Molly Russell: Providing Access to Special Needs Care

When Molly Russell’s son was four years old, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Needless to say, this diagnosis rocked Molly’s world. While her son seemed to benefit from therapy and support from specialists, Molly quickly observed how expensive and difficult it was to obtain high-level care for children on the autism spectrum.  

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“After just to two or three months, I realized how unbelievably expensive it was to get therapy for him,” Molly said. “We were so blessed to be able to afford care but insurance didn’t cover a lot of the costs we incurred. What was keeping me up at night was not whether my child was going to be okay, because already I felt that he was—instead, I  was worrying about other people who were in the same boat with a lower income or poor insurance. How were they surviving? The more I dove into the topic, I learned that they weren’t.”

Molly knew that she needed to take action. She decided to host a fundraiser, planning to recruit family members and friends to join her efforts to raise money and awareness of families in need of expensive special needs care. The ideas was to raise a good chunk of change, then donate the funds to a worthy organization in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. But when Molly started researching options of organizations to partner with, she realized none really fit her objectives; specifically, the foundation she wanted to support didn’t serve families based in Texas. 

Molly’s professional background includes experience in advertising sales, office management, and human resources, but she had always had a heart for nonprofit work. 

“In my previous years of job hunting, I had always looked into the nonprofit sector for work because it appealed to me so greatly,” Molly said. “But there was never a great fit. I figured I didn’t really have my calling or my cause yet. Even though I always wanted to help, I never dove deep into the NGO world.”

That is, until her fundraising idea took flight. Once Molly learned that the nonprofit partners she was interested in didn’t serve the local D/FW area, she began to dream about what it might be like to create a foundation of her own that would provide resources for families who need services and therapy for children on the autism spectrum. After brainstorming with her husband, who encouraged her to move forward with the idea, Molly started applying for NGO status for the Huckleberry Foundation.

A big reader, Molly shared that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of her favorite books and that the novel was the inspiration for the name of the foundation. “My son reminded me so much of the main character,” she said. “He totally beats to his own drum. At first, I wondered if the name wouldn’t resonate with people, but my husband assured me that it was a perfect testament to our journey.”

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Fast forward to present day: the Huckleberry Foundation now has a fully functioning board of directors, an advisory board, and two staff members, including Molly, who serves as the Executive Director and Chairman of the Board. The goal of the organization is to provide financial resources for families in need, and they’ve set up a process that helps them do this efficiently.

“A family must qualify for the process by submitting income tax returns and diagnosis records,” Molly said. “Then they can apply for funding for us. If approved, we send the funds straight to the vendors that the family wants to use (like therapists, physicians, etc.), ensuring that our donor money is spent the way it was intended.”

Molly’s days are filled with working with families, facilitating connections with specialists, sharing the Huckleberry story, and, of course, raising funds through grants, individual donors, and events. The organization’s annual fundraising event is celebrating its five-year anniversary on April 20th. This year the event is going to be a fun luncheon and fashion show.

We asked Molly how supporters in Dallas can get involved, and she shared many helpful ideas: show up to the foundation’s annual fundraising event, find opportunities to hire young adults who have aged our to of the school system, volunteer with the organization, or donate financially. But we loved this answer most of all: “Learn how to be inclusive and supportive of our special needs community,” Molly said. “That makes a difference.” 
 

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Story by Rachel Brown. Photos by Hunter Lacey.

Mary Martin