All I want for Christmas is … your vote?
That may sound like we’re getting our seasonal themes crossed up, which would be natural enough, considering the amount of recent advertising devoted to both topics.
But really, it’s also a valid way to understand the newest community-based effort to stimulate the work of non-profits serving Northern Kentucky, the inaugural NKY Funders’ Grants, which will culminate in a night of community celebration on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
The NKY Funders’ Grants emerged as a plan by the Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky as a way to directly help smaller nonprofits by giving them direct access to a funding competition, but also as a way to help introduce them to the broader community that may not have an awareness of the spectrum of services they provide.
“About six months ago, the idea came up of ‘What if we could have a mini-grant competition where we can engage the public?’” says Nancy Grayson, the president of Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky.
“As a group of funders,” she says, “it would show how we can leverage what we do to create an even larger impact.”
Prominent lifelong Northern Kentucky residents Bill Butler, Chuck Scheper, Bob Zapp, and Will Ziegler founded Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky last year. The impetus behind creating the organization was the feeling that a fund based out of Northern Kentucky was necessary to help address the needs and opportunities unique to Northern Kentucky.
The group raised close to $18 million to date, so it is already having a significant beneficial impact on those organizations working on quality of life issues across Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties. The mini-grant competition is putting $50,000 out there for those groups to compete for, but also seeks to raise the public profile for everyone involved by creating a role for the public in the competition.
That’s where the “vote” comes in.
The community, the competitors and the funders will all come together on Nov. 20 from 5–7 p.m. at the St. Elizabeth Technology and Education Center in Erlanger. (Tickets can be purchased at https://www.horizonfunds.org/nky-funders-grants.)
A group of 10 finalist organizations across five different focus areas will make pitches for their proposals they hope to have funded. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite pitch, which will add a $5,000 award to the organization receiving the most votes.
Sponsoring partners will also select a first-place and second-place finisher in each category, with grants of $6,000 going to those who finish first and grants of $3,000 going to those in second.
“We see an additional benefit to the participants,” says Grayson, “as the time of year is approaching with Giving Tuesday and the holiday season, so they really can tie this into their larger marketing efforts. We are at the end of the year, and this is the time when many people are thinking of giving charitably.”
Thus, the holiday season aspect.
Many of the proposals have the potential to have a positive impact on the community by the time Christmas arrives. Here are three examples of how these organizations will be doing just that.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
The impact for one Northern Kentucky family could be as large as being in a new home by the end of the year.
Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky (HONK) has been helping families get into houses since 1991, assisting 80 families in that time to become homeowners. Their work involves both building new homes and rehabbing existing ones, with most of the work coming through volunteer labor. They also advise client-families on issues such as budgeting and credit counseling, as well as other social needs.
The annual goal for the organization is to help three families into housing that HONK has worked on, as well as helping three more families with their needs to become homeowners. Because of special circumstances with a property in Covington, HONK has the opportunity to get a fourth home ready for a new family by Christmas, if they can get the funding worked out.
“It’s exciting that we have this financial opportunity and also the opportunity to tell our story and let more people know about who we are,” says David Hastings, HONK’s executive director. “But to also be able to complete a fourth home and speed up that process and make it more feasible, that’s really a great opportunity.”
HONK works through a lease-to-own model on its projects, so that its clients can transition into the realities of owning their own home. Hastings says that rents have been on the rise in many parts of Northern Kentucky, leaving a segment of at-risk families moving within six months to a year.
Research has shown there are so many benefits to those same families if they can get into a settled home, become familiar with a neighborhood, and keep their kids from shuttling around from school to school.
“We do our program a little differently,” Hastings says. “We look at different ways we can help clients reach their end goal, which is homeownership. And we are serving those who have [a] need or if they weren’t getting our help, wouldn't realize homeownership. They are families on the cusp of either being long-term renters or having this opportunity to own.”
Helping one additional family realize that dream this holiday season would be make for a memorable Christmas for everyone who believes in HONK’s mission.
The staff at the Children's Law Center in Covington.
It’s a terrible blow for all those around a child when they start heading down the wrong road so seriously that the criminal justice system becomes involved.
The Children’s Law Center in Covington hopes to be able to add a proven tool that leads to better outcomes for young people who have put themselves into that position.
The center would like to be able to add a game called Juvenile Justice Jeopardy to its program offerings for those it serves. As you might have guessed, the game is a version of the game show Jeopardy!, but the subject matter covered can be highly specialized, right down to local laws and ordinances in each Northern Kentucky jurisdiction, other aspects of community life such as services that are available, and even as specific as information regarding policies at different schools.
“It’s one of the few things we can turn to that is proactive for these kids,” says Acena Beck, the executive director of the center. “We work with kids who mistakenly think they can do a lot of different stuff without getting in trouble.”
The program helps fill in a lot of those missing blanks, with categories including “Interacting with the Police,” “Did You Know This is an Offense?,” and “How Arrest/Court Records Follow You.” Beck says many people would be surprised just how little wayward juveniles know about how to even attempt to steer clear of trouble.
As the organization that designed and programs the game, Strategies for Youth, says, “Many adults assume youth know what is right or wrong, legal and illegal. That assumption is often incorrect. Many youth assume they know what their rights are and how to assert them with the police. That assumption is also (often) incorrect. These incorrect premises lead to an escalation of many interactions with police.”
Another component of the software is intended for law enforcement, called “Policing the Teenage Brain.” That helps teach school resource officers and other police better strategies for dealing with difficult juveniles.
The Children’s Law Center was able to implement Juvenile Justice Jeopardy through another grant in 2016 in Louisville and Lexington. The impact on those who went through the program was significant. They are asked to answer a series of questions before the game, and afterwards are asked the same questions. If the center is able to implement a version of the software geared to Northern Kentucky, the Young Lawyers section of the Northern Kentucky Bar Association has agreed to take on administering the game to juveniles as one of their projects for 2019.
“If we can get this, it’s going to help those kids that make stupid decisions that aren’t necessarily criminal,” says Beck. “It will at least make them stop and think before doing those kind of things.”
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
People with trouble in their lives are often hoping just to enjoy simple things during the holidays.
No one knows that better than Maria Dunlap and her husband, Rod, who became parents to daughter Vivian in 2012. Vivian had been diagnosed in the womb with a congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), and though she battled courageously, passed away at only 59 days old.
Vivian spent every day of her life at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and the Dunlaps realized certain things from their experience. One of them was how fortunate they were to be surrounded by a strong support system, which allowed them to be with Vivian almost constantly.
Other children they saw during that stay, though, were not as fortunate. Outside demands kept parents away from their children much of the time. Out of that realization came their determination to start an organization to honor their daughter’s memory, which they named Vivian’s Victory.
“I pray every day that I never become desensitized to a child lying in a hospital bed alone,” Maria Dunlap says. “For that child not to have a mom or dad there as their support system because of things going on outside the hospital is a terrible thing to endure.”
Maria is the executive director of Vivian’s Victory. The organization helps families with basic needs that are causing difficulties as they deal with the troubles their child is enduring. It could be something as simple as helping with a utility bill or other necessity, or chipping in with an important expense related to medical care.
Since their founding in 2014, they have been able to help 1,500 families, with an average gift of around $500. Maria is also a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and because of going through her family’s experience with Vivian, she can often provide emotional support to other families that is informed by her perspective.
As the holidays approach, though, Vivian’s Victory is going through a difficult time. For the first time in the history of the organization, it had to turn away families in need. Since October, 19 families have made requests for help that Vivian’s Victory was unable to answer.
“Vivian did an amazing thing by bringing so much love out of other people that we saw what this need was through her,” says Maria. “Because of our support, we were able to be fully there for all 59 days with her. But we saw other kids that didn’t have that, and those memories haunted us.”
With additional funding, they will be able to help many more families during the busy demand of the holiday season.