Nonprofits collaborate to serve the community

"Nonprofit organizations are essential to our community, not only from the perspective of mission fulfillment, but also as a significant part of our local economy," says John Stremsterfer, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. "The nonprofit sector is incredibly dynamic and fills vital roles for the betterment of educational attainment, health outcomes, cultural richness, economic development, animal welfare, environmental preservation and so much more."

Stremsterfer also says collaboration among multiple nonprofits makes for more effective and lasting outcomes. Following are examples of local nonprofits collaborating to address complex problems, provide educational programs, serve community needs, be more efficient and fulfill their respective missions.

Compass for Kids and Kidzeum

Compass for Kids and the Kidzeum of Health and Science both serve youth in the Springfield area and have a history of collaboration. Kidzeum staff visit Club Compass sites to lead STEAM activities, and Compass for Kids staff visit Kidzeum to lead social-emotional learning lessons.

Both organizations needed a marketing staff member, but neither had sufficient funding to hire a full-time person. The nonprofits decided to share the cost, determined it was best to have one organization be the primary employer and signed a formal agreement. Kidzeum and Compass for Kids co-wrote the job description, interviewed candidates and selected Christy Freeman Stark, who started in November 2023. Stark's responsibilities are split 50/50 between the two organizations with appropriate timekeeping. Kidzeum pays Compass for Kids half of the cost, and Compass for Kids handles payroll and benefits. They collaborate on performance evaluations.

For Compass for Kids, Stark is responsible for developing and implementing an annual marketing and communications plan, managing social media, updating the website and doing graphic design for marketing materials. For Kidzeum, Stark manages graphic design, advertising, public relations and external communications.

click to enlarge Nonprofits collaborate to serve the community
Quinn Allen, Kidzeum STEAM Educator, helping Harvard Park Club Compass students build their own rockets and learn about forces that help an object take flight.

Molly Berendt, CEO of Compass for Kids, says the initial benefit of this partnership was financial and being able to attract and hire a director-level employee by offering a full-time position with benefits.

"Additionally, it's helped to deepen a collaborative relationship where each organization feels comfortable sharing our inner workings, and we can help each other grow and improve," she said.

Leah Wilson, executive director of Kidzeum, cites the benefits of finding a creative solution that fills a critical role. "Small, startup nonprofits often run pretty lean – sometimes too lean, which leaves key positions understaffed, or unfilled altogether, causing organizational strain and underperformance."

Grace Lutheran Church Food Pantry and Full Measure

For 50 years, the Grace Lutheran Food Pantry, founded as a community ministry program of Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Springfield, has provided food and personal items for people in need. In 2023, the pantry served 9,039 households and 23,437 individuals, a fourfold increase in the last 30 years.

Numerous organizations and many volunteers make the pantry possible. Grace Lutheran, First Presbyterian, St. John's Lutheran, Our Savior's Lutheran and Peace Lutheran are the anchor churches. The churches provide substantial financial donations and volunteers. Our Savior's School provides food donations through an annual Thanksgiving drive. Grace Lutheran Church also contributes in-kind support.

Many other churches, schools, businesses, scout troops, individuals and community organizations also contribute food, personal hygiene items and cash donations. The pantry receives significant grants from the King's Daughters Organization fund and St. Joseph Home Legacy of Care Fund managed by the CFLL. There was a surge in donations at the onset of COVID-19, but also an increase in demand when COVID-relief funding declined.

The unsung heroes are the approximately 60 volunteers who run the pantry. They contributed 4,800 volunteer service hours in 2023. Volunteers pick up and load food, pack bags with non-perishable foods and personal hygiene items, log clients into a computer database, ensure compliance with Central Illinois Food Bank guidelines and distribute food at the curb. The volunteers, who are primarily seniors, benefit from socialization and working alongside each other.

click to enlarge Nonprofits collaborate to serve the community
Clients line up in their vehicles and on foot to be served at the Grace Lutheran Food pantry outdoor distribution point along Capitol Avenue next to Grace Lutheran Church. Each client receives non-perishable foods, meat, milk, eggs bread and a bag of personal hygiene items.

Clients may visit the pantry once a month and do not need to provide proof of income. Curbside service is provided on Capitol Avenue, just east of Seventh Street, directly across from the public library, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is now a priority to provide healthier and more fresh foods.

Melissa Hostetter is a former social worker who now teaches middle school in District 186. She created an initiative called Full Measure to bridge the gap between food pantries and families without transportation. Full Measure volunteers pick up food supplied by various pantries and deliver to Springfield households. Grace Lutheran Food Pantry is the primary pantry they use since volunteers can drive up, provide the names of the families being served and readily access an assortment of nutritious food.

"We've definitely come a long way in 50 years," said Doug McFarlan, volunteer director of the pantry. "It's heartbreaking to see the need, but fulfilling to try to help meet the need and to watch our clients do their best to provide for their families."

Local organizations partner to better address unsheltered homeless

Homelessness is a complex issue that numerous organizations are working to address locally through multiple initiatives. "We know that strategies to effectively connect people who are unsheltered to resources require consistent, coordinated outreach, relationship building and trust and strong collaboration across partners," says Josh Sabo, executive director of Heartland HOUSED.

In February, Heartland Continuum of Care partners began a 100-Day Challenge with technical support from RE!NSTITUTE, with the goal of better understanding and addressing the challenges connected to the unsheltered homeless in our community. Twelve people representing Heartland HOUSED, Helping Hands, Washington Street Mission, Memorial Behavioral Health, SIU and other community members with direct experience attended a two-day summit in Joliet to plan and set goals for the challenge. Cohorts from Rockford, s uburban Cook County and Will County also participated.

Over the 100 days from February into May, community partners are working to develop a by-name list of all people experiencing homelessness in Springfield and Sangamon County. They are working to create new tools to improve data collection and success of referrals and build on existing community initiatives such as the Springfield Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team. At the end of the 100-Day Challenge the partners will report what they have learned and next steps.

Lincoln Memorial Garden, The Outlet and Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise

Boys from The Outlet are enjoying field trips to Lincoln Memorial Garden thanks to a grant the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise received from Rotary District 6460. For many of the boys, this was their first opportunity to visit LMG and have an outdoor learning experience. During the first field trip last fall, the boys hiked the trails and learned about plants and animals as well as environmental career opportunities. In February, the boys enjoyed a maple syrup demonstration. A third field trip will be in the spring to see woodland wildflowers.

Several members of Sunrise Rotary participated in the field trips. Rotarian Cindy Davis commented how polite and attentive the boys were and that she also learned a lot. Individual Rotary clubs can apply for district grants, which are funded by donations to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International from clubs throughout west and central Illinois.

click to enlarge Nonprofits collaborate to serve the community
Boys from The Outlet enjoyed learning about tapping trees to make maple syrup at Lincoln Memorial Garden.

Through this collaboration, boys from The Outlet had an outdoor experience they would not likely have had otherwise and LMG reached a new audience. Rotarians were able to see the impact of their donations first-hand. The organizations are also exploring opportunities for additional educational programming by LMG on-site at The Outlet's campus.

John James, director of community programming for The Outlet, says their mentees have enjoyed exploring nature, from "observing a steady-eyed eagle clutch its prey between its talons, to skipping rocks and counting its ripples across Lake Springfield, to pressing a hand-drill into a maple tree to cause it to yield its sap. Our ventures have been educational, relaxing and inspiring."

Collaborations to present exhibits and public programs

Nonprofit organizations collaborate to produce a myriad of public programs and educational offerings. The Educational Center for the Visually Impaired is working with the Springfield Art Association to present an exhibition, "What Art Feels Like." The show includes work by 23 artists from the Springfield area and five other states. It is especially designed for the visually impaired, who can't typically attend an art exhibit, and for the sighted to be able to touch art made from metal, wood, paper, fabric, glass and more. The opening reception is April 5 at the SAA, 700 N. 4th St., 5:30-7:30 p.m. The exhibit extends through April 27. Visitors can use a Seeing AI app to listen to descriptions of the art.

The Sangamon County Historical Society presents monthly programs and frequently partners with other community organizations to raise awareness about local history. The April 16 program will be a tour and program by Ken Page at the Historic Engine House 5, 1310 E. Adams St., at 5:30 p.m. Known as Springfield's colored firehouse, the building is now owned by the Central Lodge #3 Prince Hall Masons, the oldest and longest continuously operating African American fraternal organization in Springfield. The May program hosted by SCHS is scheduled for May 21 and will honor the legacy of Underground Railroad conductors, including those buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. The program will be at the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum, 1440 Monument Ave., at 5:30 p.m.

Becoming a member of area nonprofits can result in benefits that extend far beyond Springfield. Museums, gardens and zoos have reciprocal programs within their discipline that may include free admission at participating institutions. For example, LMG is a member of the American Horticultural Society's Reciprocal Admissions Program. Kidzeum is part of the Association of Children's Museums, and the Illinois State Museum Society and SAA participate in the North America Reciprocal Museum Association.

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