Staff members from Independence Association, who work with people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, deliver dinner to clients Earl and Diane Black. The nonprofit is in the final push of its fundraiser, which ends on June 30. Contributed / Carlene Byron

A Brunswick-based nonprofit supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities is getting a $50,000 boost from an anonymous donor.  

Independence Association announced on April 5 that the donor was offering a matching donation of up to $50,000 for any money raised during a fundraising drive ending June 30. 

Independence Association clients have a range of disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy, according to Executive Director Ray Nagel. The association operates 10 group homes in the Brunswick area, providing assisted living for about 70 clients. About 130 other clients live on their own but receive support. 

Development and communications Director Carlene Byron said Independence Association, which operates on a $12 million budget, is usually funded through sources including MaineCare, corporate gifts, state and federal funding and grants from philanthropic organizations and other Maine-based groups.  

But Byron said that funding typically is earmarked for specific purposes, meaning funds for specific programs can rise and fall year to year, depending on what the nonprofit is allowed to spend its funding on. 

“We’re not happy juggling our services with the funding,” she said. 

This year’s fundraiser, Byron said, will allow the association to fill in any gaps in individual program funding. So far, she said, the association has raised $150,000, and she is hoping, together with the anonymous $50,000 pledge, to raise another $100,000 more before June 30. 

Nagel and Byron both said the need for services is growing. In 2010, Nagel said, the state Office of Aging and Disability Services noted that about 100 people with such disabilities statewide were on a waiting list for services from organizations like Independence Association. As of April 1, Nagel said, that number has grown to 1,600. 

“1,600 people on a waiting list is a lot of people for the state of Maine,” Nagel said. 

Part of the reason, Nagel said, is the lack of staffing. Nonprofits like his are having trouble paying proper wages for staff, leading to fewer people working in the field.  

Byron said the association works with other nonprofits that provide similar services elsewhere in the state, and while she couldn’t provide a concrete number, she said some of them have simply disappeared, unable to support themselves financially, especially in the past year due to economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The number of programs and facilities that have just shut their doors is staggering,” Byron said. 

Independence Association is also struggling to maintain relationships and activities with its clients amid coronavirus pandemic restrictions. 

“It hurts us as an organization, and it has hurt our clients,” said Byron. 

Nagel said some of his staff have left to address childcare issues brought on by the pandemic. Those losses, along with coronavirus restrictions on in-person activities has caused the association to close down nearly half of its day programs. Independence Association’s Spindleworks art center has lost touch with more than half of the 130 clients it used to work with regularly, Nagel said. 

Chris Coburn, a director of support professionals at the association, said now that the state is beginning to ease back on restrictions, he’s able to see some clients, albeit on a limited basis. He recalled asking one client he is now able to work with once a week if the client was happy to be seeing him again. 

“The answer was a flat-out ‘yes,'” he said. “So any type of ‘normalcy’ goes a long way.”

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