For nearly 13 years I would drive some 1,250 miles round-trip from my home in Louisville, KY to visit my brother Murray at his Penn-Mar community home in Maryland. I tried to make the trip at least once a month to stay connected to my younger brother and the organization that was taking care of him. He was the only sibling I had and eventually my sole responsibility after our parents passed away.
Murray was quite a character even though he really didn’t speak much. He loved music, worshipped the Beatles, and followed my wife Robin around like a puppy dog. I know he often thought of his Big Brother as “the warden” but he knew I loved him and would always be there for him.
Sadly, Murray passed away two plus years ago but my devotion to Penn-Mar, and the wonderful Direct Support Professionals who supported him all those years, has remained steadfast.
While Murray was still living at Penn-Mar I considered different ways I could raise money for the organization, over-and-above just writing a personal check or by donating items for the annual fundraiser.
For 34 wonderful years I worked for Brown-Forman/Jack Daniels Distillery, most recently as Director of Events and Sponsorships for North America. I traveled the world promoting the brand; managed our Homeplace and Visitors Center in Lynchburg, TN; staged customer events on the NASCAR racing circuit tracks; managed our western lifestyle business; ran, and still run, a seasonal bartender camp in Lynchburg and 10 years ago, started a relationship with Indian Motorcycles, building 177 co-branded motorcycles annually.
So I was busy, but always thinking.
When I was getting ready to retire from Jack Daniels in 2017, many co-workers asked me what they could give me as a parting gift. I sent the word out that if they felt so compelled I would appreciate donations to my favorite charity — Penn-Mar. Sure enough friends, employees and business associates raised $15,000 in my name to give to the Penn-Mar organization. I joked that people were willing to send money to make sure I went away, and send in they did!
Another idea that struck me as a winning fundraiser had to do with Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. JD whiskey matures in new white oak barrels for 4-7 years but after that those same barrels cannot be reused by us for the purpose of maturing whiskey. So, we sell some of them as planters to big hardware stores, put them in whiskey store merchandising outlets and take them to special events for sales to attendees. People buy them to use as end tables or conversation pieces in their man caves but that gave me another idea . . .
Why not bring them to Penn-Mar to sell during my monthly trips to Freeland, MD and have 100% of the proceeds go back to the organization? After a brief conversation with my employer I was given permission to do just that.
Over the last five years during December this sale has raised over $20,000 for Penn-Mar, not to mention this action has achieved more awareness for the organization resulting from the social media campaigns to promote the sales and from word-of mouth and visual drive-bys.
Once again in December 2020 we set up at the Maryland Volunteer Fire Station across the street from Penn-Mar. My contribution to this event was donating my travel and three days on site to set-up and man the business in the parking lot. That effort raised $6,000 for Penn-Mar just this year. I imagine there are other folks and businesses out there who have access to interesting products and services that could work to Penn-Mar’s benefit as well.
As a volunteer fire fighter in my community, I receive financial compensation for attending training sessions and going on emergency runs. My wife and I donate those checks to Penn-Mar in addition to making a personal donation each year.
While I’m certainly no one special nor do I possess any great talent, I have just used my time and thoughts and tried to apply same to make a difference at Penn-Mar. My point is that there are many ways of contributing your time, talent and resources to Penn-Mar. Imagine what we could do if all of us in the extended Penn-Mar family put on our thinking caps and reached out to our personal networks and business connections to build support for this wonderful organizations that for 40 years has changed the lives of mine and hundreds of families and their loved ones with disabilities.
I traveled over 1,250 miles a month to make a difference. Some of you are just a few miles away. But for all of us who value Penn-Mar’s mission, it’s a journey well worth taking. I hope to see you and your friends next December at the Maryland Line Volunteer parking lot, if not to buy a barrel or two, then just for a friendly conversation.