Dr. Kara McCulloch first learned about Mercer Island Youth and Family Services when she joined the practice of Dr. Bill McNeill, at Orthodontic Associates of Mercer Island, as his associate in 2010.
“He invited me to the [annual] breakfast, where I heard stories, watched the heartfelt video and listened to Islanders share thoughts about their experiences with MIYFS,” she said. “Every year that followed, I attended the breakfast. Many times, I was brought to tears listening to the stories of success due to assistance provided by MIYFS and our fellow Islanders.”
She is now the owner of the practice, which is the oldest on Mercer Island, and even more inspired to give back to the community. The MIYFS Foundation decided to recognize her in return. She and Orthodontic Associates were named the 2018 Philanthropy Award winner, and will be honored at the Feb. 7 breakfast.
McCulloch supports the organization in various ways, including shopping at and donating to the Thrift Shop, purchasing glass hearts as gifts, selling raffle tickets for the breakfast and hosting drives for food and school supplies. On Halloween, she hosts a “candy buy back,” and treats are donated to MIYFS.
“Mercer Island is a very special community. People call it ‘the Rock’ for many reasons, one of which, I think, is MIYFS,” she said. “MIYFS involvement in the community runs deep. No one is left behind; from families in transition, to troubled teens struggling with alcohol, drugs and depression, to the aging population, there is assistance.”
McCulloch said that she has personally known families who the organization has helped through rent and utility assistance, and has worked with teens who have braved substance abuse and changed their lives through counseling that MIYFS has provided.
“We never know what direction life will take us, or what challenges we might face,” she said. “Until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, we cannot truly know how important a safety net like MIYFS is.”
McCulloch and her family faced a challenge in 2011, when she found herself in an unexpected situation, facing a spouse with substance abuse.
“Through the kindness of family, friends and my community, I was able to pull myself up to weather a devastating divorce, significant financial hardship and the emotional toll it took on my children,” she said. “Today, we are stronger for having faced adversity and we have more compassion for the things that are truly important in life.”
She said she is grateful for all the help she received, from babysitting to grocery delivery, and today she lives by the “Golden Rule, with honesty, integrity and compassion.”
“I try at every opportunity to have gratitude and to pay it forward, since I know first-hand how important help is,” she said. “It is my great pleasure to be part of this community and to give back in whatever way I am able.”
McCulloch said that every time she attends the breakfast, it makes her proud to be part of the Mercer Island community and it reminds her that her success is possible only through the support of the same community.
“We can all do something. Even a simple smile can change the day for someone,” she said. “I guess that’s why our office motto has become, ‘because there is so much in life to smile about.’”
For more on the annual breakfast, see www.miyfs.org.