'Small and Mighty' grants fund tiny nonprofits with a mission
March 16, 2017 10:44 AM
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Denise Zellous was stunned when she opened an email informing her the nonprofit she runs, Zellous Hope Project, had received a grant for $8,000 to increase its outreach services for homeless people and other at-risk individuals who are in transition.
Since launching the organization in 2011, Ms. Zellous said she has applied for funding from all kinds of sources, but the only funds Zellous Hope ever received were a few sporadic gifts of $500 from Wal-Mart to underwrite wellness information programs.
So the recent $8,000 award from The Pittsburgh Foundation caught her off guard.
“I was floored,” she said. “I was having lunch with a friend at Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, and asked her to read the email because I wasn’t sure it was true.”
While the amount is relatively tiny coming from a community foundation with assets totaling around $1 billion, channeling it to Ms. Zellous’ modest nonprofit that has limited resources is exactly what the Pittsburgh Foundation envisioned doing through its new Small and Mighty Grants Program.
The foundation Thursday announced the program has provided funding of $235,000 to 18 small nonprofits in the Pittsburgh region that provide basic needs to people at risk for poverty.
Small and Mighty is a direct outgrowth of the foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh initiative that highlights why significant pockets of the region’s population are living in or at-risk of falling into poverty. It targets assistance for people in two specific groups: single women raising children and youth ages 12-24.
“Our 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle is grounded in the idea that we should turn to affected communities for solutions,” said Michelle McMurray, the foundation’s senior program officer who leads Small and Mighty.
“But in reviewing our own grant-making history, we realized we could do much more to fund small community-based nonprofits that don’t just serve a community; they are of the community.”
The foundation, one of the largest in the city, handed out $35 million in grants in 2015.
Among its biggest awards last year were $875,000 to the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund and $735,000 for an endowed chair at the University of Pittsburgh for the Richard S. Caliguiri Endowed Chair in Amyloidosis and Heart Failure.
Small and Mighty targets a different type of recipient. To qualify, a nonprofit’s operating budget must be under $600,000 a year.
Maxwell King, the foundation's president and chief executive, acknowledged that many small nonprofits in the region don’t even pursue grants because they are “crowded out by larger nonprofits that have more resources and contacts in going for financial support.”
Zellous Hope, based out of Ms. Zellous’ home in McKees Rocks, has an annual budget of $21,500 generated mainly from fundraising and federal community development block grants.
The nonprofit has no employees. Ms. Zellous, 62, is retired and relies on a team of about 12 volunteers to assist her in providing clothes, household goods and other support to homeless people moving into permanent housing.
She plans to use the $8,000 award to expand the number of individuals and families Zellous Hope serves from 19 last year to possibly 100 in the future.
In addition to the “hope chests” it assembles that are filled with dishes, cookware, bedding and other items, the organization makes available “hope vouchers” to its low-income clients for one-time expenses such as enrolling children in sports or activities, or making car repairs.
“They are emergency vouchers, but for some of our people, an emergency isn’t what other organizations would consider an emergency. Our job is to deter those people from using [illegal] ways of getting that money.”
While her organization has focused on helping women, she also hopes to provide more resources for men including clothes for job interviews.
Ms. Zellous’ passion for her work is rooted in decades she spent as a drug addict, including 11 years when she was homeless.
After entering a rehabilitation and recovery program, she became involved in Dress for Success Pittsburgh, which helps women who need a professional wardrobe as they transition to the workforce.
When the national organization of Dress for Success tapped her to create a program that would help those women with other needs, Zellous Hope was born.
In 2012, Ms. Zellous received a Jefferson Award of Public Service for her accomplishments as a volunteer.
After the Pittsburgh Foundation last August alerted 450 regional nonprofits about the Small and Mighty grants, 43 submitted proposals — including Ms. Zellous.
Through the application process, the foundation worked closely with her to answer questions and offer assistance.
“They made me feel like my dream could really be a reality,” she said. “They didn’t make me feel any different than any big organizations that were there.”
Now that she’s won her first major grant, “I have the confidence to apply for any grant anywhere because of the knowledge I’ve gained,” she said.
Others who received grants include the following:
• Allegheny Youth Development, $10,000 for after-school programs;
• Coraopolis Youth Creations;
• $15,000 to help recruit board members and a paid director for its youth enrichment programs;
• Orange Arrow, $10,000 to expand its sports-themed leadership curriculum for pre-teen male athletes;
• Prevention Point Pittsburgh, $15,000 for relocation and expansion of its legal syringe and counseling programs;
• Isaiah Project, $15,000 to expand and formalize the program for high-school youths in Hilltop neighborhoods including Allentown, Knoxville and Arlington;
• Western PA Community of Hope, $5,000 for programs that help children, young adults and families make healthy choices;
• Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, $15,000 for warehouse and delivery expansion and awareness campaigns;
• 5A Elite Youth Empowerment, $15,000 for a pilot program from the Peacebuilders Institute for Social Justice;
• Acculturation for Justice, Access, Peace Outreach, $15,000 for immigration services for youth refugees;
• Casa San Jose, $15,000 for a Saturday program that supports low-income Latino youths;
• Open Hand Ministries, $15,000 for programs that help clients become homeowners;
• Proud Haven, $13,000 to hire a part-time case manager and train staff and board members on mental health and crisis management;
• Rainbow Kitchen Community Services, $15,000 for anti-hunger programs;
• Recovery United Pittsburgh, $15,000 to support women in a program for transitional living;
• Fight for Lifers West, $9,000 for education and advocacy for juveniles serving life prison sentences;
• Steel Smiling, $15,000 for mental health services for low-income residents of Arlington Heights;
• Youth Opportunities Development, $15,000 to support Stay Positive Clairton, which aims to reduce detentions and suspensions in the Clairton City School District.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.
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