John Meyer is a firm believer that charity begins at home. So when a family friend insisted he visit The League for People with Disabilities, he did not hesitate. It took barely any time for Meyer to become hooked on the idea of getting involved.
The 52-year-old Owings Mills resident has always enjoyed helping others in need. A longtime donor to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and active member of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, he wanted to do more to give back.
He thought volunteering with The League, as it is known, would be a good way to make his spare time more meaningful and productive. Meyer, a partner in the real estate firm KLNB Retail, said volunteering can be a nice escape from reality.
“I remember as a kid that The League would do a crab feast event that I would always attend,” he said. “More recently, I was turned on to them again through some networking and had a real interest in checking out what The League was all about.”
The League, a statewide advocacy organization that provides services and programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has had a profound impact on Meyer. He first got involved in the group by sitting on several committees.
“I have always been really impressed with all the people who are involved in The League and how happy they seem to be in spite of their disabilities,” he said. “It was one of those things that struck a chord with me.”
Five years after his first visit to The League, Meyer is still at it.
He is in his second year as board chair for The League, which is set to celebrate its 90th anniversary on Oct. 19 at La Cuchara in Woodberry. As it marks this milestone, Meyer said, The League has evolved since its humble beginnings.
For instance, the League has shifted — literally — from a single room on East Franklin Street to its East Cold Spring Lane location, which opened in 1967. But the organization’s roots date back much further. It started as an offshoot of the Guild for Crippled Children under the Council for Jewish Women Baltimore chapter in 1899.
While it was once known for serving physically disabled children, The League predominantly provides a wide range of programs and services for children and adults with autism, reaching more than 4,000 individuals annually. At its spacious 43,000-square-foot campus nestled just off Interstate 83, participants have access to a wellness gym, a therapeutic pool and a classroom equipped with special technology for students with autism.
Community outreach and engagement activities are among the areas where Meyer sees the biggest opportunity for The League to make a difference. That spurred him to help turn the Catoctin Challenge, an annual bike ride in the Catocin Mountains that benefits The League’s summer programs at Camp Greentop, into a marquee event. An estimated $750,000 has been raised since the race’s inception in 1996, according to organization officials.
“That’s always a big draw and great event,” Meyer said.
He also had a hand in the creation of The League’s Club 1111, a monthly event in which The League’s facilities are turned into a nightclub featuring music, dancing, games, a spa salon and snacks. Meyer said the club provides a laid-back, no-pressure environment that is not typically available for people with disabilities.
“We don’t think there is anything like this happening anywhere else,” he said. “So to be able to have a night when people can just come together and socialize and have a good time, what more can you really ask for?”
David Greenberg, 63, president and CEO of The League, praised Meyer for his hard work and dedication. He said The League, which employs about 250 full- and part-time employees, would have a difficult time functioning without committed volunteers such as Meyer.
“The volunteers here are really a driving force that help push us to be the best that we can,” Greenberg said. “There energy and passion is infectious to what we do.”
Beyond helping clients to find employment opportunities, live independently and develop meaningful relationships, among other services, the organization wants to dismiss stigmas about people with disabilities, Meyer said.
Meyer’s son, Drew, 20, a junior at Syracuse University, has helped break down that barrier.
As a student at Park School, Drew started the Park and League Partnership (PAL) in 2013 to connect Park students with participants in The League. While more than $30,000 has been raised through fantasy sports leagues, bake sales and other events, Meyer said, the initiative raised a greater sense of awareness than anyone envisioned.
The significance has not been lost on Meyer.
“[Drew] didn’t really know what he was getting into — it was just kind of a fun thing for him to think about with the participants,” he said. “It was really an unbelievable thing to witness on both sides.”
Advocating for people with disabilities has become a family affair: His wife, Kris, 51, serves as resident archivist and his other son, Alex, spends time supporting The League.
For John, combining his passion for philanthropy and his love of love family bring him no greater joy or satisfaction.
“This means everything to me,” he said.
For more information about The League for People with Disabilities’ 90th anniversary celebration, contact Lisa Poland at 410-323-0500, ext. 308, or LPoland@leagueforpeople.org.