A Season of Possibility with Marti Sullivan

A Season of Possibility with Marti Sullivan

A Season of Possibility with Marti Sullivan by: S. Benjamins & Company, Inc.

Over the past year I have had the wonderful opportunity to get to know and support Reimagine OC and their visionary CEO, Glenn Motola. They recently hosted an evening to highlight the new 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art-facility and fitness center in Santa Ana. There I met Marti Sullivan who leads their Fund Development efforts and inspires us to give to participants in our community with developmental disabilities.
I asked Marti to share more about her work in philanthropy, what led her to Reimagine and how we can support this incredible mission.

Sherry: Tell me about what drew you into the nonprofit world early in your career?

Marti: I actually started off in sales as an account executive for a cosmetic company, Estee Lauder and represented them in eight states. I moved to California for another company and learned that I was good at selling products and services. I started volunteering for the San Francisco Symphony and the first funding effort was to help sell advertising for a children’s holiday event program book. I then wrote grants for my kids’ school, which moved me further into selling the intangible. It was wonderfully challenging and I discovered what a giving philanthropic community we had in the Bay Area.

I was learning about what it meant to be “donor centered” and learned the importance of communicating what funds were to be used for and how in the longer term they contributed to progress and those we served. What kept me engaged was that our funds were for a very important need and not for ourselves. The idea of meeting a need and offering benefits to good causes captured my heart.

Sherry: Has philanthropy changed over the years? What is the future challenge?

Marti: Yes, it has changed, in so many ways for the better, thanks to technology! When I first started in 1987, it was with my symphony event and then my kid’s school, which was the one of the only ones in the Bay Area without a gym. I learned that large capital projects captured the interest and generosity of our parents at the school. We had an enormous response from the families and giving was at all different levels. From that experience, many increased their giving and volunteering; we built a relationship over time and remained connected.

Today, engagement is across a diverse mix of individuals thanks to the internet, and that is good. The pandemic highlighted that remote engagement is not only possible, it is effective! The challenge, however is that our operating costs, salaries and administrative costs keep going up. Just keeping the lights on is more of a challenge today and raising funds for operations is less enticing to some.

Peer to peer crowd funding is also a new and expanding trend. It is less relationship building and more transactional in responsive to an immediate need. The good news is that this opens the door to more donors and gives everyone a chance to give. Converting initial transactions to long-term relationships requires significantly new and different cultivation strategies. Our overall goal at Reimagine is to find ways to engage our donors so that they get to know us well and we get to understand what matters most to them. We see this as a two way street. We get to know them and they get to know us too.

Sherry: Why is mentoring new talent into the nonprofit world important to you?

Marti: I care about developing others in philanthropy. Over the many years I have been in this work I can reflect on 8 or 10 people that I have mentored over the years who are now heads of Development. It feels great to know I have had that kind of impact.

There are many stories of individuals who have started with and remain in this work. A young colleague, who is now the CEO of a similar agency to Reimagine in the Bay Area, started with my development team over fifteen years ago and over time got a degree in Public Health. She has dedicated herself to human services leadership. She, like many, have developed their career in non-profit administration, and is a stronger CEO with her experience in fundraising and communications. It has been so rewarding to watch her and others grow.

Sherry: How would those that you mentored describe you?

Marti: I think they would say I am flexible and fluid. The work is all encompassing at times and I want them to enjoy the work and value their family time too. I believe in professional development and career growth. I know they would say I value that for them.

I also believe in giving talented people performance reviews and honest feedback. In one situation, I gave my direct report eleven things I felt she could work on and we created a plan to do so over time. Surprisingly this was appreciated and became part of our plan to continuously improve. She is now a consultant working with non-profits on data management.

Sherry: As you look ahead at Reimagine, what is your goal for 2022?

Marti: I am excited about establishing a program that can be adjusted over time once we see results and eventually expand. I can see a broad suite of programs for our participants, family members and volunteers. We want a series of seasonal campaigns that offer regular ebb and flow so that we can pace our work and track our results. I also want to meet people where they are and get to know them. Personal relationships matter in this New Year and in our approach to our community. Once we have a program that we can review and reflect upon we can more effectively look at year two and plan for exciting enhancements.

Our holiday campaign is called the Season of Possibility and it is starting now through the end of the year. We will be reaching out in various ways for others to get to know us and our work and learn ways that they can support us. The first year is our baseline and we will build from that.

Sherry: Tell us about Reimagine OC?

Marti: Reimagine is an extraordinary community, a wonderful history of seventy plus years. We are continuing our innovative programming at our new state-of-the-art campus in Santa Ana. Our participants have the runway and support to achieve what we all want in life – friends, community, love relationships, a home and for some, a job that leads to a career. We deliver the support to them that allows them to achieve those things.

We partnered with and are grateful to Goodwill Industries who previously owned the space in Santa Ana, with the Rogers A. Severson Fitness Center that is now a fully adaptive center.

Sherry: How can the OC community get involved in supporting Reimagine?

Marti: Anyone in our community can use our fitness center and visit our facility. We want our neighbors to come and get to know us. In the New Year we will be establishing a volunteer program for individuals and groups. We will have workout buddies and host participant after-hours recreational events. Some of our participants will be part of a workforce development program and volunteers will help us execute on this too.

You ask, “How can you help during Reimagine’s Season of Possibility?” Make Reimagine one of your charities of choice this year!

Tell your networks about our innovative programs for people with developmental disabilities

Schedule a visit at our new state of the art Santa Ana campus, complete with an adaptive fitness center.

Follow us on Social Media on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Volunteer your time with us as a workout buddy, a dinner club sous-chef, or a dance club DJ!

Donate to the Season of Possibility, which makes a huge difference for our participants all year long.

For more information about programming or to donate, visit https://reimagineoc.org

To schedule a tour or learn more about volunteering, contact Marti Sullivan, marti@reimagineoc.org

Participant Spotlight: Jacob’s Reimagine Story

Participant Spotlight: Jacob’s Reimagine Story

The Generous Heart of a Helper

For 20-year-old Jacob, participating at Reimagine means more than just finding help for himself. It means finding a place where he can give of himself to others. As a young adult with autism, Jacob has many opportunities available to him at Reimagine. His favorites are the programs and activities that offer him the chance to give his time and talents to others.

Jacob’s case manager at Regional Center introduced him to Reimagine and its Lifelong Learning Program, believing that he would benefit from the program’s opportunities to expand his horizons through education and socializing. And he’s thriving!

A lover of bike rides, brisk walks and watching movies (at home and in the theater), Jacob is proud to live on his own. He’s independent and values the friendships he’s made through Reimagine’s Lifelong Learning Program. The chance to talk to a wide range of people has brought excitement to Jacob’s life and he loves that some of his classes and programs have included the same groups of people, allowing him to build deep, meaningful friendships.

When asked about his typical week, Jacob lists a rich mix of twice weekly classes at Reimagine and Coastline Community College including health, social studies, math and theater, and shares about the weekly Zoom social hours that they have been conducting since the pandemic began, where he is able to share music recommendations. Jacob enjoys his classes and loves socializing on these weekly calls, but he especially lights up when he starts talking about the volunteer work that he has done through the community service activities that Reimagine has organized for its participants.

Jacob shares that their community service excursions have included everything from setting up tables for senior bingo nights to folding donated clothes for those in need. He specifically remembers the joy he felt working with his friends at Reimagine to sort and box food at Thomas House Family Shelter in Garden Grove, and describes that these day-long service trips often offer unique opportunities to learn new things, while also helping members of the community.

Another great insight into Jacob’s helpful personality is his deep appreciation for the opportunity to assist Brandon, one of his teachers at Reimagine, with his daily tasks. Brandon recognized some of Jacob’s capabilities and began asking Jacob for help with his work. You can feel the great deal of pride Jacob feels from helping Brandon with tasks ranging from filing papers to helping grade assignments. It means a lot that Brandon trusts him with these projects.

Jacob’s participation in Reimagine’s Lifelong Learning Program has benefitted him in many ways. The education and community service is helping him develop life skills that he can apply to professional work and independent living. Great cultures bring out the best in people, and Reimagine’s programming has created an environment where Jacob’s generous spirit has been able to grow and develop, bringing him a sense of purpose and individuality that he is proud to bring into his daily life and personal relationships.

For more information about Reimagine’s Lifelong Learning Program, click here.

Participant Spotlight: Margaux’s Reimagine Story

Participant Spotlight: Margaux’s Reimagine Story

When Margaux, now a 21-month-old Reimagine participant, was just three months old her pediatrician first noticed the identifying qualities in her eyes that would be diagnosed as aniridia, an eye disorder characterized by a complete or partial absence of the iris, which causes severe vision impairment and light sensitivity.

When Margaux’s family was first informed about aniridia, their instinct was to be very protective of Margaux. As first-time parents, her mother and father focused on the importance of preserving the vision that Margaux does have, while learning how to handle the discomfort of people noticing the way that Margaux’s aniridia sometimes causes her eyes to shake. As they navigated the first few months after her diagnosis, they held Margaux close, often staying home to protect her eyes from the sun and to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that came with being out in the community with her.

Margaux’s parents were introduced to Reimagine and its Child Development Program through Margaux’s teacher for the visually impaired, who believed that Margaux would benefit from the program’s rich mix of therapist and peer interaction. Margaux’s parents decided to brave life outside their home and enroll Margaux in Reimagine’s twice-weekly early intervention class. The experience has been transformational for Margaux and her family. Margaux loves going to Reimagine, where her days include a fun rotation from room to room with other children in her program. Margaux is the smallest and youngest, but she’s fearless. In fact, Margaux’s teachers and therapists note that she has become very social and likes to connect with the other students by sitting or standing close to them and smiling. Margaux has embraced learning, always attempting to do everything she is asked, including art and gross motor activities.

Margaux is continually attaining new skills through her physical, speech and occupational therapies, as well as work with a mobility and orientation professional who specializes in helping children with vision impairment. Her parents have noticed major strides in Margaux’s ability to confidently navigate a space, and understanding her environment, such as where a wall ends, or how much space to leave between herself and the teacher during story time.

Margaux was initially apprehensive about getting on certain pieces of equipment during physical therapy, like the mini trampoline and the spinning chair. After a few tries and lots of encouragement, Margaux now loves playing on the trampoline so much that her grandmother purchased one for her to use at home. Similarly, she is now comfortable in the spinning chair and likes to spin other students in it.

Best of all, Margaux is forming a delightful personality, chatting sweetly in a mix Spanish and English and showing empathy for others when they are upset by coming up to them to show them gentle support. Seeing these wonderful personal qualities growing in Margaux has proven to be a true gift to her parents as they start looking ahead to their daughter’s future with pride and excitement instead of uncertainty and fear.

Serving children ages 12 to 36 months, Reimagine’s Child Development Program is designed to close the gap in readiness among children of pre-school age with vision impairment, physical disabilities, and developmental/intellectual delays and disabilities. For more information on Reimagine’s child development programs, click here.

BRAIN INJURY AWARENESS MONTH Participant Spotlight: Adrian’s Reimagine Story

BRAIN INJURY AWARENESS MONTH Participant Spotlight: Adrian’s Reimagine Story

Participant Spotlight: Adrian’s Reimagine Story

When Adrian, a 39-year-old Reimagine participant, first woke up after the violent fight that caused his brain damage his mother was the first person that he recognized. He often feels guilty and blames poor choices on his resulting disability, but he credits the intervention that followed his traumatic brain injury for bringing him closer to God and his family, and for saving him from a life of drug abuse and violence.

Adrian also credits his participation with his social workers at Reimagine for helping him live a happier and more peaceful life. He recalls that he used to constantly become enraged about everything, and after the pandemic brought him inside, he would focus his anger at his mother and brother, losing his temper with them over every little thing. Adrian knew that this behavior was damaging to himself and his family, and he is grateful for the therapy sessions that he has with his social worker, Alma, who works with him on mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, and counting exercises to help with his anger. Adrian is very aware of the limitations that he faces following his traumatic brain injury, sharing that the exercise of counting backwards from 20 is now much harder for him, because his thoughts come to him so much more slowly now, but he is grateful that he has been able to continue his weekly sessions with Alma over the phone.

Adrian is also open about his initial reluctance to try the word puzzles and brain games that Reimagine provides to help exercise his brain, but now he says that with the encouragement of his Reimagine team he has started to not only use the exercises, but to look forward to completing them. Adrian even shared that one of the more difficult word search exercises took him almost two weeks to complete. He was so proud of his efforts to push through the challenge, that he put the word search up on his fridge once it was completely filled out.

“The therapy that I do with Reimagine really works,” Adrian says. “Reimagine has great counselors and social workers that help with our struggles. And every day is a struggle. But I am happy to be alive for the struggle. I am happy.”

For more information about Reimagine’s programs, click here.


A Virtual Blessing

A Virtual Blessing

“Thumbs up! I love all of the virtual classes. I think they are wonderful.” – Sharon, participates in Bingo, Jeopardy, sing alongs, scrabble, seated exercise/meditation & concerts

One year into the pandemic, Reimagine’s virtual campus is going strong—Zumba, art, cooking, exercise, music, meditation—and more! Reimagine was one of the first nonprofits serving the disabilities community in Orange County to pivot to virtual programming when stay-at-home orders were first issued in March 2020. For many participants—the virtual programming has been a blessing during long periods of isolation. And clearly Bingo is a favorite!
Here’s what some of our participants are saying about their virtual classes:
“I like class because I like seeing people. I like seeing you! I look forward to it because it gives me something to do.” – Chris, whose favorite classes are Social Services & exercise

“I like all of the virtual classes, especially Bingo and cooking. The classes are good for everyone!” – Oscar

“I give a thumbs up to all of the virtual classes, and I especially love playing Bingo.” – Joshua

“I love all of the classes, especially Bingo. I love seeing friends and faces.” – Jamie, participates in Jeopardy, Exercise, Animals & Music classes

“ I like attending the social services classes.  After my stroke and specially with COVID I’ve had some anger issues.  This class is helping me deal with my anger.” – Ruben

Learn more about all the classes offered via Reimagine’s virtual campus.



There’s No Such Thing as Plateaus: Allison’s Reimagine Story
By Brenda Deeley

When our daughter Allison was born with Down syndrome twenty years ago, people told us not to despair because children with Down syndrome are so happy and loving – they hug everybody.

So much for stereotypes.

Allison was just three years old when she was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, and by middle school she had developed aggressive behaviors that got progressively worse as she entered high school. To see our adorable little girl, with extraordinary language and reading skills, sense of humor and quick wit transform into someone with unpredictable aggressive behaviors was unimaginable.

We tried everything – from Applied Behavior Analysis to pharmacological intervention to address her behaviors, but there was no silver bullet.

When you have a child with serious behaviors, it’s incredibly isolating for your child and the entire family. There’s risk involved just going to a movie, church or a social gathering with peers. Our guard is up the entire time. She moves, we flinch – we are always at the ready to block or exit her. And homelife is exhausting.

Ultimately, we made the difficult decision to move our daughter to a residential treatment center (RTC), a special boarding school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and serious behaviors, because we couldn’t imagine our future with her as aging parents. And Allison was truly miserable locked in a behavioral brain and body.

Allison’s experience in the RTC has been transformational – her behaviors are improved, but still present. Her zeal and sense of adventure has returned leading her to tell us she wanted to jump off diving boards. We told her, “Great, but you need to learn to swim before you can jump off diving boards.”

Even though Allison had been in private swim lessons on and off since age five – and loves being in the water – her water safety and swim skills were non-existent. Her anxiety was holding her back.

So, the search began to find a swim instructor who would work with an adult with developmental disabilities, anxiety and unpredictable behaviors. The swim instructors at Reimagine were willing to give it a shot. From the first lesson, the instructors believed Allison could swim more than she did. And in a matter of months, Allison was swimming!

It wasn’t without struggle. Some days we didn’t even make it to the lesson because Allison was having a bad behavior day. And on several occasions, she hit her instructors. So, we’d end the lesson as a consequence, apologize and aim to do better next time.

The Reimagine team never gave up on Allison. They cracked the code and figured out how Allison could learn a new skill – a skill she had been trying to learn for years. It’s this passion and commitment that made me see how our children with intellectual and developmental disabilities can continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.

Often during Individualized Education Program meetings with your school district, you hear that your child has plateaued in a particular skill. At Reimagine there is no such thing as plateaus.

Our daughter’s success learning to swim at age 18 is a testament to Reimagine’s mission “relentlessly pursue possibilities through the lifespan of every person with disabilities.” So, Allison will keep working toward that goal of being able to swim well enough to safely jump off diving boards – because she’s got a lifetime of learning to accomplish it!

Brenda Deeley is Allison’s mom and a Reimagine Board member. She also serves on the Irvine Residents with Disabilities Advisory Board and the CalOptima Whole-Child Model Family Advisory Committee.

Editor’s note: Reimagine no longer has a facility for its swim therapy program, but continues to consider it as part of its long-range planning.