Easter Seals Southern Georgia Adapts to New Ways of Giving

Barbara Kieker

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

In 2011, Easter Seals Southern Georgia purposely dropped a number of smaller fundraising events, which had experienced declining attendance over the past two years.  The focus instead is on fewer large events and gaining greater public awareness of specific programs. 

"It's been interesting to see how the economy has changed the way people give.  We've seen attendance drop at some events but we've had a number of people making donations to specific programs," said Beth English, executive director of Easter Seals Southern Georgia. 

Large fundraising events such as the annual city of Albany Christmas ornament, the Chocolate Classic and the annual Bass Tournament remain popular and bring in significant donations.  The 2012 Bass Tournament is scheduled for March 31 on Lake Eufaula in Alabama. 

"We laugh that bass fishermen refuse to acknowledge a recession because we had the best attendance ever at last year's tournament," English said. 

Easter Seals Southern Georgia serves children, adults and families with disabilities or special needs with a variety of programs and services that enable individuals to lead lives of equality, dignity and independence.  Its service areas include community living support, an adult day program, residential services, respite care and vocational services. 

Helping More People Than Ever

With unemployment high, more people than ever are seeking services from Easter Seals.  In Southern Georgia, Easter Seals served 2,900 children and adults in 2011 across 60 counties in Georgia. 

"A lot of families who have managed without assistance in the past have been stretched thin.  We are helping more middle-income families now and more working people," English said. 

The agency has seen its budget, staff and number of people served increase over the last three years.  At the end of its fiscal year on Aug. 31, Easter Seals Southern Georgia came out of a deficit position. 

"We invested in adding staff for specific programs, which can create a deficit, and then we grew our way out of that as we have in the past," English said. 

"We added a Masters-level director to help develop and lead our adult day program.  It's been a great success as we've doubled the number of people served in the last year and generated a lot of interest in the community." 

The adult day program has a low staff to participant ratio and offers enrichment activities in the community.  According to English, the program is an offshoot of the respite care that Easter Seals provides to families with special needs members.   

Easter Seals operates three residential homes that serve children with special needs, providing respite to their families.  Services are offered in Albany, Waycross and, most recently, Valdosta.  In addition to family support and the adult day program, Easter Seals offers vocational services and community living support. 

Providing a Business Perspective

According to English, local business leaders have much to contribute to Easter Seals beyond monetary donations.  An experienced business perspective is needed to help identify risks and opportunities associated with new policies and programs. 

"We need business talent and experience on our boards of directors.  It helps keep us balanced and grounded in our approach," English said. 

"We also need connections across the communities we serve.  It's the only way we can identify, develop, fund and provide the services our communities need and stay true to our mission." 

More information on Easter Seals Southern Georgia is available at southergeorgia.easterseals.com

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.