lisa and their outstanding achievements as human service professionals. The Care Grant is awarded to only one facility throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England. Consequently, Kennedy Center staff were acknowledged for their incredible success with Lisa and for making a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.
The Kennedy Center’s staff has consistently demonstrated that positive programming, creative problem solving, teamwork, and a commitment to excellence can bring about new solutions and positive outcomes for even the most complex individuals with disabilities. Lynn McCrystal, Vice President of Kennedy Industries recalls, “When Lisa first began with us, we took the attitude that we were never going to give up. As a result, we have seen huge growth with Lisa.” Today Lisa is described as a smart woman who thrives in Project Pace, one of The Kennedy Center’s Community Experience programs. She advocates her needs and wants, helps out at her program, cares for her peers and staff, enjoys swimming, cooking and going out into the community. Lisa was 21 years of age when she entered The Kennedy Center. Today at age 38, Lisa, has made significant strides towards independence, and her parents are two of The Kennedy Center’s most adamant supporters. Gil has served on The Kennedy Center’s Board for 14 years, and Dottie is the President of The Kennedy Center’s Auxiliary. Lisa currently resides with her parents and she takes great delight in the support of a network of family and friends whom she shares mutual interests.
I wanted to express my positive experience in working in the Opportunities Unlimited Program. I have learned a great deal about working with children with special needs. I have learned that children with special needs have the same needs and desires as every other child their age. I particularly identify with them in that I myself dealt with depression for most of my life, which resulted in social isolation, so it took me longer than most people to understand basic social rules that most people seem to adapt to seamlessly. I have found that being positive, and in actuality, being yourself is the best way to work with the kids. I truly enjoyed working with Denis, and hope he enjoyed my company as much as I did his. I hope I can keep in contact with him in the future as well.
My experience with The Kennedy Center has really helped me grow as a person as well as helping the kids, who have a tough time adapting and reading social situations. I feel that all they really need is someone who genuinely cares about their well-being, and someone who is not afraid to let their love out. I look forward to helping…nay I do not like that term….befriending many more kids in the future.