It is often hard for us to believe that we've been doing this for seven years because quite honestly it still feels like we're making it up as we go. Yes, you read that correctly. We never promised perfection. We had a simple vision to give back to other families with children who were born with special needs.
It started with our folks providing a wonderful makeover for sweet Cecily and it blossomed into us wanting to provide this lasting gift for others. It continued as our parents invented the original belly band. When we first started making them there was very little in the market... we chose not to patent this because we only want to give help, for free, to families who may need it! The belly band was invented so others felt comfortable holding baby Cecily. After a few misfortunate accidents with her g-tube, my Mom made a soft, gentle wrap to protect her feeding tube from getting accidentally removed. Many in-patient stays later we started handing them out secretly to families in need. We then expanded this into a free, online request form via our website. It was not planned... it was just what we lovingly refer to as a happy accident. And this accident has resulted in thousands of bands being delivered to kids across the county (and in many cases the nation) for free.
Our vision for equipment recycling was really our original passion. We spent so much money on items for Cecily... and with every purchase we held out hope that this was going to be the silver bullet that would help her walk, talk or eat by mouth. Yes, in some cases it was therapy to buy these tools, but it always felt like we were doing the right thing by supporting her. Our heart broke thinking about the families who would also want to buy these goods but for one reason or another, were unable to. It took us about five years to really get our equipment recycling program off the ground. The best thing is we have learned from our mistakes. We didn't give up. We kept pushing and today (in large part thanks to Facebook...) the program is a shining star. We are so excited to have an online community where family members can post equipment and gain access for FREE. The goal is for families to share equipment and donate equipment to others in San Diego. It's a welcome site for many who are unable to procure equipment from government agencies or private insurance. We encourage anyone reading this with equipment in their garage to contact us. We will happily post it on our site and the interested party will pick it up directly from your home. We eradicated our storage bill and in turn, created a program that sees more than 80% of all posted equipment recycled within one week.
And I guess what we're most proud about is how the vision has adapted to not only help families, but to provide teachable moments with hands on volunteer work. Our volunteers range from six year olds to 75+, and its this diversity that creates such a unique perspective on how to help families in need. Everyone has something to offer and we listen to everyone. Sometimes a six-year old really does have the best answer on what a fellow child needs. We can learn a lot from kids when we ask them to lead a team.
With 2017 here we can proudly say we have worked with more than 600 people in the community over the last seven years. We have wonderful partners and wonderful companies that have repeatedly volunteered with our team and we continue to forge additional partnerships with local youth groups. This year more than 100 of our belly bands were made from teens representing the National Charity League and the Girl Scouts. Teen Volunteers in Action (TVIA) continues a strong partnership of providing volunteer opportunities for boys and young men.
We are so proud of our volunteer led organization and that fact that we are able to help so many families with very little overhead and no paid staff.
Over the last 7 years Cecily's Closet has accomplished the following:
- 91 room makeovers with two more in production
- Provided more than 2000+ belly bands to children in need
- Recycled more than 700+ pieces of medical equipment
- Featured in Family Circle Magazine - national coverage!
- Recognized with four awards for providing services to children with special needs
- And shared various donations with families in need - toys, books, and lots and lots of love and encouragement through our various book drives & adopt a family programs
There are too many people to count by name but we'd like to recognize
Jon Ray, owner of PaintGreen for his constant commitment and support for our organization. Jon and his team graciously donate their time and talent to provide a beautiful backdrop for every room we complete. We can't say enough nice things about Jon or the work he does in the community. He was born with a heart of gold and he is truly a saint.
And thank you to our team of wonderful artists with a special thank you to our repeat givers: Emily Dolton, Hanna’s Murals, Kevin Anderson, Arielle and Sweet Delisa! We love our artists and we are actively recruiting more for future rooms. If you have friends or family that can help - please let us know.
Thank you to our belly band crew who sew love all year long! Thank you to "Grandma Jane", Kathy, Ingrid and her Mom, Denise, Kelly Wesseln, Jennifer Bayliss, Julie B., the lovely ladies from TVIA, the lovely ladies from IIDA, and all the volunteers who surprise us with belly bands from time to time. I am quite certain that I've forgotten someone... These are the volunteers that remain in the shadows but are critical to the execution of our program. We love that these protective wraps designed to keep a g-tube or j-tube safe are made with love from volunteers and shipped to families in need. And a big, special shout out to my sister, Anita, for managing the orders, shipping the bands and meeting all of our demands. What would we do without your constant support and devotion? You are the best sister a girl could ever hope to have. You keep me sane and talk me off many, many ledges.
Thank you to our board of directors who provide the vision and strategic planning for our efforts. What a team! Thank you to Gina, Julie B., Julie D., Christina, Anita, Emily, Kate, Dr. Christine Wood, and Suzy for your hard-work all year long.
Cecily's Closet continues to operate without a paid staff and we have no intention of changing. If we can do all of this without a penny spent on overhead... it means we can help more families in need. Every penny received goes directly to fund our programs.
Every year we look at our "to-do" list and wonder if we have it in us to keep on trucking. We had some health scares with our sweet Cecily towards the end of 2016 and we honestly were not sure if we had enough energy left in the tank to keep the wheels on our bus. We decided to do less in 2017, and see where the journey would lead us... well of course... it led to more opportunities! We are still finding our way. We are still making it up and hoping our efforts are good enough. We're still fighting the good fight to secure funding. But we have the most amazing family in the world supporting us so we're confident that there are more miracles ahead for Cecily's Closet.
Thanks for believing! Let's see what we can do in 2017!
Onwards and upwards!
The Ackerly Family