Anything Is Possible When People Are Able to Pursue Their Potential. Here's How Melwood Provides Pathways to Independence.

Oct 17, 2018 6:35 PM ET

At Melwood, we believe anything is possible when people are able to pursue their potential.

We see the lasting, positive effect on society when people of differing abilities – individuals with cognitive, physical, and other disabilities, as well as military veterans – have the power to apply their unique talents in meaningful ways. That is why we are so passionate about introducing their contributions throughout our communities. For more than 55 years, we have charted a path to inclusion for this remarkable yet underserved population.

Our commitment to creating transformative experiences has led Melwood to become a leading employer of people of differing abilities. Yet we see even greater value in the confidence garnered by our participants, because we know that as their confidence builds, so does the strength and vibrancy of our communities.

In the beginning, small victories meant just getting in the door, arranging an interview, and landing a job – any job. Thanks to advances in technology and a growing societal expectation of inclusion, the challenge is no longer getting an opportunity, it is ensuring that people of differing abilities are set up to succeed in a career of their choosing and are not subjected to disparate treatment in the workplace.

When Melwood was founded in 1963, a person of differing ability faced a grim future of likely institutionalization – with its inherent risks of neglect and abuse and complete lack of opportunity to develop skills and independence. It wasn’t long ago that the American Dream, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” wasn’t even considered as goals for people then known as “mentally retarded.” For them, independence, homes, and jobs were not considered possible – or even worth pursuing.

Melwood has been a significant player in the movement to expand opportunities for people of differing abilities since then.

Melwood’s impact on the DC-Metro Area economy has amounted to nearly $50 million in income; $14.2 million in economic output; more than 1,500 full-time and part-time jobs; and $1.4 million in state and local sales taxes.

More than 90 percent of Melwood’s funding comes from government contracts to fulfill facility management and custodial, grounds keeping, and recycling service duties across the region. At this very moment, one of our groundskeepers, Joshua Bey, is setting the gold standard for excellence at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center due to his professionalism and unwavering dedication to his duties. A few miles down the road, Pamela Stevens’ strong work ethic and positive attitude is one of the reasons the Potomac Annex of the Washington Navy Yard will reach its site goals today. And military veteran Frank Eaton will be recognized for honoring his responsibilities as a materials handler at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

It is through the individual contributions of those like Joshua, Pamela, Frank and the rest of our workforce of over 1,400 that visitors and employees at some of the DC-Metro area’s finest landmarks – from the USDA’s People’s Garden on the National Mall, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Quantico – experience the quality, depth, and diversity of Melwood’s services.

Our impact is certainly felt in the lives of individuals, but it can also be felt in nearly every corner of our community. For example, you may be surprised to learn that since 2008, Melwood teams have recycled more than four million pounds of material, which has translated into six-figure returns to the federal government every year thereafter. It may also surprise you that our Business Services Clients have experienced millions of dollars in cost savings by eliminating their own hiring and training processes in favor of those offered by Melwood.

Still, there is more work to be done.

A 40 percent employment gap remains between individuals with disabilities and those without. To shrink this gap, Melwood is pioneering new pathways to better integrate the unique talents of people of differing abilities within the workforce. Working closely with our partners, we are constantly evolving our training and programming to align their dynamic needs with the abilities of our people. By training Melwood employees in the disciplines of green cleaning, for example, clients like the United States Department of Justice, can fulfill their LEED-certification commitments. Similarly, by training team members to excel in one to two proficiencies, Melwood custodians deployed throughout the region can perform their tasks with precision.

For more than 50 years, Melwood has been proving that, if given the chance, people of differing abilities are perfect for the job. With the support of people like you, Melwood has reached thousands and effectively used your generous donations to transform lives. Over 90 percent of every dollar received is turned into economic resources and support services for people of differing abilities, like our Professional Development Program.

This program spans 12 weeks and teaches skills such as job exploration, resume building, job search, interviewing, workplace conduct, and personal financial management.

  • For approximately $30 a month, you can provide a camper with a week of day camp at Camp Accomplish, Melwood’s inclusive recreational camp for children of all abilities.
  • For approximately $135 a month, you can support one individual over the course of one year through our Vocational Support Services. 
  • For approximately $200 a month, you can support one individual for three months within our Horticultural Therapy program. This is the program Melwood first began after a group of parents wanted their children of differing abilities to gain specific job skills and earn self-generated income.  
  • For approximately $325 a month, you can support one veteran through a 7--day retreat session at Operation Tohidu®, an innovative therapeutic approach to reintegrate veterans into the civilian world and workforce.

When you support Melwood, you:

  • Play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce, where every person is recognized for his or her abilities.
  • Help increase the employment rate of people of differing abilities.
  • Help businesses capitalize on the talents of qualified people of differing abilities.
  • Help people of a differing ability have a chance to achieve workplace success with vocational support services.

Melwood has been advocating on behalf of those of differing abilities long before the law was on their side – the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 – and will be here until our dream of a world of full inclusion is realized. The people we serve have the capacity to raise the bar for quality and excellence, which can lead to outcomes that benefit us all – outcomes like greater productivity, increased profits, economic growth, and social advancement.

We will continue to build on our 55-year legacy of celebrating the unique talents, passions, and abilities of every individual, and foster meaningful opportunities for them to achieve personal advancement while bettering the world around them. Because the participation of one is a catalyst to progress for all.

Support Melwood through your employee giving program:

As a donor, you can support Melwood by donating to them through your employer’s workplace giving program (CFC#21166 if you're a military or federal employee participating in the Combined Federal Campaign). Payroll pledges made through employer-sponsored charitable giving programs represent a cost effective and near effortless way to support your favorite charities.

As Melwood's workplace giving partner, America’s Charities can help your company design and implement a program centered on supporting their work - through workplace giving campaigns, employee fundraising, cause-focused signature programs, volunteerism, donation drives, matching gifts, Dollars-for-Doers, In-Kind Giving and other employee engagement and philanthropic initiatives. Click here to request a demo and learn how we can help you do this.