Avedis Foundation Shares 2019 Highlights

Staff Writer
The Shawnee News-Star

Avedis Foundation has shared highlights of its grants, initiatives, and partnerships from 2019. Since being formed in 2012, the Shawnee-based foundation has granted more than $40 million in Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities, focusing on areas of health and wellness, social services, arts and culture, civic and community initiatives, and education.

Speaking on behalf of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, Board Chair Mark Finley stated, “We see 2019 as a year of significant progress for our community, and it’s truly an honor for the Board of Directors to be part of projects that contribute to that progress. Through the combined efforts of the Foundation, our community partners, and numerous volunteers, we continue to make great strides toward improving our community’s quality of life, now and for future generations.”

2019 Highlights

The 2019 expansion of three flagship initiatives underscored the Foundation’s commitment to address critical community needs and help drive long-term culture changes that benefit the community: Community Renewal, Blue Zones Project and Community Market.

Community Renewal, a relatively young organization in 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% over 2018. Neighborhoods hosted 225 gatherings with more than a thousand participating neighbors.

During its three-year existence, Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County has also gained national attention for its successful 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 currently 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 Foundation awarded a grant of $460,434 to Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County.

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 Foundation 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.

Additional milestones in 2019 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 nineteenth Blue Zones-approved local worksite, First United Bank;

• 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 observed, “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. 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 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 stated, “Avedis Foundation’s commitment to fight food insecurity and increase the quality of life in our 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,” observed Avedis President Dr. Kathy Laster said, noting, “They continue to provide a dignified service that is honorable and fair to those who need it the most.”

Sustainability Grant Program Implemented

Avedis Foundation introduced a sustainability program in 2019, developed to assist local organizations in establishing sustainability, defined as the organization’s ability to cover 100% of its operating expenses within 10 years. Four local nonprofits began participating in the sustainability program last year: Community Market of Pottawatomie County, Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County, 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 nonprofits in their efforts to become self-sustaining over time,” Laster stated. “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,” Laster added.

Foundation Continues Support of Signature Projects in 2019

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.

More than 1,300 educators from all 15 Pottawatomie County school districts participated in the 2019 Celebrate Teachers professional development event hosted by Avedis Foundation on August 5.

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 found the presentation by Brooks to be both informative and entertaining. “I spoke with several teachers in attendance,” Warwick noted, “and they were unanimous in their appreciation for the presentation and for the Foundation’s sponsorship for the Celebrate Teachers event.”