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CHANGING COURSE by Sonya Kimble-Ellis

JESPY House embraces the challenge of virtual fundraising

JESPY clients received certificates of achievement for successfully completing a course for their men’s group.

Since March of 2020, changing course has been the order of the day for many nonprofits. JESPY House was no different. Once the pandemic hit, it had to quickly alter how to deliver services and conduct fundraising.


On November 2 at 7 p.m., JESPY will hold its second Virtual Fall Fundraiser, It’s a JESPY Day. The South Orange-based organization that supports adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or I/DD (ages 18-73), is taking successful strategies learned last year during its first online fundraiser and putting them to good use once again.


Staff at JESPY learned that the challenge of creating engaging and impactful content to host an effective fundraising program was magnified when they were planning an event to be delivered via video rather than in person. “Not only did JESPY quickly transition from in-person services for clients to virtual services,” says JESPY Executive Director Audrey Winkler, “we also had to quickly adjust our fundraising event from in-person to virtual. This was new territory for us, but essential to do, and I am pleased to share that our donors, clients and community responded enthusiastically. In today’s world you really have to be extremely adaptable.”

A JESPY client cleans and prepares a table for customers at Panera Bread.

Thankfully, JESPY already had fundraising efforts in place before the pandemic that included online emailing, website landing pages, and mail-driven solicitation. Recognizing the extreme need for donations, JESPY’s supporters met the challenge – not just for JESPY’s annual fundraiser, but for several others that were conducted throughout the year to keep the programs, many of them virtual at the time, in operation.


Since JESPY already had a presence on social media as well as a fully functioning website, they were able to easily transition to virtual fundraising. And although it was challenging to conduct an online fundraiser, especially the first time, JESPY friends joined the ranks of those “attending” an event from the comfort of their homes.


This year’s It’s A JESPY Day Virtual Fall Fundraiser will honor JESPY Board Member Judy Peskin and feature JESPY clients. Online attendees will get an up-close view of JESPY’s services; client experiences, growth and perspective; and JESPY’s relationship with and impact in the local community.


What has made this event especially exciting is a newly-announced challenge grant of $75,000, whereby the donor will match every new gift JESPY receives for the It’s A JESPY Day fundraiser. JESPY encourages community members to help them take advantage of this dollar for dollar match. It will support the many JESPY programs that help guide clients along their journey to live goal-oriented, skill-based, and fulfilling lives on the road to independence.

Clients who take part in JESPY’s Athletics & Fitness program can receive 1:1 exercise sessions at the JESPY Clubhouse at Tico’s Gym, also located in South Orange.

For example, clients in the Athletics & Fitness program receive personalized 1:1 on-site and virtual exercise training. They also participate on JESPY’s Special Olympics teams. Clinical & Behavioral Supports services aid clients in managing emotions and improving social and coping skills.


JESPY also guides and counsels clients by providing job training, volunteer opportunities, and employment job coaches in their Work Readiness & Employment Engagement program. The Day Habilitation program helps young adults transition into adulthood while the Social Wellness & Expressive Arts department offers a unique range of recreational, wellness, and cultural programs. JESPY’s Aging in Place program and Case Management department follow their mission of supporting adults with I/DD at every stage of life. All programs focus on learning and developing life skills.


To become an event sponsor or to register to attend the It’s a JESPY Day Virtual Fall Fundraiser or to learn more about JESPY, visit jespy.org.