All of the organizations in the Guide to Giving have been recommended by either The Community Foundation in Montgomery County or the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.
Bethesda Magazine‘s Volunteer Spotlight articles for four organizations included in the Guide to Giving are followed by the listings of the many nonprofits in this year’s guide.
For the listings, the nonprofits provided a description of their work and ideas for ways to help. If an organization offers Student Service Learning hours or internships, we noted that under volunteer opportunities.
The Upcounty HUB
By Caralee Adams
Soon after BlackRock Center for the Arts closed because of COVID-19 in March 2020, the Germantown facility transformed its space to divide and distribute a large donation of fresh produce to local people in need.
Contributions of food kept flowing in, and the operation evolved into the Upcounty Hub, a program now serving more than 1,000 families a week. This summer it moved to the nearby Upcounty Regional Services Center on Middlebrook Road in Germantown, where it operates with staff and dedicated volunteers such as Patti Proano-Arnaiz. The 52-year-old Spanish teacher at Lakelands Park Middle School in Gaithersburg was an early volunteer with the Hub, alongside her youngest daughters, Sofia, 17, and Carina, 24. She spent the past two summers helping four days a week, filling grocery bags, making deliveries and using her language skills to connect with families in the community.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting the families—seeing how much those small outreach efforts can make the kids happy and the parents really appreciate it,” says Proano-Arnaiz, who has seen up close the organization’s work with community partners to build trust and provide immunizations (including COVID-19 vaccines), eye exams and health kits. “Now it’s this huge enterprise. It’s amazing to see what the Hub has done.”
Proano-Arnaiz was born in Peru, lived in Chile and Brazil, and has been in Montgomery County since 1981, currently living in Clarksburg. She has been a teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools for 28 years.
“She has a keen understanding of the people served and how to treat people with respect,” says BlackRock CEO Lynn Andreas Arndt. “Patti is someone who sees the need and she feels the need. She quietly comes in and works with the team. It’s never about her. It’s never for anything other than the service.”
The volunteers have bonded like a family while preparing bags of fresh produce and boxes of canned goods, Proano-Arnaiz says. They try to establish a rapport with clients and respond to their needs as they go into neighborhoods to make deliveries. On one occasion while dropping off food, Proano-Arnaiz checked on a woman struggling with depression to make sure she was all right and knew of mental health help that was available. At another home, Proano-Arnaiz learned about the needs of a child with autism and brought him a soccer ball, puzzles and coloring books.
“It’s very heartbreaking to see some families who have lost pretty much everything [during the pandemic]. We try to help as much as possible and get them access to services,” says Proano-Arnaiz, who notes that the experience has made her more understanding of the challenges faced by many of her economically disadvantaged students. “I was one of the lucky ones, and I want to give back to the community—and my students.”
Amy and Daniel Marcin
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Montgomery County
By Caralee Adams
Amy Marcin says she knows it’s a bit of a cliché, but being part of a support group for people with mental illness has truly made her feel like she’s not alone. “It’s very inspiring to be in the company of people who have survived trauma that you wouldn’t wish on anyone and yet are still persisting,” says Marcin, 38, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009. “It’s a wonderful way to get ideas of coping mechanisms. People share their experience and also share what has helped them.”
Marcin says attending peer support groups at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Montgomery County (NAMI, MC) since 2016 was essential in helping her, including dealing with the stress of college classes a few years ago. She says she’s now in a good place, using calming meditation apps, journaling and making sure she gets enough exercise and time outdoors. Last year, Marcin decided to become a volunteer peer facilitator for NAMI to help others.
“It’s just really nice to give back to an organization that has given me so much,” she says. “It feels full circle.”
Every month, NAMI, MC has about two dozen free support group sessions for individuals and family members. The organization also advocates for people with mental illness by giving presentations to community groups, operating a resource help line, and offering educational classes, according to Nicole Lucas, director of programs. Lucas says her organization, with just five staff members, relies heavily on volunteers to serve about 2,800 individuals each year. All volunteer group facilitators attend three days of training conducted by the state NAMI office.
Marcin regularly leads evening peer support groups on Zoom from her home in Silver Spring. She says the best sessions are those in which she gets everyone to open up and offer advice to one another. Recently, a woman who was considering having a baby asked Marcin about her experience with medication and pregnancy, and Marcin was able to reassure her about her own experience continuing with her medications in order to protect her mental health and having a healthy pregnancy.
Amy’s husband, Daniel, 35, tends to their newborn daughter when she’s hosting the online peer sessions; Daniel, in turn, hands over baby duty to Amy on the nights he facilitates family support group meetings for NAMI.
An economist, Daniel had attended a few family support groups and was looking for a NAMI meeting closer to his home when he offered to become a volunteer facilitator last year. He shares his wife’s sentiments about the value of connecting with others going through similar challenges. “It can be very rewarding to see people come to group feeling alone and helpless, and then find they can connect with people who are in a similar situation looking to extend a hand,” Daniel says. “It’s a community that understands and supports each other.”
The Marcins say the stigma of mental illness is fading, but they want people to be more accepting and open. “Emotion and mental health are health issues,” Amy says. “It would be the same if someone had diabetes. You have to take medication and manage it. It’s treatable. There is hope. There is recovery, and resources are out there to help you.”
Siu Cheung Rossmark
Asian American LEAD
By Caralee Adams
About 15 years ago, Siu Cheung Rossmark began dropping off bags of toys around the holidays for the nonprofit Asian American LEAD (AALEAD). Then she started to show up for the annual holiday party where those gifts were distributed to refugee families from Asian countries.
“To see the kids being able to choose toys and get something they really would not have gotten if it wasn’t for AALEAD—just the way their faces lit up…it just touched my heart,” says Cheung Rossmark, who sometimes got a new dress or shoes as a child when her family celebrated Chinese New Year—but never toys.
The more Cheung Rossmark learned about the organization’s work to support the education of low-income Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth through after-school and mentoring programs, the more she wanted to get involved.
The 51-year-old owner of Siu’s Asian Bistro in Silver Spring has been a volunteer member of the AALEAD board since 2010 and became board chair in November 2020. For six months last year, Cheung Rossmark stepped in as pro bono executive director, working full time with program staff and funders, writing grants to funders requesting support for AALEAD programs, and stabilizing the organization’s finances. Back on the board now, she helps organize fundraising activities and create greater awareness of AALEAD’s services. Cheung Rossmark restructured board responsibilities and serves on its governance and strategic planning committees.
AALEAD, with offices in Washington, D.C., Annandale, Virginia, and Rockville, serves students in the D.C. metro area from kindergarten through college, primarily from 23 ethnic groups, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese. Many have parents who don’t speak English, which Cheung Rossmark says was her experience. The organization’s work includes outreach to families and connecting them with community resources.
“When I was a kid growing up in D.C., we were poor. We came to this country with nothing,” she says of moving from China when she was 6. “I wish there had been a program like this for me.”
Cheung Rossmark says it’s been rewarding to watch students advance through the program, complete college, obtain jobs—and in some cases give back to AALEAD.
“We need to continue to create a space for young people to speak out. The more we encourage them to be leaders, it allows them to have more confidence,” says Cheung Rossmark, whose three grown children have been involved with the organization over the years. “We always try to ask our youth what they think and incorporate that into our work.”
In the wake of recent incidents of AAPI discrimination, engagement in AALEAD programs and donations have increased, and the organization received a $2 million grant this year from MacKenzie Scott, a philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Hanh Le of Washington, D.C., says she joined the AALEAD board four years ago because she was impressed with Cheung Rossmark’s energy and commitment. At the end of 2019, the organization was going through some financial hardships, but Le says Cheung Rossmark never lost hope. “She had a lot of pep talks with me and other board members to say, ‘We can do this. There’s light at the end of the tunnel,’ ” Le says.
Young Artists of America at Strathmore
By Caralee Adams
Before his son Anthony’s first concert with the Young Artists of America (YAA) Orchestra, Francisco “Paco” Cosio-Marron offered to set up chairs in the basement lobby of The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
That was 10 years ago, the orchestra’s inaugural season, and he’s been volunteering with YAA ever since—even after Anthony left for college.
Cosio-Marron serves as the orchestra manager for the select group, which has grown from 15 high school musicians in the beginning to nearly 60 today. Together with YAA voice, dance and acting students from the area, the orchestra typically performs about three musical theater productions a year.
The 72-year-old Potomac resident is YAA’s longest-serving volunteer, spending about 10 hours a week assisting the music director, Kristofer Sanz. Cosio-Marron typically arrives early twice a week to set up for rehearsals, greets the students and then stays for three-plus hours—distributing music, reminding orchestra members to turn off their cellphones, and offering encouragement. When COVID-19 hit, he provided support for the group’s virtual activities.
“He’s been an amazing mentor to me,” 17-year-old trombone player Hyun June Cho of Potomac says of Cosio-Marron, whose bubbly personality was especially welcome on Zoom practices. “Every time the energy of the group got low, he’d pop a joke and it would brighten us up and boost morale.”
On average, YAA members miss just one of the nearly 40 practice sessions held each season, according to attendance spreadsheets kept by Cosio-Marron, who often calls students who don’t show up. And engagement remained high even when activities were moved online, he says.
Cosio-Marron, who plays piano and was a technology instructor in the aerospace industry before retiring, also handles communications with YAA families. He writes about the historical backgrounds of the orchestra’s musical scores and includes video clips in weekly emails, known as “Paco’s notes.”
“He’s telling us stories about the music and giving it so much depth that it really brings the music alive when we start playing it,” says Abigail Pak, 17, of Clarksburg, who shaped the way she played percussion in Beauty and the Beast on what she’d learned about the characters from the email notes.
“Once they are invested in understanding [the music], they are also invested in playing it better,” Cosio-Marron says.
When there is downtime, Abigail says, Cosio-Marron often sings, shares rhymes or plays games, forming connections with the students.
“We’ve sort of created a little community. It’s satisfying to watch these kids blossom in ways you could not imagine,” says Cosio-Marron, who stays in touch with many after they graduate. “It raises everything—my spirits, my desire to study more and be smarter so I that can help them. It’s just fun.”
Click on the categories below for detailed information on additional organizations.