Benefits of Service Dogs

Service dogs play a critical – yet oft-overlooked – role in the daily lives of many people. Service dogs can change the quality of life for many of those with disabilities and those with chronic conditions.

It’s essential to know how service dogs can help improve life, if for no other reason than to appreciate and respect these animals and their important work truly. Listed below are some of the benefits of service dogs – though it is by no means a complete list.

Aiding Mobility

Service dogs are trained to provide physical aid to their owners. For example, they can reach wheelchair users’ items and provide basic tasks for those that can’t, fetch objects, press buttons, etc. 

Medical Alerts

Some service dogs have been trained to be on alert for people experiencing a medical crisis. Specific episodes can be alerted in advance, allowing the person to either get to a safe place or request help. Otherwise, service dogs can provide a safe space, get help, or stand watch as needed.

Fall Prevention

Service dogs provide a critical service for those that deal with fatigue, physical challenges, pain conditions, or just have trouble walking. These dogs are specially trained to help a person who is struggling with their balance. They can brace a person about to fall or help soften their landings. Furthermore, they can provide help by fetching items (reducing the risk of getting up needlessly). 

Independence

Thanks to service dogs, many people have gained a level of independence that they would otherwise not have been able to reach. They no longer have to rely on those around them and can always trust their service animal to provide whatever aid is needed.

Companionship

Having a service dog comes with the added benefit of always having a companion around. Yes, that companion is working, but they are incredibly loyal and willing to help out however possible.

As such, service dogs can help reduce certain adverse emotional states, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. All while boosting positive ones, including self-confidence and happiness.

It’s important here to note the significant differences between a service dog and a therapy animal. While both have their benefits, ultimately, they do provide vastly different tasks. Be sure to properly research both before deciding which one is right for you.

The Benefits of Volunteering

There are many reasons why people choose to volunteer their time to an organization they appreciate. Those reasons can include the desire to help nonprofits succeed, make a difference in the world, or even just the idea of learning a new skill.

The truth of the matter is that volunteering comes with many benefits. Some of those benefits are for the individuals helping out, while many others go toward the organization in need. Here are just a few of the ways that volunteering can make a difference.

Developing New Skills

This may surprise many, but volunteering can and will teach a person new skills. These skills can then be used in a multitude of ways, from work experience to personal advancement.

Provides a Sense of Purpose

Gaining a sense of purpose is probably one of the more common reasons why people volunteer – even if they don’t realize it at the time. The idea of joining something more significant and extraordinary is powerful and something that nearly every human desires.

Building a Community

Volunteer work has been known to help build and strengthen communities, as confirmed by the Corporation for National & Community Service. This happens on both a macro and micro scale. On the one hand, the community as a whole is strengthened. On the other hand, individual volunteers improve their networks as they come together.

Boost Self-Esteem

To put it simply: volunteering feels good. Furthermore, it has been scientifically proven that volunteering can improve self-esteem. This means that a person can simultaneously help their community and themselves at the same time.

Gaining Experience

Volunteering can provide valuable experiences, many of which can be applied to in a work environment. Volunteering can be included on a resume and is often something that management may look for, especially in a relevant field.

Physical Health Opportunities

Many of the volunteer opportunities out there are at least somewhat physically demanding. While this may sound intimidating to some, what it really means is that this is yet another opportunity to achieve more goals. A person can get exercise and do good at the same time.

Reduces Certain Risks

According to Medical Press, people who actively volunteer may be at a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, studies from the Journal of Gerontology help support this statement by showing that social service improves elasticity in the brain. This, in turn, can help prevent certain health conditions down the line. 

 

Leading Nonprofits for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is an inherent movement disorder formed in utero by abnormal brain development, affecting muscle tone and posture throughout life. The condition can manifest in several variations known as spastic, mixed, ataxic, and athetoid. Symptoms may include one or all of the following: involuntary motion, floppy limbs, or exaggerated reflexes. Although there is no cure, treatments include physical therapy, medication, and surgery.

There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations that support raising awareness and finding a cure for cerebral palsy, but the first rule of thumb when choosing one is that not all charities are created equal. If you are interested in volunteering your time or money, it’s a wise idea to do your due diligence first so you can screen out potentially less reliable institutions. One excellent resource for finding a charity is Charity Navigator. As the world’s largest evaluator of charities, this company assigns a rating to each nonprofit based on several factors: transparency with funds, the organization’s financial health, and accountability. Some of the leading groups are as follows.

One of the most active non-profits serving the Cerebral Palsy community in the United States is United Cerebral Palsy (UCP). UCP lives to spread its mission, “A Life Without Limits,” to promote inclusion within communities, not just for people living with cerebral palsy but also for their families and caregivers. The international network of over 100 local and state affiliates was founded in 1949 and worked tirelessly to advocate, support, and educate those inflicted by cerebral palsy, in addition to other disorders, such as down syndrome and autism. Needs are met on a community basis, customized to be as effective as possible for that region. Services include employment training, in-home assistance, family support networks, and transportation assistance, among other help. 

UPC was also instrumental between the 1950s and 1970s in creating public awareness of the horrific living conditions of residents who had been institutionalized. They also contributed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passing, which provides civil rights protections for those living with cognitive, physical, or developmental disabilities. Furthermore, UCP advocates for assistance with registering and casting votes at the polls.

The Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation (CPIRF) is a non-profit group that focuses primarily on funding research and education and advocating for Federal support. This group was founded in 1955 and has contributed over $40 million to discover the cause of cerebral palsy, discover early diagnosis, and prevent secondary musculoskeletal complications that sometimes occur. Their fact sheet findings are shared on their website via an extensive online library.

 

The Next Generation is Reshaping Philanthropy

There is a reason it may feel like baby boomers are fading away and the millennials are taking over the world. Looking at the world population, nearly 26% are younger than 14, 16% are between 14 and 25, and 8% are older than 65. This leaves approximately half of the global population between 25 and 65. Based on data taken from financial advisors, this group of donors, known as next-generation philanthropists, is reshaping the way they handle their wealth.

One area that is already noticeably different is the level of involvement in spending and how decisions are being made. Instead of solely relying on financial advisors, next-generation philanthropists will now be giving equal time to nonprofit development experts. In addition, younger philanthropists want a more hands-on, interactive experience that will form a long-term relationship with an organization or cause instead of just writing a check. Along these lines, these next-generation donors will want to invest in companies that have deep bonds with their surrounding communities, as well. 

Rather than giving money to crisis relief funds, there is also a growing interest in funding groups that already have a foothold in areas that need help long-term, not just when disaster strikes. Smaller, independent charities are now getting support directly from funders. Another trend among next-generation donors is supporting organizations that help people become more self-sufficient and less dependent on aid long-term.

Discoveries are also being made about how to help a community truly. Taking a more in-depth look into how resources can benefit a population, altruists of today understand that literacy issues won’t be solved simply by delivering masses of books or building a school. There needs to be attention spent addressing the most basic human needs of clean water, sleep, access to electricity, and better nutrition before more significant issues like literacy can be tackled. Collectively addressing multiple community issues is more effective than putting out fires one at a time because they understand everything is connected. 

Next-generation donors also want more interaction regarding how their money is helping a cause. They prefer constant updates and enjoy promoting social media issues, so they are evolving communication strategies between donors and organizations.

 

How You Can Support Those With Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is an inherent disorder that affects a person’s movement, posture, and muscle tone. The symptoms will start to display in early childhood and range from involuntary, exaggerated movements of the arms and legs to completely limp or rigid limbs. It’s common for people who are ignorant about this disease to confuse it with other neurological disorders. Cerebral palsy results from a combination of events either before, during, or after birth that causes an injury in a baby’s developing brain. There is no cure, only long-term treatment options such as medicine, surgery, and physical therapy. Many research organizations exist to attempt to discover what exactly causes this severe illness. 

Even without a medical degree, there are still many other ways to support a friend or loved one with this disease. The first necessary hurdle is seeing past the appearance of someone different. The misconception that you should either ignore them or pretend they aren’t different is untrue. They are aware they are unique and would gladly welcome a greeting from a new friend. Don’t be afraid to reach out and shake their hand. In addition to greeting them, ask them any questions directly. They will welcome a chance to talk to you. Even if you just want to make small talk, engage them directly instead of talking around them like they are not there. When speaking, use your words exactly as you would with a regular adult. Adults with Cerebral Palsy are not children. 

Sometimes people are insensitive without even meaning to be. A person’s wheelchair is an extension of themselves and something upon which they rely heavily. For this reason, avoid leaning on it or touching it without permission. This includes pushing someone around uninvited. 

Another way to show respect is by actively listening to what they have to say. This includes making eye contact, avoiding all electronic devices, and nodding your head in agreement. By doing so, you show them that their words are valuable and are worth just as much as every other person’s. 

People who have Cerebral Palsy are not defined by it. They are humans who suffer from it, but they are not the disease. They are also likely to have a distinct sense of humor after hearing nearly every idiom there is. If you catch yourself saying something that might seem inappropriate, they will be very accepting of your good intentions. 

How Technology Can Improve Philanthropy

Technology has improved the world in many ways by bringing us closer and making things more efficient. This is also the case for the nonprofit sector. Many of the obstacles that used to get in the way of helping causes are no longer there. One of the first ways it has been transformative is in the way people now think of the word philanthropy.

For many years, philanthropy was associated with gifts from wealthy patrons and/or large sums of money. Because technology has made giving so much easier, it is now possible to donate to a cause you are passionate about, even if you have very little money of your own. Websites like GoFundMe provide insight into details about a specific charity or person who needs help. Crowdfunding, in general, is able to harness the power of the masses in order to obtain thousands of small gifts that add up to substantial support. JustGiving is another great platform to search for a cause to support, ranging form 5K races to funding a specific community project.

In the past, philanthropists would gather at large galas to hold fundraisers or charity auctions. Unless they held blind auctions with bidder numbers, people knew who was donating or bidding. There was no anonymity. Because of the internet, it is now very easy to support as many causes as you like, free from disclosure. It also goes the other way. It is very easy to campaign for a cause you care about via social media. Many people use their birthdays as a way to increase awareness about a cause. 

If a person is shy, they don’t even need to leave their house to donate. There are mobile text organizations such as The Mobile Giving Foundation which engages with donors via a smartphone network. Some major relief efforts were obtained after natural disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and the Ebola outbreak.

Unlike in the past, people who support causes want to see where their money is going and want to feel fulfilled by the results. Organizations have responded with a greater ability to inform donors exactly what the latest news is. Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a portal that lets donors receive updates and ask questions about how a cause or project is moving along. 

Making a Difference: Cerebral Palsy

Most people are unaware that Cerebral palsy (CP) is actually a term that describes a multitude of disorders, not just one. The word Cerebral refers to issues that deal with the brain, and the word Palsy refers to a person’s ability to maintain balance, posture, and movement.

The main cause of CP is predominantly due to the mother catching an infection or a virus while the fetus is still in utero. These account for 70% of the cases. Some people also attribute it to a lack of oxygen flow to the infant’s brain during labor and delivery, but that is actually a very small percentage.

A child who has CP will show signs early in childhood and they may display floppy limbs, involuntary movements, or exaggerated reflexes, to name just a few. There is no known cure at this time for CP, and most sufferers will require life-long treatment, including physical therapy, medication, and occasional surgery. For many families, these are expensive and emotionally draining times, which is why there are charities to support families who have members with cerebral palsy.

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is a non-profit organization that works to help families with cerebral palsy members as well as other disorders. Founded in 1949, they pioneered the idea of using fundraising telethons as a means of support. The Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF) is another group that not only supports people, but they do it in a different fashion by partnering with schools and the media. Reaching for the Stars is focused heavily on the science behind CP and working on ways to someday formulate a cure. 

There are also organizations that are determined to ensure adequate rights for those who suffer from disabilities. The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) was founded in 1876. Their main goals are to broaden the ability of businesses to work with individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and to promote and encourage the development of a society that can fully embrace people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In addition to these support groups, there are numerous others that assist with the neonatal and maternal sector. March of Dimes was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. The original aim was to combat polio and it was called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Since funding Jonas Salk’s life-saving polio vaccine, they have steered their focus towards preterm birth-related diseases, as well as other childhood illnesses.

Finding the Right Charity for You

There are many people who want to make a difference in the world, even if it’s in a small way. There are 1.6 million non-profit organizations in the United States at the moment, and they support causes ranging from wildlife and nature preservation to battling hunger and homelessness. For every cause you could possibly care about, there is a charity to match. The problem lies in choosing which ones are legitimate and which ones will benefit your chosen issue the most.

It is very easy in today’s world to set up a GoFundMe page or a website that purports to serve various causes. The problem with the internet is the anonymity and lack of accountability that thrives in such an unregulated environment. You might see a charity that calls itself humane league without having any actual connection to the actual animal rights advocacy group, the Humane League

There are many online databases that have done a lot of this research. They examine the financial health of the businesses and their commitment to both transparency and accountability. Some examples of these websites are guidestar.org, charitywatch.org, givewell.org, and charitynavigator.org. They do the heavy lifting when it comes to exploring tax filings and present their data in a straightforward, unbiased way.

Another great tool is word of mouth. Many people have spent years volunteering their time and donating money to various causes, rewarded by a great feeling of satisfaction that comes femur helping others. You can also look to your employer or university to see if they favor a particular cause. Chances are that they are not investing in any type of unseemly organization. 

A great way to support a charity is by volunteering. Administrative costs can add up, so searching a website like volunteermatch.org is a great way to see how your time can be of use. By typing in your location, you can see where you can be of service. The website also lets you narrow down availability based on your interests. If you have a particular skill that can be of use, there is another website called catchafire.org. This space provides a way to match your skills with organizations that would greatly appreciate the pro bono work of an expert.

How to Support an Abused Loved One

Domestic abuse is many people’s worst fear. But how do you help a loved one who is being abused? You might not live with them or see them often, but there are still many ways you can support them.

 

Listen to Them

Often, survivors of domestic violence go unheard. They may subtly hint that they are being abused, or that their relationship is impacting them negatively. It is never right to assume one way or another, but you can listen and ask the right questions. Directly asking “Are you being abused?” may not solicit an accurate response, so be careful with your wording. Avoid accusations, and instead focus on your loved one.

 

Give Guidance if Asked

This is a difficult step, because many victims of abuse will not admit they are being abused. However, if a friend or family member asks you for advice, offer them words of encouragement and let them know that they deserve to be treated respectfully. Again, focus less on accusing the abuser, as this may push your loved one away. Also, allow the victim to make their own decisions. Abusers often control their victims, so empowering them will give them hope.

 

Offer a Place to Stay

This may not be feasible for everyone, but if you have space for your loved one, offer to let them stay with you until they get back on their feet. Many victims suffer from financial abuse, where the abuser controls all of their money. They may not have a way to leave on their own, so offering a helping hand is a great way to show your support.

 

Share Resources

There are hundreds of resources for victims of domestic abuse, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Make sure your loved one is aware of the resources available to them. Also suggest going to therapy, and offer to help find a therapist that specializes in domestic abuse. Your loved one may not be ready to talk about their trauma, so respect their decision either way. They may also be more comfortable if you accompany them to their first few sessions, and this is a suggestion you may also make.

 

Educate Yourself

Education about domestic violence is the best way to empathize with your loved one. There are plenty of resources about why victims stay with abusers and many other important topics. Reading current research from psychological professionals and stories from survivors can help broaden your knowledge. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to educate yourself about domestic abuse, not your loved one’s.

 

Love Them

This is simple. Show your love and support in as many ways as you can. Do what makes your loved one comfortable. If you’ve known them for years, you likely know some of their favorite things – the movies, foods, and activities that make them feel at home. You don’t have to spend every penny on them, but the little things can add up. Let your loved one know how much they mean to you.

 

If you suspect a loved one is being abused, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or by phone at 1-800-799-7233.

 

Isabell Agumbah is a strong advocate against domestic violence. To find out more about domestic abuse, visit her website.

Sports Illustrated Honors Teen Who Led Cerebral Palsy Walks

In my last blog post, I wrote about the inspiring and heart-warming story of Hunter Gandee, a teen hero who has brought tons of attention and awareness to Cerebral Palsy, a disease that affects his younger brother, Braden Grandee.

On Monday, Sports Illustrated announced its annual list of accolades. Earning the first High School Athlete of the Year award was the 15-year-old high school sophomore, Hunter Gandee.

“What an honor! I’m truly blessed!” Hunter tweeted Monday afternoon.

Hunter was 14 and Braden was 7 when the brothers first walked 40 miles together to raise money for a handicap-accessible playground at Braden’s elementary school, as well as increased understanding of cerebral palsy — a brain injury that affects movement, posture and muscle coordination.

Throughout the entire June 2014 walk, Hunter carried his brother on his back. One year later, the duo was back at it — this time walking 57 miles. The second “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” event was a step up challenge-wise, but the goal was the same.

“One thing I wanted to show through this walk is the power of the youth in our society,” Hunter says. “We saw a problem, we had an idea to create a solution, and the only difference from us and a lot of other kids is that we went out and tried it.”

Since completing the walks, the brothers have received attention from national media organizations, hoping to share their story. Hunter has received countless awards for his strength and determination, including most recently the Sports Illustrated accolade.

Hunter’s story will be featured in the Sports Illustrated magazine issue that hits the stands Dec. 21. He has also been invited to an awards dinner in New York to honor the athletes featured in the magazine, including cover athlete and tennis legend Serena Williams.

Here is a 10 minute video I found that shows the beautiful relationship between these two brothers. Enjoy: