Author: Ashley Smith
Published: 12:53 PM EDT May 12, 2022
Community Knights raises thousands of dollars at events for charitable organizations and public school groups. And they’re having a lot of fun doing it.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A local group is having a good time for a good cause. The nonprofit organization Community Knights gives grants to other Peninsula nonprofits and public school groups through its G.I.F.T. (Grant Initiative Fundraising Team) program. The program is funded, in large part, by playing Bingo.
“Our ultimate goal is to create a truly inclusive community,” said CEO and Co-Founder Jennifer Brown. “And Bingo is one of the ways we did that because if you come out and donate your time, you can create an enormous giveback.” “Everybody’s rooting for one another, and they really do care about each other,” she continued. “We’ve been able to give back $1.6 million in nine years.”
CFO and Co-Founder Teresa Michener said players enjoy more than just fun and games at fundraisers. “We have a spotlight on nonprofits, where the nonprofit can come out and let the players know, ‘Because of you, Community Knights was able to raise the money and this is what we were able to do with the funding’,” she said. “And they love hearing those stories.”
Community Knights also runs the C.O.A.C.H. (Creating Opportunities to Advance Capable Hands) program, which provides adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities with volunteer opportunities. Brown said her daughters inspired the program. “My youngest daughter, Brittany, has autism and an intellectual disability,” Brown said. “When she went out to look for a job, it was very challenging… So, we said, you know, ‘you should volunteer’.” “Her older sister just graduated from college. And she said, ‘Mom, let me put off my job search and let me be her job coach to volunteer’,” she continued. “That was really the seed for our C.O.A.C.H. program, because we realized that those resources weren’t there to being able to engage in the community.”
So, while ‘five in a row’ usually means ‘Bingo’, the real winners of these games are people in need. “When you’re vulnerable, you’re invisible. And those of us who are out in the community thriving, we don’t see those who are getting left behind,” Brown said. “Nobody should have to have that happen to them. So, that’s why we want a truly inclusive community.”
Nonprofits and public school programs can apply for financial assistance from the Community Knights G.I.F.T. program. The group also needs your help to keep their efforts going. You can make donations and sign up to volunteer at the Community Knights’ website.
(WAVY)- . 10 On Your Side first highlighted Community Knights in 2018 for their bingo fundraiser. Then, the nonprofit had raised more than $800,000 to give out as grants to school programs and nonprofits in need.
“We were born out of the 2008 recession. Teresa and I were very active in our public schools and in the nonprofit community. We were watching in school board meetings the budget cuts that were happening. Our public schools were currently ranked 40th in the nation for public school funding. I don’t think people realize how many support programs were gutted from our schools and when we are in crisis mode, nonprofits get hit doubly hard. A lot of people donating to them are now people who need their services,” said Brown, a co-founder and CEO of Community.
Fast forward to the pandemic, Brown says during the first couple of months, they were able to provide COVID grants to their partners.
“We had no idea that the 2008 recession was practice for what’s happening today, because COVID and the pandemic has had an exponential impact compared to 2008. We didn’t think that was possible. There is so much more need now and riding out this storm has been so hard for so many,” she said.
The organization used reserve funds from their gift program to help nonprofits including those who helped prevent evictions with rental assistance, child literacy, and food insecurity. Michener says the pandemic nearly wiped them out, but she’s proud of the work they’ve done and the money they’ve been able to raise back. “It’s like we were rebuilding from scratch like when we started our bingo fundraiser in 2013. We basically started almost all over again,” she said. Since, they’ve raised more than $1.6 million to help nearly 100 of their partners and say they have a 91% funding rate.
“Almost $2 million in nine years? Did I think that would happen? No,” Michener said. “But I knew we would make an impact.” The two women say that impact will continue by continuing to help nonprofits as the country enters into an endemic. They are also working on their COACH program, which provides adults with development and/or intellectual disabilities volunteer opportunities at non-profit organizations. Their bingo fundraiser, held on Sunday and Wednesdays, will also continue to help plant seeds for other programs.
“The bingo community does represent our entire community here on the Peninsula,” Michener said. “It’s a cross-section of everyone. They’re quite competitive. They see what happens with the money but they are real competitive about their bingo.” Brown hopes that within the next 10 years, they’ll be able to be engaged with a broader range of programming to continue to invest in the community and be more effective. “There’s a lot of work to do. We want to get closer to a truly inclusive community, ” she said.
Local nonprofit Community Knights, Inc created a COVID-19 Nonprofit Response Fund to assist nonprofits and public school organizations who are being impacted by the virus. This response addresses the additional needs nonprofits and public school organizations have as a result of this public health crisis.
The decision to establish the fund was inspired after assessing the total impact that this situation may have on the area’s nonprofit and public school programs.
Jennifer Brown, CEO of Community Knights says, “We really felt it was our responsibility to do whatever we can to help our community. And, this response fund will do just that, help those who are helping the most in need”.
For the past 7 years Community Knights has been serving the Peninsula’s nonprofit and public schools by providing grants through their GIFT grant program. This program has been used to financially support many impactful programs that help our area’s youth and at-risk populations.
The financial strain is being felt throughout the Peninsula’s nonprofit’s. “Since the outbreak, we have witnessed a severe spike in requests for food assistance. As other pantries are forced to temporarily close, families are turning to pantries like ours for emergency food. To meet the increased need, we will need more support from our community,” says Angela York, Executive Director at THRIVE Peninsula and GIFT grant recipient.
To continue supporting this fund, Community Knights is reaching out to the public for donations for the COVID-19 Response fund. Donations can be made at https://communityknights.org/donate.
Nonprofit and public school programs, who are being negatively impacted by the virus, can apply for financial assistance at communityknights.org/covid19-responsefund/. Each application will be reviewed and assessed on need and impact on the wellbeing of the Virginia Peninsula. For any questions, please contact Community Knights at 757-884-8097.