Community Fundraising Takes Hold at McLean

June 17, 2023

As two grateful families recently discovered, you don’t need to be a professional fundraiser to raise money for McLean.

With support from the hospital’s online DonorDrive platform, the Smith and Merhige families turned their passion for helping those with mental illness into dollars supporting McLean’s mission.

In positive and meaningful ways, these two families, and many more, are embracing the idea of community fundraising and creating impact in the process.

If you have questions about sponsoring a campaign, please visit DonorDrive or email Ben

Organic Fundraising Keeps a Memory Alive

For George Smith and his family, raising money for McLean was a way to honor his brother Andrew, who died in 2011 after struggling for years with schizophrenia. In 2016, the Smiths provided initial funding for McLean’s WellSpace program, which offers support and education to young adults who have experienced episodes of psychosis.

“One of the things we realized about Andrew was how desperately lonely he was during his illness. WellSpace fosters a sense of community in a welcoming and organic way,” George said.

The Smiths have continued to support WellSpace since its founding, both with individual donations and by raising money among friends and family. The occasional group walks and email fundraising campaigns they fostered “have brought people who cared about Andrew together around a common cause,” said George. “Raising money for WellSpace has been a way for our family to keep Andrew’s memory alive.”

With the rollout last year of McLean’s DonorDrive platform, the Smiths found that raising money for the hospital was “much easier than doing it on our own,” George said. So easy, in fact, that the family was able to raise more than $15,000 for WellSpace in a few months.

The new platform simplifies the entire fundraising process—from helping fundraisers create a personal campaign page to tracking those who have donated. “DonorDrive is a great thing for McLean,” George said. “It was easy to set up, easy to use, and easy for those who donated.”

Couple posed for camera, blue gray background

George and Katie Smith

The Smiths plan to continue using the platform to raise money for WellSpace.

“Organic, personal fundraising is a wonderful way to ensure that those who loved Andrew are honoring and remembering him,” George said.

“We’ve created a social network around talking about Andrew and the challenges he faced while also raising money for an important cause.”

A Party With Impact

The Merhige family also latched on to the new platform post-pandemic when they decided it was time to take stock of and celebrate their good fortune after more than two years of navigating challenging times.

Members of the Merhige family have had their struggles with anxiety, and these became heightened during the pandemic.

One of their children participated in a McLean program—which had an “immediate impact” on him. “He embraced the program and did very well,” said John Merhige.

Throughout their children’s challenges, John and his wife Mary-Michael were acutely aware that they were among the fortunate ones. “As much as our family was struggling, we knew we were blessed to be able to get our kids the help they needed. Too many families don’t have that ability,” said Mary-Michael.

By the fall of 2022, the Merhiges’ “boat of crisis had steadied. It was still rocking, but we were starting to feel human again,” Mary-Michael said. “We were ready to celebrate our lives together, while also recognizing that we’d been through a major ordeal.”

After much discussion—and with their three teenagers’ enthusiastic buy-in—the family decided to host a “120-Year Celebration” to commemorate John and Mary-Michael’s 50th birthdays and their 20th wedding anniversary (50-50-20).

“We knew we wanted to have a party, so we decided, ‘let’s have a party with impact,’” John said. In lieu of gifts, the Merhiges asked partygoers to donate to McLean.

One of the first families to use McLean’s DonorDrive platform, the Merhiges had great success with it.

They raised more than $13,000 for the hospital, targeted specifically at assisting families without resources to obtain help. Equally important, they raised awareness about mental health.

2 people pose at party outside a house

John and Mary-Michael Merhige at their “120-Year Celebration”

“When you look at our donor page, so many people wrote heartfelt messages, thanking us for being so open,” said Mary-Michael. “For us, our personal fundraising effort was about acknowledging the challenges and loneliness families face when dealing with mental health challenges.”

On a beautiful fall night in September, John and Mary-Michael, along with many friends and family, danced to a three-piece Irish band, took a collective deep breath, and celebrated for the first time in many months.

As Mary-Michael said in her hopeful and upbeat toast, “We want to thank you for your support—and not just for us, but, looking outward, for those kids whose families may not have the resources to help them.”

Whether you want to throw a party, run a marathon, honor the struggles of a loved one, commemorate a life, raise awareness, or simply support McLean in a meaningful way, the DonorDrive platform allows you to organize your community-based fundraising with ease, all while advancing McLean’s mission to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.

Visit DonorDrive to start a campaign today.


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