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Live Mutual: Supporting adults with Down Syndrome

Kelly Kowalski, Cliff Noreen, and Bronwyn Shinnick

Posted on March 11, 2021

Karen Setzko is a communications consultant for MassMutual.

Andrew Spafford, a financial professional with MassMutual Carolinas, first got involved with the disability community through the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte (DSAGC).

“As a financial professional, I think it is critical to have a passion for what you do and volunteering shows your commitment to your community,” he said.

“While you’re certainly serving your community in your professional role, volunteering helps you see what families are really going through, which helps you be a better financial professional and therefore have a larger impact for the families you work with,” Spafford said.

The DSAGC promotes awareness and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome so that they may become respected and productive members of the communities in which they live, learn, and earn. It offers a variety of program options for individuals with Down Syndrome, their families, and the community at large in an effort to educate, empower, and advocate for acceptance and inclusion.

An unusual year became a growth experience

Spafford began his work with the DSAGC eight years ago — before becoming a financial professional and joining a special-care planning practice. He became a DSAGC board member four years later. Over the past year, he has worked to get a new executive director up and running while “keeping the wheels on the bus,” which included growing donations and cutting expenses in half to finding office and event space.

With the onset of COVID-19, the DSAGC searched for a way to continue to provide resources for its families, reinventing its day camp program through its membership with Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action. The result was “Camp in a Box,” a five-week virtual summer camp experience brought to families’ homes. “Boxes” included developmentally appropriate activities designed to work with families’ diverse schedules, including art, cooking, science, physical tasks, and online video, and Zoom meetings featuring skills for success.

“It was immensely successful, and other organizations piggybacked off that program and grew from the experience,” Spafford said. “We were able to turn an unusual year into a growth experience.”

More than a board member

Spafford’s service has been augmented by his friendship with Brendan, a fellow board member, and Brendan’s sister Casey, both of whom are self-advocates supported by the DSAGC. Brendan and Casey are productive in their communities, own their own condos, have extensive social lives, and advocate to enhance the quality of life for those with Down Syndrome.

“As a financial planner, I need to understand the goals of the families and individuals I serve, and by volunteering within the special-needs community, I’m able to link these families’ wishes with the organizations that can provide them solutions,” Spafford said. “Not only does it allow me to give back to the community, it enables me to be a truly holistic planner and positions me to provide service that is above and beyond other planners who don’t avail themselves of volunteer experiences.”

Spafford is also a member of MassMutual’s SpecialCare program, which gives financial professionals specialized training in holistic planning for families who have loved ones with special needs.

Grant to fund adult programs

Spafford’s work with the DSAGC earned him a Community Service Award (CSA) from the MassMutual Foundation in 2020 and a $10,000 grant to support the DSAGC’s adult-focused programs.

“We want to expand our programming and serve more families, providing real-life learning experiences for our adults across the counties we serve,” Spafford said. The grant will help with staffing, space, and marketing efforts to offer programs to more adults with Down Syndrome and their families.

“We want to continue to be relevant for our families and impact their lives and this money will give us a springboard to continue to serve them,” he said.

The MassMutual Foundation will award 32 CSA grants this year: two $25,000 Platinum Awards, 15 $10,000 Gold Awards, and 15 $5,000 Silver Awards. A total of $275,000 will be paid directly to eligible nonprofits in the name of the winning financial professionals.

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