At the Wills Group, we know that lifting up those who need it most is key to a thriving community, and our partnership with Melwood is part of making that happen.
Melwood is a nonprofit based in Charles County, Maryland, renowned for its support and advocacy of individuals with disabilities. This partnership aligns seamlessly with the Wills Group’s Community Engagement Signature Program, Nourishing Children and Families, notably through Melwood’s Seed-to-Table program at Camp Accomplish. These initiatives address critical issues in our communities, like nutrition education and access to healthy food.
Today, we join Rayma Alexander, Director of Corporate Communications & Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Wills Group, to explore this inspiring organization and how we work together to make a difference.
Q1. Let’s start with a little background. What is Melwood, and how do its programs and advocacy initiatives support its mission?
Rayma Alexander: Melwood has served people with disabilities in the DC area since the 1960s. They help over 3,000 individuals annually, paving the way to employment opportunities, life skills training, and recreational activities. Melwood’s mission centers on creating a more inclusive world through advocacy and meaningful opportunities for the people they serve.
Q2. Can you tell us more about Melwood’s Camp Accomplish and what sparked the Wills Group’s involvement?
Rayma: Absolutely. Melwood runs an inclusive summer camp in collaboration with Children’s National Hospital called Camp Accomplish, just an hour south of DC at Melwood’s Recreation Center. The camp is open to children aged 5-18 with and without disabilities or chronic health conditions. Kids can enjoy traditional camp activities while learning self-sufficiency skills.
At Camp Accomplish, kids enjoy all sorts of traditional summer camp activities while learning new skills in self-sufficiency — in an environment free from the usual systemic and societal barriers. From canoeing and nature programs to outdoor sports and horticulture, kids create lifetime memories in a fully inclusive environment.
One program that really resonates with the Wills Group is the Seed-to-Table program for its practical life skills and nutrition education in an enjoyable and impactful setting for families. In this program, kids and their families learn everything from planting in the garden to cooking their harvested produce. It’s a hands-on experience that teaches sustainable agriculture and nutrition in a way that’s both educational and fun.
Seed-to-Table aligns perfectly with our Nourishing Children and Families Community Engagement program. By supporting Seed-to-Table, the Wills Group aims to foster a love for healthy eating and self-reliance among children and families who may come from communities where access to fresh, nutritious food can be a challenge.
Q3. How has the partnership with the Wills Group amplified Melwood’s impact in the community? Can you share a specific example where this collaboration made a significant difference?
Rayma: The Wills Group’s partnership with Melwood helps fund special programming at Camp Accomplish. For example, our support extended the Seed-to-Table program beyond the summer camp, offering weekend sessions reinforcing the gardening and cooking skills families learned during camp.
A highlight was last summer’s cooking workshop with celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn. Wills Group employees, community leaders, campers, and their families gathered at Camp Accomplish during “Grow it, Make it, Eat it” week for a workshop about nutritious food and healthy cooking. The event taught kids and their families useful cooking skills using produce right from the camp’s garden. It was a hit and showed everyone healthy eating can be fun and delicious.
We also rolled up our sleeves alongside the kids for a volunteer day in the camp’s garden. These kinds of hands-on experiences bring our partnership to life and prove what we can accomplish when we come together with a shared vision.
Q4: Looking forward, what are Melwood’s primary goals, and how does the Wills Group fit into these future plans?
Rayma: Looking ahead, Melwood is focused on elevating inclusive and accessible environments where people with disabilities can live, work, and thrive. Despite progress over the past 60 years, significant barriers to inclusion still remain, like employment challenges, social isolation, and housing insecurity. Melwood’s goals are to close these gaps by expanding and enhancing its programs to align with the evolving needs of society. Some of these initiatives include early interventions for smoother transitions from school to work, expanding youth services, and upskilling workers to grow their careers.
The Wills Group fits seamlessly into these future plans, and we’ve already pledged our continued support as part of a five-year commitment. We plan to stay engaged in programs that increase food security and nutrition education, and our staff are eager to return to the Learning Garden for more volunteer days. The Wills Group and Melwood share so many core values that the possibilities for future collaboration are endless and exciting.
Our partnership with Melwood exemplifies the Wills Group’s dedication to enriching communities and enhancing access to nutritious food. Through initiatives like the Seed-to-Table program at Camp Accomplish, we’re nurturing a healthier, more informed generation.
We believe in the power of collaboration to bring about positive change, especially in areas like food security and nutrition education. These goals align seamlessly with our purpose to keep Lives in Motion, fostering environments where everyone can access life’s essentials and thrive.
In partnership with Melwood, we’re eager to further our goal of nourishing children and families in the communities we serve. Learn more about Melwood and how you can help advance the organization’s inspiring work today.