I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon during last month’s Give4Marion campaign. What an uplifting event. I came away filled with feelings of goodwill and compassion from those attending who work for the various charities the annual fund-raiser aims to boost.
Jamie Gilmore, a one-time high school football sensation at North Marion, talked about how his organization, Kut Different, is mentoring at-risk young men so they grow into respectable, educated, contributing members of the community.
Karla Greenway of Interfaith Emergency Services worried aloud about her organization’s food pantry, whose shelves are being steadily depleted by growing numbers of people seeking food assistance in the face of skyrocketing grocery prices.
Amy Hill and Brianne Inman gushed about their organization, the all-volunteer Foster Florida, which helps guide and counsel foster families in Marion County – something for which there is always a desperate need.
The Pearl Project, a family and parent mentoring organization, was represented by Jessica Blagdon, who was excited about the progress her group and its clients have been making in developing stronger, more stable families.
These are just a handful of the charities that make Ocala/Marion County a better place to live every day. Yet, too many of them are invisible to too many of us, even though every day they change lives and Ocala/Marion County for the better.
Lauren Deiorio, executive director of the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County, is a champion for our community’s 1,000-plus nonprofit organizations, that is, its charities.
The Community Foundation sponsors the Nonprofit Business Council and Give4Marion, giving Deiorio a unique insight into the hard work and successes of the nonprofits that address everything from homelessness to domestic violence to child neglect.
What she sees is bittersweet. What’s sweet is people working diligently to uplift their fellow Ocalans who have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. What’s bitter is too many people failing to support these worthy causes because of an unawareness of just how many people depend on them for help and, in some cases, to survive.
“People complain that the nonprofits are always asking for money,” Deiorio said. “What people need to understand is that nonprofits generate income through the generosity of donors. They can’t make a product and sell it. How else are they going to fund their programs if not through donations from individuals, businesses and grant funders?”
How indeed. Thank goodness for the Community Foundation and Give4Marion, which raised $771,000 for various charities Sept. 20-21. There is strength in numbers and having a champion in Deiorio and the Community Foundation means these organizations can get financial advice, management expertise, fund-raising training and, yes, new donor awareness.
But here’s the thing about these charities and their initiatives, whether it’s mentoring young people or guiding foster parents or housing the homeless: They make our community a lot better because of what they do. Imagine if Interfaith didn’t have a food pantry? Or the Salvation Army didn’t have its Center of Hope shelter? Or Veterans Helping Veterans didn’t provide its one-stop service center to troubled military vets? Or Kimberly’s Center didn’t provide protection to abused children?
I could go on and on, but you get the point. These agencies take care of the most downtrodden, the most disenfranchised among us.
If they didn’t, who would? The County Commission? Pffftt. The City Council? Not likely. The Chamber & Economic Partnership? Meh.
No, the people who care for those who can’t care for themselves work for the charities like Kut Different, Foster Florida, Interfaith and the Pearl Project. They really do change lives, indeed save lives. Every. Single. Day. But they need help so they can help. Find a charity with a cause you care about. Donate your money and, if possible, your time.
And as for the question of why the charities are always asking for money. Well, Ocala/Marion County is growing fast. It’s not just retirees and logistics workers moving in, there are also people looking for a fresh start or to escape a troubled past. Sooner than later, they’ll be seeking help from our already overwhelmed charities.
Get to know our charities and what they do. What you will find is heroic deeds by people who care about their fellow man. And that makes us as a community a much better place to live.