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March 01. 2014 12:32AM

A challenge to help others amid challenging times


Contributions to Portsmouth's Families First Health & Support Center support health care services, parenting support and children's programs, such as this play group. (Oleg Kompasov)


Rye residents Kelly and John Habig have donated $25,000 to Families First Community Health Center of Portsmouth and issued a challenge to others to help match the contribution. COURTESY 

PORTSMOUTH --- Once again, John and Kelly Habig have cut a $25,000 check and issued a challenge to Seacoast families and businesses: Come together to help match it.

The beneficiary of the Habigs' philanthropy is Families First Health & Support Center, a Portsmouth-based community health and family resource organization serving the Seacoast and southern Maine with affordable primary health care, parenting programs, prenatal care, dental care and mobile health care for the homeless.

Donors to the center since 2005, the Habigs first issued a $25,000 challenge in 2009 and have periodically followed up with the same fundraising effort to support Families First, which annually assists nearly 6,000 residents who might otherwise go without these vital services.

The couple first issued the challenge in response to reports that charitable giving had declined since the economy crashed in 2008.

"We decided we needed to evolve our simple gift-giving to Families First to inspire more people and businesses to give back to this community and make a difference in someone's life," said John Habig, who serves as executive director and financial adviser at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Portsmouth. "So in 2009, we issued a challenge to get others involved by seeking donations to go toward matching our $25,000 donation. We desperately want to make a difference and hope we can inspire others to give back."

Martha Cunningham, development director at Families First, said funding concerns have never been greater for the organization than in the last several years.

"For all nonprofits, it has been a very challenging environment, given the economy since 2008," she said. "In challenging times, people give less and funding gets cut, but the number of people in need increases with more uninsured, unemployed and homeless. When a donor steps forward with a $25,000 donation, it is a big opportunity to inspire others to give."

In the five years since the Habigs first issued their challenge, others have stepped forward to meet the total annual goal of $50,000. In 2011, the program exceeded its objective and brought $54,000 to Families First.

Cunningham said that fundraising efforts such as the Habigs' contribute 25 percent of her organization's $4.7 million operating budget. But, she added, what $50,000 in funding does goes far beyond the basic statistics on spreadsheets.
"I could tell you the number of people who could be served by this amount, or that 60 percent of them live at poverty level, which equates to $19,000 a year for a family of three, but simply saying how many it provides services for doesn't begin to sum it up," Cunningham said. "These are people who typically choose groceries, rent or fuel over their own health needs. Some come to us with chronic illness or cancer and would otherwise not receive treatment. Some are pregnant and would otherwise go without prenatal care. The impact of this funding is changing and saving lives, so it is much greater than what you can quantify."

According to Cunningham, many patients also experience risk factors such as low education, chronic mental illness and poor parenting skills that put children at risk for abuse and neglect.

To make services available regardless of ability to pay, uninsured patients are offered a sliding fee scale for primary, prenatal and dental care. Homeless patients using the organization's mobile health care program pay no fees. All one-to-one family support programs and most parent-education and family group programs are offered at no cost.

Former longtime Portsmouth residents and the parents of three grown children, the Habigs are in a position to give back to the community, Kelly Habig said, citing the words of Winston Churchill as inspiration: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

"We are very committed to organizations that serve the health and human service needs of children and families in our community," she said. "It is so important to give children a good start in life. There is a ripple effect to giving back that impacts our whole community, and we are asking others to step up with us and change lives for the better."

To donate to the Habigs' challenge for Families First, contact Cunningham at 422-8208, ext. 144, or at mcunningham@familiesfirstseacoast.org.


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