Women give back and step up in the community (INWEEKLY)

By Jennifer Leigh

http://inweekly.net/wordpress/?p=24149

For more than a decade, IMPACT 100 has played an integral role in supporting the nonprofits that give back to the local community.

Since 2004, the organization has funded more than 57 grants totaling more than $6 million to charities in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

And with a new list of finalists for the 2015 year, those numbers will continue to grow.

“Every year I learn of other organizations that are doing incredible work in our community,” said Cyndi Warren, current president of the Pensacola Bay Area IMPACT 100.  “I have really seen firsthand how many people give their hearts and souls to the nonprofit organizations they love and believe in. It is shocking to really step back and see how many nonprofits there are in the Pensacola Bay area and all the lives they touch and improve through their work.”

How it works
The mission of IMPACT 100 is pretty simple: to know and serve the community, to collectively fund significant grants to charitable initiatives and to set an example of philanthropy.

That mission is carried out by 1,060 women who donate their time and money to bettering the community. Each $1,000 membership is pooled together to be dispersed into grants for several local nonprofits that fall into one of the five focus areas: arts and culture, education, environment, family, and health and wellness. Local nonprofits submit grant applications, and the final decision it put to a vote by the members.

But it’s not just about writing checks. Members who serve on committees (there’s one for each focus area) will review grants and visit the nonprofit sites. This not only helps members make a final decision, but it showcases the needs of the area and the efforts of nonprofits.

“I’ll never forget doing a site visit for Chain Reaction,” said Holly Jurnovoy, past president and current board member. “I thought ‘This grant is going to be transformative for them’, and that’s what we want to do…”

Sometimes it’s not even about recognizing a need, but realizing how many dedicated nonprofits are working in the shadows to provide much-needed services.

“Having been involved in United Way Funds Distribution for many years, I thought I knew about most of the nonprofit agencies in our area,” said Meri Asmar, membership chair. “I was dead wrong and have since learned about literally hundreds of nonprofit agencies I didn’t realize existed that are each serving specialized needs in our community.”

Warren proudly points out that the evaluation process is “solid,” so much so, in fact, that there has not been an organization that had to give back grant monies or couldn’t complete its project.

“The criteria that we set out in our grant application helps ensure sustainability of programs and initiatives that we fund, beyond the IMPACT 100 funding period,” she said.

“They help to ensure that we are funding financially-sound organizations, whether they are small, large, mature or early in their lifecycle. We have been true to our core values of one woman, one vote, and one thousand dollars.”

“It’s a side benefit,” added Jurnovoy. “We can write the checks and then take part in the process where the money goes. That’s why the members love it so much.”

Empowering women
One of the aspects of IMPACT that sets it apart from other philanthropic agencies is that women are behind every decision, every step of the way.

It’s a diverse group of women, from young professionals in their 20s to retired women with years of experience behind them.

“Each woman brings different skills, life experiences, professional expertise and resources to the table,” said Warren. “At the end of the day, what we have is a very well-rounded group of women who pool their resources, skills and experiences to make great decisions and choices about how to award the grant dollars that are available.”

What they all have in common is the passion to give back, and because of the growing membership, they give back in a big way.

“The power of collective giving allows women to leverage more money than they ever could on their own,” said Asmar. “For most of us, to give $1,000 a year to our nonprofit of choice would be quite a significant contribution, but in the scheme of things — it would have little effect on the nonprofit.”

Asmar adds that pooling money together to make a bigger contribution not only benefits the nonprofits, but empowers the women.

“How often do women get to give away $1 million on a Sunday in October? I don’t even know any men who get to do that,” she said.

The original IMPACT 100 was founded in 2001 by a group of women in Cincinnati, Ohio. Inspired by its model, Studer Group COO Debbie Ritchie created the Pensacola Bay Area chapter in 2004. In its first year, 233 members came together to fund two grants. Every year, membership grows so much so that Jurnovoy jokes she wonders what the logistics would be years from now.

“There were 400 members when I joined, and we keep getting new blood,” she said with a laugh. “I’m thinking what are we going to do when we have 20 finalists doing their presentations…we’ll be sitting there forever.”

As many of the members have responsibilities beyond IMPACT 100 to attend to, it’s a comforting notion for new members to know that they can be as involved as they want, although it’s not uncommon to become passionate.

“I had no idea what it was about, and the first year I paid my dues and did nothing else,” said Warren. “I gradually got involved in committee groups and found that I enjoyed it so much, I could not imagine not being actively involved. Being president has made me realize just how many people pulling together it takes to make this organization work.”

‘The impact of IMPACT’
It’s not hard to find a nonprofit that has benefited from IMPACT 100.

Warren says the feeling of handing out those checks to deserving programs “never gets old.”

“We are constantly encouraging the nonprofits to apply, to dream big and to not let their current resources impede their thinking,” she said.

Every year in October, members of the Pensacola Bay Area IMPACT 100 meet for their annual meeting to award the grants.

“There is never a dry eye in the room,” said Asmar. “Miracles are happening, and wishes do come true. It’s the most satisfying day of the year to not only witness that, but to feel like I’ve made a contribution to it.”

Arc Gateway has been a recipient of the IMPACT grants three times in the last decade, which have not only expanded programs, but created jobs for disabled individuals.

“The ladies of IMPACT 100 continue to amaze Arc Gateway. The work that they do for this community is truly a blessing for all the non-profits they have touched,” said Melissa Rogers, CEO of Arc Gateway.  “We have been able to take the grant dollars that they awarded to our agency and create long-term, sustainable entities so that the impact of those dollars is exponential. Our shredding department is a perfect example of taking a gift and using it to the fullest extent.”

When the Gulf Coast Kid’s House (GCKH) needed to expand, it was the IMPACT 100 grant application that helped staff map out the plans.

“We had known for years that we needed to expand, but the fundraising was daunting,” said Stacey Kosetvicki, executive director of GCKH. “For our IMPACT 100 application, we really had to refine what our biggest needs were for the new space. Out of that refinement, we learned that the medical exam room and resource closet at our facility were our biggest opportunities for improvement. The application forced us to clarify our vision.”

When the nonprofit won the IMPACT 100 grant, Kostevicki said it was the confidence booster they needed to raise additional money and complete the expansion wish list.

“The impact of IMPACT has been incredible,” she said.

Manna Food Bank is another multi-winner of IMPACT grants, which have funded the purchase of new equipment, establish community gardens and improve both the warehouse and client registration area.

DeDe Flounlacker, executive director of Manna Food Bank in Pensacola, said the real effect of the grants wasn’t just on the nonprofit’s operations.

“It isn’t about vehicles or climate-controlled units or a greenhouse.  It really isn’t even about MANNA,” she said. “It’s about all the people — the thousands of moms, dads, grandparents, the elderly, the homeless teens, the children — it’s about all your neighbors and mine who have gotten healthy food in their MANNA grocery bag.”

Asmar remembers Habitat for Humanity being one of the first recipients in the Pensacola Bay Area IMPACT 100 inaugural year.

“It couldn’t have been more perfect considering Hurricane Ivan had just hit our community one month before,” she said. “It was beyond imaginable to be able to give away such large grants in our very first year.”

Where do I sign up?
While membership has already closed for 2015, women wanting to make an impact in 2016 can go online and fill out an application.

And women who are on the fence are encouraged to attend a recruitment event and talk to other members, Warren said.

“If it is a matter of financial constraint, then I would tell a young woman to start to save immediately, putting away $83 per month.  In 12 months, she would have her membership funded,” she added. “If it is a matter of time constraint, then I would tell her that one of the best things about IMPACT 100 is that she can spend as much or as little time as she feels. There is no minimum participation requirement.”

No matter what part you play, it’s a satisfying feeling to see a community become stronger and to know you contributed to it.

“We are enabling our local nonprofits to dream big and actually realize those dreams,” said Asmar. “Many of these nonprofits would never be able to raise this amount of money on their own.  As our membership grows each year and we continue to increase the number of grants we award, we begin having a very profound effect on the entire community as we pump $1 million a year into expansions to serve the needs in our area.”

And it doesn’t take long before members start to look at their community in a whole new way.

“We accomplish a lot,” Jurnovoy said. “When I see our logo on the truck outside PLT or at Arc Gateway or on the Bloodmobile…you see the effects all over.”

“It gives me a sense of pride.”

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2015 IMPACT 100 FINALISTS
Ten of these finalists will receive a grant of $106,000 at the IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area Annual Meeting on Sunday, October 18 at the Hilton on Pensacola Beach.

ARTS & CULTURE
Ballet Pensacola, Inc.
Ballet Pensacola is a resident professional ballet company, which produces several performances each season and also consists of a training academy for young dancers.
Project: New lighting and control system including computers, televisions, software and storage.

Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society, Inc.
The Society is dedicated to the study and preservation of wood-firing traditions in the ceramic arts. The organization also works to commemorate, preserve and share the culture and history of ceramic heritage in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
Project: A turn-key metal building on the Kiln Society’s long-term leased property. The organization will both be a working center and museum.

Pensacola Museum of Art, Inc.
PMA provides several exhibits each year while also preserving works from the 20th and 21st centuries and implements age-specific educational programs.
Project: Expand and protect the Vaults for PMA’s Fine Art Collections. The project will completely renovate its existing storage vault and build a second secure storage area on the second floor, as well as seal the roof, construct two major downspouts and HVAC work to upgrade humidity controls.

EDUCATION
AMIkids Pensacola, Inc.
AMIkids Pensacola serves preteen and teenaged boys and girls referred by the Department of Juvenile Justice to help develop youth into responsible and productive citizens.
Project: Funding for AMIkids Careers, which provides career training, as well as a separate facility for hands-on training.

Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, Inc. IHMC
IHMC is a nonprofit research institute of the Florida University System.
Project: Purchase and install technology walls that incorporate high-tech interactive displays as part of an $8 million expansion of the facility. These displays, and the entire expansion, will help engage youth who visit IHMC on field trips.

Learn to Read of Northwest Florida, Inc.
LTR is an all-volunteer literacy organization based in Pensacola. LTR helps adults 18 and older gain literacy skills through one-on-one tutoring, walk-in learning lab and weekly English conversation classes.
Project: Create a public awareness campaign — The Most Powerful Organization that Nobody’s Heard Of.

ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION & PRESERVATION
Coast Watch Alliance, Inc.
CWA works to conserve and protect coastal and marine environments in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Project: Initiation of “Research to Restaurant” to develop and implement a sustainable seafood fishery.

University of West Florida Foundation, Inc.
The UWF Foundation stimulates voluntary private support from alumni, parents, friends, corporations, foundations and others for the benefit of funding priorities of the University of West Florida.
Project: Identity and Dignity: Preserving Pensacola’s Historic African American Cemeteries.

Veterans Memorial Park Foundation of Pensacola, Inc.
VMP Foundation collaborates with the City of Pensacola and works as an advocate, provider, steward and protector for the Veterans Memorial Park
Project: Improve the storm water infrastructure through the purchase and installation of a pump and grinder system and add a low-profile grass stage at the center of the Memorial Wall.

FAMILY
Be Ready Alliance Coordinating For Emergencies (BRACE) & BRACE LLC
BRACE provides transitional housing in mobile homes and trailers for families and individuals until permanent housing is secured.
Project: A Family Impact Center to allow for expanded services by providing access to computers, educational games, recreation and skill-building activities.

Children’s Home Society of Florida, Inc. (CHS) collaborating with Escambia Community Clinics, Inc.
CHS is a child welfare organization providing leadership and innovative solutions for abused children.
Project: The Weis Community School Family Playground, a fully functional, durable play structure with picnic tables, benches and trash receptacles for the use of children and their families.

Lutheran Services Florida, Inc.
Lutheran Services Florida is a statewide, nonprofit, human service agency dedicated to helping all people in need.
Project: Replace unreliable vans in order to transport clients from the Currie House — a 12-bed shelter for homeless youths — to school, medical appointments, and court appointments, as well as recreational, volunteer, and cultural enrichment activities.

HEALTH & WELLNESS
Bay Area Food Bank, Inc.
The Bay Area Food Bank is a local member of Feeding America and operates various nutrition programs for low-income families and children nutrition programs, such as backpack weekend programs, summer food service and after school snacks.
Project: Improvements for the Milton warehouse including expanding and extending the loading dock, which will optimize tractor trailer loading and unloading under a covered/enclosed area. As well as a cement pad, which will support heavy tractor trailer loads.

Escambia Search and Rescue, Inc.
ESAR is an all-volunteer organization that responds to emergency situations, such as flooding evacuations, lost persons, drowning recoveries and evidence searches.
Project: Purchase a 24-foot Boston Whaler boat capable of rough weather and equipped for search and rescue efforts.

Re-Entry Alliance, Pensacola, Inc.
REAP enables individuals returning from incarceration to be self-sufficient, crime-free, productive citizens and neighbors.
Project: Provide the basic resources of housing, food, medical and mental health care and transportation for re-entry program. Additionally, the project will fund tuition, course fees and books for an ongoing Learn to Read program.