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Are you ready to join The Power of Our Story?

Please join us Thursday, October 27th, as we Celebrate and Witness stories of women who, through vulnerability and self-awareness, have transformed their lives.

The evening will be emceed by Shayla Rivera, and Austin’s own Sara Hickman will give a special performance as we honor Nathalie Sorrell, Co-Founder of TBT,  and the many women who transformed their lives by participating in the behind and beyond bars programs.

Come and join us as we honor the impact of Truth Be Told’s Work!

When: October 27, 2016, 6pm – 9pm
Where: Asian American Center – 8401 Cameron Rd., Austin, Texas 78754 (open in Google Maps)

Purchase your ticket today! 

Donna learns to tell her story

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown

Thank you for being a part of our Truth Be Told family! Your commitment to our work enables us to change the lives of incarcerated women, their families and their communities. We thank you for your generous contribution and encourage you to read the powerful statement of one of our graduates, so you can feel first-hand how your support impacts these women.

by Donna Norman

Almost five years ago, I was lost and broken. I was facing my freedom, and it was coming fast. I was so hurt and so angry with everyone and everything, but most of all myself. The choices I made cost me my freedom and the loss of everything that meant anything to me – including and most importantly, my children. I wasn’t ready for my freedom or to face the memories I had to go home to, memories I ran from for seven years. What if I made the same mistakes? What was my purpose going to be now? What did I really have to live for anymore?

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Then I saw the posters for the Truth Be Told class. I even knew some of the people who had taken the previous class. Everyone loved it and talked about how it made them feel. I didn’t want to open up to strangers, but I was still facing going home with no answers and a broken heart. I thought that this might be my last chance, so I signed up.

I was touched by how loving the women of Truth Be Told were; I just wasn’t ready to let them in. I was in Ms. Nathalie’s class, so I had to give a speech on my story. I was dreading it and even thought about dropping out, but that would leave me with my broken heart.

I asked myself, “What did I really have to lose by telling my story?” So I started working on it, piece by piece. Surprisingly, I started understanding myself by looking in from a third party perspective.

Then the day came for my speech. Ms Nathalie brought some Toastmasters in to critique our speeches, and one of them happened to be her husband [Jim Walsh]. I wasn’t comfortable with a man being there while I was so vulnerable, but I had already come this far. I stood up and started telling my story, although it took every piece of strength I had.

Ms. Nathalie’s husband then had the honor of judging my speech, but I feared he was really judging me. I could feel the defiance boiling up inside me, not wanting to hear a man tell me I’m not good enough after hearing me talk about all the other men who have hurt me in every way possible.

But to my utter disbelief, he stood up in front of me, looked me dead in my eyes, and apologized for everything those other men had done.

Hearing that touched me deep down in my soul. The wall I built so strong to keep everyone else out shattered and the tears wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t being judged… I was being heard.

donnaquiltThat was when the healing began. Truth Be Told gave me my life back. They helped me understand why I made the decisions I made, not blaming others but understanding them. They helped me change my thinking and be a better, stronger person.

I have been home for four years now. I use the tools I learned from Truth Be Told in my everyday life. Although things are hard at times, I haven’t failed or given up, because of what the women of Truth Be Told have given me…my truth. We are a true community of women. In my times of weakness I reach out to them, and they never let me down. I keep my three-year quilt close. Anytime that I need to feel supported I wrap it around me and I see all their smiling faces.

The world needs more selfless people like the facilitators with Truth Be Told. They are my angels.

~~~

Thank you so much, Donna, for sharing your beautiful story, and thank you, Jim Walsh, for being the kind and loving man that you are.

Readers, we thought you might want to see a poster that Truth Be Told used to invite women in prison to learn about and sign up for Talk To Me classes.

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2016 goals plus great job opportunity!

Dear Friends of Truth Be Told,

Happy 2016!!! Did you know that Truth Be Told is now 12 years old as a non-profit and that we have been offering programs for over 15 years? Over these years we have grown from one class that graduated 15 women, to now serving in 5 facilities, serving hundreds of women per year in our various programs. We could not step into our 16th year without your support.

2015 was a growing year for Truth Be Told and our organizational structure. We have grown through and with the challenges of turnover in leadership. Through these challenges, we have worked on our overall structure including how to improve our communication and interaction with our volunteers and facilitators. We have identified internal structural needs for the organization and the board. As a community, we spent time to set our immediate goals for 2016 and to strengthen our overall vision.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Carol Waid (Program Director), and our supporters, volunteers, facilitators, and board members, and let you know how much I appreciate the generous donations, contributions of time, and overall moral support you have provided to Truth Be Told. I also want to share with all of you the hard work the Board and Carol have put in toward identifying goals we want to work on for 2016. We need your help to successfully obtain these goals.

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From left, Joanne, Ginger, Linda, Carol, Donna, Peggy, and Nathalie

Our 2016 Goals

  1. Hire an Executive Director
  2. Hire a Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant
  3. Strengthen and Improve the Mentoring Program
  4. Prepare and Implement a Facilitator Manual and Training Program
  5. Have a fall event recognizing Nathalie Sorrell for her 15 years of dedication
  6. Host volunteer appreciation events and gatherings

Of course each and every one of these goals has its challenges, and we appreciate any input and assistance from our friends.

Amplify Austin

In addition to these goals we are going to be working on our fundraising efforts including our third annual participation in the Amplify Austin event on March 8th. We look forward to having a record number of Truth Be Told individual fundraising pages this year. If you had a page last year, please consider participating again this year and spreading the word to friends and family. If the Amplify Austin event is new to you, we hope you will consider setting up a page to help support our work with incarcerated women.

To learn more please email carol@truth-be-told.org.

Board Members and More

If you know anyone who may be interested in joining the Board we would love to hear from you.  Please email your interest to office@truth-be-told.org and include “Board Member Inquiry” in the subject line.

If you haven’t logged on and viewed our website www.truth-be-told.org, please check it out.  We have updated it and are continuously including events, blog posts, and inspirational stories from some of our graduates.

We look forward to hitting the ground running and look forward to all of you running with us. Thank you again for everything you do for Truth Be Told. I look forward to a very productive 2016! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,

Autumn Schwartz
Chairman of the Board
Truth Be Told

15 Years of Helping Women Behind Bars Find Their Voices

In February 2000, Nathalie Sorrell responded to a request from the warden at the GEO Lockhart Unit to teach 15 incarcerated women to tell their stories to juveniles, to inspire the young girls not to follow the women’s paths to prison. The next semester, the juvenile program was discontinued and at the warden’s suggestion, Nathalie brought in an audience of respectful listeners to witness the women’s truth telling. She invited Carol Waid and Suzanne Armistead to facilitate and invite listeners, and they added classes that incorporated writing and movement. The first participants named the classes Talk To Me. In 2003, the three founders established Truth Be Told as a 501(c)(3).

In the15 years since Nathalie agreed to that initial small volunteer commitment, thousands of women have attended programs that are offered in five correctional facilities and support program graduates once they are released.

All of the programs are still facilitated by volunteers. The organization relies on donations from generous individuals and a few small organizations and foundation grants. On our website, we recognize donors in several categories. The Voice of Melinda lists donors who gave $5,000-$9,999. Melinda was our first program graduate to donate to Truth Be Told. Her mother passed away while she was incarcerated, and she didn’t get to attend the funeral. When she was released, a small inheritance enabled her to go to school, and she made a donation to Truth Be Told. She says that most people don’t understand how vitally important the programs are to society as a whole. She has gone from being a self-described “low-bottom drunk” who committed a “heinous crime” to living amends to her family and community and starting a meaningful career.

Recently, Carol interviewed Melinda on how Truth Be Told contributed the life she has built since she was released in April 2005. Melinda did eight years on a 20 year sentence, the last three at the GEO Lockhart Unit. She was drawn to the first class out of desperation and fear of living beyond bars. She needed hope and tools to lead a different life. Once she started classes, she knew she was getting what she needed and took Talk To Me – Circle, Talk To Me – Movement, and Let’s Get Real. She describes being physically “bound up” from incarceration and needing her spirit to move and the powerful effect of sharing honestly with the other women in class. Listen to Melinda’s voice and story: http://youtu.be/P6GqD5MnJ0g

Last year, six of our graduates created campaigns to give hope to women who are still behind bars.

Please help us empower more voices like Melinda’s. Join our Truth Be Told team for Amplify Austin. Spread the Word. Create a Personal Fundraising Campaign. Make a Donation. 

TBTamplifyatx#AmplifyATX

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

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Shelly Ogle, a retired editor, attended a Truth Be Told graduation at a women’s prison in Gatesville on November 20, 2014. These are her impressions as a first-time visitor to prison.

 

 

 

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

By Shelly Ogle
Austin, Texas

In lots of ways, my first visit to a Texas state prison was full of surprises. I’d thought we’d be driving to East Texas, but our van headed west out of Austin. I’d been ready for a lot of traffic and congestion, but the country roads we drove on were winding and open. A stormy day had been forecast; instead, the November skies were clear and sunny.

Within a couple of hours, under that gorgeous sky, our van turned into the prison’s entrance. All was flat. At our right was an empty guard’s shack and ahead was a big parking lot. There wasn’t any sort of main gate. Everything was ugly – fencing and razor wire and lights and cameras, big signs with commands and prohibitions, wire cages enclosing each of the chain-link gates.

I was among a group of 15 women visiting this women’s prison. We were there to applaud the graduation of 23 inmates who had just completed 18 weeks of Truth Be Told classes. The training teaches them to better understand themselves, to review their lives, and to write and speak the truth about what they know and remember and hope for. Of the prison’s 1,500 inmates, some 250 had signed up for the classes, but there was only room for less than a tenth of them.

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In groups of six, we were led through a caged gateway and into a lobby with a shiny linoleum floor. It was 5 p.m., and it seemed like a shift was changing. The lobby was busy with uniformed guards, almost all female. Some looked friendly and bright; some smiled, some frowned. After a short wait, we were led into a room with tables and chairs and greeted by the warden, who was another surprise. I’d expected someone military and harsh; instead, this warden was a friendly and perky blonde, in civilian clothes. She looked like a yoga instructor or a vitamin saleswoman.

From her, we learned that the state has 150,000 prisoners, and that 12,000 of them are women, mostly housed in Gatesville units. The prison we were at was medium-security, but it had a maximum-security unit. Maybe that’s the same one that she casually called “adseg”; when asked what it meant, she explained that prisoners who violate institutional rules are put into “administrative segregation.” Not being in good standing, they’re not eligible to sign up for programs such as Truth Be Told. We were warned to expect aggressive language from them, as we’d be passing them on our way to the prison chapel where the graduation ceremony would be held.

We were also told to not give anything to a prisoner, to not accept anything from one, and to not touch them in any way except for a handshake, and even that small contact was permissible only on this special occasion.

The warden then led us outdoors toward the chapel. We had to wait at yet another inner gate while a guard got the key to it.

A strip of concrete pavement, about 20 feet wide, led to the chapel, past a few grassy areas with high chain-link fences around them; one area had a sad-looking little rock-lined pond and fountain. The concrete had a yellow stripe on each edge, marking off narrow shoulders where the prisoners walked – guards accompanying them strolled in the wide center. “Hi there, ladies,” I said to a few guards and to a few prisoners. They all seemed a little startled to be addressed.

The metal-clad buildings we were passing – there were no stone walls in sight – looked like industrial-district warehouses for welding or plumbing equipment. Though wide and squat, some seemed to hold as many as four stories, as I saw three layers of tiny windows, most of them numbered on the outside, above a windowless ground floor. At the windows, I’d often see more than one face, so I guessed that those cells are shared.

None of the “adseg” prisoners yelled out much of anything to us. I noticed little showers of birdseed or breadcrumbs being tossed out of their windows for pigeons, and I waved at a few of the prisoners in the windows; they waved back.

The chapel was another squat metal building, again with a highly polished floor. Its bathroom had to be unlocked by a guard for me to use it. It was immaculate. Its door locked automatically behind me, so the next person to use it also had to ask the guard to let her in.

In front of the chapel’s low stage, we arranged two rows of chairs into a semicircle, with our 15 chairs on one side facing the prisoners’ 23 chairs on the other. A few women, probably trusties, set up a microphone and fiddled with a sound system. While we waited for the prisoners to arrive, I admired a beautiful quilted banner on the stage and took in the wall-sized painting behind it, kitschy but earnest, showing the gates of heaven, a garden, a rainbow, and lots of shafts of light. That was the background behind each of the graduates as they stood and shared their insights with us.

A group of guards led in the 23 women we’d been waiting for. The prisoners wore white, not orange. Their pants were what my family called “bumper stumpers” when I was a kid: thick, unattractive sweats with a bunchy elastic waist. Their white T-shirts had polo-style collars. I was surprised to see makeup and elaborate hairstyles on some of the women. Shoes showed some variety, but all were closed-toed and flat-soled.

I was excited to see the prisoners, and they seemed excited to see us. After they sat down, their guards gathered at the back door and the graduation ceremony started. It was about 6 p.m., so the prisoners must have had an early supper. Over the next 90 minutes or so, each of them went to the stage and gave a short talk. A few offered performances – one lady played guitar and sang a song she wrote; a couple of skits and dances were also done, some in pairs. We applauded everything heartily.

Women spoke of their childhoods, and it made me cry. One was abandoned at the age 5. Where was I when I was a 5-year-old? Not abandoned. Another ran away from home at 14, escaping abuse and hunger, and hung around the bus station when she arrived in a big city. No one came up to her to ask where her parents were or whether she needed any help – except, of course, a pimp. “He put a needle in my arm,” she recalled, “and I wasn’t hungry anymore.”

Not a single person said, “I was a victim” or “I was victimized,” but each one of them was. I was impressed by their avoidance of the word. I was horrified by their stories.

One lady spoke about how, as a child, she was abused by her family in numerous ways, starting with being fingered, as a toddler, by her uncles when she’d sit on their laps. That invasion of trust reminded me of how much I loved to sit, so comfy and secure, on my dad’s lap; one of my earliest memories is being fascinated by the golden hairs on his forearms. I loved sitting on my grandpa’s lap, too; it was the safest place ever, except when Gorgeous George did some fancy wrestling move on the TV and Grandpa would jump up out of his chair and cheer. It’s so sad that the lady in the prison chapel had never felt that same goodness and love.

Another lady spoke of being loved and safe for her first seven years, living with her grandparents, until her mother took her away from them, and a life of hell began. I thought, “Where would I be today if everything good for me had stopped when I was 7 years old?” That’s the age I was when John F. Kennedy was killed, and I was so innocent then that I assumed that Jackie would just be named queen. I had opinions and ideas, but I was basically an unformed blob, and if those had been my final memories before starting a life of suffering, I could have been turned into anything.

I was lucky. I could have been her, but instead, I was lucky.

And what became of that prisoner? She emerged from her years of pain with a defiant insight, only recently gained from her Truth Be Told experiences: “I am lovable for who I am.” That’s a big, bold idea for someone like her.

A thin woman with an impossibly thick braid proclaimed, perhaps metaphysically, “I am free.” Another woman, contradicting a widespread assumption that prisoners always protest their innocence, declared, “I am exactly where I belong.”

Only one lady, one of the last to speak, had anything specific to say about the crime that landed her in prison. Twenty years ago, she said, she shot her husband while he was throttling their baby and also threatening to kill her and himself.

“Good,” I thought.

“I called it self-defense,” she said, “but the state of Texas called it capital murder.” She got a 30-year sentence and has 10 years left to serve.

Put yourself in her place. Think of all the good things that have happened to you in the past 20 years, and erase them all. And then erase them for the next 10 years, too. Now try to be serene and brave.

After the last woman had spoken, we visitors were invited to go to the mike and let them know our reactions. I wasn’t brave enough to, although I’ve spoken in public in the past, yet each of those 23 women had been brave enough to get up there and speak.

So, I admired them all the more.

One visitor spoke for me, though, when she told the prisoners that she was impressed by their ability to bear the problems they do, compared with the minuscule worries we have. They have been through so much. They are survivors. They’re courageous, and in many cases heroic. They embody the best of the human spirit.

Well, I sure wasn’t expecting to ever have that thought.

My favorite part of the visit happened next, when the prisoners all lined up and we visitors went down the line, shaking each woman’s hand and briefly saying whatever we could think of. I thanked them and told them they were beautiful and brave. I said I admired their endurance, and I congratulated them on their self-awareness. I praised the two who had been signing throughout each performance for their abilities in American Sign Language. One woman “hugged” me in the permissible way: hugging herself while smiling at me. I “hugged” her right back.

She’s hoping to be paroled soon; the signs are good. She might be released in Houston. I asked if that’s where her family lives. “No,” she answered. “I hurt my family. They don’t speak to me.”

That’s right, I reminded myself, she’s a criminal, and she’s paying for it.

I worry about her.

Afterwards, dining at a long table at a restaurant in town, we visitors all reviewed the day. Many agreed that the women’s self-awareness gained through their Truth Be Told classes was all-important. “It heals their trauma,” said Nathalie, a Truth Be Told founder. “It works,” agreed Kathleen, the organization’s executive director. “And their new awareness isn’t going to go away,” added Louise who, like me, was a first-time visitor.

The drive home through the dark was mostly quiet. It had been a long day, and when I got into bed and stretched out between my fleecy sheets, I was filled with gratitude for the life I have. How exceptionally lucky I was to have been born into a stable family. As my mom used to murmur, whenever she’d pity someone, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

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If you would like to attend one of the TBT spring prison graduations, watch our website for Upcoming Events and email: office@truth-be-told.org . The next graduation at the GEO Lockhart Unit is April 17 and the Bryan Federal Prison Camp graduation is May 6. Other dates are pending.

 

 

Princess Warriors in Prison

Our recent Donor and Volunteer Campaign mailing included a card that has our Mission, Vision, and Values on one side. We recently learned that people want to hold on to the card because this Princess Warrior drawing by Donna, one of our program graduates, is on the other side.

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Donna was released more than two years ago and continues to be part of the awesome community of graduates who participate in our Beyond Bars activities. Since we have shared her artwork recently, we wanted to hear about what she was experiencing when she created it in class, so Carol Waid interviewed her. Click to listen.

Listen to Donna describe how after being incarcerated for six years, she still felt lost and confused about the mistakes she made and why things turned out the way they did. Then she found a Truth Be Told class.

At first she was hesitant to face her pain rather than trying to block it out, but when the healing started she knew she was changed and finally ready to go home.

She did the drawing in response to Nathalie Sorrell’s speech about being a Princess Warrior no matter what your circumstances. The woman in the clock represents breaking free, a woman not defined by her past or being in prison.

Donna, thanks for sharing you gift and your story with us!

If you would like a Princess Warrior card, please contact us.

Transformational Donors

We love hearing graduates like Donna talk about their healing and transformation. Truth Be Told has been blessed with a small group of donors who have transformed our work and our organization by consistently contributing major financial support over the years.

Our Transformational Donors are:

Two of our Transformational Donors share why they donate.

I support Truth Be Told because I have witnessed the healing of women who were broken. I have seen for myself the transformational power of creating a community of respectful listeners as each one tells her story. I believe that a woman transformed can transform her family. I have seen TBT nurture and support this transformation. – Jim Walsh, Walsh, Anderson, Gallegos, Green and Trevino P.C. and “Law Dawg”

Why do I give? I give to see lives transformed. I heard Nathalie Sorrell’s story of why she felt compelled to work with women in prison. I thought, “Good for Nathalie!” A few months later Nathalie invited me to attend a graduation ceremony in the Lockhart prison. I was mildly curious about what she was doing. I received a firsthand experience of the powerful work she and Carol Waid created.  Although I did not feel compelled to actually work in the prison, I did feel moved to get involved. What moved me during that visit were the stories the women told. Each women told a story about how their life had been transformed by their work in the Truth Be Told curriculum. I wanted to be a part of something that transformed lives. My involvement is the giving of my financial resources. I want to see that as many women as possible will have access to Truth Be Told. – Bobby Miser, Rogers Benefit Group, Houston

Watch your mailbox or inbox for our Donor and Volunteer Drive letter or go online to help us reach our $25,000 goal for the campaign.

 

Listen to the Voice of Teri!

On our Donor Recognition page, we list donations in three categories called The Voices of Truth. The categories are named for women who were meaningful to the early development of Truth Be Told. The Voice of Teri category designates donors who have contributed $1,000–$4,999 in a year.

Why Teri? She was in the very first Talk To Me class and is still talking!

In February 2000, Nathalie Sorrell didn’t know what to expect when she created the posters announcing the new class in the GEO Lockhart prison. She certainly didn’t anticipate that 14 years later Truth Be Told would still be talking to Teri, a reluctant participant.

Carol Waid attended that class as a facilitator-in-training. In this audio recording, Carol asks Teri about that first class, and Teri credits divine intervention for getting her there. She didn’t like going to classes and was avoiding this one when something made her turn around in the hallway and walk towards it. She remembers an attraction to the name “Truth Be Told.” She didn’t like the first few classes, but something kept bringing her back. She didn’t want to tell her story or even remember her painful past, but hearing Carol’s story inspired her to take baby steps into the exercises.

Listen to Teri describe how the doors opened. 

Since being released, Teri has married. She is still clean and sober and feels more alive than ever. Teri has been at every fundraiser that featured graduates and never misses an opportunity to share the Truth Be Told story.

Keep on talking, Teri. We love to hear your voice!

For 2013, the Voice of Teri donors are:

  • Susan deGraffenried
  • Gathering Place Worship Center
  • Louise Morse
  • Red Bird Foundation
  • Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation (managed by Austin Community Foundation)
  • Donna Snyder
  • Diana Stangl

Below, a few of the Voice of Teri donors explain what prompted their support:

Paula D’Arcy is the president and founder of Red Bird Foundation as well as an author and speaker whose work seeks to further inner and worldwide peace.

Unless you’ve worked or volunteered in a prison, there aren’t words to capture the power and importance of the work done by Truth Be Told. Imagine women, most of whom have never had much of a chance in life, little education, separated from their children, low self-esteem, addictions, very low on hope…and then imagine a sincere transformation in their lives because of a program that delivers not only truth, but the means and encouragement to make different choices.

Imagine healing, education about what a woman can be (and how she can comport herself and care for her own body and for her children), the redemptive power of learning to tell your story — not as a victim, but as a radiant woman — beginning to believe that you have a meaningful place in this world because you’ve finally experienced someone believing in you — these are huge gifts anywhere, but inside a prison they are rare.

The work is raw, it is emotional, it is exhausting, and month after month the teachers show up and give everything they’ve got. It is the ultimate reaching a hand back into the dark to help someone else. Support for this work reaches far beyond the women fortunate enough to take these classes. Heart by heart, this is how we’ll all awaken.

Donna Snyder is retired from a career as an attorney, state government executive, and corporate officer. She serves on the Truth Be Told Board and as a certified Talk To Me facilitator in the GEO Lockhart prison.

It is a privilege and a gift to be with these women and witness the transformations which occur while they are in our classes. They are like new plants pushing through the dirt, opening to the sunlight and exploding with their unique gifts and different ways of being beautiful. Yes, they have often hurt others. However, in almost every case, their life stories are of sexual and/or physical abuse, usually at a very young age and usually by a trusted relative. In every story, they suffered their trauma in tortured silence, either because they were too afraid to speak or their voices were resolutely shut down. They deserve a chance to be heard. They deserve a chance to heal. Truth Be Told gives them a toolbox!

Louise Morse is a former member of the Truth Be Told Board.

After learning all I could about Truth Be Told, how it was started and grew into a highly successful program by changing the lives of women in prison and after prison, it became more important to me to be involved with the program than any other nonprofit project I had ever worked with. It was easy for me to redirect some of my funds to this program which had previously gone to other causes. Not only easy, but I was eager to do so as well as donate time to serving on their Board of Directors. I wholeheartedly and unequivocally support this program and feel grateful that I have finally found one that I absolutely must and will continue to care about in the future.

Watch your mailbox or inbox for our Donor and Volunteer Drive letter or go online to help us reach our $25,000 goal for the campaign.