Our community is full of nonprofits that do wonderful things and really make a difference at a local, state and even national level and beyond. We have included stories of standout nonprofit organizations based in our community, that serve and support noteworthy causes such as childhood cancer, adults with developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injuries and the homeless. As you are thinking of who and what to be thankful for, or considering how you can give to someone in need, consider one of these organizations. They are all in need of volunteers, funds or supplies, and it takes the people of our community coming together to keep them going and able to serve. We encourage you to stay in touch by following them on their websites or through social media, and give thanks for the help they are providing and all of the people that work to make what they do possible!
By: Rachel Pillow
At age 13, in May of 2013, Cooper O’Brien was diagnosed with Clear Cell Sarcoma Cancer. As you can imagine, his parents Kevin and Donna and younger brother Parker, were completely blindsided. Rarely seen in children, there was little to no research, funding or treatment options for his type of cancer. In fact, throughout Cooper’s journey, heartbreaking truths about childhood cancer as a whole were uncovered. Did you know that only 4% of U.S. federal funding is allocated to any type of childhood cancer research? It seems unfair, because it is! But, Cooper O’Brien stirred a fire in the souls of so many people who knew him, even those who never had the chance to meet him: a fire that we are not letting burn out.
Cooper tragically passed away on July 5th, 2015, leaving a hole in the heart of our community. It’s hard not to be angry at times…and impossible to understand “why.” But, that isn’t what Cooper would have wanted. Throughout his fight, Cooper faced each day with a strong and positive attitude that inspired everyone around him. He never let cancer get in the way of spending time with family, playing basketball and laughing with his friends.
In 2013, Cooper’s Crew was formed as a support group and to ensure that Cooper was living every final moment of his life to the fullest! In the final months of his life, the community banded together to organize the inaugural Cooper O’Brien golf tournament at River Club in order to raise much-needed funds for the family. Cooper was smiling and enjoying every moment of that day!
Now, Cooper’s Crew is dedicated to giving other kids, just like Cooper, the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest too: by bridging the childhood cancer funding gap, finding a cure for Sarcoma, making wishes come true for children with cancer and granting scholarships for North Gwinnett High School students who have overcome unique adversities or hardships.
At the Cooper O’Brien Memorial Golf Tournament on November 10th at The River Club Suwanee, the life of this courageous, inspirational, young man will continue to be honored. “We really do want this to be a community event and a celebration of Cooper’s life,” explained Kevin and Donna O’Brien.
With a kid’s golf contest and family-friendly dinner, awards ceremony and silent auction immediately following the tournament, it truly will be a fun event that even non-golfers can enjoy! All golfers receive admission to the dinner event, as well as a custom gift bag, shirt, lunch and beverages on the course. Businesses and individuals have been donating wonderful items for the tournament and auction, once again banding together to create an awesome, community event. Advance registration is required at cooperscrew.com for both golfers and dinner guests.
Cooper O’Brien’s light shines on in our community as we advocate together for a cure and hope for other children.
An Award-Winning Continuum of Care: Annandale Village
By: J. Keith Fenton
The state of Georgia may be best known for its juicy peaches, bulldog fans and world renowned brands such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines. Yet, for parents and siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities and those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, Georgia may be better known for being home to one of the premier nonprofit organizations in the United States.
Tucked away on a beautifully serene 55-acre campus in the City of Suwanee lies Annandale Village. It’s a special place where men and women with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) live lives that reflect quality, value, self-worth and achievement with the utmost care and compassion.
It all began as one family’s quest to create a better life for their loved one. In 1969, Annandale Village was a dream that became a reality for Dr. and Mrs. Maxwell Berry, a dedicated father and mother who wanted their intellectually disabled daughter, Libba, to have an opportunity to lead a life of purpose and meaning among peers. The Berrys had traveled the world in search of options for families like theirs… options that were not always available or even considered realistic for adults with developmental disabilities. In their travels, they discovered Canfield Villages in Europe was closest to their ideal vision.
By building on the village concept and adding their personal criteria, the Berry’s purchased 170 acres of rural land in the City of Suwanee. Soon thereafter, Libba and other adults with various types of intellectual disabilities came to call Annandale Village “home.” Today, Annandale is an award-winning, nationally recognized leader among nonprofit organizations and is the only nonprofit in the state of Georgia to offer men and women with developmental disabilities a life-long continuum of service and care. Thanks to continuous growth in each of Annandale’s first four decades, the organization has experienced significant milestones in serving individuals with special needs. Through the generous support of the philanthropic community, the services of Annandale Village have grown exponentially, allowing the organization to provide a comprehensive range of programs designed to improve the quality of life of each individual served, according to his or her own unique needs and abilities.
Annandale offers both residential and non-residential programs and services that provide a balance of structure, freedom, encouragement, instruction and fulfillment. Annandale’s focus on individual development and personal care includes: residential services, assisted living, a skilled nursing center, on-campus health services, counseling services, occupational therapy, educational programming, vocational training and job placement and a comprehensive array of recreation and leisure activities aimed to provide life-long learning and skills development for its clients.
“At Annandale we strive to provide well-rounded life experience for those we serve – a way to learn, a way to succeed and a way to inspire,” said Annandale’s Chief Development Officer, Keith Fenton. “Individual success is achieved by providing our clients the opportunity and environment to reach their maximum potential and grow in all areas of life – independence, productivity, inclusion, and self-determination in the community.” The organization’s ability to provide exceptional care to meet the unique needs of people with developmental disabilities is a primary reason why families from across the country choose Annandale Village to care for their loved one.
Annandale’s residential options range from cottage homes, to independent on-campus apartments, as well as transitional care/assisted living centers and a skilled nursing center. All on-campus residential settings are designed to allow residents the ability to live as independently as possible, while providing support when necessary to create an environment that is comfortable, attractive, familiar and secure. Each residential setting has its own personality and routines, where men and women share in daily life. Residential Service Providers support residents through a mentoring and coaching approach, giving each person the opportunity to do things for themselves as well as supporting one another. Annandale’s Amy Somers Center for Continued Care and the D. Scott Hudgens Center for Skilled Nursing provide residents with an opportunity to age in peace, as well as receive nationally recognized care, services often not found for adults with intellectual disabilities.
“Annandale is proud of how far we have come. Yet, the courage to dream big and the need to do more for those we currently serve and for those who will soon seek our assistance has made this an exciting time in the life of our organization. Throughout the Southeast, the number of individuals diagnosed with an intellectual disability continues to grow at an alarming rate. However, for many families, accessing appropriate services is an ongoing challenge due to an array of disparities seen in the health, rehabilitation and social service arenas,” says Annandale Village’s Chief Executive Officer, Adam Pomeranz.
In response, Annandale Village boldly planned for a new decade of specialized services and programming to meet the growing demand of families in search for quality programs and services. Annandale Village recently completed an aggressive $4.8 million capital campaign to expand its capacity to serve the ever-growing disability population. “Within the past three years, Annandale has had the good fortune to be able to double the size of our D. Scott Hudgens Center for Skilled Nursing and construct the Amy Somers Center for Continued Care, to meet the needs of individuals experiencing a decrease in independent living skills due to aging and/or characteristics of their disability. Furthermore, this holiday season we will welcome 18 new residents to Annandale as we open our newest on-campus facility, the Keith Keadle Center for Continued Care.” All parents want their children to lead active, productive, well-balanced, happy lives. Will he or she have the opportunity for education, joining in peer groups, enjoying and benefiting from leisure activities? Will my child continue to discover and develop interests and talents, take pride in accomplishments, gain purpose and direction? What will happen to my child or sibling when they age into adulthood? Who will take care of their health and social needs when I am no longer able to care for them myself?
Transitions from one life setting to another are challenging, complicated events for most people. Moving from adolescence into adulthood, changing a living situation, or experiencing the death of a parent or caregiver are difficult experiences for anyone. But when an individual has an intellectual disability, exploring options and making lifetime decisions have proven to be much more difficult.
For many families faced with these challenging questions, Annandale Village may be the dynamic
environment they are looking for. For more information or to schedule your personal tour of Annandale Village, call (770) 945-8381 or visit annandale.org.
Meet some of the Villagers: Annandale Testimonials
Daniel is an accomplished marimba player, as evidenced by being a recipient of the Itzhak Perlman Award and traveling the world as a VSA Young Soloist. Daniel continues to practice his marimba daily and entertains at Village talent shows, as well as in the community at special events. Although he can play the classics, Daniel prefers songs by his favorite artist: Elvis! Resident for eight years.
Hope is a creative artist, and can be found on most days painting her masterpieces with acrylics on canvas or wooden objects. She has expressed that her art is very therapeutic for her, and she enjoys sharing it with others. With the Annandale family for 33 years.
Danielle enjoys her job at McDonald’s and being a member of the Pink Cougars club at Annandale. She is glad to lend a helping hand at volunteer events and any activity that involves dancing! Resident for three years.
Mandy likes the independent setting of her apartment on grounds and attends programs regularly. She enjoys outings that include her boyfriend, Mihai, and can often be found tapping away on her favorite games on
her iPad. Resident for eight years.
John will be glad to tell you about his history of being a part of his family’s business and he carries on that tradition by completing many tasks in the Annandale workshop for local companies. “I like to stay busy, and I’m not afraid of hard work” he tells us. Resident for seven months.
For Gregg Nunn, the brother of Nancy, a resident of Annandale Village, says “Annandale is unique, special, and has no equal. Period.” In his own words, Greg describes the impact that Annandale Village has had on his sister and why the continuum of care provided at Annandale is a comfort to many families.
I am the brother and legal guardian of Nancy, a resident at Annandale Village. Nancy is fifty six years old and has cerebral palsy, with associated mental, emotional, and physical issues related to cerebral palsy. Upon the death of our parents, my sister’s care came to be my responsibility. We built her a beautiful log cabin adjacent to our home on our farm in Kentucky. For ten years, we provided Nancy the best care we were capable of providing. We were knowledgeable and experienced in providing care for individuals with special needs, and, fortunately, we had adequate resources to do so. Our parents had wisely established trusts and other planned giving instruments to help provide financial resources for Nancy’s care.
A few years later, Nancy began to withdraw and ceased to participate in family activities. Nancy began to deteriorate, and my wife and I were powerless to change her behavior. We sought assistance from a myriad of medical specialists and tried numerous recommended medications, but she only became worse. In short, we feared her life expectancy was rapidly declining. We knew we needed help.
We began a nationwide search to find a “home-away-from-home” where Nancy could receive the best possible care and could meet the unique challenges of her disability. What we found was astonishing. Many facilities were already full or unable to provide the long-term care needed to address the challenges that Nancy would face as she aged, or when the characteristics of her diagnosis would present themselves. In the meantime, Nancy would continue to worsen and we were becoming desperate as there were few places to consider, and even fewer who would respond to our inquiries.
Then we found Annandale Village. It felt to us as though the hand of God had reached out and answered our prayers. Annandale was in the South, not too far from our home in Kentucky. Thus, we loaded the car and traveled south for a tour. Upon our arrival, we simply knew we had found Nancy’s home-away-from home.
While driving under the Annandale gateway, our first impression was that of a wooded resort – an oasis from the metropolis of Atlanta and the suburbs surrounding it. No longer rural, but far from an urban setting unfamiliar to Nancy. Most importantly, with her health in rapid decline, Annandale’s comprehensive array of residential offerings included a skilled nursing facility that was specifically designed for people with intellectual disabilities.
When Nancy began her transition to Annandale she was withdrawn, depressed, and in declining health. We, as her caregivers, were very frustrated. Far from her normal 130 pound frame and daily routine of walking around the farm, Nancy’s weight had dropped to around 122 pounds. She refused to eat, talk, or walk. All she wanted to do was sleep. Nancy was in dire straits and we were afraid.
From day one, our excited concerns were met with calmness and reassurances by the professional staff of Annandale. Within a few months, a breakthrough occurred. Nancy began interacting with her peers, she started eating, and she had a desire to exercise again. Through the very hard and determined work of the team of dedicated professionals, my sister was alive and living. She no longer simply existed. She was thriving.
Today, Nancy has the opportunity to maximize her potential and grow in all areas of life – daily living, education, work, wellness activities, and social skills development. Nancy is currently working two jobs in the community and has been recently recognized by her peers and staff as “Villager of the Year”. As Nancy ages, she will no doubt need more advanced care. We are relieved that Nancy is in a place that can accommodate these needs and continue living the best life possible.
Annandale Village’s D. Scott Hudgens Center for Skilled Nursing
In recognition of its standard for excellence, Annandale’s D. Scott Hudgens Center for Skilled Nursing was recently named one of the Best Nursing Homes in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Of more than 16,000 nursing homes in the United States, the Center ranked highest among all nursing homes in the state of Georgia, and is ranked among the top 1% of all nursing homes in the United States. Despite the large number of nursing homes in the state of Georgia, The D. Scott Hudgens Center for Skilled Nursing is the only skilled nursing facility in Georgia dedicated solely to the unique needs of, or has the specialized resources to adequately care for, aging adults with intellectual disabilities.
Upon receiving the honor, Annandale Village’s Chief Executive Officer, Adam Pomeranz, says, “It is an outstanding achievement for Annandale Village to receive top honors, assuring that our residents are receiving the highest level of care. The five star rating speaks not only to the quality of clinical care we provide, but to the compassion and commitment of our dedicated staff. Our staff members across our campus embrace a culture of service and care that starts the moment someone walks through our doors, and throughout a resident’s individual continuum of care.”
Building Stronger Communities: Rainbow Village
By: Natalie Stubs
More than 10 million families live below the poverty line; more than 40% of homeless people actually possess jobs and higher education; and just 9 years old serves as the average age of a homeless person in the local community. Rainbow
Village dedicates their time and services to spreading awareness and providing assistance to families who make up these statistics. The organization has already
made a significant impact by helping more than 300 families with over 750 children
gain the confidence and ability to move forward independently.
The objective of Rainbow Village is to exist as a national model for providing families the opportunity to escape lifestyles of poverty, homelessness and domestic violence. They aim to break these patterns by supplying housing for 18 single parents and 40 children in the North Metro Atlanta area. Rainbow Village offers these families the room and resources to transform and transition into a self-sustaining life.
With 18 apartments, Rainbow Village hopes to upgrade to 30 units by the end of 2016. This will allow for 12 more families to reside on campus for up to two years, with access to the resources for as long as needed. The organization also works interactively to lead enrichment programs particularly designed for both the parents and children.
As November is Homelessness Awareness month, Rainbow Village invites the community to help make a difference. Financial sponsorships are available to assist in additional room and building expenditures. Family sponsorships offer the opportunity for the adopted Rainbow Village family to have support in case of need. Volunteers are welcomed and encouraged to donate their time to the after school program and newly established early childhood development center.
With the December holidays quickly approaching, Rainbow Village has additional chances for the community to help make the season more special for their families. They will be accepting gift card donations to help make it possible for parents to give their children Christmas presents. The children will also have the opportunity to go shopping and buy their parents Christmas gifts, in which people can also volunteer their assistance.
Beginning in January 2016, Rainbow Village will be hosting a monthly fundraiser and awareness event with the goal of raising money and educating the community. Tours of the community center are also available by appointment. For more information, contact Trena Gologan, Community Relations Director, by phone at 770-497-1888 ext. 27 or by email at email@example.com.