There’s an added benefit for volunteers who help disabled children.

“They often become close friends with those that we serve,” says Jenna Allen, the volunteer coordinator at Hattie Larlham, an organization that provides housing and programming for 130 disabled children and young adults in Northeast Ohio.

The children reside at the Hattie Larlham Center for Children with Disabilities in Mantua. But the program holds humble beginnings at its founder’s residence in the mid-1900s.

Hattie Lena Gadd Larlham, a registered nurse, took in a neighbor’s infant, who suffered from an abnormal brain condition. Larlham soon took on the care of nine more children and eventually founded the program in 1963 to meet demand.

The Hattie Larlham organization incorporates the center in Mantua and an army of 341 volunteers, from 8 to 18 years old, who comprise the Youth Volunteer Corps. As the program’s fundraising arm, the Hattie Larlham Foundation seeks grants from the Millennium Fund for Children and the Portage Foundation.

Sue Piatt, the program’s foundation relation officer, applies for grants and facilitates the program’s development. She has been in the nonprofit development business for 20 years, spending the last two at Hattie Larlham.

“This is without question the most compelling organization that I’ve ever worked with,” Piatt said.

What makes the program special, she added, is that its “beneficiaries are the most deserving and most in need.”

The program provides care beyond basic medical needs.

“We recognize that for everyone, life is about more than eating, sleeping and having good health,” Piatt said.

Direct care is primarily funded by Medicaid reimbursements, but those reimbursements are waning, which strains auxiliary programs that support volunteers and foster quality of life among beneficiaries.

While total expenses are below $10,000, program officials say the payoff is a better life for disabled children and young adults.

“Hattie Larlham prides itself on giving the individual in care an extraordinary opportunity to live an involved life to experience things that they might not otherwise,” Piatt said. “We really feel it’s important for the kids in our care to just have fun.”

That fun includes an annual Christmas Eve visit from Santa, as well as other holiday and birthday parties. Activities also include crafts and games.

On New Year’s Eve, the program will provide crafts for its recipients. Last year, they designed sparkling globes like the one that falls in Times Square. It’s important to incorporate all the senses, as some participants lack sight or hearing.

“We try to choose activities that engage a variety of senses,” Allen said.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3302 or