The foundation lending a helping hand to local nonprofits

Illustration by Madison Cohen

Since 1987, the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff (ACF) has helped support nonprofit organizations throughout northern Arizona with grants and donations. Most recently, the foundation announced the Flagstaff and northern Arizona COVID-19 Community Response Fund to help nonprofits stay functional during the pandemic.

ACF has six offices across the state and partners with donors to distribute necessary funds. Pats Shriver, the regional director of the foundation's Flagstaff office, said the foundation is working to support nonprofits that provide basic needs such as food, shelter, hospice and many others.

“We have statewide funding available for any nonprofit to apply to,” Shriver said. “We are reading and scoring grants every single week. Last week, we had 222 [grant applications] come in that a group of people is reviewing, scoring and recommending funding.”

While the foundation has distributed several grants to date, Shriver said she expects applications to increase due to financial difficulties caused by COVID-19. In the course of two weeks, Shriver said the foundation distributed $284,000 to applicants.

Originally, Shriver said ACF gave the Flagstaff office an initial amount of $110,000 to match donations from funders. Since releasing the information, Shriver explained that donors who have helped ACF in the past have matched over 50% of the initial amount.

“We have some other funders that we work with through our grant cycle and they have also stepped up to do some funding on these COVID-19 grants as well,” Shriver said.

ACF has distributed grants to 10 nonprofit organizations through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund. The organizations include Catholic Charities, Flagstaff Family Food Center, Flagstaff Shelter Services, Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona, Northland Hospice & Palliative Care, Pinetop-Lakeside Senior Center, Rez Refuge Ministries, Riordan Mansion State Park, The Hopi Foundation and Tohdenasshai Committee Against Family Abuse.

Kathrine Simmons, CEO of Northland Hospice & Palliative Care, said her organization received grant money through ACF and its partner, Forest Highlands Foundation. Simmons explained that Northland is the only nonprofit hospice in northern Arizona, making its services vital to the community.

“They gave us grant money to use toward [personal protective equipment] for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Simmons said. “Also, to kind of supplement other supplies, we'll need that had gotten a little more expensive.”

During this stressful time, Simmons explained that Northland is prioritizing the health and needs of patients as well as employees. She described the work of ACF as wonderful and necessary.

Simmons said support from the foundation has helped Northland Hospice & Palliative Care protect employees on top of providing for local residents. Although employees at other organizations have unfortunately lost their jobs due to financial setbacks, Simmons explained she would like to avoid that at Northland.

“My goal through this is not to lay anybody off and keep all of our employees working,” Simmons said.

Simmons explained Northland Hospice & Palliative Care is working to take precautionary measures during the pandemic. Recent changes have created a shift in the day-to-day functions of the organization, but Simmons said they have not had to slow down due to the grant.

Simmons said the organization has been serving the community for 37 years but has found the COVID-19 pandemic to be a distinctive situation. She explained funding for the program would suffer if the organization’s number of employees or patients dropped unexpectedly due to the crisis.

“Nonprofits always need to have community support overall,” Simmons said.

Similarly, Shriver said most nonprofit organizations are encountering new obstacles during the COVID-19 outbreak. She said bringing awareness to the issue is essential in helping local organizations succeed.

“We support nonprofits all year round through our foundation, but I think that it's extremely important right now because so many of our nonprofits are seeing decreased funding, if not funding being eliminated altogether," Shriver said. "So, to help those organizations help our community, we feel that it's something we need to do statewide.”

Carmelia Blackwater, shelter director of Tohdenasshai Committee Against Family Abuse, said ACF's aid will have an immense impact on the way the organization will function through the pandemic. She said the organization provides shelter for domestic violence victims of all genders, races and sexualities.

As the organization is a shelter, Blackwater explained that people typically arrive on an emergency basis without any personal belongings. Due to this, she said the shelter keeps clothes, including new undergarments, on hand for victims.

Although the shelter is located on the Navajo reservation, Blackwater said they do not receive automatic funding from the tribe. She said support from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund is a crucial part of the operation of the shelter at this time.

“This grant is going to help us provide direct services,” Blackwater said. “Pay our utility bills so we can keep the shelter open and provide food. Just the necessary things the people who come through our doors are going to need.”

As a result of social distancing recommendations, Blackwater explained the shelter had to reduce its capacity from 45 to 25. Additionally, she said staff hours have been decreased in an attempt to keep everyone healthy.

Blackwater explained in 2019, the shelter helped over 600 individuals. She said shelters are paramount for victims as they are often ignored by society.

“Unfortunately, now with what's going on, the pandemic, victims are being isolated in homes with their abusers,” Blackwater said. “There are lots of bad consequences that are happening, but at least we have like a safe place for them to go.”

Blackwater explained the shelter has taken additional safety measures during the pandemic including steaming and professional cleaning. She said this has added further costs for the shelter to cover.

Blackwater said supporting local nonprofit organizations creates a better environment for the community by providing jobs and services. She explained nonprofits play a unique role in society.

“There are certain things in society that government entities can’t take care of,” Blackwater said. “So, nonprofits come in and step up and take vital services that are kind of overlooked and they pick up people that kind of fall through the cracks.”

Rommy Sekhon, development director of Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona (HSNAZ), said the need for resources such as shelter, housing and health has been increasing during the coronavirus outbreak. He said due to this, the organization applied for a grant through ACF.

Sekhon said HSNAZ benefits the community in several different ways, including homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention, new construction, and rehabilitation of properties and Sharon Manor Transitional Housing. He explained that Sharon Manor provides shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children.

On March 23, HSNAZ staff began to work remotely to maintain health and safety measures. Sekhon said this resulted in the cancellation of many events.

“We closed our thrift store last week to protect the health of volunteers, customers and staff,” Sekhon said. “We have maintained our staff at the thrift store and are working to reduce layoffs, but we still have to pay rent and utilities even though sales are suspended. We had to cancel our annual fundraising breakfast, set for the beginning of May. This fundraiser raises $50,000 of unrestricted operating income annually. Funding will support operating income and staff that have been impacted directly by COVID-19.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Sekhon said the organization has seen an incredible disruption in finances and will continue to through this situation. He said as household incomes continue to change, it is likely that more individuals will need the services of HSNAZ.

Specifically, the foreclosure mitigation counseling services the organization provides, which Sekhon said is an important resource to maintain. He said nonprofit organizations provide security for individuals in need when no one else can.

“In May, we also predict that a lot of our low-income renters and Sharon Manor residents will be especially hit hard,” Sekhon said. “As the number of clients who need help increases, the ability to professionally serve more individuals and families becomes strained. In order to keep providing these services in a time of crisis, it is important that nonprofits have the resources to continue to provide that safety net to families.”

Sekhon said for years, HSNAZ has valued the support of ACF and its partners. Without financial aid, Sekhon said many people in the community would go without the help they need.

Sekhon described the relationship between the organization and ACF of Flagstaff as incredibly strong and essential for their success.

“They are an integral component to the Flagstaff nonprofit community,” Sekhon said. “They have financially supported our programs for many years and during this time of crisis, they have been an important resource for us and many other nonprofits in the community.”

Shriver described financial support as critical in every community right now. Nonprofit organizations agree the support of ACF has made a tremendous difference during the COVID-19 pandemic. To apply for a grant or to make a donation, visit ACF’s website.