Avedis Foundation President Dr. Kathy Laster offered a report to City Commissioners recently, updating the Shawnee officials about what the nonprofit has been up to lately.

Avedis Foundation President Dr. Kathy Laster offered a report to City Commissioners recently, updating the Shawnee officials about what the nonprofit has been up to lately.

In a brief overview, Laster started the presentation by sharing a look at the core values that drive Avedis: compassion, innovation, stewardship, collaboration and humility.

Since its inception in 2012, Laster said the Avedis Foundation has invested approximately $40 million in Pottawatomie County communities, including a $15 million match of the cost of building the SSM hospital tower in Shawnee.

The bulk of that total, about 46 percent has been given toward projects that encourage health and wellness, followed by social services (22 percent); civic and community (19 percent); education (12 percent); and arts and culture (1 percent).

In several partnership opportunities with the City of Shawnee, Avedis has spent $4,616,483.87 toward projects like many walking trails, a remodel at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, splash pads all over the county, a public transit study and the Broadway Avenue Marquee Project.

Just more than $1.9 million has been doled out to the Shawnee Public Schools District for many upgrades and programs.

Some of the strategic investments initiated through Avedis include Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County, the Blue Zones Project and Community Market of Pottawatomie County, Laster said.

“Community Renewal now has 155 Block Leaders and 3,520 residents who have committed to a pledge as part of the We Care. Team,” she said. “And the group has 20 Kids Clubs now in Shawnee schools.”

Blue Zones Project has made similar strides.

“Nearly 4,000 people have been impacted through updates programs and policies at approved worksites,” Laster explained.

Eight of the area's largest employers, seven restaurants, six schools and three walking school buses, and two grocery stores have become Blue Zones Project approved sites, she reported.

Homeland became tobacco-free, she said — completely ending the sale of tobacco products in their stores.

Community Market has served 22.3 percent of Pottawatomie County residents, Laster said — distributing more than 2.5 million pounds of food.

Avedis' beginning

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.

With assets in excess of $100 million, Avedis' first president, Michelle Briggs, assumed the foundation’s leadership role at the time of its formation.

At the end of June of 2018, Briggs retired and former board member Laster took the reins.

Some of the numerous projects, initiatives and partnerships benefiting the communities within the foundation’s service area include:

• Collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) for the construction of trails in six Pottawatomie County communities;

• Establishment of a citywide Master Trail Plan, in partnership with the City of Shawnee, consisting of planned trails to be constructed in four phases; the completed project, which will provide a network of walkability across Shawnee for years to come, is currently in Phase 2;

• Launch of Oklahoma’s first Blue Zones Project (Shawnee); 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;

• Construction of Avedis Park at Shawnee Middle School, a $1.5 million project that includes four multi-purpose courts, an outdoor amphitheater, an outdoor classroom, and a walking/biking trail which is open to the school and to the entire community;

• Construction of the Shawnee Water Park, the Maud swimming pool, numerous splash pads, school security systems, and playgrounds throughout Pottawatomie County and surrounding communities;

• Partnership with the Regional Food Bank for the establishment of the Community Market of Pottawatomie County, a client-choice, free grocery store, available to anyone in need of nutritious food;

• Funding for and collaboration with the Partners in Caring education initiative, which consists of a collaboration of numerous agencies in service of children;

• Establishment of Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County, a relational program designed to put intentional caring back into our neighborhoods, to provide free summer camps and after-school programs for children through the construction of the program’s first "Friendship House,” currently underway, with a second in the planning stages;

• Funding a licensed cosmetology school at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud; the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma, the program allows inmates to become licensed prior to their release from prison;

• Establishment of Shawnee’s annual Health Week, engaging the community through different events every day and culminating in a Glow Run;

• Establishment of the Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute; in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and independent consultants, the focus of the Avedis program is to enhance the capacity of area nonprofits through courses in marketing, board development, strategic planning, and more;

• Establishment of the Avedis Speaker Series, which brings nationally renowned speakers to Pottawatomie County to broaden knowledge and thinking on various topics.

For more information, visit the Avedis Foundation website, at avedisfoundation.org.