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By JoAnna Ness, Oct 7 2020 01:45PM

This year, Kaleb Gannon, a senior at Fremont High School, will serve as president of FIST, Forever Improving Steuben County Together. FIST is a youth-led philanthropic organization supported by the Steuben County Community Foundation and consists of 8th–12th grade students from Angola, Fremont, and Hamilton schools. This year, they are faced with new challenges from COVID-19, and will move to a more virtual platform as they work to develop a love for philanthropy in others.

Kaleb hopes to “make the most of their given situation and keep a positive mindset.” One of the major projects for FIST this year will be transferring their FLIP program to an online format. FLIP stands for Future Leaders in Philanthropy. Last year, FIST members visited each 5th grade class in Steuben County and informed students about philanthropy. FIST gave each class $250 and led them through the process of awarding this grant to the nonprofit of their choice. This year, FIST members will work to make videos in place of in-person instruction. Kaleb shared that transforming FLIP is the project he is most excited for this year.

Kaleb reflected on his time with FIST and shared that being a part of FIST has made him “an all-around better person” and given him “an outlet to give back.” During his four years in FIST, Kaleb discovered that his favorite part of Steuben County was the people. He shared, “Hands down there is no better county in any state. I have never met so many people willing to do so much for one another for nothing in return.” After graduation, Kaleb plans to pursue his dream job as a prosthodontist by furthering his education at Indiana University.

By JoAnna Ness, Aug 28 2020 04:48PM

Shannon Thomas, Executive Director of Turning Point, shared that the mission of Turning Point is to supply housing to men, women, and children, and help them “to get back on their feet, spiritually, mentally, and financially.” In describing the realities Turning Point residents must overcome, Shannon noted, “we’re providing more than just a bed.” Turning Point comes alongside people and guides them through programs created to help them learn self-sufficiency. Some of the programming provided by Turning Point includes classes on nutrition, parenting, anger management, bible studies, and their most recent addition, courses to prepare for the Indiana High School Equivalency Test. They also offer classes on budgeting thanks to Flagstar Bank, and they partner with KeyBank to provide their residents with bank accounts.

The latest success story of Turning Point was shared most recently in the local paper, as they hired two new staff members who were both graduates of the program. These staff members will be able to use their experiences to give back to and improve Turning Point for the future. Turning Point has grown tremendously in the last 10 years from an organization that provided a few days of housing for around 70 residents per year, to an organization that provides housing and programming for an average of 5-6 months for approximately 190 residents per year. Turning Point is a unique organization, because unlike many other homeless shelters, they house a Family Wing where couples and families can remain together.

Turning Point works closely with Women in Transition, TLC House, and Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry to name few nonprofits, as they bring together a community to support their residents where they need help most. Thanks to generous donations, Turning Point is able to provide graduates of their programs with furniture and basic furnishings when they complete the program. Shannon shared she loves to see graduates excited for their new home, and to watch residents rebuild their self-esteem as they move through the program. She shared it is encouraging to see graduates from Turning Point doing well in the community and to hear from them about their successes. Turning Point will soon hold a Handprint Ceremony where they will invite graduates of the program to place their handprints on a wall in the Turning Point facility. This ceremony will serve as a physical reminder of the successes of their graduates for current residents.

Turning Point recently received a matching grant opportunity from the Steuben County Community Foundation’s Disaster Response Fund. Shannon shared that without Turning Point’s board and a community’s worth of support, she would not be able to do what she loves, and Turning Point would be unable to provide its vital programs to Steuben County.

By JoAnna Ness, Aug 13 2020 07:20PM

This year, nonprofits in Steuben County have faced new financial challenges. Canceled and postponed fundraising events disrupted their anticipated cash flows. Some individuals lost jobs, making it difficult to donate as generously. In the midst of this challenging time, SCCF was able to award more than $320,000 in grants to 74 organizations through donor-established designated funds.

The past two years, SCCF has celebrated this annual distribution at our annual public meeting.

“We decided that in the midst of COVID-19, our decision to cancel the public meeting shouldn’t overshadow these grant awards. We wanted to give our local nonprofits a reason to celebrate a little!” shared Jennifer Danic, SCCF President and CEO.

By JoAnna Ness, Jul 15 2020 03:20PM

Project Help started in 1989 as a grassroots effort of the Steuben County Ministerial Association. Their goal was to address the most basic needs of the community in one location, including providing food, toiletries, bedding, furniture, clothing, housewares, and school supplies. Today, Project Help serves as a community wide pantry for Steuben County residents, and helps direct people to the resources they need. They fulfill their mission of helping others to take a step towards self-sufficiency by collaborating with other organizations. Project Help has been essential in helping other organizations fill the needs of the community such as Faith Community Health Clinic and Mount Zion Coat Bank. Project Help also works to reduce any waste of perishable items, at times delivering them to other organizations including homeless shelters, halfway homes, and the VFW post.

The Second Hand Resale Store was started not only as a way to create sustainability for the programs at Project Help, but to act as a gateway to helping those who can’t or won’t ask for help. Help may not always look like giving things away, but giving others the opportunity to feel they can provide for themselves. Sometimes this means holding a coat for a gentleman for a week until he can afford to buy it at their store. Occasionally, individuals first become familiar with their organization by shopping at the resale store before they feel comfortable asking about other services.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Help has helped more than 100 new families. As a designated FEMA site, if they were to close their doors during a federal emergency, the National Guard would take over operations in order to continue giving vital services to the community. Knowing this fact strengthened their resolve to remain open to serving the public, despite challenges in recruiting volunteers. Amidst the pandemic, Project Help has received a matching grant opportunity from the Steuben County Disaster Response Fund. Sheri Frank, Executive Director of Project Help, shared that while we often think of giving to a food pantry through annual canned food drives, our dollars actually go much further. One dollar can be used by Project Help to purchase five times the food that a dollar’s worth of nonperishable items provides.

When asked what makes Project Help unique, Sherri Frank shared that the organization fills the deeply rooted needs of the community. Without Project Help, many of the people with the most need in our community would be without basic necessities.

By JoAnna Ness, Jul 7 2020 07:38PM

This year, two members of Forever Improving Steuben County Together, the youth philanthropy branch of Steuben County Community Foundation, are graduating from high school. Sydney, one of the graduating seniors, shared that FIST wasn’t “just a bunch of teenagers helping out in the community”, but it shows “how the youth could come together for the greater good of our community and future generations.” Isabell Deem and Sydney Kokinis share a passion for philanthropy and their community. Recently, each of them took time to reflect on their experiences with FIST.

This year's FIST President, Isabell Deem, is a graduating senior from Angola High School and the 2020 Steuben County Recipient of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship. During her time in FIST, she learned how to work together to inspire positive change. She shared that her favorite thing about Steuben County is “how willing the community members are to come together.” Isabell shared that FIST has helped her to feel like a “go-getter” and has bolstered her confidence. Every single meeting, event, or volunteer experience was Isabell’s favorite, “I really can’t pick just one.” She encouraged current members to embrace the experience and get more involved. Isabell will attend Indiana University – Bloomington in the fall to major in Chemistry as a Pre-Med student.

Sydney Kokinis is a graduating senior from Fremont High School. She will also be attending Indiana University – Bloomington to major in Business/ Marketing with a minor in Korean. Sydney shared she learned from her time in FIST that, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” Sydney’s favorite memory from her time with FIST was competing with other volunteers and members to collect the most canned goods during FIST’s annual Trick-Or-Treat for Canned Goods which supports local food banks. Sydney encouraged other young people to speak up and let their voice be heard. Sydney, like Isabell and other FIST members, shared her love for the solidarity that can be felt in the Steuben County community. She said “schools still have rivals, but whenever it came to something big in the community, differences were set aside.”