the powerful family force behind Damuth Trane
15 years ago, FACT was just beginning to spread its wings and put itself on the map. At that point, things like buses, year-round programs, sports leagues, and the Lawn Party Under the Stars fundraiser were all long-range goals. Many things were different 15 years ago, including what we knew about autism or what we now commonly refer to as being “on the spectrum.” Both the general population and professionals in the field were less familiar with the many facets of Autism Spectrum Disorder, how broad the symptoms and characteristics are, and how each tier of the spectrum is characterized by specific needs and personalized interventions. Camp Gonnawannagoagin’ primarily served children with a significant level of disability. We believed as most parents did, that “higher functioning” children could “get by” in programs not specifically designed for students with special needs. This is when we first had the pleasure of meeting ‘our Lauren’.
Lauren Damuth has powerfully impacted FACT ever since the first summer she attended camp over 15 years ago. She is the beautiful and effervescent 21-year-old you see pictured above in the center, which is almost symbolic to her being the heart of this incredible family. Lauren was five-years-old when she first attended camp. She loved everything about camp; the field trips, the new friendships, the unity, and the fact that we would let her talk about her birthday as much as she wanted. Even at the age of five, she loved to please, was willing to try new things, spoke her mind, and seemed to be filled with joy every second of every day. She was not our typical camper. This was the case for years, until one year… no Lauren. Lauren and her family decided to try some programs designed for “typical children”.
The one thing that all individuals “on the spectrum” have in common is that each person is dramatically different- as we all are. FACT began to see more and more children with a wider range of skills and verbal ability signing up for camp. Our knowledge of their special communication needs and the fact that we were fully integrated with non-disabled student volunteers made us a great fit for all children of all ability levels. FACT began to structure its ongoing programs more specifically, while also adding new ones that would better fit those with higher functioning behavioral and social skills. After a brief hiatus and to our extreme delight, ‘our Lauren’ returned to FACT quite simply because she equated ‘Camp’ with joy. And, true to her nature, she was the one who first bravely stated to the director that she wanted to be a volunteer counselor, or peer buddy. To no one’s surprise, she excelled at helping other children with fewer skills than she had. Since then, she has blazed the trail for other capable and aspiring campers that want to help and take on more responsibility. Young people with autism assist us with Family Celebrations, bowling league, and camp. We don’t get to see much of ‘our Lauren’ these days -as she is in college now- but not a week goes by that she doesn’t cross our minds.
Behind this incredible young woman and the highly successful company, Damuth Trane, is the Damuth family, or the “Damuth Train” Over the years, this beautiful family has given both Lauren and FACT profound dedication and support. And when we say ‘family,’ we mean the whole family… parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles- everyone! They continuously form a united front behind her and behind us each and every year. This year Damuth Trane is the top tier sponsor for the Lawn Party Under the Stars. The Damuths are a force and their examples of generosity and family structure is one of nobility and perseverance.
We Promise- Keeping Their Promise to FACT
For the ninth year in a row, The We Promise Foundation has chosen to support Camp Gonnawannagoagin’, FACT’s popular summer program. In total, the foundation has donated $85,500 specifically to enrich FACT’s summer camp program. This year, they have granted FACT with $12,000, the most generous award yet! The growth of the autism population in our community has demanded that our programs also grow to meet the rising need. At FACT, we are committed to providing quality programs at an affordable price and never turning away a child who would benefit due to their family’s inability to pay. Therefore, the support from The We Promise Foundation becomes increasingly invaluable each growing year.
The We Promise Foundation is dedicated to bringing smiles to the faces of children battling life-threatening or severe illnesses by making their dreams come true. FACT’s campers’ abilities vary widely and most have significant cognitive and communication impairments, it isn’t possible for them to attend other day camps. However, raising a child with disabilities is particularly expensive. In fact, more than 50% of FACT’s families fall below 300% of the poverty level. While it is especially heartbreaking for a parent to be unable to provide the “extras” their children crave, The We Promise Foundation has once again helped alleviate that concerns many local families affected by autism. Camp Gonnawannagoagin’ continues to grow to meet the needs of families with autism, but it continues to thrive because of The We Promise Foundation. To learn more about the We Promise Foundation click here.
The VBYSC are Rolling Up their Sleeves to Give Back
The Virginia Beach Youth Service Club (VBYSC) is a local non-profit organization that raises money specifically for charities that support children in Virginia Beach. In their 40 years of existence, they have worked tirelessly to support under privileged and disabled children by hosting large scale fund raisers that they organize and run entirely themselves. Their sole motivation is raising money for children’s charities that “impact the most amount of kids and provide the furthest reaching effect.”
For 5 years now, FACT has been the beneficiary of the VBYSC’s charitable ways. The group have sponsored two years of iCan Shine Bike camp, a bus for our summer camp, and communication software for non-verbal children. The club is comprised of about 100 men from Virginia Beach and raises about $100,000 for local children’s charities each year. This year, because of their support, FACT will be supplementing our Sports Programs with two additional leagues and more equipment. The addition of these programs will also increase the number of children we serve, boosting that number to 90 local athletes with autism.
The opportunity to engage in a team-based sporting league is a notion that can easily be taken for granted. However, when you think about it on a deeper level, you realize that sports reinforce the skills that children with autism need the most. Not only do they benefit from the aspects of socialization, communication, and visual learning; but being part of a team increases independence and confidence. Additionally, interaction with peer volunteers is an invaluable motivator that easily translates to other walks of life, such as playing more successfully with siblings and friends, creating the desire to further pursue a hobby, or instilling the importance of healthy competition.
The VBYSC hosts two tremendous events which enable them to continue funding local children’s charities in Virginia Beach. The Cajun Crawfish Festival happens each October and the legendary Pig and Oyster bash (once known as the exchange club oyster roast) each spring. The oyster roast is so popular that it needs no advertisement, as it has been selling out for years. If you enjoy good food, good music, and helping our community, this is a must. To learn more about the VBYSC and the events they host click here.
Vintage Car Drivers- the Best Friends We Never Met
Out n’ About, is a Social Program designed for teens and adults with autism who have intensive communication and behavioral needs. Hosting such a program has long been an ambition for FACT. Many of FACT’s students possess more sensitive needs that require increased supervision- such as limited communication skills, inability to understand signs of danger, and a tendency to wander. However, the cost of the necessary one-to-one staffing prevented FACT from offering programs families could afford. As proud as we are to announce that Out n’ About is now entering its sixth month and going strong, we are even more delighted to share the reason this program finally came to fruition. With an extremely generous grant of $7, 465 from the The Vintage Car Rally Association (VCRA), this dream has become a reality. FACT was able to dedicate the entire grant to the Out n’ About Program, enabling most of the costs to be absorbed by the organization instead of the parents.
Rex Gardner, the Director of The Vintage Car Rally Association, founded his non-profit in his home state of Oklahoma as a passion project. His interest in vintage cars and helping the autism community came together in the formation of a highly successful non-profit organization, the Vintage Car Rally Association. Rex wanted to create an opportunity for other vintage car enthusiast to compete safely, keeping the love of the sport alive. He also has a son with autism and wanted to support autism-related charities. Each year, he commits to donating the proceeds from his Vintage Car Rally events to autism schools and programs. When an old friend reached out to Rex and told him what was happening in Virginia Beach at Camp Gonnawannagoagin’, Rex knew he simply had to get involved. Rex has been our good friend since 2012, despite the fact that we’ve never met face- to- face. Since the start of our collaboration and friendship, Rex has made huge things possible for FACT. One day we hope a rally steers him our way so we can thank him in person. To learn more about the VCRA and their upcoming events click here.
How is “Success” Truly Defined?
“Sandler”- the name is synonymous with “Virginia Beach.” The Reba and Sam Sandler Center currently stands as the unofficial nucleus of Virginia Beach Town Center. The Sandler Family Campus is the main hub for classes, camps, and activities for the Simon Jewish Community Center (JCC) – the most popular community and recreational center in Virginia Beach. The Sandlers are also the savvy minds behind well-known local companies, such as Chesapeake Homes and Tidewater Finance Company.
Yes, Art and Steve Sandler have a myriad of businesses and the pair have proven to be highly successful, but what does the term “success” really mean? For those of us who have had the privilege of building relationships with the brothers and their companies, it is abundantly clear that kindness is a priority for them. These men measure success differently than most. As a legacy to their parents, Art and Steve Sandler have chosen to support projects that promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity and the protection of civil rights. They discourage indifference and applaud those who help preserve the dignity of others by condemning discrimination and bullying. For more than a decade, the Sandler’s philanthropy has supported both F.A.C.T. and the Holocaust Commission. An important component of the educational mission of the Holocaust Commission is to serve as a resource for students and teachers to learn about the Holocaust, racism, and the dangers of prejudice.
To support the causes they believe in, the Sandlers host a first class charity golf tournament every June. With the help of many of their employees and associates the team inspires and motivates so many of their vendors that it takes two golf courses to accommodate all the teams who want to help the Sandler’s support worthwhile charities. F.A.C.T is truly grateful to the Sandlers for their belief in us, their encouragement, and their generous support. They have supported us financially and encouraged us to keep persuing our mission. They have been an instrumental component behind the rapid growth of our programs, allowing us to serve more individuals with autism each year. The Sandlers are largely responsible for who we are today, and they are the reason we will continue to grow year after year.
Cheryl McLeskey- Fishing and Philanthropy
If you have lived in Hampton Roads for any length of time, you are surely familiar with the name McLeskey. The late Wayne McLeskey was a prominent property developer for decades. His company continues to manage and develop a wide array of holdings including commercial, residential, and undeveloped properties. Wayne’s love for the water was a catalyst for his involvement in the creation of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, development of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center at Rudee Inlet as well as Lynnhaven Marine and Boatel.
Last month I had the great pleasure of breaking bread (delicious focaccia at Aldo’s) with Cheryl McLeskey, who took over as CEO of McLeskey and Associates in 2012. Cheryl had recently designated F.A.C.T. as the recipients of a $14,000 donation generated by the second annual F. Wayne McLeskey Memorial Marlin Open. Cheryl and her family started the tournament to honor Wayne’s memory, his philanthropic spirit, and his love of the sport. The generous gift will be used to underwrite a full week of Camp Gonnawannagoagin’ for forty-five children this summer and help fortify our scholarship fund for families with financial need.
I always enjoy meeting our donors, thanking them in person, and hearing what inspires them. I must confess that I am sometimes anxious about meeting successful business people, as my core talents are education based and the world of business is intimidating to me in many aspects. I must say that getting to know Cheryl was a particular treat, and anything but intimidating. My agenda was to “interview” her, but she put me at ease immediately by asking thoughtful questions about autism, the families we serve and the future of F.A.C.T. As we talked, Cheryl spoke so tenderly about her husband, her family, her faith, and the many charities she supports. She credits Wayne with lovingly grooming her to be a deliberate and successful businesswoman, but also for her love of fishing, dancing, and flying. (yes, she like her husband, is a licensed pilot!) Her business acumen aside, this is a woman who is successful at life. Since our lunch, I have thought of her often. When my duties as director of F.A.C.T. begin to overwhelm me, I remember her and her humble but confident demeanor and I’m thankful for the inspiration I gained from a simple lunch.
Fast Cars and Big Hearts- VCRA donates $6,500
Many years ago, two sisters (Shelby and Samantha Keating) volunteered at Camp Gonnawannagoagin’. They were outstanding volunteers who loved the work and truly connected to the campers. They told their neighbor, Joe Correa, about their wonderful experiences and F.A.C.T.’s good works. Joe reached out to his old friend Rex Gardner who loves vintage cars, going fast, and his son who has autism. Rex is now F.A.C.T.’s good friend as well, even though we have never met.
Rex founded the Vintage Car Rally Association, a non-profit organization based in his home state of Oklahoma. Their mission has two important components. They provide classic car enthusiasts the opportunity to compete safely and thereby keeping the sport and love of great automobiles flourishing. Their second goal is to support families with autism by donating the proceeds from their events to autism schools and charities.
Since 2012, the VCRA has sponsored bike camp, the purchase of a 15 passenger van, entire seasons of sports programs and family socials, and the purchase of much needed office and camp equipment. We could not be more grateful for their hard work and loyal support. Please visit the VCRA website to see more about their work and exciting events.
We Love We Promise
We Promise has been supporting F.A.C.T. for 12 years with incredibly generous $10,000 grants. They have funded the purchase of busses and vans that have allowed us to expand our programs and serve an increasing number of families. The grants they’ve awarded have underwritten materials, activities, and scholarships that make our camp and exceptional program that is accessible to everyone regardless of income.
As the charitable arm of Chartway Federal Credit Union, the We Promise Foundation is dedicated to making dreams come true for children struggling with degenerative, life-threatening, debilitating or chronic illnesses, or those facing tremendous hardship. The foundation was launched in 2005 based on the enduring success of Chartway’s charitable events. Since 1999, Chartway and We Promise Foundation have raised over $7 million to lighten the burden of over 3,000 children through our partnerships with numerous chapters of The Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater, Toby’s Dream Foundation, and many more that share their passion and mission to make a difference.