Ashley Chango, director of marketing for the Homeless Emergency Project Pinellas, accepts a $1,000 Daisy Grant from Club President JoAnneRoby, left, and Margo Tarr Boyington, chairwoman of the GFWC.
BELLEAIR – Plenty of laughter and chatter filled the Belleair Country Club at the 43rd annual Daisy Fashion Show and Luncheon on April 17. More than 200 women from the GFWC Clearwater Community Woman’s Club enjoyed a fashion show by Patchington and drawings for stunning prizes. But six organizations walked away with the biggest prizes of the afternoon – $1,000 grants to benefit each of the nonprofits.
The GFWC works all year to help charities and worthy nonprofit organizations, but one of the biggest things it does is to raise money for and award the Daisy Grants. This year, the recipients were The Haven of RCS, Suncoast Voices for Children, the Homeless Emergency Project, the College Fund of Pinellas, Pinellas County Historical Society with Heritage Village, and Kimberly Home Pregnancy Resource Center.
“We volunteer physically at different things like the food bank and Meals on Wheels and the libraries, but then we raise money with this fashion show that we give out to the community,” said Mary Jane Robbins, vice president of membership for the GFWC. “… They have to apply on our website, and they have to state what it is that they’re going to do with the money and we choose the six that we felt were the best ones. Then, after they give the money, they report back to us on how they used the money. It’s a good way to give back to the community.”
Robbins said she feels blessed to live in America and has been blessed in her life, so she wants to give back to the community and hopes others will do so as well.
Erica Weidemann, program director for The Haven, accepted the grant for the organization and said she is extremely grateful to the GFWC club for the grant.
“It’s terrific,” Weidemann said. “What we’re going to do is purchase new mattresses for the emergency safe house so when women and children come stay with us at the emergency safe house, they can rest more comfortably on newer mattresses.”
With the $1,000, Weidemann said the group is hoping to purchase about 100 mattresses, replacing the more worn ones they currently have. The Haven has 36 beds total, so these 100 beds would allow them to have plenty in reserve as well.
The Haven provides free and confidential services to survivors of domestic violence, helping more than 5,000 people each year.
“It’s very important to leave a domestic violence situation,” Weidemann said. “One of the scary things about a domestic violence situation is it’s very unpredictable. It can escalate and can lead to homicide. The important thing to remember is it’s their decision. We will be there to support them in whatever decision that they make. When you leave an abuser, it’s the most dangerous time in the relationship, so a safety plan needs to be into place so that they can leave safely.”
The Haven helps all throughout the process. The organization does great things, but it relies heavily on state, federal and local grants such as this one, she said. Many of the salaries are grant-based, she added. It’s thanks to grants and private donors that they can continue to help women and children escape from dangerous situations and begin a life of reedom, independence and safety.
Suncoast Voices for Children
Another $1,000 grant was awarded to the Suncoast Voices for Children, which was accepted by Carol Conaway, the organization’s president, and Rita Becchetti, one of its board members who wrote the grant.
“The organization, we’re in our 10th year, and that thrills us being that we’re a smaller organization, and during the downturn in the economy, nationwide I’m told that about 600,000 small nonprofits went under,” Conaway said. “We did not. And we are thankful for that.”
The organization is housed with the Child Protective Investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo, and they help serve kids in foster care. These children have been abused, neglected or abandoned, she said, and they also help in prevention to avoid other children from getting into such a situation.
Sometimes representatives with the Sheriff’s Office go to the hospitals and ask new parents where their newborn will sleep at home, Conaway said. The parents sometimes think their infant would be safe sleeping with mom and dad, but it is easy for adults to roll over onto the baby, smothering him or her, Conoway said.
“We keep emergency, free Pack and Plays on hand so the child protective investigators know they can take it and run with it, to give the child safe sleeping,” Conaway said. “So not only have we prevented a child from coming in the system, we perhaps have saved a life. So what we’re getting money for today is for beds. And that’s kind of prevention. We say ‘protect, prevention and provide.’ Another way we help is we had a child protective investigator go out and he found mattresses on the floor. They might think that’s fine, my kids would think of that as a campout. However, the little ones have accidents, and when they pulled the mattress up, it was filled with maggots. So we want a lot of single beds to get those up off the floors.”
Additionally, a lot of times when children have to be taken from their parents, there will be a relative who will want to take them. That way the kids can stay with someone familiar and also be able to stay together with any siblings, Conaway said. However, often a grandma or other relative will want to take them but not have anywhere for the children to sleep. Therefore, Suncoast Voices for Children also helps to provide bunk beds for these families.
“It’s very important that these children, if at all possible, can keep together as a unit,” Conaway said. “Because that’s all they have now. And we try very hard by keeping them with grandma, a lot of times they can stay in the same schools. As children move frequently, it’s very difficult on them. Studies have found that every time a child moves, they drop a letter grade in school. So if they move four times in a year, they’re failing.”
The Daisy Grant will be used for these various types of beds, Conaway said, though the organization helps in other ways as well, such as tutoring. She thanked the GFWC for the grant and said that nonprofit depends on local funding like this because they don’t take state or federal money. Even though $1,000 may not seem like a lot, to this group it’s huge, she said. Last year, she added, the organization spent $40,000 on beds alone. Additionally, it also helps foster kids with individual needs such as summer camp fees, music lessons, athletic equipment and other needs. In one instance, they helped a young lady who worked on the yearbook committee but couldn’t afford to purchase a book for herself. The organization purchased her yearbook for her.
The organization’s board of 16 people are all volunteers, and it only has two paid employees who work a combined total of 28 hours a week. Therefore, all donations and grants go directly to the kids, Conaway said.
Homeless Emergency Project
The Homeless Emergency Project, located in Clearwater, also received a $1,000 grant, which was accepted by Ashley Chango, director of marketing for the nonprofit.
“We’re very grateful, Chango said. “We’re going to use it to fund our family emergency housing. So we’ll split the grant into two $500 gifts to help families with move-in costs to help them move into an independent apartment. It will cover security and utilities. And our goal is to move two families out of our program within 90 days using the grant. And we’ll follow the families for up to a year after they’ve moved into an apartment just to make sure they remain stable. And aside from the grant helping them to move out, it also will open up two new spots so we can bring in two new families.”
HEP serves more than 1,500 people each year, with a capacity of about 400 people each night for emergency housing, Chango said. It’s a full-service agency, she said, and partners with numerous other programs and agencies to ensure the families can get the help that they need and get back into a stable situation.
People still often have a stereotype in their heads of who homeless people are, but this is often not a fair image, Chango said.
“The majority are families with children,” Chango said. “The stereotype continues, but these families are hidden, living in cars or with family and friends.”
HEP first provides for people’s immediate needs of shelter, food, clothing and a medical assessment. Then it can go further on a case-by case basis. Some people need dental care, others need help with job skills or mental health or addiction services.
Pinellas County is the third highest in the state for homelessness, and Florida is one of the top states in the country for homelessness, she said, so there is a huge need for these kinds of services. Grants like this are critical, as HEP is funded about a third from government grants, a third from individual donations, and a third from local grants like the Daisy Grant.
Chango invites members of the public to come tour HEP to see what it’s all about. Tours usually are possible Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but weekend exceptions can be made for larger groups, she said. People can call 442-9041.
The College Fund of Pinellas
The College Fund of Pinellas also received a grant, which was accepted by Audrey Scheindenhelm, first vice president of the organization. This is the nonprofit’s fourth time winning a Daisy Grant, and Scheindenhelm said she was thrilled about that. The grant will provide one college scholarship to a local student.
“It makes a great deal of difference,” Scheindenhelm said. “This way we have one more child who can get a scholarship.”
The grant ceremony came on another special day for the College Fund, as it was also celebrating its 50th anniversary. In that time, the nonprofit has awarded scholarships to nearly 1,000 students who have gone to school in 39 states at 128 different colleges, Scheindenhelm said.
The students who receive scholarships all qualify for the Pell Grant, which means there is a financial need for help, they are all U.S. citizens, many are the first in their families to go to college, and they must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average. The scholarships are renewable for up to four years of college, and they are connected with a mentor from the organization who follows them throughout their college experience.
“We really care,” Scheindenhelm said. “Of course our $1,000 won’t make or break them, but it pays for books. In today’s world, a college education is so important. And many of these children come back to our community. We have a doctor at Largo Medical and a teacher at Largo High.”
The organization is made up of all volunteers, and all funds raised and donated go directly to students. The board pays any overhead costs. The group helps about 40 students each year.
The Pinellas County Historical Society
Betty Crames, volunteer program coordinator with Heritage Village, accepted the grant for her organization.
“We’re very excited,” Crames said. “It’s nice to be supported by the community.”
The grant will buy six new display barrels for Heritage Village and allow for the purchase of items needed to keep the “Enter-Action” educational exhibit functional and available for local school children. More than 6,000 students visited Heritage Village in 2013, as well as 200,000 other visitors.
“As a teacher, you realize that it’s very hard to teach a child history out of a textbook,” Crames said. “But if you can get them involved in a hands-on activity, it helps bring it to life and build a lifelong journey of learning history that enriches your life and helps them make better decisions for the future.”
Grants and donations are critical to Heritage Village, as it has only three full-time employees, and all the rest are volunteers. Grants like this are critical to the continuation of the program, she said.
“I think the public should know how important this is to help encouraging young people to be interested in the history of Pinellas County,” Crames said. “Heritage Village saves houses that would be lost and that we could never get back again once they’re gone. It’s very important.”
Heritage Village is free and open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. and is located at 11909 125th St. N., Largo.
The Kimberly Home
Kate Kelly, CEO of The Kimberly Home accepted the final grant of the afternoon. This nonprofit is a pregnancy resource center that helps women and families in unplanned or troubling pregnancies. It provides numerous services, such as pregnancy testing, counseling, emotional support, a crisis line, maternity and infant clothing, baby food and diapers, educational classes, adoption resources, a daycare center for children ages 2 months to 2 years, referral services, and also transitional housing for pregnant women.
“We are excited because we’re building a new laundry room to help accommodate the number of women and babies that we have now (in the housing program,)” Kelly said. “(This grant) is going to provide one set of washer and dryers to help serve these women. Because there’s a lot of laundry when you have babies.”
The organization serves about 1,200 women each year and houses about 15 families a year, with about 23 kids living there at any one time.
“Because the economy is still recovering and the fact that there’s less money to go around for agencies like ours, these grants are critical,” Kelly said.
Where to get help
If someone has a friend or family member who they fear are a victim of domestic violence, call 441-2029. There is also a 24-hour emergency hotline at 442-4128. People can remain anonymous.
People who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless can call 442-9041. Even if HEP can’t offer help directly, volunteers will provide contact information for other organizations who can.
The Kimberly Home Pregnancy Resource Center is at 1189 NE Cleveland St., Clearwater and is open for appointments Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 8 p.m.; and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 443-0471.
How to help
People can donate by check or cash by calling the outreach number at 441-2029 for details. The group is also always in need of volunteers.
To donate, mail a check payable to College Fund of Pinellas County to The College Fund of Pinellas County, Inc., P.O. Box 673, Clearwater, FL 33757. The group also can use volunteers or a certified public accountant to provide a pro bono annual audit of the fund’s finances, email email@example.com.
GFWC Clearwater Woman’s Club
The club seeks more members. The group meets the third Tuesday of the month, September through May at the Clearwater Main Library, 100 N. Osceola Ave. Coffee time is 10 to 10:30 a.m., with the meeting starting at 10:30 a.m. The initiation fee for new members is $30, and yearly dues are $50. For more information, email Mary Jane Robbins at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Baby items area always needed, such as clothing, furniture and household items. These and other items also can be donated to the Kimberly Home Thrift Shoppe at 1601 Clearwater-Largo Road, Clearwater. To volunteer or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.