Mustangs for Mustangs helps families by tackling immediate needs head-on

[blockquote quote=”It doesn’t take a massive commitment by any one person, just some awareness and watching what gets posted.” source=”Brett Dillahunt, organizer of Mustangs for Mustangs” align=”right” max_width=”300px”]

Mustangs for Mustangs is a philanthropic organization born almost two years ago and somewhat by accident, said organizer Brett Dillahunt. The mission, however, is quite deliberate — to “Stampede the Needs” of its extended (Prosser) Mustang alumni family.

Dillahunt is a Prosser High School history teacher. Prosser High School has been his home-away-from-home for the past 23 years.

“I intended to get 30 or 40 Facebook friends together to help others. I started without thinking and the first week, we had 1,500 members,” Dillahunt said.

Within a month, the Facebook page had 3,500 members. It quickly became apparent to him that his movement needed a more formal structure, and the alumni stepped up to help.

“The greatest part was all of these Mustangs came out of the woodwork to help run it,” he said.

Jeanne Rose Field, a Prosser High School graduate who is now a nonprofit attorney in New York, did the paperwork to help the organization gain IRS approval as a nonprofit and established a legal framework — all pro bono. As part of the process, the group established bylaws, named a board of directors and created operation’s policies.

“It was a very steep learning curve and we set it up as we were running — we had a lot of on-the-job training in social work,” Dillahunt said.

Prior to formal establishment, a ‘Rapid Response Team’ was organized to address immediate needs.

The Board of Directors, most of whom have served since inception, include Dillahunt, Jackie Bell, Josefina Martin-Smith, Teri Tucker and Ali Chapman Boyle.

What started as a small, fairly casual idea quickly blossomed into an organization equipped to provide direct emergency assistance in six key areas including personal safety, utility assistance, food security, primary transportation, primary housing and extreme medical needs.

Recipients are limited to $250 direct assistance in any calendar year, though special circumstances that require more are given board consideration.

“The biggest rush is from someone far away having a need. You throw a Hail Mary pass on the Facebook page and ask, ‘Who’s close? Who can help?’” Dillahunt said.

For Dillahunt, who’s often sitting at his desk trying to coordinate to meet the emergency needs for someone 2,000 miles away, there’s a lot of satisfaction when it all comes together.

“Two and a half hours later, there’s food in someone’s fridge in Missouri,” he said. “Your adrenaline is pumping and you’re helping to make this happen.”

Due to the confidential nature of emergency situations, the group has received many testimonials, but most are anonymous.

“Mustangs for Mustangs got my daughter and I out of a violent situation. I hadn’t even heard of them and 24 hours later, we were safe,” said one recipient. Another said that after serving in Afghanistan, life became difficult and M4M helped pay rent.

“A young former student of mine was in an abusive relationship on the East Coast. She had a young daughter and her best friend from high school called me and said she needed help,” Dillahunt said. “It was as simple as giving her instructions and marshalling resources to buy her a plane ticket.”

That sounds easy, but there’s much more involved in personal safety issues than people might realize, he added. “You have to leave your social media, your cell phone and cut ties with all friends. It’s very difficult to walk away,” he said. “She had $9 on her and within about six and a half hours, she and her daughter were relocated and safe.”

Dozens of needs have been met — all very worthy — but some resonate more deeply for Dillahunt.

Dillahunt explained that one alumni had a personal safety issue in South Carolina and needed help.

“A M4M member had Marine buddies near there. One of them knew an off-duty detective who found the individual who needed help, emergency transported them, and they were safe, all within hours,” Dillahunt said.

Another impactful experience occurred about a year ago when the history teacher “tripped across” a homeless student whose parents literally left her on a curb and moved out of town.
“The whole community rallied around her,” he said. “She had safe housing for the rest of the year, graduated on time and is now enrolled in tech school and doing well.”

She had no identification and had to wait until she turned 18 years old to reestablish documentation. She received medical services and dozens of people stepped up to help financially as well.

“It was one of those situations that could’ve gone really wrong. I’m so glad it didn’t,” he said.

Dillahunt said the work can be very emotional and he’s received advice from friends who work in the social work field who have taught him to keep it separate from the rest of his life.

“There’s no way not to invest in it emotionally but you have to draw some clear lines,” Dillahunt said.

Often people apply for assistance with the county or state but the process can be lengthy. Mustangs for Mustangs isn’t bound by red tape, so they can respond quickly.

“We ask ‘Do they meet the criteria?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’” we can help immediately,” Dillahunt said.

People eligible for direct assistance are anyone who has attended Prosser schools, lives in Prosser and their immediate families.

During fall and winter, housing, utilities, food security and transportation are the largest needs, while personal safety and medical needs are challenges year-round, Dillahunt said.

During the busy season, Mustangs for Mustangs helped about 50 people each month, with an average of 15-20 per month for the remainder of the year.

“I’ve tried to count how many people we’ve impacted – family members of our Mustangs, but I stopped counting at 1,400,” Dillahunt said.

In addition to the two dozen people who are the “backbone” of the group, he said, about 400 members give regular monthly donations.

“That’s only about 10 percent of our membership,” he said. “To think what we’d be able to do with even 30 percent of our members giving monthly is amazing.”

Dillahunt said the Facebook page now has 4,200 members, and when you add in their family and friends it means the organization has 14,000 to 17,000 volunteers ready to respond. Some needs are posted on the page at Dillahunt’s discretion. A couple weeks ago, a need for infant clothing and items was posted. The need was filled within minutes.

“It doesn’t take a massive commitment by any one person, just some awareness and watching what gets posted,” he said. “People want to help. They just haven’t been empowered to help before.”

Members with specialties — handymen, mechanics and more — are ready to lend a helping hand when needed.

“We have a number of M4M mechanics willing to help here in town for just the cost of parts,” Dillahunt said. “It’s a lynchpin – if the transportation goes down in a high needs family, we plug the lynchpin and it fixes everything. We’re spending very few dollars with a high return.”

Like any nonprofit, there are times when you get burned, Dillahunt said.

“But being in a Mustang family is a natural deterrent. Sometimes people are in need because they made bad choices. Oh well. We’re not fixing everything for them; there doesn’t have to be an element of judgment in everything we do to help someone. There are many instances where people need a lot more than we can give.”

The organization is run completely by volunteers, who receive no pay, no stipends and no reimbursements. That’s key to its success.

“We’ve all been part of nonprofits where we’ve wondered where the money goes,” Dillahunt said.

More than 99 percent of all M4M donations go directly to those needing help, he said. The only annual overhead is $60 for a post office box.

Mustangs for Mustangs runs one fundraiser each fall and asks members to donate a minimum of $5 per month or the equivalent ($60 for the year).

“We’d really like to grow it into an organization that doesn’t simply respond to emergencies, but one that can be more proactive doing some outreach in the community and helping before it becomes a chronic need,” Dillahunt said.

Two large food drives, ‘Operation Full Belly,’ have put food into the homes of Prosser residents by way of Jubilee Ministry. Less than an hour into one of the events, 650 pounds of food and 300 pounds of beef had already been given. When the dust cleared, nearly three tons of food had been donated.

“With some organizing and support, we could ensure that nobody is hungry,” he said. “To eliminate that need is actually possible. The generosity is there. It’s just the organization and distribution that are needed.”

Dillahunt has applied for small grants and the Board hopes to organize a Health Fair with dentists, eye doctors, chiropractors and more to serve those without care.

“We’d like to buy 60 pairs of eyeglasses and give to the schools so no kids go without,” Dillahunt said. “There’s a lot we can do.”

Another goal is to assist other places in organizing a group similar to M4M, as its framework can easily be replicated in other places.

“We can help other places start the same model, with the same motivation and the same type of organization,” Dillahunt said. “Mustangs for Mustangs can serve as the advisor to help them get started.”

Currently, a group in Albuquerque, N.M. is doing just that.

The group also hopes to reach out to the senior citizen population in Prosser through a local, monthly newspaper column, as well as procuring Spanish-speaking volunteers to widen M4M’s reach.

Dillahunt said what he loves about the organization is its simplicity and he summarized his feelings in a recent Facebook post.

“People need help so we help them. People need what we collectively have and we give what they individually need. There’s no reason to make it any more complicated than that,” he wrote.

Though his involvement can be time-consuming (from five to 30 hours per week), the intrinsic rewards are many, he said.

“It’s absolutely essential to me as a human being. I’m being exposed to this vast amount of suffering and I get to help solve it. That’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Dillahunt said.

But Dillahunt noted that he’s been only a small part in Mustangs for Mustangs has accomplished through the years. “I’m uncomfortable taking praise because there are so many people – hundreds and hundreds — involved in helping,” he said.

Mustangs for Mustangs is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that solely operates on donations. Contribute online at www.mustangs4mustangs.com or mail donations to M4M, P.O. Box 1634, Prosser, Wash. 99350. For more information on the program, go to the Mustangs for Mustangs Facebook page or call 509-833-0711.

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