“Nothing liberates our greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve.” —Marianne Williamson, American spiritual teacher, author and lecturer.
Oftentimes, individuals see a need within their community and possess a genuine desire to help. But the greatest impact occurs when groups of individuals come together to work toward the same goal, ensuring that if two heads are better than one, then indeed four hands are better than two.
In its fifth year of recognizing local nonprofits, Coastal Virginia Magazine’s Giving Back Awards highlight the often-unrecognized organizations of individuals who have come together under one mission—one goal—to change our community for the better.
Online nominations were accepted during the month of June, and then a panel of individuals gathered to discuss and determine the 25 organizations that excel at transforming our communities and enriching the lives of others. The top five organizations were decided based on their inspiring generosity, their motivated and passionate work ethic and the significant differences they’re making in Coastal Virginia.
A sincere thank you to the members of this year’s Giving Back Awards panel: Eric Hauser, director of marketing for Ivie and Associates, on contract with Farm Fresh; Beth Keenehan, owner of Esprit Décor, Sandra Parker, former longtime anchor at WVEC; and Beth Tamburello, Metro Marketing team leader for Whole Foods Market.
1. Horizons Hampton Roads
(Read about the Horizons program here)
7336 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-412-0249. HorizonsHamptonRoads.org
Established: The first Horizons program was created over 40 years ago as a way to help children of poverty improve their education and break the cycle of poverty. The local chapter, Horizons Hampton Roads, began in 1999 with 50 kindergarten students from Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Portsmouth came aboard in 2006.
Mission: Horizons Hampton Roads was established to provide academic and social opportunities to school-aged children living in families with limited income from kindergarten through eighth grades. Every school year, hundreds of local children living in poverty fall further behind in reading and math skills during the achievement gap that can occur during summer break. Horizons is about access to quality education, exposure to opportunities and breaking the cycle of poverty in our region.
Key people: Executive Director Dick Trowbridge, Director of Programs Elaine Lyons, Director of Development January Serda, Board Chair Daniel Plante, Site Directors Chris Horne (Chesapeake Bay Academy), Janna Drof (Norfolk Collegiate School) and Donna Henry (Portsmouth Regional Catholic School).
Programs: Horizons Hampton Roads partners with local private schools to host 400+ public school students for a six-week summer educational enrichment program for low-income K–8 public school students. The program includes daily certified swimming lessons, two meals a day, 4:1 classroom ratio, reading time with certified reading specialists, STEM-based curriculum, weekly field trips and other enriching opportunities to set students on a path to live up to their fullest potential.
Horizons’ first year-round program, Spectacular Saturdays, serves students by offering five Saturdays full of academic and enrichment activities rooted in reading, science, technology and math, taught by local elementary school teachers.
Their high school program supports students as they face the challenges of high school, allowing them to visit local colleges and universities, share ideas and news about surviving high school, support each other and continue to cultivate their relationships and collective love of learning. High school participants volunteer in community service opportunities, such as assisting at the Foodbank and helping with river cleanups. They also serve as role models for current Horizons students and read to younger children and to the elderly.
Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteers can read to students, share a particular talent that they have or share information about their profession, opening students up to different career opportunities.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “Funding is a struggle. It’s about people recognizing the value. It’s an investment. I don’t see what we do as charity; I see it as equity. It’s about providing these children the same affluent opportunities that other children their age receive daily at school.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your non-profit does? “Changing kids’ lives. Giving them access to opportunities to do anything and be anything. Watching them growth and seeing the same students come back year after year and become more articulate and more confident.”
2. The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors
(Read about the center's services here)
718 J Clyde Morris Blvd., Suite B, Newport News. 757-599-9844. VisitTheCenter.Org
Mission: To provide support, treatment and advocacy for anyone affected by sexual or domestic violence. To reduce sexual violence and domestic violence in our community through education and awareness.
Key people: Maricella Carter, executive director; Teri Duesbery, outreach specialist/volunteer program coordinator; Jeanne Hairston, adult treatment specialist; Diana Strain, child treatment specialist; Jovina Kay, child and young adult advocate
Programs: A 24-hour hotline, hospital and court accompaniment, individual crisis counseling for adults and children, support groups, psycho-educational groups, sexual assault prevention programs, trainings and community events. The Center serves women, men, children, LGBTQ and victims of human trafficking.
Volunteer Opportunities: Victim Advocate—provides emotional support to primary victims and secondary victims during the examination at the hospital or during an interview with the police. Community Educator—represents The Center in engaging the public at community events in education about the issues of sexual assault and gender violence. Group Leaders—co-facilitates a self-help group for those seeking an end to the pain of rape and sexual assault. Fundraising/Special Events—help create, design and shape fundraising events and non-events that will reflect the services The Center provides and encourage support in its cause.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces?
“The subject matter. No one wants to have the conversation about sexual assault. We all know it’s an issue, but what most don’t realize is that everyone knows someone affected by sexual assault in some way or other. The only way to be comfortable talking about it is through education, awareness and making it part of everyday conversation.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does?
“I have often wished all people could see what we as advocates get the privilege of seeing. There will always be victims, but those that choose to be survivors—it’s rewarding to see them days, weeks, months and some years down the line living after being with them after what could only be described as the worst act committed against them. This was a time when they thought they could not live through it or they would not be able to take another breath, considered how someone would ever love them, asked who was going to help them or how they would manage all they have to do alone. They come to The Center and know they are never alone through the process; good or bad we will support any choice they believe is the right choice for their life.”
—Melissa M. Stewart
3. Combat Wounded Coalition
(Read about the coalition's programs here)
1220 Executive Blvd., Suite 109, Chesapeake. 757-773-8079. CombatWoundedCoalition.org
Established: June 2009
Mission: To inspire wounded warriors to overcome and realize their full potential.
Key People: Executive Director Jason “Jay” Redman, Board Chairman Paul Ekoniak, Chief Operating Officer Kenny Miller, Sales and Volunteer Manager Brooke Juhas, Warrior Liaison Christine Conley and Gold Star Family Liaison Rob Allen.
Programs: Clothing kits and clothing modification for warriors to help them rediscover pride within themselves and recognize them for the sacrifices they made for this country.
The “Jumping for a Purpose” skydiving and “Toast to the Heroes” formal gala events for wounded warriors motivate, inspire and promote fellowship.
Assisting warriors in finding purpose in their lives by connecting them to other properly vetted nonprofit and for profit veteran support organizations that can help veterans with housing and housing modifications, education and job training, job placement, service animals and the many other unique needs and requirements our country’s warriors need.
Helping wounded warriors find peace within themselves, their families and society by providing grant assistance and connection to treatment centers around the country that are offering non-pharmacological, more permanent treatment solutions for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
Volunteers can assist at the headquarters and also during special events. In the office, volunteers assist with preparing clothing kit items, sponsorship and auction items, customer relationship management, database entry and event planning.
During special events for wounded warriors, volunteers serve on and off the aircraft and drop zones during skydiving events, help with clothing sales from an on-site trailer, complete event setup and breakdown and assist guests at the formal gala.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces?
“As with most nonprofits, funding is always a struggle, but our priority for any unexpected funding would be to hire more experience within the staff to include an executive director, warrior program manager and a development director. We would prefer these individuals to be veterans themselves so they could relate better to the people we serve and also possibly post-retirement where compensation isn’t their driving motivation to join our team but passion to make a difference in a wounded warrior’s life.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your non-profit does?
“To see a warrior register with us and go through all four of our support pillars of pride, power, purpose and peace. During that time, we see them and their families grow in confidence and begin a successful new chapter in their lives. Sometimes, they even come back to mentor warriors that are just beginning their journey of recovery.”
4. Mercy Chefs
4240 Portsmouth Blvd., #402, Chesapeake. 757-746-9322. MercyChefs.com
Established: 2006 following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The founder was heartbroken by what he witnessed while volunteering in his hometown of New Orleans bringing aid to the victims of the disaster.
Mission: Mercy Chefs is a faith-based, nonprofit disaster relief organization. We exist to serve professionally prepared meals for victims, volunteers and first responders in national emergencies and natural disasters, and we are committed to using our resources to meet the needs of others.
Key people: Gary LeBlanc, founder and president; Ann LeBlanc, cofounder; Managing Chefs John Stout, Walter Taylor, Lisa Saylor; Buddy Baker, fleet manager; Jenni Cutchin, administrative director; Jessica Gonzalez, marketing director.
Programs: In disasters and national emergencies, our team provides professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals for victims, volunteers and first responders. Our mobile kitchens are self-sustaining, able to run in areas without power and capable of purifying their own water. This enables our team to bring relief in the most inopportune circumstances. Our goal is not just to meet the physical needs before us but to care for the whole person. This is why we say we feed body and soul. A hug, encouraging words or prayer can make a huge difference for someone who has just lost everything. Outside of natural disasters and national emergencies, we recognize a responsibility to utilize our equipment, resources, skills and volunteers to meet the needs of others. Consequently, our team has formed four branches of service: Urban Outreach, Disaster Relief, Permanent Kitchens, and Clean Water.
Volunteer Opportunities: We work with hundreds of volunteers every year. In disasters and emergency deployments, we rely heavily on local volunteers who can work with us in preparing, boxing, serving and delivering meals. We work with local churches and organizations to partner with their volunteers. In addition, we regularly partner with professionally-trained chefs from across the country. We also have a need for volunteer photographers and videographers who are willing to travel into disaster and emergency situations to capture the event and our relief efforts to spread awareness of our mission. Right now, we are experiencing a growing need for volunteer help in equipment and warehouse maintenance.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? Funding. Over the past 10 years our average number of meals served annually is 110,000. In 2016, we are set to reach 250,000! With our growing reputation, we are being called upon more frequently to provide aid. In addition to ongoing equipment expenses, the basic financial requirements of a deployment are transportation, lodging, groceries and fuel for our kitchens. We are also seeing a growing need for volunteer coordinators.
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does?
It is amazing to see the difference something as simple as a hot meal can have on a person. It is so rewarding to see someone comforted and encouraged by a chef-prepared meal in their personal moment of need. We knew it was possible to create excellent food even in a disaster zone, and we are grateful that we have been able to accomplish that mission.
5. Dogs on Deployment
P.O. Box 710286, Santee, California. Local Chapter: Hampton Roads. 757-503-0298. DogsOnDeployment.org
Established: June 2011
Mission: To give military members peace of mind concerning their pets during their service commitments by providing them with the ability to find people and resources able to help them. We also provide financial awards (Pet Chit Grants) to qualifying military members for the care and treatment of pets when costs may be prohibitive—such as emergency surgery, shipping and quarantines costs for overseas assignments, etc.
Key people: Captain Alisa Johnson, president and founder; Lt. Shawn Johnson, cofounder; Myra Ann Smith, Hampton Roads coordinator. Every volunteer is also a key person in the organization.
Programs: The organization was founded when the Johnsons were both scheduled to be deployed and they had no one to take their dog. They finally found a relative but soon realized how many military members are forced to surrender their pets when a deployment happens, when a veteran goes into the hospital or is homeless or when a military member goes to temporary training to a barrack situation where no pets are allowed. We take all kinds of pets—dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, birds, turtles and more. The Hampton Roads chapter is the only major chapter outside of our headquarters in San Diego, and we have worked hard to get the chapter up and running. No one—from the founders to the individual volunteers—takes a salary or stipend.
Volunteer Opportunities: We have a nationwide database of volunteers across the country that are willing to take care of pets belonging to military members and veterans until they return home and can be reunited with their pets. Individuals and families can provide foster homes for pets, and that meets the number one mission of our organization. But there are lots of other opportunities: public speaking when organizations ask for someone to attend their meetings to talk about Dogs on Deployment; community and military events including Yellow Ribbon events where military members are briefed prior to deployments—volunteers hand out information, answer questions and help military personnel register with us; behind-the-scenes volunteers who help us arrange our attendance at community/military events and finding sponsorships for our fundraisers.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? We still find that a lot of military people don’t know about us—that we are here and they do not have to surrender their pets to local shelters that are already overcrowded. Finding funding sources is also a big struggle. But we have a lot of businesses that are beginning to step up and sponsor our big fundraiser—Beer, Dogs and Veterans, which will be held this year at Wasserhund Brewing in Virginia Beach on November 5.
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? By far the most rewarding part of what we do is the relief seen in a military member’s face when we are able to help them find a temporary home for their pet … then the beautiful reunion that takes place when the two are reunited.
Achievable Dream motivates all students to excel in academic achievement, to instill respect for themselves and adult leaders and to teach core human values by providing a social, academic and moral education.
AidNow exists to bring education, health, sanitation and physical resources together to assist individuals in South Eastern Virginia, nationally and globally. Through their projects and connections, their goal is to see all mankind raised to a better standard of living, bonding with their community and reaching out to others in need.
Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Virginia
Their mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
American Heart Association-Hampton Roads/Norfolk
The nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization aims build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. They fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide critical tools and information to save and improve lives.
Animal Resource Foundation Spay Neuter Clinic
They provide high-quality, affordable spay/neuter surgeries as non-lethal solution to pet over-population.
Blankets for the Homeless
Their mission is to encourage and inspire as many people as possible to join them in helping the homeless and to change the way people view the homeless. They provide blankets, coats, hoodies, jeans, clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, backpacks, tents tarps, toiletries and lunches to people in need.
They deliver quality counseling programs and support services that empower individuals and families to improve their lives.
Children’s Diaper Bank
This organization provides free diapers for pregnant women within two weeks of due dates to 3 years old. There are no eligibility requirements; their program is open to all Virginia residents in need. They have a cloth diaper lending program as well.
Communities in Schools of Hampton Roads
Their mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
Daniel’s Grace provides sustenance, ease of financial burden and support for daily living for families stricken with cancer.
Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore
Since 1981, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, a member of Feeding America™ and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, has been providing food for hungry people throughout Southeastern Virginia and on the Eastern Shore, helping to fulfill their vision of a hunger-free community.
For more than 20 years, ForKids has strived to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children.
Hearts Full of Grace
Hearts Full of Grace has many initiatives that focus on feeding and caring for Coastal Virginia’s homeless population, empowering women and youth and connecting community members with needed services.
Hope House Foundation
The foundation provides supportive living services to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, following the belief that with the right support, people with complex disabilities can live successfully in their own homes.
Hope U Foundation
Hope U Foundation works with emancipated foster care youth, ages 18–26, who find themselves in need of assistance no longer available from their local Department of Human/Social Services. They provide housing, food stipends, job readiness assistance, vocational job training, case management and independent living skills to help young people learn to truly live on their own.
Judeo-Christian Outreach Center
This organization works to break the cycle of homelessness in Virginia Beach by providing food assistance, emergency housing, low-cost housing, housing stabilization and rapid rehousing, supportive services and education.
SMILE (Samantha Makes It A Little Easier)
SMILE was founded in memory of Samantha Trost. Their mission is to enhance the lives of children impacted by a life-threatening condition, through education, encouragement and empowerment.
Virginia Beach CASA
This organization recruits, trains and supervises competent volunteers dedicated to advocating for the needs of abused and neglected children currently in court proceedings. The program promotes safe, permanent homes for all children and seeks to educate the community concerning the needs of abused and neglected children.
Wave City Care
Wave City Care partners with others to educate, equip and empower our community, one life at a time, through educational, basic care and health and human services programs and events.
Youth Challenge of Hampton Roads
Youth Challenge is committed to restoring lives and families that have been devastated by drug addiction and alcoholism, rebuilding character based on integrity and Biblical moral values, and establishing sober citizens back into the community who are physically, mentally, spiritually and vocationally prepared to live a productive life.