DENVILLE, NJ - When Family Intervention Services (FIS) started its Thanksgiving Turkey Drive in Morris County in the early 1990s, the organization struggled to find room to store the 25 turkeys people donated, recalled long-time FIS assistant Terry Viera.
By last year, the number of turkeys distributed by FIS’ Morris County office in Denville reached about 300, and if a family cannot access a turkey, it can receive a gift card instead, Viera said.
Viera last week celebrated her 89th birthday. She also celebrated the fact that she's been helping families for 17 years as an administrative assistant at FIS. She said the organization's growth is directly related to the increase in donor outreach she's seen take place over the yeaers.
“Our communities have changed and people are in greater need than ever,” said Viera. “Making sure we keep our finger on the pulse of the community is critical in addressing the needs of the families we serve,” she said.
Viera, a 50-year resident of Parsippany-Troy Hills, is part of the FIS team responsible for donor engagement and retention. She also connects FIS with local schools and libraries as a means of community outreach.
“The bottom line is that we’re only as good as our relationship with our communities and the families we serve,” said Jeanne Warnock, FIS President and CEO. “Having people like Terry not only on staff but serving as an advocate in our communities is essential to us fulfilling our mission,” she said.
Warnock credited Viera’s long-term standing in her community and with the FIS donor family as an “invaluable asset.
“Organizations like our cannot simply be dropped into a community with a well-meaning mission. We have to be part of the community. Terry exemplifies that ethos,” Warnock said.
For Viera, helping the growing needs of children in Morris County is front and center.
She pointed to FIS’ ‘Take a Book and Read’ program, a year-round program that solicits donations from local libraries—often brand new books—and redistributes them to families.
“This is near and dear to me because a lot of our families have children who are told to bring in their favorite book to school and read it with the class, but many of our families can’t afford $10 or $15 books to have at home, so this not only promotes literacy but also classroom engagement,” Viera said.
The springtime “Healthy Teeth Week” is another highlight. Through donations FIS is able to provide a “tooth kit” that has tooth space, tooth brush, dental floss, and a coloring book. “We distribute these in the schools, but we also leave them in our reception area as dental health and access to dental health care has become an increasing challenge for many families.”
When it comes to soliciting donations, Viera simply credits hard work and her deep roots throughout Morris County.
“I know a lot of people,” she quipped, but added that while an expansive network is an asset to donor engagement, the relationships she has built and maintained are essential to retention.
“I’ve only lost one donor in all my years here, and that’s because they weren’t from Morris County and had to redirect their philanthropy to their own community,” she said. “Who can complain about that?”
Both Viera and Warnock agreed that as family needs grow more and more urgent, so does the urgency of the FIS mission.
“We have kids going to school with flip-flops in December, so we have to act quickly and aggressively to address their needs,” Viera said. “Family needs have changed, but one thing remains constant, and that’s our love for the people we serve and our unwavering commitment to our community. It’s that simple,” she said.