When Maryland Community Connection (MCC) began, the non-profit was just an “informal group run”—as they called it—that gave children and adults with development disabilities free tickets to basketball and baseball games. Now, 10 years later, as politicians scramble to resolve America’s financial crisis and unemployment rate, MCC has managed to find jobs for those who have disabilities in D.C. and Maryland.

Founders Andre’ Coates and Kimblyn Snyder launched the organization with their loved ones in mind. As the two dealt with family members who suffered from disabilities, they started the non-profit to help those who faced learning challenges become independent.

“People with disabilities are just like us,” said Coates, the MCC’s executive director. “They can be taxpayers, they can be homeowners—the key point is the level of support.” And the level of support MCC offers ranges from economic assistance to employment training and placement; programs include Family & Individual Support Services (FISS), Supported Employment (SE), Low Intensity Support Services (LISS) and Community Supported Living Arrangements (CSLA).

Coates said their passion grew for the organization within the first five years of its launch. One year later, these two women decided to make MCC their full-time job.

“I’ve never seen as much passion,” said Angela Graham, who was hired as MCC’s first employee and now serves as the director of consumer services. “ called me and I said, ‘when do you want me to start’—and that was five years ago.”

“It’s been great. It truly is the leadership.”

As the organization continued to expand and gain more clients, the number of individuals MCC serves has significantly grown. In 2008, the group provided services to 64 people with developmental disabilities. Just one year later, that number more than doubled, reaching 134 people. Now, as the non-profit expanded and serves Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Montgomery and Calvert Counties, more than 600 people have been using MCC’s services.

Coates said requests for services have skyrocketed, which she said could be linked to the unstable economy.

“We’re getting requests from families that never had to ask for public assistance before,” she said. “It’s communities we never had to worry about that have reached out.”

Although the non-profit received more money this year—raking in $2,100,000 in grants, $439, 740 more than FY 2009-2010—some programs, such as MCC’s Arts Program, are not covered by the state. As MCC serves more clients each year, the money has continued to be stretched thin.

“It has been a challenge,” Coates said. “People that used to give cannot give.” The Arts program, which is subsidized through donations, allows participants to go on field trips, such as the Kennedy Center.

“With the level of support we provide, it does cost,” Coates said. “We are not a charity where we can do it for free.”

*As the metropolitan area’s unemployment rate steadily climbs—D.C. at a 10.4 percent in June—a jump from 9.8 in May—and Maryland’s June rate at a 7.0 percent—a .2 percent increase from May—MCC has continued to provide jobs and entrepreneurship skills to participants in their employment program. MCC’s clients have worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in D.C., Goodwill, animal shelters and other locations. In some cases, the organization may help a program participant, such as Donald Gallimore, 25, who has a developmental disability, develop their own business.

Gallimore, who has been in the organization for four years, started his own motivational speaker business, “Inspiring Others.”

“They helped me a lot to start my own business and I speak to people with disabilities,” Gallimore said. Recently, the 25-year-old spoke at Buck Lodge Middle School for career day and gave three different speeches.

He admitted the start was a little rough, but through support from his MCC supervisor, Shawnice Williams, the manager of consumer services, Gallimore was contracted for more speaking engagements. “It got better with time,” he said.

What keeps this organization going 10 years later? Patience and passion, Coates said.

“One of the worst news a parent can hear from the doctor is that their child may not grow up like other children,” she said. “The major lesson I have learned in raising twins, one with and one without a disability, is to stop focusing on their limitations recognize all the wonderful abilities and greatness both children have to offer.

“I have personally learned patience, strength, resourcefulness, and tenacity that I thought I did not have when I first hear the news of my child,” Coates said.

For the future of MCC, Coates said she wants to expand the employment program. “We want individuals who have disabilities to choose to work rather than collect public dollars—finding careers vs. jobs,” she said.

In order for MCC to take on a client, the person with disabilities must receive clearance from Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration. Once DDA grants services, the individual can choose their organization to work with.

The organization has received numerous accolades. In March 2010, the organization was named Provider of the Year by Maryland Works and in 2011, MCC was awarded Nonprofit Agency of Public Service Achievement Award from the Maryland chapter of the America Society for Public Administration.

The organization will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Nov. 14 at Martin’s Crosswinds from 6 to 9 p.m.

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer