Non-Profit Spotlight

For many of us the end-of-the-year is a time of giving, and to that end we’re here profiling three Woolfers doing extraordinary good in the world.

Select the red tabs below to learn more about the great work of Caitlin Cassaro with Extreme Kids & Crew, Dana Marlowe with I Support the Girls, and Jen Losey James with Crisis Text Hotline — find out how you can get involved, too!

non-profit extreme
Caitlin Cassaro working at Extreme Kids

Caitlin Cassaro, Extreme Kids & Crew

Can you tell us what Extreme Kids & Crew is and how it works, how you support your population? Extreme Kids & Crew provides play-spaces for children with disabilities and their families. We were founded with a simple concept in mind: to be a safe, fun and judgement-free zone for the whole family. Play is vital to every child’s development, but when you spend two hours commuting to school and there are an unending number of provider visits (doctors, therapists, etc.), it can be hard to find time to have fun as family.

We provide inclusive arts and play programs to children with any disability and/or neurological differences, and their siblings, their friends and their caregivers are welcomed and encouraged to join. We host weekend classes, open play in our sensory gym, special events throughout the city, caregiver meet-ups and workshops, and after-school and summer camps. Our programs are free and we work hard to connect with families who are living in underserved areas of NYC. We are the place that the families whom are often discriminated against can come and relax, meet other families in similar situations, and where the children can be themselves and develop a sense of self-worth and confidence in their abilities.

How long have you worked there and how did you get started?
Like many families, I discovered Extreme Kids shortly after my second child was diagnosed with autism. Until age two Shane was called “a good baby” for his lack of need, but he had begun randomly falling out of chairs, running into walls, and complaining that the bright sun was too “loud.” Our beautiful, once-cheerful boy was no longer a child most parents wanted at birthday parties or playdates. The usual sibling strife became extreme and near impossible to navigate. 

As Shane changed, my husband and I became stressed out, worried, confused, and lonely. Whether or not this was self-imposed or the result of our friends pulling away isn’t clear to me, but the feelings of isolation we felt became overwhelming. 

In a desperate search for something I wasn’t even sure existed, I came across Eliza Factor online. In an open letter, she wrote about her experiences with her beautiful disabled son and two beautiful non-disabled daughters. Her letter made me cry loud, body-rocking, choking sobs. It was not about “oh how sad it is that my son is different,” but more like “all my kids are wonderful, why can’t we join the party? Where can we BE?!” I didn’t realize at the time how deeply essential a sense of community is for everyone’s well-being. Hmm, I wonder if any Woolfers know what I mean?… ha ha.

I contacted Eliza and she immediately replied. Turns out there was this little space she called Extreme Kids & Crew and they had gatherings every weekend. We went. Of course, we went! This little room with big pillows and padded floors immediately became so much more. At Extreme Kids, Shane had fun. His sister had fun. We all had fun together! Kids and other adults played with him while we sat and collected ourselves. I cried again, but this time happy tears. Extreme Kids made me feel like it was going to be OK, and that we were not alone. So what if Shane flapped and yelled and ran around the room crashing into, luckily, padded walls. We had found our community.

I started volunteering, helping to create a financial file and put some systems in place, all non-interesting aspects of running a little start up, except they are interesting to me. I was, at the time, the CFO for Friends of Firefighters (a nonprofit offering private support and therapy to members of the FDNY). Prior to that, I created a little freelance business helping start-ups and nonprofits put the behind-the-scenes systems in functioning order so that the amazing founders would be free to continue growing their vision (and not worrying about, for instance, payroll tax or annual audits.

In the spring of 2013, I interviewed for the job of Executive Director/COO of Extreme Kids & Crew. The organization was growing and turning into a business, something Eliza was not interested in managing. The word went out that a search was on and I happily threw my hat in the ring. I stepped into the role of Executive Director during the time I facilitated moving the organization into PS 15 in Red Hook. The past six years have been amazing. I have never loved a job like I love this one.

What does your job entail?
As executive director of a small organization, I make sure that we are always working with a strategy to grow and sustain our mission, that the programs we have tie to our mission and that our strategic plan is always in play. I oversee operations, development, programming, finance and accounting, human resources and communications, while the day-to-day aspects of the organization are managed by my wonderful team. It’s common in a small, but growing, nonprofit for the ED to wear many hats. As we’ve grown I’ve added staff in areas of need, but also in areas where I’m not as strong. We now have a director of communications and development, as well as a director of programs. We recently hired a program and operations manager to tie our departments together; be the “glue” we were missing. I also work with a couple consultants, such as a grantwriter, a new outside finance and accounting firm (this made me VERY HAPPY!) and an administrative executive who will be joining our staff in 2019. It’s been incredibly exciting to watch how the staff has grown over the years, and how each employees’ skill set has development.

On any given day, I will meet with Eliza (board president), work on a budget for a grant, observation a program, speak on a panel regarding disability rights or the changing landscape of philanthropy, collaborate on a fundraising appeal letter, meet with an executive director of a foundation regarding funding, or, if I’m lucky, join the after-school program and play with the kids.

What have you learned doing this work? What does it mean for you?
It is easy to become morose about the state of the world, but this job reminds me everyday that I have a community of people who want the world to be better and we’re all working towards that goal, and we’re doing it in a fun and new way.

I’ve certainly learned to be more patient. I’ve learned through trial and error, as well as a ton of wonderful (and not so wonderful) professional development seminars, how to be both a better manager and leader. I love both, but it’s hard to keep them in balance. I’ve learned that breaking the phone will not fix an insurance issue, and keeping one’s cool is incredibly important for staff morale. I learned I am the boss and what that means. I know that sounds strange, but it took me a long time to realize that my moods, every word I say, can have a deep effect on someone’s day, their self-worth or job performance. I really try to model behavior, to own staff mistakes and give out credit to staff when there is a success; to take my ego down a few notches. I’ve learned I will never stop learning.

To explain what Extreme kids means to me in a succinct way is terribly difficult. Some of my best friends are people whom I met here, and my family reconnected and found a home away from home at Extreme Kids. It’s my career and therefore there are ups and downs, but I am so fiercely proud of what we do. I’m so thankful for what this job has given me personally.

How can others get involved and help?
Volunteering is a great way to get involved with our mission. Play Partners, as we call them, really make the spaces feel welcome and are often the first people families meet. Many of our Play Partners volunteer on weekends or during special events.

For those who have less time, but still want to make an impact – donate. As a small organization it’s easy to see how far your dollar can go. Most of our programs are free and we can only afford to do this through generous support from donors and foundation grants. Besides donating cash, one can also donate art supplies, office supplies, printer ink (why is this SO expensive?!). Introduce someone to us, someone you think could support us or would be interested in what we are doing. Or, if you really love us, host a cultivation event!

Anything else you want to tell us?
I believe strongly in the rights of those with disabilities. I am an ally to the autistic community. I believe in neuro-diversity and that autism is not something to be cured, but something to be celebrated and worth the work to understand it and it’s diverse spectrum (and while we’re at it, it is not caused by vaccines).

As an organization, we have, over the years, gotten to know not only the parents of kids with disabilities, BUT the kids as they grow into young adults. Listening to these individuals and not only their parents or specialists I found very important, and something we are supporting at Extreme Kids. We don’t want to frame disability as something that is a constant hardship for families, although we know it can be hard for everyone, but as something that is beautiful, different, worthy of respect and understanding; worthy of listening to. We also believe the majority of the hardships that accompany disability are due to the misunderstandings, stigmas and barriers in our society.

I also believe disability is a social justice issue, one that crosses over and through many other communities—race, ethnicity, gender… It is the intersectionality of disability and other communities that really interests us right now, as well as the feelings around “space.” How do we create a space that feels so welcoming?! Why is dedicated space and community so important? I’ll be exploring these questions a lot in the coming years as I’ve just decided to go back to school for a masters in social work! (I have an MBA).

Favorite Websites you want to share?

  • Medium.com – I like how they curate op-eds so I can get a round up of my favorite writers and topics, including disability news.
  • NPR is a constant, although I think it starts to affect my mood!
  • New York Times and Washington Post I look at daily. I also like The Nib.
  • I do look at Facebook as a way to keep in touch with Friends and Family. Like everyone, I get annoyed with Facebook, but when emergencies take place, like the recent fires in Paradise/Chico California, I find it the best way to keep in touch with friends and family or simply find people who may be missing. *I grew up in Chico and spent a day on Facebook tracking people, hearing news, etc.
  • Broken and Woken – our founder’s blog and a great space for writers of all ages and abilities to contribute – and her website www.elizafactor.net
  • INCLUDEnyc blog – Include is an organization I admire and whom we work frequently with. Their blog hits on some very timely issues and gives space to many voices.
  • I also look at Kirsten Lindsmith’s blog. She is an autistic self-advocate. I look at and participate in a couple of online communities around autism and being an ally, such as Supporty McGroup-face (Love. The. Name).
  • I love reading through the Woolfer posts on Facebook and getting the newsletter! What a great way to get everything from opinions on the best vibrator to holiday recipes. The supportive community this provides to women is amazing.
non-profit support
Dana Marlowe

Dana Marlowe, I Support the Girls

Can you tell us what I Support The Girls is and how it works, how you support your population?
I Support the Girls is not your average charity that helps the homeless. In fact, our donations reach a unique population of women and girls who have a unique ask: a well-fitting bra and a stress-free period. We provide bras and menstrual products to women and girls in need who are typically homeless and low income, but we’ve recently expanded our reach to those who may be cancer patients, fleeing domestic violence situations, refugees, those in disaster relief shelters, inmates, and more.

Bras are expensive, and many times, our recipients face the choice of spending waning funds on a hot meal or a maxi pad. Women shouldn’t face that choice. We won’t be able to end homelessness, but we can help accommodate a marginalized population. Often, people want to look the other way when they think about poverty or ignore a disaster in an area that isn’t happening to them. We set out to prove that periods don’t just stop when you can’t afford them, and women and girls at any phase in their life deserve the dignity that a properly fitting bra and hygiene products provide.

How did you get started?
I didn’t meant to start a Global NGO. It was an accident. We started totally on serendipity.  “I Support the Girls” occurred in a changing room at Soma Intimates. After a yearlong weight loss crusade in 2015, I was faced with an issue common to women who have lost weight: my clothes didn’t fit well. Specifically, the bras. My husband Preston told me to clear my afternoon and buy bras. I remember him telling me that my bras weren’t working in any direction. He gestured what he meant.

As I tried my new sizes at Soma, I gaped at the prices for what I would hopefully be replacing in a few more months. These new bras were expensive! My shock was audible as I gasped aloud, and I asked “How do women afford these?” It turns out, they can’t. Four words from a sales associate changed my life: homeless women need bras. From there, the whirlwind that we now know as I Support the Girls was born.

What does your job entail?
It truly varies day by day. Sometimes it’s mundane things like stocking bras in a warehouse and sorting by size. I am no longer daunted by receiving 20,000 bras at a time, or hundreds of thousands of tampons that need to be donated by the end of the week from a corporate sponsor.  But most times, it’s far more exciting and Instagram-worthy. One of the best parts of I Support the Girls is that I meet the most wonderful people who simply want to help. I’ve met with actresses, politicians, nurses, make-up artists, nuns, bra fitters, and more who just want to donate.

Truly, most of my job is assessing where the need is and making sure our products go there. We have over 50 affiliates across the United States who manage donations in their local communities. Our country is huge, but having these women across the country makes it feel smaller as we become a community who reaches out in times of natural disasters to lend a hand. We’ve sent bras to Puerto Rico via our Florida affiliates, and are now helping with victims of the California wild fires.

What have you learned doing this work? What does it mean for you?
My own perceptions on homelessness changed. I always believed in human rights and fighting inequality. But I learned that people can become homeless for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are financial. I’ve learned that women are often the most invisible of the homeless population because some of them may stay with friends and family or are sadly stuck in home with domestic violence. Homelessness can be defined a lack of access to reliable housing.

Throughout my work with I Support the Girls, I’ve met people who became homeless from an expensive medical bill, a mental health crisis, or they were facing an environmental disaster. Often, the last things on their minds are their period until it arises. Suddenly, what was once a nuisance or inconvenience can be much more severe when you can’t accommodate that. I know that I don’t have the power to solve what makes people homeless, but I have learned and am hopefully teaching that thousands of people whose paths I have crossed, that women of all economic levels deserve dignity. I’ve learned that people still find menstruation icky and don’t like to think of bras as fundamental garments. It makes me want to work harder to smash the stigmas and change the dialogue around the basic needs of women.

How can others get involved and help?

Please reach out to us! Follow us on social media at:

If you want to help, there are a bunch of ways. You can donate financially to: https://secure.isupportthegirls.org/np/clients/isupportthegirls/donation.jsp

If you want to donate bras and hygiene products locally, you can host a drive and reach out to your closest affiliate: http://isupportthegirls.org/how-to-donate/

Our main donation address is:

I Support the Girls
Attn: Dana Marlowe
P.O. Box 2736
Wheaton, Maryland 20915

Moreover, if you want to volunteer time and help us out at an organizational level, or have other questions, please e-mail us at: volunteer.ISTG@gmail.com

Anything else you want to tell us?
If you happen to live in a state that has the ‘tampon tax’, I’d love to ask you to read up and advocate for it to be abolished. Right now, many states are taxed with the regular sales tax, even though most items deemed to be medical supplies are tax exempt. That’s ridiculous and an affront to women’s health for this extra charge. By changing the dialogue on the necessity of hygiene products as health products, we can make these products less of a barrier to those in need. Read up on the tampon tax here: https://www.npr.org/2018/03/25/564580736/more-states-move-to-end-tampon-tax-that-s-seen-as-discriminating-against-women

Favorite Websites you want to share?

Jen Losey James

Jen Losey James, Crisis Text Line

Can you tell us what Crisis Text Line is and how it works?
Crisis Text Line provides free support at your fingertips, 24/7

How long have you worked there and how did you get started?
I’m the Founding Supervisor, I helped created the original training and started the remote volunteer program. Crisis Text Line was born “from the rib” ofDoSomething.org, the largest organization for young people and social change. Dozens of DoSomething.org members were texting in to ask for personal help and the CEO (Nancy Lublin) came up with the idea for Crisis Text Line and quietly launched it in August 2013. Within 4 months, Crisis Text Line was being used in all 295 area codes in the USA. Two years later, Crisis Text Line spun out into a separate entity and Nancy went with it.

What does your job entail?
I’m a bit of Jane of all trades at Crisis Text Line. I help supervise our Crisis Counselors on our platform, while they are taking conversations. I’m there to support and teach during their shift. Every conversation is a learning moment for our Crisis Counselors and I helping them improve their skills as well as encourage the hard work they do everyday. I mean they change lives! I’m also the backbone of the Crisis Counselors. I help run Our Network which is a social platform just for us. I’m the face they see and know. It can be hard to work remotely while volunteering, so I try to bring that human factor within the org.

What have you learned doing this work?
I’ve learned many things. 1) There are a lot of people who are struggling right now, I’m thankful we exist. 2) I learned that this is what I was meant to do in life. The passion I have to help others grows every day. 3) I learned that there are great people in the world that want to help and give back. I’m in awe of the empathy our volunteers have, and the time they are willing to give. It’s inspiring.

How can others get involved and help?
We are always looking for more Crisis Counselors. You can go to https://www.crisistextline.org/volunteer/ and learn more about what we do. These are people over the age of 18 who apply, go through a background check, complete 34 hours of training that includes quizzes and role plays, and successfully graduate. These highly-trained volunteers are the foundation of Crisis Text Line.

Anything else you want to tell us?
While working at Crisis Text Line, I have become empowered to share my own person struggles with having mental illnesses. I created a blog called Empathy Mom. www.empathymom.com I share about how to raise a good human (I have 2 incredibly empathetic boys), my person stories and how to be your authentic self. I’m genuine, I have a co-worker who created the hashtag for me #jenuine. Seems fitting.

Favorite Websites you want to share?
Of course I’m going to plug my site. www.empathymom.com HA! I do enjoy reading Seth Godins Blog www.seths.blog  he brings great perspectives on life. I value the thoughts. And I could read all the things from https://brenebrown.com/  Her stories and blog on her site are helpful for me to be better human but also be the best I can be in helping others.

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The Woolfer Newsletter Team
Stephanie Staal and Nina Collins have worked together and adored each other since 1994 when they were both babies in the world of book publishing. Stephanie is a lawyer, journalist, & author of READING WOMEN, and Nina is the founder of "What Would Virginia Woolf Do?"