Donna Swanson always wanted to have her own foundation so she could make a difference in peoples’ lives.
A self-proclaimed “giver,” Swanson was a full-time social worker who was aware of the needs others had and decided to create an organization that could make a difference one simple gift at a time.
Whether providing fun activities for kids with special needs or helping fill the needs of families that may be struggling, her nonprofit The Simple Gifts Foundation, seeks to make a difference.
“We are a simple gift in someone’s life,” Swanson said. “We are a small helping hand. We are here to help in peoples’ lives.”
In 2003, while she was working as the director of social services at the West Chicago Police Department, Swanson said she saw many people in the community who were in need, and she decided to start her foundation as a way to help families, in particular those that might not normally qualify for services for a variety of reason such as due to immigration status or income, she said.
The nonprofit assesses a family’s situation and determines how it can best help. That might mean helping to pay a bill, help with rent or provide funding toward a child’s treatment, she said. The foundation also hosts events and programs that are geared toward children with special needs.
“I wanted to serve people with special needs,” she said. “I adopted my daughter who is 11, she has Down syndrome. I wanted to do something for special needs kids. It’s kind of my passion, to do things for kids who could feel special and comfortable and their whole family can be involved.”
Swanson works full-time at the as a police social worker. She works with victims of domestic violence and other crimes, those with mental health issues and youth and family problems.
Since she works full-time, and plans to continue doing so, the work with her foundation is a labor of love. Her family, her board and volunteers all help keep the foundation going, though nobody gets paid. She runs it from her home.
“We just do this out of the goodness of our hearts,” she said. “We do what we can, when we can.”
The foundation is a “mom-and-pop” organization and its small size means it is not able to provide huge sums of money toward some needs, but the group helps those it can, which might mean providing “simple gifts,” for example a portion of the funding required to purchase a bicycle for people with special needs.
Special events for children with special needs are also funded through the group, she said. One upcoming event will be held Saturday at . The church is supplying volunteers to help run the event, which Swanson expects will draw about 125 people. These events are free to those who attend and are geared toward children with special needs, but also allow the child’s family to get involved and enjoy time together, she said.
“Nobody on my board, including myself expects anything in return, we get a wonderful sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that our simple gift to a child or a family will better their situation or contribute to their health and growth,” Swanson said. “You have to appreciate the little that you can do. For example knowing that our contribution to a kid’s therapy will help them grow.
“There is a great sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that our helping hand will make a difference for someone.”
Visit The Simple Gifts Foundation's website to learn more or donate. Families of children with special needs are invited to an upcoming pizza party at from 5 to 7 p.m. To learn more or RSVP, contact the foundation.