Confronted with the magnitude of overwhelming need on the part of many of Howard County’s economically challenged neighbors, the Leadership Premier (LP) Class of 2015 asked, “What can we do?” and “How can we help?” The contrast of Howard County’s affluence and the pressing need of so many to make ends meet slammed us in the face like a ton of bricks.

Through the transportation challenge and the United Way “Walk a Mile” presentation, our class of 49 leaders saw firsthand what a struggle life can be for so many.

It’s much more complex than a decision of which to pay, the electric bill or the medical bill; how to work two, maybe even three, jobs while taking care of school-aged children and those needing day care; how to get from point A to point B with unreliable transportation; squeezing in medical appointments; and careful budgeting with food stamps. “Life” just mounts up and can be overwhelming.

Aiming to make a difference with a class-led philanthropy project, the class sought out small organizations doing incredible work — organizations that may not get the newspaper headlines or the public recognition of other groups. Yet these nonprofits are staffed with passionate individuals working 24/7 to make life a little more comfortable for the economically unstable.

Selecting a general theme of care for the economically insecure and desiring to work with “unsung” nonprofits, class members selected charities doing wonderful things for families, children and homeowners in need. Class members have donated funds; purchased children’s games, toys and art supplies; bundled together hats, mittens and gloves; shopped for bedding and pillows; supplied necessary office needs such as paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies; and provided groceries for senior adults with empty kitchen shelves.

It’s been our privilege to support Food on the 15th, The Way Station, Columbia Housing Corporation’s After-School Program and A-OK Mentoring. Upcoming classes will highlight Rebuilding Together and Hope Works of Howard County.

“Many thanks to the members of the Leadership Class of 2015,” said Chaya Kaplan, executive director of A-OK Mentoring-Tutoring. “The games and crafts will be used by our volunteers and their students during their mentoring sessions, and the school supplies will be given directly to students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged families.”

We know we’re not solving poverty or ending hunger. But our combined efforts are indeed offering a hopeful hand up, not hand out, to our neighbors in need. The smile on one child’s face or the twinkle in the eye of a senior adult said it all. It is our privilege to stand with them.

Jan Kary, CFRE, is principal consultant of Jan Kary & Associates, assisting nonprofit organizations with a wide variety of fundraising initiatives. She can be reached at [email protected].