Flagler Cares on Wednesday announced its first “Catalyst Fund” grants totaling $800,000 to three organizations that will each provide needed community services in Flagler County — to teens suffering from anxiety and depression, to individuals and families recovering from abuse or other forms of dislocation and for the food insecure.
The three grants, planned as the first of many in the coming years, are the centerpiece of a $10 million endowment to Flagler Cares, a Palm Coast community service nonprofit, by Dr. Stephen Bickel, who wants to use the money to innovate programs targeting underserved areas of Flagler’s social safety net. That’s a long list, and today’s scholarships are “Not the end,” he said. “We have a whole plan how we can expand. That is a beginning.” (See: “Doctor’s $1 Million a Year Endowment, Largest of Its Kind, Launches Flagler Cares Initiatives for Those in Need.”)
The grants were awarded earlier this fall and went into effect on October 1st. Wednesday’s announcement was a more ceremonial occasion, bringing together the recipients, the community of Flagler Cares at their Flagler County Village, and elected officials from the Palm Coast City Council, the County Commission and the school board.
Carrie Baird, CEO of Flagler Cares, described the purpose of the grants as a reflection of her organization’s purpose – “very inspirational, very committed to trying something new, innovative, willing to take risks, which our industry really doesn’t do very often.” Baird credited Bickel, that he changed the journey of Flagler Cares from an organization with one part-time employee to 15 today, and that a great vision is now being translated into actual work having a direct impact on those most in need.
“We have to think big now because the services that we’re going to need as we grow are going to be big,” said David Alfin, Palm Coast Mayor, seeing the initiatives as a countermeasure to the perception of “little ol’ Flagler.”
The largest grant, $750,000 over three years, rewards innovation. It went to Easterseals Northeast Central Florida, the organization best known for its work with children with disabilities over the past 75 years. It has a presence in Flagler County through Flagler County Village, the hub of social service agencies coordinated by Flagler Cares at City Marketplace. The grant will create an entirely new service called the Me in Progress Wellness Program.
“All we know is that anxiety and depression is on the rise in our children and teens,” says Susan B. Moor, vice president of philanthropy at Easterseals, “and especially those who are high-performing, normal-looking, and on athletic teams are doing great, but they don’t thrive at home, they don’t thrive in their friendships and their relationships, they don’t thrive in their own hearts.”
It’s a different form of disability. The word has been redefined in recent years to address less visible issues such as anxiety and depression, which can be precursors to suicide attempts. The grant will support a program that provides teens with a teen-focused “safe space” that combines the atmosphere of a non-clinical atmosphere (think art, games, music, even kickboxing) but also in the presence of staff who doing this work with the teenagers and their specific treatment plan. It may develop into a full after-school program or include weekend components. The number of young people taking part is limited by the selection process. It begins with a focus on high school students who are referred.
The other two grants are for one year and $25,000 each.
One went to Salty Family Services, an Ormond Beach-based nonprofit looking to expand its services to Flagler for individuals and families in need.
As an example, Jeff Chaisson, co-founder of the organization with his wife Frances Chaisson, described how Salty Family Services helped a particular woman. She had moved to Florida to get out of an abusive relationship. She was living on borrowed time on a foreclosed property on site. She was walking the nine blocks to a laundromat to do laundry when she happened to pass Salty Church’s own free “Laundry Love” service. She associated with the organization of the Chaissons.
The woman was mentored for four months, her mentors “encouraging her,” Chaisson said. Salty Family Services’ networking, an important part of the service, took off. Soon the woman received a donated car. She got her first job in Flagler. Soon after, the service – which helps with utilities, rent and homelessness – raised enough money to help her move into her first apartment nearby. That was in 2017. Today she owns her own cleaning business and employs two people.
“And that story could be repeated. I mean, I know so many stories,” says Colleen Conklin, the school board member who attended Salty Church and witnessed the service firsthand when she was a Flagler Strong coordinator of recovery efforts in Flagler Beach after Hurricane Irma. Floods had driven 400 families from their homes. “They were one of the first to step up and really connected our homeless families,” Conklin said of Salty Services.
“So I think not just with Salty Services, but with all of the organizations that have been mentioned here today, the ‘It takes a village’ theme is really true in a lot of ways,” Conklin said. “The need is so enormous and large that there is no single entity or organization that can meet all of these needs. To do this, everyone really has to come together so that there is no duplication of efforts. And then resources can really be maximized.
In the first year of 2015, the Salty Family Services organization raised $9,000 in its first year. After partnering with Salty Church, this year it is on track to match or exceed last year’s fundraising: $400,000, not counting today’s grant. The grant helped hire a part-time employee who will expand services to Flagler on a more permanent basis.
The third organization also receiving a $25,000 stipend is well known in Flagler: Grace Community Food Pantry, which single-handedly saves 500 families from starvation each week by distributing food twice a week. The organization is led by Charles Silano, a pastor. It was the beneficiary of Flagler Broadcasting’s first Food-a-Thon last July, which raised $125,000 for the pantry through the combined efforts of Flagler Broadcasting President David Ayres and Bickel, who raised the $5,000 Raised dollars needed for the station to do the Food-a-Thon program day.
Silano’s operation was in dire need of a refrigerated food truck. A portion of the money from the Food-a-Thon and the $25,000 Flagler Cares grant covered the $64,000 in expenses.
“It’s impacted the labor-intensive part of the pantry,” Silano said, “so we can sort better, we can store more food, we can buy more food, and we’re able to deliver it safely.” It’s like having another walk-in cooler. It has made an enormous difference. The volunteers absolutely love it because we don’t have to get everything from camp.”
The grants aren’t just checks made out and handed out. Flagler Cares remains involved in helping each organization achieve the goals of the grant, providing its own human capital to keep the goals on track and being accountable.
“We think a lot about strategy, what do we want to do, what kind of organization do we need to be to do these things,” Bickel said, and who are the good partners to do the things. When Flagler Cares cannot find these partners to provide a needed service, it takes on them itself, as is the case with the application of telemedicine to psychiatric and psychological counseling services.
“There’s a reason I chose Flagler Cares,” Bickel said of his foundation. “It’s because of the great work they’ve done. From the start, if you want to do philanthropy, you want to invest in people who are doing your mission, and Carrie just attracted talented people because of her personality.” He called the results “a testament to Flagler County, the kind of people, talented people that we have that really want to make a difference. This isn’t the end. We will have a whole plan how we can expand.”