Autism became a very personal cause for Steve Brockmeyer about 15 years ago, when a close family member was diagnosed with the disorder.
Supporting AbilityFirst became a personal mission, too.
“The diagnosis rocked our family’s world,” said Brockmeyer, the president and CEO of Bolton & Company in Pasadena, California. “A friend of mine introduced me to AbilityFirst, and after seeing the work they do, I knew I had to get involved.”
The nonprofit, also based in Pasadena, provides programs throughout the region that help children and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other challenges achieve their full potential. Offerings include after-school enrichment, life-skills development, supported employment, social activities, a camp, and more—all with a “person-centered” approach that addresses needs and goals on an individual level.
Programs focused on empowerment
“Our work is designed to empower people,” according to longtime AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi. “We help develop a plan that reflects their strengths and hopes—and then we offer the support they need to utilize those strengths and live a meaningful life.”
Both the purpose and the impact of AbilityFirst deeply inspired Brockmeyer, who now is in his 14th year on the nonprofit’s board, including two years as chairman.
“I saw firsthand the difference AbilityFirst makes, and I wanted to give back to people and families facing similar challenges.”
A perfect example is the woman Brockmeyer encountered at the Downtown Work Center, where AbilityFirst participants perform various jobs, such as packaging products for shipment.
“This amazing woman had been working there for 10 years,” he said. “When I asked her what she liked best about her job, she told me, ‘I have my own money to take the bus to the movies and buy my favorite food.’ That independence—the ability to be a part of society—is what made her feel so special. And it shows why AbilityFirst is so effective.”
Increasing the involvement—and the impact
Brockmeyer has been quite effective, too. Not only does his family work closely with AbilityFirst, he also has inspired numerous employees at Bolton & Company to get involved. It’s a testament to the giving culture of his company, he said, which launched the Bolton Foundation five years ago and also has an Impact Committee that organizes volunteer events.
“Steve’s leadership has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Gangemi said. “He has spent years building fundraising teams for our signature event, the Stroll & Roll. And the business connections he facilitates through his company lead to even greater giving and impact.”
A 2020 Safeco Insurance Make More Happen Award will add to that impact—the honor includes a donation of up to $10,000 to AbilityFirst from Liberty Mutual and Safeco on behalf of Bolton & Company.
“This could fund after-school programs for a month for up to 80 people, provide three months of job training and support for an individual, or go to any number of other programs,” Brockmeyer said. “It literally will change lives.”
He would know—after all, through his work with AbilityFirst, Steve Brockmeyer been doing just that for a long time now.