Honoring those who make a difference during the COVID-19 crisis

For TIAA associates, serving others with passion and purpose is more than a full-time job. Meet the Difference Makers who are going above and beyond, contributing to their communities and helping those in need.

Meet a few of our Difference Maker 100 honorees

To mark our centennial in 2018, the TIAA Difference Maker 100 program recognized 100 nonprofit employees who made a difference in the world. We’re proud to continue to serve and support difference makers for the next 100 years.

Mark Carlson

The Children’s Center for Communication
Beverly School for the Deaf


View From the Top


- [Announcer Woman] And now, a few words from our graduate Liam Harvey.

- [Computer voice / Liam Harvey] Thank-you all for coming to the graduation for me, for my family,friends, and teachers. Thank-you for working with me. I will miss everyone here at school.

- [Mark] Liam has cerebral palsy. For us, to see a child like Liam, be independent at giving his speech, that's amazing. Now we're able to open more doors, and I think we're able to open more doors because we have more keys to the doors. My name's Mark Carlson, I'm the president and executive director of the Children's Center for Communication, Beverly School for the Deaf. We're serving just under 100 students every day on our campus. It's a community of kids, it's a community of learners. We've really evolved from being just a more traditional school for the deaf to being an organization that supports children, families, with developmental communication and cognitive needs. Hunter is a great young boy. At some point, Hunter was diagnosed with a hearing loss. There's no manual that comes off the shelf, and the parents gets the manual and it says, "This is how you raise a deaf child."

- Can you say "Thank you"?

- Thank you!

- I see you tomorrow?

- Bye Hunter, see you tomorrow!

- Bye!

- I'm Nicole Sargent. And this is Hunter Sargent.

- I'm Bill Sargent, and this is Cicilia. When did we get married?

- [Nicole] We got married in March.

- [Bill] March, five years ago? And then we had Hunter right after.

- In November. He's a honeymoon baby.

- [Bill] Hunter turns five in November.

- Next month, yeah. You're four?

- Four?

- Yeah, you are four. Is it coming?

- Not yet.

- Not yet! We found out about Beverly School for the Deaf almost immediately.

- It's amazing what they've done, I mean I can't even, like, all the signing comes from them, and all the speech. The new words he learns every day, it's just amazing.

- Yeah. Hunter, do you want a snack, bud?

- Popcorn.

- You want popcorn? It's his choice, whatever he wants to use. If he wants to sign, he can sign, if he wants to speak, he can speak. It's honestly up to him, but we wanted to give him as much exposure to both languages as we possibly could. The staff, the teachers, everybody, they care. Thy care about your kid. They know your kid. They know what your kid needs. They're just amazing. Mark is so involved, it's not even funny. He's behind the scenes a lot of the time, but you know, he knows everything that's going on in that school, and he knows every student.

- I think if you just look back to education, from 1870s to today, a child has so much more opportunity, in terms of accessing technology to bridge the gap towards independence.

- [Computer Voice] Hello. How are you?

- A child can be interacting with a smart lab through eye gaze computer where they're using their eyes to be able to communicate.

- Maybe you can tell me what you want to eat for a snack. You've got yogurt, you've got pudding.

- [Computer Voice] Pudding, cold.

- Pudding? That's your favorite! I can get that for you.

- [Mark] A child who has a sensory deprivation, in terms of a hearing loss, or a vision impairment, they are using these technologies just as readily as a child who has cerebral palsy, or has another type of disability.

- [Woman Teacher] There you go!

- [Mark] Oh this looks like a good one!

- [Woman Assistant] Yes!

- It's going!

- Is it going to be another strike?

- Good job using your switch!

- Oh, so close!

- Thank you!

- Under one roof here, on one campus, we're able to put all those tools together. I describe our school as this liberal arts school for kids with special needs. We want them to be a whole person when they leave here. Liam has been basically planning his graduation as the person who really is the leader of graduation, it's Liam. It is my great pleasure to present Liam Harvey, with his diploma and certificate of completion. It's been a long road, Liam. We're proud of your work. And we're so happy of your success. A parent, now they have to change their perspective on what their child can do. And that's amazing. It's life-changing in terms of how you now view that child's future. And that future, hopefully, is going to continue to evolve as that child is here, and then when they leave here as an adult.


Michelle Roberts

Miracles in Motion


View From the Top


- [Michelle] Dance, the combination of the music, the movement, learning how to be organized, and multitasking or thinking. It does something to your brain that makes you able to do those many types of things easily. We have children with Down Syndrome, we have children with Autism, we have children with Cerebral Palsy. They're all treated the same but they all have different challenges and goals they're trying to attain.

- I fell in love with everything about dancing. The different styles of dancing, the joy it brings everybody. My name is Michelle Roberts and I'm the dance instructor for Miracles in Motion. Children with special needs they can dance. It takes a little longer to work on balance but they will get it. Without Kim and Logan and everything Kim has put behind this, there would be no Miracles in Motion.

- Hi everybody.

- Miracles in Motion is for anybody, anybody that wants to dance with us. Even though my son has Down Syndrome, it was just important to me that I include every special need. We made a choice that we would give him every possible opportunity that we could. All of a sudden, just one day, it hit me that what if he did want to dance but where would he go if he wanted to? I started with five students in the class and it did really well and people loved it so the next semester it doubled and then it doubled again until it was just time to take the next step.

- My name is Jeanette Carpenter. We're in Richmond, Virginia.

- I'm Michael Carpenter.

- [Jeanette] We live here with our daughters Taylor and Mimi.

- [Michael] Taylor's in fifth grade and Mimi is in second grade. We have an unusual story because we found out about Taylor four months after her birth.

- When we first heard that Taylor had Down Syndrome, we had to change our perspective and be really aggressive with helping her.

- Daddy!

- Hi Taylor.

- What?

- What? Did you have a good day?

- Mhm. I want to do to dance class.

- You want to go to dance class?

- Mmhmm.

- Taylor always danced. Danced at all times. Even as a baby she kept a beat. So it was a great fit.

- [Michelle] Typical class is we will get little props out, hoops or streamers or anything they're interested in, and have a warm up song. And that just lets them get in, do a little freestyle dancing, talk to their friends for a minute, get settled in.

- [Jeanette] It really has replaced Taylor's physical therapy because she can just do so much more through dance. She's done every recital with Miracles in Motion and from very early on started doing solos and then she started doing duets with Logan and with her sister.

- [Kim] Taylor was just adorable when she came, I remember. She's just so tiny and so spunky and all over the place. I could see her working and she really wanted to dance and she had this passion inside of her, this energy. She went off to the world Special Olympics and took her solo there. Her family said we want to do this, what do you think? And I said, "Oh yeah."

- So please welcome on stage Taylor Carpenter.

- [Jeanette] She won a silver medal in that competition up against every other country.

- [Michael] She was the youngest competitor in the entire games.

- Came back to school and was like a rockstar.

- I can't say enough about Miracles in Motion and what its done for her. There's no question that this is the reason why Taylor is thriving.

- We perform in the community all year round.

- [Michelle] When they get in the costumes, sometimes they're a little nervous on the rehearsal days. But when they get that costume on, oh boy, they are just ready. They don't have nerves. They just get up there and do everything they can do and surprise us.

- They've stole my heart. I mean, there's just no where else I'd rather be.


Jennifer McVoy

Out Side In, Inc.


View From the Top


- [Jennifer] There's something special that happens when you pair a racehorse coming off the track and a veteran coming home from war. They have an indescribable connection and it helps them both. Out Side In is a nonprofit organization. We use horses to help people who are suffering from emotional and mental health issues.

- [Jennifer] That was great.

- You done good.

- Veterans have always been part of the population that we work with. I started noticing the parallels between the veterans and the thoroughbreds coming off the track. They really have a hard time assimilating back into society.

- [Joel] I spent active duty time with 2nd Armored and the 1st Cav. My deployments in Iraq being from October 2003 to March 2005. This Army's got people who gotta have our coffee. Initially when I came home, my family noticed something was off pretty right away. In my unit, they eventually sent me to get help. We can be pretty tough to get along with sometimes, Veterans but overall for the most part, you know we want to be able to relate.

- [Jennifer] Veterans are very treatment resistant. They train veterans to be somebody that doesn't need help or not to ask for help and then they wonder why they don't wanna get help when they come back. Our goal is to really focus on that transition and finding a purpose for, not only the horses, but helping the veterans to find a purpose. Joel is one of our veterans who works with a horse that we got in last year, Winston. Joel was here the day he came off the track and instantly they had a connection. So Winston's been unusually nervous this week.

- [Joel] When I met him, seeing him in his stall just bobbing his head back and forth and he just didn't know what to do with himself. It was like watching myself or one of my friends come home from overseas. They've had a regiment you know and it's what they know and as soldiers we do the same thing. You have these blinders on to where this is our mission and now all of a sudden those blinders are taken off and all of a sudden there's all this world that I'm not prepared to deal with it, you know in that way.

- He was afraid of people just like I was. I didn't wanna be around people. It was easier to avoid 'em. Then I didn't have to deal with 'em you know? And it took a very very...

- That's why we went to the closet for a while.

- [Robert] And look is it ever gonna go away? No. All we do is make improvements everyday. That's what this is about.

- [Jennifer] And I really think having you in there with him brushing him and petting him, really helped him to feel safe.

- Do you feel that physically? The connection when you get up, if you're nervous, the horse is nervous or something.

- Oh I feel it yeah absolutely. To me the common thread that I find is we're tied together. That just shows that we're tethered in some way.

- [Jennifer] Just watching both the horses and the veterans together start to feel like they have a purpose, it's really a great process to see that happen. Horses have huge hearts. They really sense energy and you really can sense their energy just by being around them.

- [Jennifer] One of our first veterans, when they filled out their paperwork, it just said unemployable per VA. Just that word, I thought you know, who's unemployable? Who doesn't have a purpose? Just being here working with the horses that's huge for them to feel like they're giving back. We become therapists because we care. We see over 100 people a week. We're providing over 5,000 hours of therapy a year. We just give people hope. Here is something different when they feel like there's nothing else for them they can come out here and just being outside in a different environment and then making a connection with the horses, yeah it just gives them hope. Our success I hope we'll be able to inspire others to do similar things. The name is after a famous Winston Churchill quote that says the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. I think that definitely sums it up.

The TIAA Difference Maker 100 Honorees

Ismail Abdurrashid (Boston, Mass.)
College Bound Dorchester
Chike Aguh (Beltsville, Md.)
Jeanne Alter (Astoria, N.Y.)
Kennedy Children’s Center
Kimberly Appelt (New Canaan, Conn.)
Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership Corporation
Suzanne Baker (Livonia, Mich.)
Blessings in a Backpack-Livonia
Nancy Ballard (Petaluma, Calif.)
Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, Inc.
Susan Binkley (Monteagle, Tenn.)
Blue Monarch
Melissa Blackmon (Clayton, N.C.)
Donate Life North Carolina
Eva Bornstein (New York, N.Y.)
Lehman College Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
Caroline Boudreaux (Austin, Texas)
Miracle Foundation
Garry Bowie (Long Beach, Calif.)
Being Alive: People Living with AIDS Action Coalition
Breanna Branch (Oakland, Calif.)
Stephanie Burch (Hampton, Va.)
Virginia Beach Justice Initiative
Ron Byrne (Altamont, N.Y.)
Umbrella of the Capital District, Inc.
Evelyn Calip (Harbor City, Calif.)
Evelyn’s Breast Friends Forever, Inc.
Rebecca Campbell (Sarasota, Fla.)
Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund, Inc.
Laura Capello (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona
Marcelo Cardarelli (Fairfax, Va.)
The William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance
Mark Carlson (Acton, Mass.)
The Children’s Center for Communication and Beverly School for the Deaf
Christopher Cooley (Pittsburg, Pa.)
Serving Other Souls, Inc.
Gary Cornwell (Gainesville, Fla.)
Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes, Inc.
Paula Daniels (LaVergne, Tenn.)
Mid-Cumberland Community Action Agency
Sharon Darling (Louisville, Ky.)
National Center for Families Learning
Lisa DeSantis (Paramus, N.J.)
Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers
Liz Dunbar (Tacoma, Wash.)
Tacoma Community House
Grace Feldman (New Haven, Conn.)
Neighborhood Music School
Mary Ellen Fitzgerald (Abington, Pa.)
Breathing Room Foundation
Sister Teresa Fitzgerald (Astoria, N.Y.)
Hour Children, Inc.
Jaclyn Fratangelo (Pleasanton, Calif.)
Abilities United
Sarah Garman (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
North Campus Food Pantry for Students
Roger Gonzalez (El Paso, Texas)
LIMBS International
Debbie Greenberg (St. Louis, Mo.)
A Million Stars, Inc. DBA College Bound
Inger Griffin (Livonia, Mich.)
The Emily Ann Griffin Foundation
Pete Griffin (Nashville, Tenn.)
Musicians On Call
Abigail Harrison (Wellesley, Mass.)
The Mars Generation
Tera Hilliard (Hawthorne, Calif.)
Forgotten Children, Inc.
Barbara Hoffman (Gilbert, Ariz.)
Red Means Stop Coalition

Nancy Hughes (Eugene, Ore.)
StoveTeam International
Jill Isenbarger (Pelham, N.Y.)
The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
Kanti Jain (Alpine, N.J.)
International Human Benefit Services
Rosemarie Jefferson (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Inn Dwelling
Mary Keane (Yonkers, N.Y.)
You Gotta Believe
Alex Landberg (Des Plaines, Ill.)
Chicago Run
Allan Law (Edina, Minn.)
Love One Another Minneapolis Recreation Development, Inc.
Marianne Legato (New York, N.Y.)
Foundation Gender-Specific Medicine
Shari Lewis (Chicago, Ill.)
Project H.O.O.D.
Dan Lill (Rochester, N.Y.)
R Community Bikes, Inc.
Danielle Maloof (Glendora, Calif.)
Save the Heartbeat
Albert Manero (Orlando, Fla.)
Limbitless Solutions
Jerria Martin (Selma, Ala.)
Drug Free Communities of Dallas County
Kerri Martin (Asbury Park, N.J.)
Second Life Bikes
Kyle Matthews (Tampa, Fla.)
Beat Nb Cancer Foundation, Inc.
Michael McGuire (Jacksonville, Fla.)
River Oak Center
Gayle McPherson (Winfield, Kan.)
Eagle Nest, Inc.
Jennifer McVoy (Grand Haven Township, Mich.)
Out Side In, Inc.
Jeri Millard (Jacksonville, Fla.)
In the Pink Boutique, Inc.
Stacy Moore (Philomath, Ore.)
Institute for Applied Ecology
Brian Morello (Oakland, N.J.)
Family Reach Foundation
Sheila Morovati (Santa Monica, Calif.)
Crayon Collection
Rick Nahmias (Van Nuys, Calif.)
Food Forward
Darlene Nakayama (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Palolo Chinese Home
Staci Nichols (Little Falls, N.Y.)
Herkimer County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc. DBA Arc Herkimer
Keith Norris (Elkton, Va.)
World Hope International
Gary Oberstein (Walpole, Mass.)
Above the Clouds
Elizabeth O'Donnell (Hamburg, N.Y.)
Gliding Stars, Inc.
Jodi O'Donnell-Ames (Titusville, N.J.)
Hope Loves Company, Inc.
Lynn Olson (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Language Central, Inc.
John Orr (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Art-Reach, Inc.
Robert Picard (Pocatello, Idaho)
Health West, Inc.
Lee Ponsky, MD (Moreland Hills, Ohio)
MedWish International
Cathy Poznik (Twinsburg, Ohio)
Chiari and Syringomyelia Foundation
Tyler Radford (Kew Gardens, N.Y)
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Julie Rasmuson (Stewartstown, Pa.)
Autism York
Diana Richardson (Eugene, Ore.)
Makindu Children’s Program
Michelle Roberts (Powhatan, Va.)
Miracles in Motion
Melanie Rodriguez (Nutley, N.J.)
The Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern N.J.
Heather Rossi (Cary, N.C.)
Centerstone Military Services
Sharon Runge (Catonsville, Md.)
Kenya Connect
Nicole Russell (Guttenberg, N.J.)
Precious Dreams Foundation
Lucia Sacco (Ithaca, N.Y.)
Tompkins County Senior Citizens Council, Inc., DBA Lifelong
David Sack (Fallston, Md.)
Child Health Foundation
Miesha Sanders (Saint Paul, Minn.)
Parent Teacher Home Visits
Jessica Schreiber (New York, N.Y.)
Angela Settle (Charleston, W.Va.)
West Virginia Health Right, Inc.
Bette Sherman (Denton, Texas)
Denton Animal Support Foundation, Inc.
James Short (La Jolla, Calif.)
Padres Pedal the Cause
Aaron Slatton (New Haven, Ind.)
Indiana Institute of Technology
Michael Slaymaker (Orlando, Fla.)
Orlando Youth Alliance
Julia Sleeper-Whiting (Lewiston, Maine)
Tree Street Youth
Robin Smalley (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Timothy Solberg (St. Louis, Mo.)
Project Medishare for Haiti
Sister Peg Spindler (Gary, Ind.)
Sojourner Truth House
Nicole Steele (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Diamond In The Rough Youth Development Program, Inc.
Jarrett Stein (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Rebel Ventures
Elizabeth Swiman (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Florida State University
Kyle Thomas (Crested Butte, Colo.)
Peace of Adventure
Christine Thompson (Boydton, Va.)
Humanity Road, Inc.
Marianna Tu (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
America Needs You
Kathleen Webb (Wichita, Kan.)
Children First CEO Kansas
Sophie Wysocki (Broomfield, Colo.)
Agape International Missions