Wrapping up another year, Pottawatomie County continues to be the apple of the Avedis Foundation's eye.

Wrapping up another year, Pottawatomie County continues to be the apple of the Avedis Foundation's eye.

Since being formed in 2012, the local foundation has granted more than $40 million in the Pottawatomie County area, committing investments into specific projects or organizations related to health and wellness, social services, arts and culture, civic and community initiatives, and education.

Three of the perhaps the most visible of Avedis' flagship initiatives were expanded last year: Community Renewal, Blue Zones Project and Community Market.

The push underscores the foundation’s focus to address community needs and help drive long-term culture changes.

Community Renewal

Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County supports the community through programming and infrastructure designed to restore neighborhoods from within by promoting neighbor-to-neighbor relationships and by providing central, safe locations for after-school programs and other neighborhood activities.

In 2019, the organization trained 155 residents to become block leaders in identified neighborhoods, an increase of 63 percent over the year before. Neighborhoods hosted 225 gatherings with more than a thousand participating neighbors.

In its three years in operation here, Community Renewal has gained national attention for its implementation of several Kids Clubs programs in local schools — supported by a curriculum developed in Shawnee that emphasizes character development, emotional regulation, healthy relationships and leadership.

Eight area schools participate in Kids Clubs: Jefferson Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, Pleasant Grove Elementary, Sequoyah Elementary, Will Rogers Elementary, McLoud Middle School, Shawnee Middle School and Shawnee High School.

In 2019, Avedis awarded a $460,434 grant to Community Renewal.

Blue Zones Project

Blue Zones Project is a global well-being initiative to support healthy lifestyle habits that promote longevity and quality of life. Shawnee is the first community in Oklahoma to be part of the Blue Zones initiative, with an aim of making healthy choices easier through permanent changes to the city’s environment, policies and social networks.

Avedis reports that, in 2019, local Blue Zones initiatives impacted nearly 4,000 workers through updated programs and policies at approved worksites. Among those worksites are eight of the city’s largest employers, seven restaurants, six public schools, and two grocery stores.

Other milestones in 2019 that align with the Blue Zones Project initiative include:

• adoption of the Complete Streets policy by the City of Shawnee, requiring that streets be designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe transportation for all people;

• approval of the 19th Blue Zones-approved local worksite;

• several community purpose workshops, which hosted nearly 775 attendees, focusing on how to live longer, happier lives;

Avedis Foundation President and CEO, Dr. Kathy Laster said there are not many opportunities in life to bring change to a community that can have a positive outcome for generations to come.

“We are fortunate to have so many large groups of dedicated volunteers who are committed to such a change,” she said. “The local Blue Zones Project staff continues to provide superb leadership to make our community a healthier place for all.”

Community Market of Pottawatomie County

Community Market of Pottawatomie County aims to reduce food insecurity and hunger within the nonprofit’s surrounding area. As the state’s largest relief organization — in terms of clients served — Community Market provided more than 2.5 million meals in 2019, in addition to nutrition-related programming and referrals to other social service organizations in the area.

In December 2019, Avedis Foundation awarded a grant of nearly $158,000 to Community Market to support six programs, including a senior health program that offers healthy food options to at-risk seniors and a garden program that delivers fresh, healthy foods to those who would otherwise not have access to them.

Community Market Executive Director Daniel Matthews said the Avedis Foundation’s commitment to fight food insecurity and increase the quality of life in the community is inspiring.

“Community Market of Pottawatomie County is dedicated to meeting the needs of thousands in our community who face hunger on a daily basis,” Laster said. “They continue to provide a dignified service that is honorable and fair to those who need it the most.”

Establishing a sustainability program

Avedis introduced a sustainability program in 2019, developed to assist local organizations in establishing sustainability, defined as the organization’s ability to cover 100 percent of its operating expenses within 10 years.

Four local nonprofits began participating in the sustainability program last year: Community Market, Community Renewal, Legacy Parenting Center and South Central Industries.

“In order to reduce nonprofits’ reliance on foundation grants and fundraising, our board has approved a leading-edge innovation, the Sustainability Grant Program, to assist them in their efforts to become self-sustaining over time,” Laster said. “The idea is to help nonprofits develop a business or social enterprise whose revenues can be used to fund the organization’s mission, which will have a very favorable impact on nonprofit services and overall economic development.”

Health Week

Avedis Foundation hosted Health Week 2019, a citywide celebration of health and wellness for the community, from May 24-31. The foundation collaborated with several community partners to organize family-friendly activities and events designed to promote healthy habits and active lifestyles for all age groups. In addition, the foundation hosted a keynote luncheon that featured FOX Sports 1's Jenna Wolfe, host of the network's First Things First. Wolfe, a longtime broadcast journalist, is the author of Thinner in 30: Small Changes That Add Up to Big Weight Loss in Just 30 Days. Her keynote presentation addressed staying motivated to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Schools

More than 1,300 educators from all 15 Pottawatomie County school districts participated in the 2019 Celebrate Teachers professional development event hosted by Avedis in August.

Gerry Brooks, author of Go See the Principal: True Tales from the School Trenches, was the event’s keynote speaker. Brooks is an elementary school principal from Lexington, Kentucky, whose presentation included personal stories and humorous anecdotes to illustrate how teachers can improve their instructional abilities through personal climate and culture strategies in the classroom.

Avedis Foundation Board Member Michael P. Warwick said the presentation by Brooks was both informative and entertaining.

“I spoke with several teachers in attendance,” Warwick said, “and they were unanimous in their appreciation for the presentation and for the foundation’s sponsorship for the Celebrate Teachers event.”

Laster said it was an honor to sponsor Celebrate Teachers for its third year.

“Avedis Foundation places great importance on one of our county’s most valuable resources — our teachers — and it was a thrill to bring so much talent together for a day of professional growth and development,” Laster said.

Roundtable meetings

Twenty area nonprofit leaders participated in Avedis Foundation’s Executive Director Nonprofit Roundtable monthly professional development meetings throughout 2019 to exchange information with their peers, provide professional support, and further their education on issues that are unique to the nonprofit industry.

Other grants

Avedis Foundation awarded nearly $2 million in grants to several local organizations in 2019:

• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma — to provide one-to-one mentoring for local children;

• Cities of Chandler and Prague — to support Safer Routes to Schools projects;

• City of Tecumseh — to fund the construction of Timber Ridge Park;

• Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries of Oklahoma, Inc. — to provide camp tuition for five local children;

• Gateway to Prevention and Recovery — to expand a wellness program;

• Gordon Cooper Technology Center — for its STEM on Wheels program;

• Infant Crisis Services — to provide funding for BabyMobile site visits;

• Junior Achievement of Oklahoma — for curriculum support for Pottawatomie Schools;

• Legacy Parenting Center — to support parent education and parent/child resources from pregnancy to age five;

• Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art — to support educational programming;

• Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility — to help fund its R.I.S.E. training and job placement program;

• Mobile Smiles — to provide dental services and education for Pottawatomie County adults and seniors without dental insurance;

• Oklahoma Fall Arts Institute — to support professional development scholarships for Shawnee-area educators;

• Pioneer Library System — to provide books for children;

• Salvation Army Shawnee Boys and Girls Club — to support local after-school programs;

• Shawnee Forward Business Alliance/2018-19 Leadership Class — to support a 5K fun run, Hit the Bricks, to benefit Legacy Parenting Center; and

• Shawnee YMCA to expand services and community outreach programs

About Avedis

Avedis Foundation, at 1500 E. Independence in Shawnee, was established to invest in the county through grants that support projects and benefit nonprofit organizations within the foundation’s granting area.

The name “Avedis” means “one who brings glad tidings,” or “the bearer of good news,” a significance

intrinsic to the foundation's mission, “to measurably improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.” To underscore the relevance of the name and the foundation’s role as a benefactor to the community, Avedis Foundation can also be recognized by its signature statement, “We’re here for good.”

For more information, visit avedisfoundation.org.