It all started with the question “What if we...?” We know that our members are dedicated to their communities and that they spend hours every year volunteering for amazing community organizations. What if we asked our members what non-profits they want BECU to support?
We decided to solicit nominations, ask our members to vote, and then bring together all the non-profits to celebrate. The People Helping People Awards were born out of BECU's cooperative model and inspired by our members.
“One of my favorite things about these awards is that they're community-nominated,” said Benson Porter, CEO. “My other favorite thing is the network effect.”
Last night, we awarded $170,000 to 13 non-profits working in communities all over Washington. These non-profits work with children, seniors, veterans, to restore and protect wildlife and habitats, to provide food, access to the outdoors, safe places to sleep, education, and more. They fill critical gaps.
“Part of what's so great about this night is that the non-profits come together, have a chance to meet each other, and form partnerships. At one People Helping People celebration, City Fruit and White Center Food Bank formed a partnership,” said Deborah Wege, Community Giving Manager and Executive Director of the BECU Foundation.
City Fruit helps tree owners grow healthy fruit, provides assistance in harvesting and preserving fruit, promotes the sharing of extra fruit, and works to protect urban fruit trees. After meeting at the BECU awards night in 2014, City Fruit began bringing White Center Food Bank tens of thousands of fresh fruit each year.
This summer, the two have teamed up with the local ice cream purveyor Full Tilt to create Pints with a Purpose. Full Tilt is creating fresh fruit ice cream from the produce that City Fruit harvests to make Pints with a Purpose. The proceeds will support White Center Food Bank.
We watched it happen again and again last night, as non-profits shared their stories of hardships and successes.
The Agape House serves 18- to 24-year-old women aging out of the foster care system by giving them the basics of non-time limited housing and education. “Sometimes when you do things like this, when you say, ‘Why not me? I can do this,' sometimes you feel alone,” said founder Reverend Willetta “Kiti” Ward in a powerful speech. “Sometimes when you talk to people about kids living on the street, their eyes glass over. We are so very grateful to you all for seeing our kids and for helping us.”
Ten minutes later, when Peak 7 Adventures accepted their People's Choice Award (selected by popular vote by members), they did more than just see the young women of The Agape House. They offered a hand.
“Agape House, we should talk. We want to partner with you, take your kids out on an adventure,” said Kiuk Lee, Chariman of the Peak 7 Board.
Peak 7 Adventures takes underprivileged youth on outdoor adventures. They teach kids to summit mountains and in the process help them understand that they have the power to change their own lives the same way: one step at a time.
One word was heard over and over again last night – community.
Hearth Homes, in Spokane Valley, serves single mothers experience homelessness, “families that don't have family.” The organization said that this award would allow them to sustain their volunteer coordinator position, who is in charge of building their community.
The Friends of VA Puget Sound Fisher House provides a “home away from home” for veteran families as they care for their loved ones in area hospitals. Not only do families receive free housing and meals, they also meet other families who are going through similar experiences.
Legacy House is a day center, located in the rapidly changing and developing International District of Seattle, where seniors can visit and tell stories in their own languages.
“The People Helping People Awards are a great demonstration of the co-op in action,” said Tom Berquist, BECU Senior Vice President of Marketing and Co-op Affairs.
While the missions of the non-profits last night were diverse, every single one of them is fueled by a simple but powerful concept – people can help others by taking action.
Courthouse Dogs Foundation, winner of the Employee's Choice Award, helps set best practices, trains people in the judicial system on the benefits of therapy dogs, and has launched 114 courthouse dogs in 34 states.
Children in the judicial system, often as a result of witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, often go silent when their advocates need to hear their voices most. A courthouse dog provides immeasurable comfort simply by sitting at their side.
The Foundation was started by deputy prosecuting attorney Ellen O'Neill Stephens. When taking her son's service dog to court one day a week, she found that it helped the children she was working with. So she launched a program that has changed the face of the judicial system by adding the friendly, sympathetic eyes of a well-trained dog.
And then there is Karen Wimberly, who spends over 400 hours a year volunteering and organizing for REACH. REACH offers a day center, meal program and a women's emergency overnight shelter to the community of Renton. REACH's meal program is entirely volunteer-run and mobilizes a team of 210 people. Up until now, they have been based in a building owned by the city of Renton, rent-free, but the infrastructure is crumbling and it's time to find a new home.
"We serve people on the edge. The chronically homeless. The poor, the hungry,” explained Karen. Their community gathers at their building. Karen's award will go toward helping them find a new gathering place so they can continue their services.
REACH was so motivated by the People Helping People Awards that they created fliers and business cards to hand out to whoever they encountered – baristas, hairdressers, neighbors – encouraging them to vote for REACH for the People's Choice Award. They had votes come in from Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota.
Instead, BECU's panel of judges selected Karen for the Member Volunteer of the Year Award, the biggest grant of the night at $30,000. We were honored to be able to recognize Karen's impressive service to her community.
Ilene Stark, Director of the Pike Market Child Care and Preschool, said last night, “To be on the side of generosity is so moving.” But we at BECU would have to say that the honor is ours.
To all of the organizations that attended last night, and all the others doing the hard, heavy, and much-needed work to fill the gaps: thank you. Thank you for your service, your dedication, your passion, your joy, and your belief in the power of community.
To date, BECU has granted $470,000 to 51 organizations. You can read more about the People Helping People Awards.
Karen Wimberly, REACH
Friends of VA Puget Sound Fisher House
Hand in Hand
Pierce County AIDS Foundation
Pike Market Childcare and Preschool
Sumner Community Food Bank
Trout Unlimited: Bellevue/Issaquah Chapter