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Posted in Get to Know Your Neighbors, Giving Back, HH LIFESTYLE

Meet Mark Carmer’s Extended Family

Hidden Hills resident Mark Carmer runs a non profit called Extended Family that rewards hard working single parents.

 

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a successful extended family system often, but not exclusively, “occurs in regions in which economic conditions make it difficult for the nuclear family to achieve self-sufficiency.” But what happens when parents are raising children on their own with little or no help from family and feel as if they are about to drown in debt and responsibility?

Mark Carmer is what happens.

Hidden Hills resident Mark Carmer is the founder and president of Extended Family, a nonprofit devoted to assisting local single parents who are employed but are struggling to make ends meet. Extended Family has rewarded hard working single-parent families with grants that have ranged from just a few hundred dollars to more than $20,000, depending on the family’s immediate needs.

While it wasn’t a sudden epiphany that drove Carmer to found Extended Family, his motivation sprang from a desire to show his kids the importance of giving back. “When you are in a fortunate position and are able to give back, to me it’s a mistake not to. I think you have an obligation to give back and this was my way. I believe strongly in what we are doing, and it’s a great thing for my kids to see.”

A grant recipient must be employed, a U.S. citizen, and a single parent with sole or more-than-50%-custody, who is receiving little or no support from the other parent or family. Extended Family team members meet personally with the applicants to assess their needs, which can vary from needing school supplies to rent assistance, and even help with medical expenses.

One young woman with an 18-month old daughter was given six months of rental assistance in order to provide a safe home away from her child’s abusive father.

A single mom raising two teenagers received school clothes and supplies, and help with groceries.

A single dad working two jobs was awarded a grant from Extended Family that helped with rent, utilities, ongoing bills and peace of mind.

“Growing up, family was always a big deal. I’m one of six children,” says Carmer. “While I didn’t grow up with a single parent, we were surrounded by friends who spent a lot of time at our house. Some even spent the night on school nights because they had single parents who needed help. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now as an adult and a parent, I realize how difficult it can be for a family with two parents to make ends meet. I can only imagine how difficult it would be if I was a single parent with limited resources.”

Growing up with these friends and now having employees who are single parents, Carmer heard stories that caused him to act. “As a single parent, you are almost disincentivized to work. If you earn $20,000–$30,000 a year at a job, the government won’t give you any assistance. If a person stops working, government assistance can pay him or her more than the person could make at some jobs. But if a parent does that, his or her self worth disappears and the role model the parent is supposed to be for his or her kids goes by the way side. But as soon as the parent gets a job, the system drops the parent immediately.”

“Starting Extended Family was the right thing to do,” continues Carmer. “We consider ourselves to be rewarding people for doing the right thing. We know it’s not easy. But they are working their butts off and setting the right example for their children. Plus, it gives them greater self worth.”

Family That Works Together…

Carmer’s twin brother and his mother work at the nonprofit along with him, working client files and moving the organization along. Carmer’s wife, Lisa, and their two teenage children are involved as well, helping out at the organization’s events and  with the day-to-day responsibilities.

When it’s appropriate, Carmer takes his family with him when visiting clients and awarding them grants from the nonprofit. It’s an emotional and meaningful journey for all of them. “One of the families that we worked with a couple of years ago had children about the same age as my own. I brought my family to meet them when I gave them their grant. It was incredibly emotional. My son wanted to go home and empty his bank account to give them everything he had.”

When the organization was founded in 2011, Carmer did not realize the amount of time it would take to run such a worthwhile nonprofit. He concurrently runs several for-profit businesses and is extremely involved with his children, but admits “I had no idea how much time this would be. I spend more time with Extended Family than I do on the other things. But this business means the most to me. It’s where I want to put my energy and time.”

The organization has provided Carmer and his family a great sense of perspective. “This allows you to realize what really matters in life and where your time should be spent. What is important. What is not.”

While the organization has not yet established an annual formal fundraiser, there are events throughout the year that benefit Extended Family. In early December, the Carmers plan to open their home for a holiday fundraiser. Some kids have chosen Extended Family to be the benefit of their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. Other individuals have held bake sales and movie nights to help raise funds and awareness.

What is truly unique about this charity is that Carmer has mandated that 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to its clients. He personally pays the organization’s overhead expenses so that all of the donations directly benefit Extended Family’s clients.

“Our clients are some of the most grateful and appreciative people on the planet. We are helping them sustain their families. And that is what is most rewarding.”

For more information, visit www.extendedfamily.org.

Published with permission from Hidden Hills Magazine, Winter 2014-15 issue.