The Avedis Foundation has had a very productive five years in the area; evidence of its existence is plain to see all over the county — as well as some spaces outside of it.

The Avedis Foundation has had a very productive five years in the area; evidence of its existence is plain to see all over the county — as well as some spaces outside of it.

The foundation’s mission is to improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities — and that it's been doing for a handful of years now.

The name Avedis means one who brings glad tidings; the bearer of good news.

After learning about what Avedis does, even the toughest critic might have difficulty disagreeing with the name choice.

To date, the foundation has awarded hundreds of grants — totaling more than $19 million — to neighboring communities and programs, offering a boost over the usual hurdles of time restraints and tight budgets.

“Some days I get to play Santa, but we’re not giving a hand out, we’re giving a hand up,” Avedis President Michelle Briggs said. “We try to invest strategically throughout the county. We’re very careful about how we allocate our funds.”

She said the foundation has been pleased to contribute to so many exciting projects and initiatives in Pottawatomie County.

Just a few recent Avedis projects in Shawnee:

“After working with communities to identify needs, Avedis has initiated strategic partnerships and targeted investments throughout Pottawatomie County to promote real and lasting change,” Briggs said.

In short, the foundation has aided several area schools, city projects, nonprofits and social service organizations.

City of Shawnee projects

Shawnee City Manager Justin Erickson said Avedis has helped to substantially increase the quality of life for citizens of Shawnee and Pottawatomie County.

“They have specifically helped the city with the Shawnee Splash Aquatic Center, Splash Pad at Boy Scout Park, the Bryan Street Trail, the Expo Conference Center, and our ongoing sidewalk projects (5-year master plan and ODOT grant match),” he said. “In addition, they've assisted Shawnee Public Schools and led the effort to establish Community Renewal, Community Market of Pottawatomie County and Blue Zones, among many other efforts. These initiatives further help our community be a better place to live, work, raise a family, and attract visitors and economic investment.”

Given the limited funding streams available to municipal, educational and non-profit entities, he said he thinks it is without question that the assistance provided by the Avedis Foundation over the last five years has been critical to the progress of the entire region.

“I'm so thankful for the leadership provided by Michelle Briggs and the entire Avedis Staff and Board and look forward to working with them and other community partners to move the community forward,” he said.

Neighboring 101

Neighboring 101 is an organization created to eradicate poverty through education via a curriculum of Getting Ahead classes.

CEO Steve Palmer said the Avedis foundation has been instrumental in the success of Neighboring 101 Inc. “From our inception in 2014 until present everyone associated with The Avedis Foundation has been supportive of the work we do in the community — not only financially through a multi-year grant, but in so many other ways, as well,” he said. “The efforts of collaboration and mentorship provided to our Getting Ahead graduates, as well as our community volunteers by Michelle Briggs and her amazing staff has been incredible.”

The Avedis Foundation does so many things to inspire collaboration throughout Pottawatomie County, he said.

“In the past four years I have personally seen many changes in our community that lead me to believe the next several years hold a lot of promise and tremendous possibilities,” Palmer said. “The Avedis Foundation is a central figure in our community helping to create the momentum for sustainability we see occurring.”

He said he is thankful to Avedis for everything it does and for all the good it represents in and for the communities in Pottawatomie County.

Family Promise

Family Promise of Shawnee assists homeless families with the services they need to become self-sufficient and independent.

Family Promise Executive Director David Henry said he is grateful for the nonprofit's partnership with Avedis.

“Their support enables us to improve the quality of service to families with children transitioning from homelessness to regaining their stability,” he said. “Last year we served over a hundred families with donated furniture, appliances, and household items; for twenty-four of those families we provided a temporary home, meals, case management, obtaining their transportation, finding employment, and other resources — upon graduation they moved into permanent housing.”

With a grant from Avedis the nonprofit was able to provide services to families and make major improvements to its facilities and accommodations for families, Henry said.

“Our new storage facility allows us to keep donated furniture, appliances, and household items for families to have when they graduate from our program,” he said. “Our staff and volunteers have been the beneficiaries by participating in workshops, training events, and educational programs Avedis has sponsored throughout our community.”

He said his organization is forever grateful for what Avedis is doing throughout the community by standing beside local organizations like Family Promise.

“Especially at a time when our organization was in desperate need of this resource; their support a big part of our success,” he said. “Our ability to provide the quality of service we give to homeless families with children in our community has significantly strengthened because of our partnership with Avedis.”

More on the list

Some other big projects to be noted are Community Renewal, Community Market of Pottawatomie County, the Blue Zones Project and Shawnee Middle School Avedis Park.

Community Renewal

Community Renewal is quickly approaching its second year of operation as a nonprofit organization seeking to help neighbors restore community through three primary initiatives: the We Care team, Block Leaders initiative, and the Friendship House.

The We Care team encourages intentional acts of caring and promotes the importance of caring for neighbors through the display of “We Care” yard signs among a network of more than 2,000 homes so far.

The Block Leaders initiative now consists of more than 100 trained volunteers in Shawnee who work to restore a sense of community where they live by hosting block parties and getting to know neighbors.

The first Friendship House, currently under construction in the Kickapoo Park addition, will help the neighborhood to establish a caring infrastructure by providing a central, safe location for an after-school program and other activities. With the groundbreaking held in October 2017, completion of construction is anticipated by fall of 2018.

Plans are underway for a second Friendship House to be built on a lot donated by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.

Community Market of Pottawatomie County

A partner of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the Community Market of Pottawatomie County celebrated its first year of operation in June 2017.

In addition to serving more than 100,000 individuals so far, the Community Market has become a hub to connect clients with additional resources and partner organizations that provide educational opportunities.

Through the support of the community and volunteers, Community Market constructed a 7,000 square-foot community garden, significantly increasing the amount of fresh produce available to clients.

Blue Zones Project Kickoff

In 2017, Avedis Foundation became the sponsor of the first Blue Zones Project community in the state of Oklahoma.

Blue Zones is a nationally recognized, research-driven, well-being improvement initiative, designed to enable community members to live longer, happier lives with lower rates of chronic diseases and a higher quality of life.

To date, the project has engaged more than 48 organizations — including worksites, restaurants, schools, grocery stores, and faith-based communities, comprised of 215 volunteers and 1,181 individuals – who have committed to better health and well-being.

Representatives from tribes, government, education, hospitals, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations aim to guide Blue Zone priority plans in Shawnee. Along with local staff, a steering committee will work to ensure that all aspects of the population are incorporated in the planning.

Blue Zones committees focus on the three policy areas of tobacco, food, and built environment. Through positive environmental changes, the Project emphasizes healthy options to ensure that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice for all residents.

Avedis Park at Shawnee Middle School

The construction of Avedis Park, a transformational project to connect school and community, culminated with the park’s opening in September 2017 at Shawnee Middle School. The $1.5 million project gives the entire community improved accessibility and opportunities for health-related activities through newly constructed sidewalks, a walking trail, tennis courts, multi-use courts, and an outdoor amphitheater.

Some others include:

• Tecumseh Police Department, in honor of fallen Officer Justin Terney, to form the Tecumseh Police Foundation; an additional grant matched contributions made within the first year;

• The Pottawatomie County Education Initiative, established to support the academic progress of local students;

• Pioneer Library System, in partnership with the Pottawatomie County Health Department, to provide books to children;

• Legacy Parenting, to help families to become stronger and healthier through education, resources, and mentoring;

• Infant Crisis Center, to expand mobile services to Pottawatomie County;

• Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, to offer educational opportunities for local educators and youth.

How Avedis started

At one time, Pottawatomie County had two hospitals –– Mission Hill Memorial Hospital (which opened in 1964) and Shawnee Regional Hospital (which opened in 1967).

On Jan. 1, 2002, Mission Hill Memorial Hospital and Shawnee Regional Hospital merged to form Community Health Partners, Inc. (Unity Health Center).

Ten years later, Unity finalized an agreement with St. Anthony Network June 30, 2012, to join one of the largest, faith-based healthcare systems in the United States (SSM Health), becoming St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital.

Proceeds from the sale created Avedis, one of Oklahoma’s largest foundations.

Avedis retained all the Unity board members and began their new role on July 1, 2012, by investing in Pottawatomie County with a pledge of $35 million to help fund an expansion and renovation to the new St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital. The pledge has since been paid off.

Under the leadership of Briggs, Avedis is governed by a 13-member board of directors who also serve as the foundation’s grants committee.

Chuck Skillings, president of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, said, “Because of the foundation’s cooperative relationship with the hospital, we (are) able to advance health care to a whole new level,” Skillings said.

How long will it last?

Briggs said the foundation transitioned from public to private. As such, the Internal Revenue Service requires Avedis to give at least 5 percent per year.

As long Avedis makes that much and gives it away, the funding ball will keep rolling.

“We could be here forever,” Briggs said. “The impact will be huge.”

Avedis is in the top 20 Oklahoma foundations, regarding amount of assets it has to work with, Briggs said.

In comparison, Sarkeys –– a well-known foundation based in Norman –– gives statewide, and they are a little smaller than Avedis, Briggs said, but Avedis channels nearly all of its money into the Pottawatomie County area.

“Others in the state are noticing what we’re doing –– some are in other counties. We will work to develop those partnerships, as well,” Briggs said, but the foundation’s focus is stayed on two areas: social services and quality of life in Pottawatomie County.

Briggs said there are two types of foundations: reactive and proactive. Reactive foundations take in applications from those asking for help. Proactive foundations look for ways to reach out and help.

“We do both. We’re in a position to see needs and bring groups together with similar needs and develop one project to address it,” she said.

Briggs said she is always on the lookout for collaborative efforts that help many groups at the same time.

Ongoing

The Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute provides hands-on assistance from professional facilitators who address several areas of organizational challenges for nonprofits, including best practices for short- and long-term planning, evaluation of existing programs, fundraising, board and staff development and community outreach. Four nonprofits are chosen to participate each year.

The mission of the Avedis Speaker Series is to bring accomplished and distinguished speaker to the area to provide insight into the critical issues facing communities. They also aspire to motivate and inspire residents, promote constructive leadership and encourage collaboration.

Collaborative partnerships are a priority for Avedis.

The goal is to work together to address complex community issues.

“This approach may involve convening or collaborating with nonprofits, education systems, community organizations, city and county government, key stakeholders, or additional funders to focus on problem solving and attaining achievable outcomes,” the website states.

Avedis accepts grant requests from eligible nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations and other non-taxable entities in Pottawatomie County and surrounding communities through an online application process.

Passing the baton

Briggs has announced retirement plans in June; a search is ongoing to fill her position.

Also, Avedis has a new headquarters under construction at 1500 E. Independence in Shawnee.

For more information about Avedis, currently at 3903 N. Harrison, call (405) 273-4055 or visit avedisfoundation.org.

Avedis Board of Directors:

Michelle Briggs, Avedis president

Mike Adcock, Avedis board chair

Mark Finley, financial industry​

Dr. Sudhir Gupta, Shawnee Heart Center

Joe Hodges, president, SSM Oklahoma

Dr. Kathleen Laster, Impact Consulting

Linda Praytor, business owner

Charles Shields, retired educator, education consultant​​

Chuck Skillings, president, St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital

Dr. John Robinson, Robinson Eye Institute

Lawrence Stasyszen, OSB: Abbot, St. Gregory’s Abbey

Dr. Stephen Trotter, St. Anthony Physicians Shawnee

Mike Warwick, attorney

Information from the Avedis Foundation website, at avedisfoundation.org.