Because part of our mission at the Community Foundation is to strengthen nonprofits, we strive to provide a diverse range of grant opportunities. While all nonprofits face challenges, no two are exactly alike. To reflect that, we offer funding that can help a nonprofit with a variety of challenges or opportunities.
Our competitive grants are made from permanently endowed funds entrusted to the Community Foundation by donors who want to ensure the future of our community during and beyond their lifetimes. The grants made by these funds support innovation, sustainability and capacity-building.
One of these funds – called the President’s Fund – supports emergency expenses or emerging opportunities for nonprofits in Linn County. An emergency expense is a unique and unexpected circumstance that threatens the organization itself. Emerging opportunities include immediate need for a new program or an unexpected opportunity that is of broad community importance.
“It’s important for the Community Foundation to have a grant fund available which can be nimble in quickly responding to both urgent crises and community changes,” says Rochelle Naylor, a Program Officer at the Community Foundation.
Read on to learn about three area nonprofits that were able to respond to new opportunities and challenges through grants from the President’s Fund at the Community Foundation. For information on the President’s Fund, eligibility and application requirements, click here.
Emerging Opportunity: Get Out the Vote
Sometimes, tragedy connects people. It brings pain and sadness, but it can also bring us together and connect us to people around the world. We empathize with those who are suffering, and we want to help.
When 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida in February of 2018, teens around the country turned that desire to help into action. In Iowa, Olivia Kennedy, Kevin Drahos and Quintin Gay formed March For Our Lives (MFOL) Iowa to pursue an end to gun violence in schools. Still in high school themselves, they envisioned a future where their peers around the country felt safe every day.
MFOL Iowa approaches gun violence by encouraging young people to get involved in the political process. “We’re completely nonpartisan,” explains Olivia Kennedy. “From the beginning, what we didn’t want to do was to tell people who they should vote for or what legislation they should support.” As a senior at Cedar Rapids Washington, Olivia laments that young voter turnout has declined in recent years.
Forming in early 2018 gave the organization an obvious first challenge: getting young people to vote in the midterm elections. The midterms struggle to attract voters, especially young ones, who typically show up at a rate of less than 30% in Iowa. The group decided an event was the best way to get their peers interested in voting.
“We really wanted to have an event to engage the community,” explains Kevin Drahos. As their Get Out the Vote event came together, opportunities emerged for various speakers to share their thoughts and experiences on gun violence and voting. To bring everything together, MFOL Iowa applied for a grant from the President’s Fund.
With funding, the organization made plans to host survivors of the shootings in Parkland, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada. Local high school bands provided entertainment, and Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd spoke of the importance of engaging in the local political process. “We also petitioned Linn County to have a satellite voting location there,” Quintin Gay points out. “That really kept the emphasis on voting and voter registration.”
While Hurricane Michael kept the Parkland student from attending, the event still reached plenty of local teens. Dozens registered to vote, and over 100 people cast ballots that day. Statewide, MFOL Iowa’s work in partnership with NextGen Iowa saw dramatic results, as some precincts reported young voter turnout three times higher than in 2014.
Emergency Expenses: Preserving Coggon’s History
Like all of us, nonprofits exist in an unpredictable world. It’s easy to recognize their funding needs as they try to provide services, but what happens when that process is interrupted? How do nonprofits address the unpredictable?
For the Coggon Community Historical Society (CCHS), that unpredictability came in the form of a leaky roof, and it threatened the very existence of the organization. “We don’t have a huge amount of income,” explains Marilyn Millard, CCHS Secretary. “Fundraising is not always an easy thing to do for continued upkeep.”
The leak was in the Clemons House—the first house built on Main Street in Coggon. The Clemons family built it as a hotel in 1887, and after being a nursing home for some time, the house fell into disrepair in the 1970’s. In 1981, with the house just weeks from being torn down, the CCHS formed in an effort to preserve the building and its history.
The people of Coggon have a passion for preserving their history, and local donors helped the group purchase and restore the house. It began to function as a museum, as well as a meeting place for the CCHS. For the last 38 years, donations of artifacts, documents and memorabilia have slowly filled the space.
But in 2017 heavy rains threatened that collection. A wet summer turned into a wet fall, and water was getting into the Clemons House. “We had puddles on the floor,” Marilyn explains. “Water was dripping from the ceiling. We were desperately concerned by October.”
Without funds to repair the roof, the CCHS faced the risk of losing not only their collection, but also their ability to continue the work of preserving local history. The roof wouldn’t make it through the winter, and neither would the Historical Society.
Fortunately, the group was able to turn to the Community Foundation. “We applied for an emergency grant from the President’s Fund,” Marilyn says. “That $2,500 was a godsend. Within two weeks we had the work done and were set—no more leaks!”
With the roof repaired, the CCHS was able to maintain its role in the community. The people in and around Coggon continue to look to the Historical Society for the preservation of the town’s 160-year history.
Emerging Opportunity: Forum for Reducing Violence
Nonprofit organizations form when hardworking people who care about their community come together to address the issues we face. The goal of community betterment creates a lens through which they view the world, keeping an eye open for opportunities to inspire, educate and impact those around them.
“I saw Adam Foss in Boston, and his presentation just really spoke to me,” explains Okpara Rice. As the CEO of Tanager Place, Okpara works every day to improve the lives of kids. Foss spoke about criminal justice reform and preventing young people from falling into a life of violent crime. Okpara, thinking of the kids he sees every day at Tanager Place and recent violence in Cedar Rapids, filed it away as something that could benefit our community.
Then Okpara was having a conversation with Joe McHale, who left the Kansas City Police Department to become Marion’s Police Chief. “He asked me if I’d seen this documentary, and he offered to put me in touch with the director.” The documentary, called Uncommon Allies, follows a mother who loses her son to violent crime, thereafter committing herself to working with police to end violence.
“We started looking at ways we could put this together with various community partners and how we could get these people to our community,” he says. Part of that process was applying for a grant from the President’s Fund at the Community Foundation.
On February 15, Adam Foss spoke to nearly 350 people in Coe College’s Sinclair auditorium. The crowd was made up of middle school students, local politicians, nonprofit leaders, college students and law enforcement officers. A former prosecutor in Boston, Mr. Foss explained how he now works with prosecutors to reform young offenders while keeping them out of the criminal justice system. He spoke with passion, often directly to the youngest members of the audience, who he called the civil rights leaders of the future.
On February 23, Tanager Place hosted a public screening of Uncommon Allies. The documentary illustrates how open dialogues can restore trust and breed safety within a community. “The film really speaks to the power of what a community can accomplish together,” Okpara says. The screening was followed by a Q & A with director Jon Brick and Captain Tim Hernandez of the Kansas City Police Department.
Okpara and Tanager Place were able to bring these important conversations to our community because of the President’s Fund and other community partners. “We want all kids to be successful,” Okpara explains, “and we really view it as our responsibility to use our stance in the community to start the conversation on how to make that happen.”