Earlier this year, most of Texas experienced what some may call, "Snowmageddon". An ice storm that displaced many, and left homes completely destroyed. Austin's Couch Potatoes volunteered within the community, to help refurbish those homes, and give people that little boost that sometimes is so necessary to keep going on after a traumatic event.
Little did we know, Becca McPherson and her coworkers were watching the news and decided then and there that they would partner up with Austin's Couch Potatoes in the future for any of their furniture needs.
None of us expected to be brought together so soon.
I sat down with McPherson, vice-president of development at Marbridge. The Marbridge Foundation is a non-profit residential community that provides lifetime care to those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. It is uniquely wonderful campus, with an infectiously friendly atmosphere that is felt everywhere you go.
McPherson shared how she became involved with Marbridge, what their mission entails, and how they are prepared to make sure their residents thrive.
Image of the volunteers by Marbridge Foundation
Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the Marbridge Foundation?
Absolutely. Marbridge Foundation, we serve 273 adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, and you clearly don’t just stumble onto that mission. It’s always been a passion of mine to work on a mission and to give back to the community. I’ve worked for another non-profit for about 5 years in Austin, and Marbridge contacted me, and they were looking for a Vice-President of Development. It just was an amazing fit.
You drive onto campus and it’s just picturesque. You got a white picket fence, that greets you, you got the horses—you can’t walk anywhere on campus without residents just being thoroughly excited that you are there. It’s not only an amazing mission where you work with amazing residents, but the families that we serve and the employees that we have the opportunities to work with, make the mission even stronger. That was what originally attracted me to Marbridge and got me invested, so I’ve been with Marbridge for about 5 years.
How did you get involved with Austin’s Couch Potatoes?
So, this was really a unique situation. We always, like many other people, they want to invest their money in corporations and companies that give back to the local community, or give back to missions that they are invested in. It’s the same with non-profits. We want to partner with community members, companies, other non-profits and organizations that also want to give back to the greater community.
I believe it was during or right after the huge snowstorm last year, and one of our other vice-presidents and I were looking through the news and we saw how Austin’s Couch Potatoes had partnered with several non-profits, and was helping the greater community by providing furniture, and helping with food distribution, and so many other things. We just made the commitment, we said, "If we ever have a project where we need furniture or furnishings where we want to partner with Austin’s Couch Potatoes."
We didn’t think it would come up this soon, but we have an opportunity. We have a waitlist for one of our communities and we built a new cottage and it was my responsibility to find furniture. I originally went to Austin’s Couch Potatoes’ warehouse, and they referred me to The Furniture Mall of Texas, and it was just—everybody was fantastic. I met Richard and he said, "I think this is going to be fantastic, I think I’ve got exactly what you guys need."
So, we now have the cottage furnished and it just snowballed from there.
Now, is The Cottage just one building, or is it a cluster of buildings that needed to be decorated?
So, Marbridge is broken up into 3 different care communities and we do that strategically and that way we can serve those from young adulthood—as young as 17 or 18 years old—all the way through the end of life. We all dream to be able to age in place, and age peacefully. So, why should an adult with cognitive disabilities have to bounce from program to program? Our founders Ed and Marge Bridges, in 1953, had that vision way before anybody else—they were way ahead of their time. That has been our continued goal.
We have our first care community, which is The Village and it’s set up very much like a subdivision is, a very homelike setting. That’s how we found the partnership, we built a new cottage and we needed furnishings for that. It’s for our most independent part of our campus, and we hope to continue expanding. Our next step is an assisted living type facility called The Lodges, that’s where most of you guys spent most of your time in that area, and then our third part of campus is called The Villa. It’s our one of only three licensed skilled nursing facilities in the nation that specifically focuses on helping adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities age in place.
I remember you mentioned our volunteer group was one of the biggest that you had, or was it the biggest?
It was the biggest we’ve had. It’s very hard because of how much space we have for us to be able to maintain all 200 acres. We’re a non-profit, we want every donation, every payment to go back to the residents. So, we keep a smaller staff size. When we have groups that come out, we really put them to work. I know you guys have probably worked harder than you probably did in a long time.
I felt like we even needed more time, it would’ve been great. I understand the sun sets very early now, which would’ve been rough for the people painting. It was so fun, though, I can wait to volunteer there—we’re definitely going to work together again in the future.
Yeah, and we have the space to be able to do it, to be able to accommodate a group this size. Even though it’s new to us, I think it worked out really well.
You guys were really organized too. You had all your people in place giving out instructions, it was really awesome. What is something you would want people to know about Marbridge that you think doesn’t get talked about enough?
Just us. We are so protective of our residents, and because in this day and age you have social media, everybody has an opinion and can hide behind their computer. We have really had to focus on our mission and making sure our residents remain safe. Sometimes people come to us and say, "I’ve lived in Austin my entire life, and I’ve never known you were there."
First, there’s not a whole lot of people looking for residential placement, but the second part is that we can’t just flash our mission everywhere. As much as we would love to sing it from the highest building, we have to be careful and make sure our residents are our top priority. So, making sure we are grassroots in letting people know about our mission and what it is, is one of our biggest goals
What’s a stigma, that you would like to rid of with Marbridge’s mission for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities?
The biggest is from stage 1 of the reason Marbridge was founded. Ed and Marge Bridges had a son, Jim, who had cognitive and intellectual disabilities. When Jim was born, the doctor pretty much said, "You don’t even need to see him, leave him with us and we’ll put him in an institution, and you go start your life".
They thought "No, there has to be more out there," but as Jim grew up, they realized there wasn’t.
There was either an institutionalized setting where you hid your loved one or they could create a new history. Ironically, Ed and Marge Bridges owned a furniture store on South Congress that has since been closed, and they did that strategically so Jim would have a job. Then, they started building the Marbridge campus so they could educate adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. They started with 6 young men, they had a fully functioning ranch—cattle, longhorns, goats and chickens.
Through all that, they realized that the community also had a stigma, that adults with cognitive an intellectual disabilities couldn’t contribute back. All of our residents who have jobs are tax paying citizens and they are proud of it. They just needed someone who could work with them at their level, to meet them where they were at. That’s what Marbridge is all about, meeting our residents where they are. They continue to be contributing members of the entire central Texas community.
That’s what I feel like is so frustrating and misunderstood on social media, you see people always complaining, "Oh, it’s going to be so tough for them to find a job. I feel so bad for the parents." That’s why I love Marbridge because it’s just so inspiring.
Yeah, our residents don’t want anyone to feel bad for them, our residents want everyone to know how talented, contributing they are in this community. Many of the families—we serve residents throughout the entire country. I think last we heard it was 36-40 states we have residents from, but many of those families realize how amazing Austin is, and they want to be closer to their loved one. So, they move closer to the Marbridge area, and then they become customers and want to support those who are supporting us. So, it’s an amazing give and take with the way the Marbridge mission is set up.
Do you think Marbridge is unique in that way, for people to come from all over the country? You mentioned how you were one in three of licensed professionals?
Yeah, we are one in three that can serve the life-long care of adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Many nursing facilities can accommodate someone who has autism or down-syndrome, but they don’t specialize in that. Our nursing facility does. Our entire facility specializes in that, and so many people want their loved one to thrive. The most important part of Marbridge is that we give security to loved ones, and knowing that they can live their own lives, that they can live independently, and their loved ones are going to be taken care of until the end of their lives. We have adults in our licensed skilled nursing facilities that have down-syndrome in their 70’s and 80’s, and that’s unheard of in other places. It’s because we specialize in that population and know all the signs to look for and the amazing attributes that come with this population.
Well, that’s all my questions I have left, but thank you so much. That was so informational, and I can’t wait to work together with you in the future.
We genuinely want to say thank you, the contribution your employees have made completely changed the focus of our volunteer program. We are so excited to partner with you guys. I think one of the greatest compliments to you all, is that I cannot tell you how many people pulled me aside during the day to say, "I want to be a part a of the Marbridge mission," because of the support that our owners give to us. That they would have never wanted to volunteer, and never would have thought to be a part of the greater community if it wasn’t for the support that you guys have given. So, thank you all and all your employees for what you guys have done.
Written by Emily Holleran