Foundation’s flexibility allows community to thrive in tough times.
It may seem obvious at this point, but COVID-19 created a significant disruption to normal routines as it swept across the country this past March. For the Multnomah Athletic Foundation (MAF), this time presented an opportunity to adapt and empower its community of volunteers, scholarship recipients and grant partners. The staff and board of directors continue to both look for new ways to provide more flexible support to students and local nonprofits and offer creative engagement opportunities to the broader community.
“We trust our grant partners to serve their communities to the best of their ability,” says D’Anne O’Neill, a MAF board member. “Our role has been to figure how to best enable these nonprofits to be able to continue to deliver their valuable services to the communities we all serve.”
In light of the pandemic, the board of directors took immediate action to lift funding restrictions for its current grant recipients along with any organization that was awarded a grant in June or November. Grant recipients are now able to request funding for athletic and after- school programs, operations or general use, which provides them significant relief. Additionally, the foundation extended grant application deadlines from April 1 to May 1. But because this extension was only valuable if funds could still be distributed in June, a dedicated grant review team put in extra time to speed up the selection process and ensure grant recipients still received funding by summer.
“The ability to shift how we use funding from the foundation has allowed us to make unanticipated investments in the organization as a whole by exploring new opportunities and setting up our athletes and coaches for success in the coming years,” says David Hanna, executive director at Adaptive Sports Northwest. Hanna’s organization offers youth programs around fitness and competitive and recreational sports such as wheelchair basketball and adaptive swimming to anyone with a physical disability.
Adaptive Sports Northwest also offers a free rental program that allows its members to use highly technical, and expensive, equipment at each athlete’s leisure. Archery was recently introduced as a new sport offering, which allows for more socially distanced participation, and the nonprofit is working to provide its coaches with additional training opportunities that may not have been available due to time or budget constraints in the past.
“As a whole, the trust the foundation put in us has allowed us to be creative and ensure we continue to serve our community,” says Hanna.
Youth Grant Initiative
The foundation’s efforts to bring together a diverse group of local seventh and eighth graders for the 2020 Youth Grant Initiative (YGI) started with outreach. For the first time, applications could be submitted digitally, and a commit- ted team of staff and volunteers successfully announced the opportunity to area schools and organizations via e-newsletters and bulletins at more than three dozen middle schools.
By the time the deadline arrived, MAF had received nearly 70 applications. The YGI committee recognized the importance of an interview experience for the young people who had applied, so a team of volunteers mobilized to conduct virtual interviews. Ultimately 24 bright young participants were selected — more than twice as many as in 2019! The board of directors approved an additional $5,000 in funding for this initiative due to the increase of participants, bringing the total funding to $10,000.
The YGI provides natural opportunities for team-building and personal development as participants work together to impact their community. The volunteer led YGI committee considered how to adapt the experience to a virtual setting and create space for self-expression and consensus-building.
The students started by getting to know their peers and learned the basics of philanthropy before beginning their deliberation around how to award community grants to local nonprofits.
Seventh grader Frances Reuland recalls this being the most difficult part. “Anytime you say ‘no’ to anyone it’s pretty hard. They’re all doing really good things,” she says of the process of eliminating organizations from consideration. “The facilitators were really good about making sure that everyone got to talk so we got a lot of different perspectives, which is hard on Zoom!” Still, she says, “It went really well. Everyone got to be a part of it. It wasn’t just two people talking back and forth.”
Ultimately each team reached a consensus using the skills they’d learned. Reuland says the experience was very rewarding. She smiles as she adds that, by working with others to create community impact, “you feel like you really did something to make the world a bit better.”
The Loprinzi Scholarship has been awarded to local high school seniors who have excelled as student athletes since 2000. One of the foundation’s most sought- after awards, it has granted students the opportunity to enrich themselves and the community long after their high school tenure. However, in a year with more uncertainty than usual, the 2020 Loprinzi Scholarship came with more questions than it had in the past. One of which was how the scholarship funds would be used if students chose not to immediately begin college in their first fall semester in a “traditional” way.
The foundation knew it would have to adapt and be flexible to further support these young pillars of the community. Scholarship winners had already faced incredible odds to find academic and athletic success, so any opportunity to ease the burden seemed like a no-brainer. In response to COVID-19, MAF implemented a scholarship deferment program of between six and 12 months as a way to be responsive to the needs and well-being of its scholarship recipients.
“Being able to adapt has allowed me to succeed in the classroom and on the [soccer] field,” says Rasheed Tarhuni, one of the 2020 Loprinzi award winners. “Seeing how the foundation has continued to adapt during these COVID-19 times has encouraged me to do the same and has made me feel supported throughout this entire process.” Tarhuni also points out that MAF doesn’t ask anything of its student-athletes that the foundation itself does not embody, which strengthens the bond between the organization and its students.
Tarhuni is now enrolled at the University of Southern California majoring in computer engineering, and although his classes are online, he is able to fully participate due to additional financial support
for technology equipment from MAF. In the meantime, Tarhuni appreciates that he’s able to defer the award until he is on campus for in-person classes. And until then, he will do his part to help better the local community until he’s able to make his move to Southern California.
Accessibility and JEDI
The foundation is working to be a more accessible resource for its partners, scholar- ship recipients and the community at large. This goal began with a new website, but evolved into a redefined commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
The new site, which launched in April, not only allowed the foundation to pivot quickly to all-digital applications for the Youth Grant Initiative, it also made it easier to communicate vital COVID-19 resources and information to grant partners and scholarship applicants. When it came to making it easier for people with impairments to use the website, the foundation’s Executive Director Lisa Bendt did not hesitate to solve the problem. The site now uses accessiBe — a platform that can adapt the website for people based on their physical needs. The optimization features make it easier for users who are blind, color blind, visually impaired, motor impaired, epileptic or have cognitive disorders to navigate and access all the information.
As social justice movements gained national attention, the foundation took a hard look inward at how it approaches JEDI (justice, equity, diversion and inclusion). MAF consistently looks at its operations through an inclusive lens. This led to a collaboration with MAC to co-host a Campaign for Inclusion panel series that brings together voices, leaders and lived experiences to broaden participants’ perspectives.
After the first panel in October, foundation volunteer and MAC member Beth Burczak remarked, “It was an amazing presentation by everyone involved. It brought out the essential messages that MAC members needed to hear — that there are many avenues for us to be involved. The panel provided a boost of inspiration to stay civically engaged and to consider communities beyond our experiences.”
Keep an eye out for future panels as MAC and MAF continue to co-host such conversations and pave the way to more accessible opportunities in the community.
Looking Back and Ahead
Over the past 10 months, the Multnomah Athletic Foundation has found engaging and effective ways to involve more individuals, reach more students and fund grant partners. Whether expanding programs for youth philanthropists, lifting restrictions to encourage adaptability, or empowering students to reach for their dreams, the foundation’s community is continuing to lean in and meet challenges head on.
Interested in getting more involved? Check out our January articlefor more information on the 2021 Spin-A-Thon and plans to take it virtual. Or sign up for our newsletter to see the latest updates from MAF in 2021.
Written the MAF Communications Committee.
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of The Winged M magazine.