The name Avedis means one who brings glad tidings; the bearer of good news. After learning about what the Avedis Foundation does, even the toughest critic might have difficulty disagreeing with the name choice.

Note: An in-depth look at how the Avedis Foundation –– in just two years –– has reinvested millions of dollars so far through 149 grants awarded to programs and events in the Pottawatomie County area, bringing better quality of life to area residents.

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

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

The foundation’s mission is to improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.

To back up that claim, Michelle Briggs, Avedis president and CEO, can offer 149 examples of the nonprofit putting its money where its mouth is.

That’s how many grants have been handed out by Avedis in the last two years.

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

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

Briggs said Avedis awarded a $220,000 grant for the Shawnee Salvation Army program Bridges out of Poverty over a three-year period.

“It has enabled us to empower our clients, so they can take control of their lives,” Capt. Philip Canning, of the Salvation Army, said.

Regarding the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club grant, Briggs said the foundation helped fund a remodel and also set up a three-year Sponsor a Child program for those who could not afford to send their children to the facility.

Canning said, “It’s helped us provide a safer place for children in the community after school and in the summer. We are now better able to help school kids achieve greatness in their studies.”

To date, Avedis has awarded more than $1 million to area schools, as well as providing other grants that also affect the schools.

Karen Bays Winslow, county coordinator and branch manager of Shawnee Public Library, said, “We are grateful for a three-year project to install rotating book collections for some of our rural schools in Pottawatomie County. Maud, Asher, Wanette and Macomb schools needed newer materials they couldn’t afford, and the library couldn’t afford to do it either, but with the funding from Avedis, we were able to achieve it.”

“Before the grant, we went away from those schools feeling sad.” Winslow said. “It bothered me. Because of a lack of funding, these schools were doing without things they needed. Every child should have an equal chance to develop and learn. It means a lot.”

Grants directly funded to the schools encompass several projects.

A $360,000 grant was awarded for renovation to Maud’s public pool, which is owned by the school system.

Pleasant Grove received $60,098 for a Get Fit! pilot project that may later be incorporated into other school systems.

Gordon Cooper Technology Center received $107,180 for teacher and student STEM (Science. Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) training, which includes upper elementary and middle school teacher STEM training, as well as summer STEM camps for students.

Briggs said, “We have provided funding for ADA-compliant playgrounds and security systems for Asher, McLoud, Tecumseh and Bethel.

White Rock –– just across the border into Lincoln County –– also received money for a playground, as well as an outdoor classroom.”

She said grants were also awarded for the staffing of key health and counseling positions to serve public schools in Asher, Maud, Wanette and Macomb.

Shawnee Public Schools received $89,500 in grant funding for security systems.

Susan Field, principal at Horace Mann, said, “We went from two cameras to 14. Before, we had a camera in the office and at the front door. Now we have them down every hall, entryway and on the playground.”

It has cut down on discipline problems.

“I can show students the cameras and it works as a deterrent from misbehavior,” she said. “We were able to sort out a situation with a bicycle that went missing from a bike rack pretty quickly because of the camera system,” Field said.

“I can also pull it up on my phone, so if I’m away at an event or workshop, or it’s late at night, I can check up on the school any time.”

Field said another grant the school benefits from is the Horse Tales Literacy Project.

“Charla Bundy with the C-Bar Horsemanship program –– who has also received an Avedis grant for $5,800 –– does horse therapy with autistic kids,” Field said. “We piggy-backed an idea from Turning Point Riding Center in Stillwater.”

The first step in the Horse Tales program involves bringing a pony to the school –– that day first-graders will receive their books.

Over a six-week period, students will learn how to read the book they are given.

As the children receive books, the first grade teachers receive a 200-page curriculum.

Then, after the six weeks, the children will come back to C-Bar’s facility for a field day.

During this field day, the children will rotate to different stations and will read their books to the horses.

Field said the program affects about 75 children at the school.

Dr. Marc Moore, Shawnee Public Schools superintendent, said, “Our Shawnee Parents as Teachers (SPAT) program has served pregnant and parenting teens and other families in the community for over 23 years.

“The State Department of Education failed to fund our program during the 2013-14 school year, and the Avedis Foundation was there to make sure the program continued,” he said. “Their generosity ensured that 70 families –– all of whom have children less than two years old –– continued to receive support.”

Moore said the State Department of Education resumed its funding of the program during the past two school years, so the Avedis grant allowed the school to serve pregnant and parenting teens and other families without any break in service.

“The Avedis Foundation helped the SPAT program when it needed it the most,” Moore said.

SPAT is a home-based, family visitation program designed to improve healthy child development by working with parents during their children’s early years with the goal of having every child arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.

The Parent Educators visit parents monthly and focus on one of four areas of development: cognitive, social, motor and language skills. More specifically, parent educator’s responsibilities include screening children annually or as needed, assuring that normal developmental milestones are being met, referring children for additional service agencies when warranted, and conferencing regularly with families to problem solve, such as housing questions, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) referrals, well baby and immunization schedules, childcare issues, transportation problems, and child support enforcement. Parent educators also conduct group meetings for parents with topics chosen based on need and interest, conduct teen parent meetings at Shawnee High School and Jim Thorpe Alternative Academy, and coordinate with Early Head Start –– a daycare located at Jim Thorpe Academy –– to assist teen parents graduate from high school. Last year, SPAT served 28 pregnant or parenting teens –– with 12 of those teen parents graduating from high school.

The SPAT program possesses an extensive resource library for families, which includes age- appropriate reading materials, toys, and activity files. SPAT normally operates ten months a year, starting in September and ending in June.

The Avedis grant award was $21,000.

Shawnee Middle School received a grant to help install 25 cameras in the school.

“This has had a huge impact on discipline in our buildings as students, faculty and parents now know that anytime they are in the building their actions are being recorded,” Colby Cagle, Shawnee Middle School principal, said. “This has cut down on horse playing and bullying within the halls and common areas.”

Cagle said, “Without the Avedis grant, a purchase of this size would take years to install and by the time we were able to install that many cameras our original technology would have been outdated. Since the installation we have been able to keep up with repair and maintenance on the system and add additional cameras to now over 30.”

Cagle said, “I’m very thankful for the Avedis Foundation and the relationship Shawnee Schools has with them, and I look forward to working with them in the future.”

He said the foundation has had a tremendous impact on the students of Shawnee schools and to everyone within the Shawnee area.

“Their fitness trails in Shawnee (a $642,000 grant) and Bethel Acres (a $30,000 grant) have provided safe, reliable walking areas for all ages, as well as made a positive impact on the aesthetics of the surrounding area. The updated parks, swimming pools, and splash pads have had a positive impact on individuals in the area by providing a happy and fun family activity,” Cagle said.

Mayor Wes Mainord mirrored Cagle’s sentiments.

“I truly feel that our city and the county have received a bountiful gift; it is difficult to put into words the immediate effect –– and especially the long term effect –– on our community that the Avedis Foundation has made, and for years to come,” Mainord said.

The staff at Avedis and its board have made some great decisions to support things that are for the better health and wellness of our city and the surrounding counties, he said. “When you see things like the trail on Bryan, the pool (a $616,600 matching grant), the splash pad –– and the fact that they are investing in things like Community Renewal and working closely with the Food Bank in its new pantry –– what they are investing in is going to make this entire area a better place for everyone.”

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.

Briggs said, “At this point, we only owe the hospital $10 million and we will have that paid off by the end of the year.”

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

“We’re extremely pleased that Avedis –– in its new role as a foundation –– is continuing support of the expansion that was started before the sale,” Chuck Skillings, president of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, said. “Because of the foundation’s cooperative relationship with the hospital, we will be able to advance health care to a whole new level,” Skillings said.

How long will it last?

Briggs said, “We are a transition foundation. We have been working our way from being public to becoming a private foundation,” she said. “In the next year, we will be fully private. At that point, the Internal Revenue Service will require us to give at least 5 percent per year –– for us, that equates to around $5 million.”

She said, “If we can make $5M a year, and give it away, we could be here forever. 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 is channeling nearly all of its money into the Pottawatomie County area.

“We have a $125 million asset base to work from,”

Briggs said. “And 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.

Long-term plans

Brandon Dyer is employed by Avedis to head the Community Renewal project –– a relationship program that aims at bringing caring back into the community. The foundation just finished a survey, Briggs said. The data is being analyzed right now. “We have invested $300,000 in it so far. We took a delegation to Shreveport, Louisiana, in November to check it out, a group is leaving today for another trip, and we’ll probably go again sometime next month.

Shreveport’s program is designed to re-establish neighborhoods by re-establishing relationships.

For more information, visit communityrenewal.us.

The Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute, that was launched last year, 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.

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

Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.