In the News

The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation Announces Q4 FY17 Community Champions

The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation is pleased to announce its Community Champions for the fourth quarter of FY17. These employees were nominated by their colleagues and are being recognized for their work with local non-profit organizations, where they donate their time and energy to improve quality of life for their neighbors. The Champions’ chosen nonprofits will receive a $500 grant from The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.

Sharon Knowles

Office Coordinator, Illinois MENTOR

Sharon’s personal mission is to build people up and let them know that there is hope. She does this through volunteering with her church in Chicago, Bethel Apostolic Faith Church, where she teaches, councils, and preaches.

Through her church, Sharon has been doing Prison Ministry in Cook County every Thursday for the past twenty years. She teaches a class called “Going for the Gold” which teaches the men who are incarcerated about accountability, time and money management, and how to look at life and ways to be productive in society.

“I think people who have been in prison are often written off in our society,” said Olwen Hansen-Blake, Quality Improvement Director, Community Support Services North. “Sharon has the compassion and understanding of how these men ended up in prison and she has faith that they can make different decisions and turn their lives around. She is making positive changes that ripple through the community in ways she probably doesn’t even know.”

Sharon enjoys being in the trenches, always there to listen to both men and women in the community about any of their troubles and to help them get back on track. She explained that, “there is good, bad, and ugly but these individuals have no support systems and just want to know that someone cares.”

When asked what motivates Sharon to give so much of her time she responded, “If you can do it, just do it. It is worth the sacrifice. When you change a life, you change a family and generations to come.”

To learn more about Bethel Apostolic Faith Church, please visit their website at

Mark Parrish

Program Manager, NeuroRestorative Michigan

Mark Parrish began attending West Michigan Chapter of Brain Injury Association of Michigan support group meetings with participants from NeuroRestorative’s Whitehall program. It did not take long for Mark to realize how special the group was and that he wanted to give his time outside of work to support the group’s mission of improving the lives of those affected by brain injury and reducing the incidence and impact of brain injury through education, advocacy, support, treatment services, and research.

One year into Mark’s involvement with the group, the then leadership approached him to lead the West Michigan chapter’s support groups. Since that time, Mark has planned each meeting and activity for the group. Meetings help members gain the knowledge they need to have more independence with topics ranging from job searches to stress management. He gets creative when it comes to activities for the members, including holding bowling tournaments, holiday parties and attendance at local sporting events.

“It provides something for participants that they can’t find in a clinical setting,” said Mark. “It offers them community and an outlet where they know they are understood for who they are.”

Mark also serves as the local point of contact for resources for brain injury survivors, family members, caregivers, brain injury professionals, or interested member of the public.

“There are many examples of Mark’s passionate commitment to volunteerism, but none are more pronounced than the way he provides individual support to members during times of individual difficulty or strife, outside the structure of the support group,” said Jim Petersen, Clinical Director, NeuroRestorative Michigan. “He regularly gets calls from group members who are facing an obstacle in recovery, or other personal struggle. He always takes whatever time is needed to allow callers to express themselves fully and then offers whatever he can in the way of support or suggested solutions.”

To learn more about The Brain Injury Association of Michigan, please visit their website at

Nicole Russell

Recertification Coordinator, New Jersey MENTOR

Nicole’s passion for volunteer work hits close to home. Her father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1986 and lived with the disease until she was a senior in high school in 2007. When Nicole was planning her wedding eight years later, she looked for a way to make her father’s memory be part of this important time in her life. That year she recruited her friends, coworkers, and family members to join team “Walk for Kevin” for Walk MS for the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Chapter. The Greater Delaware Valley Chapter works to improve the quality of life for people affected by MS in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and raise funds for critical MS research.

Based on the great response from their first year, Nicole has formed a team each year since. Together “Walk for Kevin” has raised nearly $6,000 and is one of the top for teams for the annual event. Nicole begins planning 6 months in advance of the walk each year, recruiting volunteers, spreading the word, and fundraising. Each year, Nicole also designs a shirt based on one of her father’s favorite things. Most recently the t-shirts included the quote “When they said sit down, I stood up.”

“It is amazing to see the advancements they have made in the past few years and that is why I do this,” said Nicole. “I believe that the contributions we have raised have helped make a difference and I want everyone to have a chance to fight the battle.”

Nicole personally knows others in the community who are affected by the disease so she won’t be stopping any time soon.

“Nicole lights up a room,” said Eve Estrict, Area Director, New Jersey MENTOR. “Her bubbly personality makes family, friends, colleagues and strangers come together to for a cause which in many cases, hasn’t personally affected them. However, they do it because it is important to her.”

To learn more about The Greater Delaware Valley: National Multiple Sclerosis Society, please visit their website at

About The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation

The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation is committed to transforming the delivery of human services through the generation of new ideas and best practices. We seek to advance an agenda based on quality, accountability and respect for the individual. The focus of our giving is on organizations that take a fresh look—through research, innovative thinking, direct care and programming—at how people with disabilities and youth and families facing emotional, behavioral and other challenges are cared for in our society. The Foundation also works to expand opportunity for the people we serve through employment and educational support.