By Doug Magill
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10
There are times when the definition of enterprise encompasses more than activities that are purely economic in nature. It also applies to non-profit and charitable organizations that serve purposes that extend far beyond the realm of commerce.
For some people the development of an organization is driven more by love, and by necessity, than by desire. And instead of remuneration, it may require investment in excess of return, but the rewards are peace of mind, and the knowledge that we are all better off for that effort.
Two of the finest people I know, Bob and Carol Magill, were driven to found His Eye Is On The Sparrow out of a deep understanding of the special needs of some children. They hadn’t planned on founding a charitable organization, but the birth of their daughter, Krista, dramatically changed their world.
Born with Downs Syndrome, Krista today is a young adult. But her mind will always be that of a two year old, with all of the complexities of life that accompany that condition.
And yet, Bob and Carol have never wavered in their love and commitment to their daughter as a gift from God. For many parents the enormous emotional, spiritual, and financial challenges of a special needs child can become unbearable. Bob and Carol have adapted and made it work. From taking separate vacations to ensure Krista has been properly cared for, to special schools, to mind-numbing repetitive training of the simplest of tasks, they have never wavered.
Other than when she is sleeping, Krista can’t be left alone, and every day is a day of instruction and challenge. She has learned some words and can communicate basic needs, but she will never look outside of her daily world of simple events.
When faced with the prospect that they may not always be able to care for her, Bob and Carol looked at options for long term care of special needs children. Institutionalization scared them, as they recognized that Krista’s need for love was as basic as breath itself to her. They also wanted a Christian environment which would cherish her special gifts and give her the dignity as a child of God that she deserved.
They were also fighting the headwinds of the current fad of immersion for special needs children. At one point, at the direction of state officials Krista was placed with a regular grade school class. She was lost, unable to comprehend, unable to participate, and disconnected from anyone who understood her or could relate to her.
Working with a friend, John Rolph, whose sister has special needs, Bob and Carol founded His Eye Is On The Sparrow in the late 1990s and received 501 (c) 3 status in 2003. A number of committed and energetic women got involved as board members: Alice Hartman, who had been an educator and had a special needs child; Judy Greenbaum, who has a special needs daughter; Sister Fran Depuydt, the dynamic head of Emmanual House and an MBA; and Carol herself, a nurse and a Physician’s Assistant along with being a wizard at the complex documentation required.
They shortly began looking at a house that could be adapted for the needs of these special children. However, Kafka couldn’t have designed a more daunting and complex labyrinth than the agencies and bureaucracies that had to be dealt with in order to be licensed, and certified. Dealing with two separate audits from state agencies that oversee such enterprises, Bob suggested that they perform their audits simultaneously – a concept which had not been previously considered.
The founders were required to respond to a number of government-required self-canceling twists of logic. The involvement of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing helped solve issues with the property, and the local Catholic Social Services agency helped manage some of the administrative paperwork.
Finally, in 2007 the first Sparrow House was opened, to four children.
“I had no idea how difficult this was going to be!” Bob said.
His Eye Is On The Sparrow now has a second house and is looking at a third. There is a lengthening list of waiting children whose parents are drawn to the caring and faith-based environment. Of course, now another bureaucratic hurdle has to be overcome, as an accreditation procedure is required once more than five children are to be housed. The depth (literally) of paperwork is astonishing. Included are policies and procedures for a number of contingencies that are perhaps necessary with larger organizations, but a hefty burden for a small charity.
While state agencies help with some money for staffing and necessities, and Social Security helps defray the costs of housing, His Eye Is On The Sparrow is still struggling to make ends meet. Bob and Carol know that they are affecting their ability to retire, but their financial commitment is as great as their emotional, and spiritual one. Many of the parents have been generous, and Saint Joseph and Christ the King parishes have been enormously helpful with volunteers and furnishings.
Much is yet to be done.
The effects of such an organization on a community are well beyond those of just the children to be cared for, and the families who love them. It affects all of those involved, from staff to volunteers to neighbors. And it is humbling to see the gifts that are drawn out of those who truly believe in service as a necessary part of life by the lifelong challenges of these special needs children.
Bob and Carol know that Krista has had a dramatic impact on the life of her older sister, Katie, an honors graduate of the University of Michigan now working on a Masters degree in Counseling, and her younger brother, Sean, an attorney in Chicago. On World Downs Syndrome Day – March 21 – Katie posted on Facebook for the world to see, “I can proudly and thankfully say that I am who I am because I have been blessed enough to share my life with a sister who has Downs.”
We are all enriched, and deepened by the challenges and blessings we receive when we have to deal with the unexpected vicissitudes of life. Remember, when we look at enterprise, we are sometimes looking at the deepest and most profound aspects of our existence.
When the sparrow sings its final refrain, the hush is felt nowhere more deeply than in the heart of man. Don Williams, Jr.
His Eye Is On The Sparrow can be found at www.hiseyeisonthesparrow.org
Doug Magill is a consultant, freelance writer, and voice-over talent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org