The Rotary Club of Cincinnati presented more than $72,000 to three charities as a year-end gift to Greater Cincinnati children with disabilities.
Three checks for $24,210.92 each were presented to the executive directors of The Autism Society Greater Cincinnati, The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati and Stepping Stones Camp Allyn, which provides recreation, education and social programming for children and adults with disabilities.
The funds were raised at the Rotary’s Believe 2 Achieve event in September, an annual Rotary-sponsored dinner and auction. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the party into a virtual event, with guests bidding on line for rare bourbons, artwork, vacations and one-of-a kind experiences including a quail hunting excursion with guides and Irish setters and fishing on a private lake in Indian Hill.
The check presentation was part of the Rotary’s final meeting of the year, which included a performance by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.
A small handful of Rotary members conducted the meeting activities, with all participants in masks and carefully distanced. Members and guests accessed the meeting virtually, which is the new normal, said Rotary Club of Cincinnati president Brett Lebhar of Anderson Township.
The Rotary gift is especially critical this year, as non-profits have faced twin challenges of increased need coupled with decreased financial support, said Mary Helen Richer, executive director of The Autism Society Greater Cincinnati.
“Because of COVID, we saw a 75% revenue drop and a 300% increase in services. Overnight we went from seven or eight programs a month to 28 programs a month. Everything we used to do monthly, we now do weekly,” she said. “We took everything online.”
The agency’s support services include social activity programs for children, teens and adults, support groups for families and professionals and educational and referral services.
Richer said the stresses of the pandemic are even more acute for families dealing with autism and other disabilities. “We’re seeing families struggling with isolation, communication, therapies, homeschooling. We’re the people families with autism reach out to to navigate this new reality.”
Chris Adams, executive director of Stepping Stones, said his agency redesigned programs to provide needed social interaction for people with a wide range of disabilities. Stepping Stones provides summer camp, overnight respites and year-round adult day programs.
“The pandemic changed the way we could provide our services,’ Adams said. Programs operated with staff and a small number of participants forming carefully distanced groups. Health requirements would not allow volunteers in the summer camp programs.
Adams said Stepping Stones served 225 children this summer and didn’t have one case of COVID-19 symptoms among children or staff. A typical camp season serves more than 700 children.
“There was some concern that we would not be able to offer a summer program at all,’” Adams said. “But these programs are so important to the children and adults we serve and to their families. We worked hard to serve as many individuals as possible.”
The Rotary funds will help support Stepping Stones programming at the Rotary-owned Camp Allyn in Batavia.
“The Rotary support is critical, especially this year” said Adams, of Terrace Park.
Since its inception in 2012, Believe 2 Achieve has raised more than $1 million for non-profit agencies serving children with disabilities. The event is produced by the Rotary Club of Cincinnati and its philanthropic arm, the Rotary Foundation of Cincinnati. Co-chairs this year were Carl Kappes III of Wyoming and John Fahrmeier of Anderson Township.
The Rotary Club of Cincinnati unites business and community leaders to provide selfless service to the community. A key community focus is improving the lives of children with disabilities. For information, contact the Rotary Club of Cincinnati, 513-421-1080 or see web site www.cincinnatirotary.org