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Christmas in July with IMPOWER

Featured Photo from Christmas in July with IMPOWER

The Impower organization needs your help to make the holiday season brighter for a child in need, and the time to step forward is now.

Call it the Justin Bieber factor.

One of the many ways the nonprofit Impower organization helps Seminole County foster children and kids who struggle with mental health issues is to arrange for volunteer sponsors to buy them presents during the holiday season.

Typically, for confidentiality reasons, the kids and their Holiday Heroes sponsors never meet.

But in one special case, a meeting seemed inevitable.

A couple of years ago, Sarah Silverston teamed up with a 13-year-old Impower client who is autistic. Sarah learned that the girl wanted anything and everything to do with Justin Bieber.

Sarah could have easily gotten the young girl a T-shirt or CD and called it a holiday. Instead, she arranged for the teen and her mom to attend a 2016 Bieber concert in Orlando. The day of the concert, Sarah took the superfan to get her hair done and treated her to dinner at her very favorite restaurant – Taco Bell.

“They were crazy expensive, and they were the worst seats,” Sarah says of the tickets. “But it didn’t matter. She had to be there. It was awesome I could pull it off.”

The good news is, you don’t have to buy pricey concert tickets to be part of this winter’s corps of Holiday Heroes. You just have to want to make a kid’s holiday season a little brighter, says Marcie Dearth, vice president for external relations at Impower.

“They haven’t been forgotten,” Marcie says of the children Impower serves. “They have just as much right to celebrate as all of us.”

While the peak shopping season is still a few months away, Marcie is actively seeking Holiday Heroes now so Impower can delight as many children as possible.

Most of the children are six to 18 years old, but the greatest need is with teenagers, who are a little more complex in their taste for presents, Marcie says. Holiday Heroes volunteers can pick an age and sex to shop for, and they may get some clues as to what gifts will go over well. Those who prefer not to go shopping themselves can simply make a monetary donation.

The Holiday Heroes program helps hundreds of children every holiday season, but this is just a small part of the work Impower does year-round assisting those with behavioral and mental-health issues.

Based in Longwood, Impower recently merged with The Grove, a drug, alcohol, and substance abuse recovery program. The staffs and boards of directors of both organizations have been combined, allowing for a much more comprehensive approach to helping the community.
“The missions of our two organizations were and still are similar,” Marcie says. “There couldn’t have been a better fit.”

The merger will also help with fundraising because donors won’t have to worry about duplication of services between the two formerly separate organizations. And they don’t have to choose to support one organization over the other.

“There are only so many dollars to go around,” says Marcie.

Impower now consists of its main office in Longwood, The Grove residential treatment center in Winter Springs, and The Village, a transitional housing program in Winter Park.

Virtually all of the counseling provided to children is now done through Telehealth, a live video conference system that allows patients, counselors, and psychiatrists to communicate through smartphones and computers.

While this may sound counterintuitive to the traditional counseling process, Telehealth allows Impower clients to arrange for treatment much more quickly and conveniently.

“In the past, we have had patients drive 30, 60, 90 miles away to see one of our doctors,” Marcie says.

Conversations by screen actually benefit kids and teens, who can get counseling in the comfort and privacy of their home, says Anna Baznik, Impower’s president and CEO. For children who have grown up with technology, it is almost a more natural way to communicate.

Marcie knows of no instance where a Telehealth user asked to go back to face-to-face treatment, though she concedes there was initial resistance to the method among her own staff because of its unconventional approach to counseling.

Marcie has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, fundraising, and child advocacy. She began her career at the State Attorney’s Office Ninth Judicial Circuit, working with child abuse victims. She also helped children navigate the court system as a Guardian ad Litem.

But her drive to protect the vulnerable started much earlier in life.

“When I was 11 or 12, I told my mom I knew what I wanted to do,” says Marcie. “If I had a friend in a difficult situation, I was bringing them home. The same went for stray puppies and kittens, as it turned out. It was my nature. I just knew I wanted to make things better.”

A native of Warren, Ohio, Marcie moved to Florida at age eight and has lived in Seminole County since she was 12, and she has never looked back.

“I’ll take beaches over cornfields every day,” she says.

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