Nurturing Neighbors

- by

Walking among us are some of the kindest, most-giving people on the planet. They feed our minds and, most importantly, our city’s soul through their labors of love. We introduce you to a few organizations making a difference in the lives of our fellow Savannahians.  Written by Omkari Williams. Photography by Katie McGee.

“Knowing you can help save someone’s life feels nice.”

Those are the words of 9-year-old Yiming Low, a fourth grader at Charles Ellis Montessori Academy in Savannah. She recently helped raise money for one of her schoolmates, Wyatt, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and I asked Yiming about the experience. Her whole school started a Lego contest to raise funds to support Wyatt and his family, yet Yiming wanted to do even more. So she and some friends set up a table at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, where they sold a little magazine Yiming wrote for $1 each. After the issues sold out, they took to selling lemonade instead. By the end of the morning, they had raised $89 for Wyatt.

Talking with Yiming got me thinking about my own first encounter with philanthropy. I, too, was 9 years old and it was Halloween. As I went trick or treating with friends, I filled my pumpkin basket with candy—and a small box with change for UNICEF. I knew that money would help children around the world my own age, and I remember feeling proud and excited that I could make a difference. Like Yiming, I knew I might just be helping save someone’s life.

I believe that small exposure to giving shaped my future ideas about the difference one person, even a child, can make.

As Olivia Lorenzo, a paraprofessional at Charles Ellis puts it, “Kids find a place in the world when they realize they can be part of something bigger.”

I left my visit with Yiming understanding that we don’t need to teach children to be philanthropists. We just need to allow them to give—in whatever way they can—and affirm the value of their contribution.

Not unlike the arc of life, philanthropy is paramount to providing sustenance for the body (food), the mind (art, education) and the soul (caregiving). The following Savannah philanthropies are meeting those needs, providing a powerful experience for not only those in need, but the providers as well. Just take it from the young Yiming.

Art Feeds the Brain

At Loop It Up Savannah, Molly Lieberman has one important intention: Provide a positive outlet for underserved children to express their feelings and experiences—messy or beautiful, happy, angry or hurt—through art. From that, the children learn how to use what Lieberman calls their “social toolbox of pride, integrity and compassion.”

What began in 2008 as a small program at the West Broad YMCA has now grown into an independent entity within Jelinek Creative Spaces, bringing art exploration and experiences to thousands of Savannah children and their families every year. The program also integrates grade-level curriculums, using art to help children learn subjects like math, turning something challenging into something fun.

When creating Loop It Up, Lieberman strove to involve everyone, not just the children, in a meaningful way. “One of the biggest challenges was making it work for everybody—the staff, volunteers, donors and recipients.” Thus, Loop It Up provides opportunities for donors to interact with the children, creating intentional time together that builds bonds.

“By sitting together making art, the donor/recipient divide dissolves and what exists is people creating art and sharing their stories,” says Lieberman.

Bridging the gap between giving and receiving, the children at Loop It Up also make art for other charitable organizations in Savannah. How’s that for full circle?

Find out more: on Facebook

Caring Feeds the Soul

Imagine having a full-time job, a home to manage, young children and also the responsibility of caring for a parent or spouse. Who cares for you? There is exactly one organization in the United States that focuses on the needs of non-professional caregivers, and that organization is in Savannah. Caring for the caregivers is the mission of Edel Caregiver Institute, an entity of Hospice Savannah, which was created out of observing the toll that it takes to care for a person with traumatic injuries, dementia or other long-term illnesses.

“One of the reasons that the institute was started is to help people prepare for the role of caregiver, which may well become part of their life at some point,” says Paula Hudson, Edel manager. “We want to have people think about caregiving before the issue arises in their life, before they are in crisis.”

While planning ahead is important, Edel is there to provide support for caregivers regardless the circumstances. Sometimes that means simply having a place to go, where they can sit and have someone listen to their stresses, concerns and feelings.

Edel’s services are free, funded solely by philanthropic contributions. And that, according to Kim Stangle, vice president of Hospice Savannah Foundation, is something “everyone can benefit from at some point in their life.”

Find out more:

Location is Key

When Austin Hill purchased a building on Whitaker Street to house his real estate business, he wanted to somehow also use the space to display art. “But I didn’t want to be a real estate company with an art gallery, and I had no desire to run an art gallery as a business,” says Hill. “So I said, ‘Let’s only do this venture if we’re willing to give proceeds to local nonprofits.’”

And with that, Location Gallery was born in March. Hill partnered with Peter Roberts, a local artist with a background in branding and marketing, who now serves as gallery director.

The gist: Location Gallery showcases local talent, pays the artist 50 percent of sales and the remaining profit, after expenses, goes to a local charity. So far, more than $9,000 has been donated to nonprofits including Hospice Savannah, One Love Animal Rescue, Deep Center, First City Network, America’s Second Harvest, Emmaus House and Telfair Museums.

“We try to pair the artist or the group show with a local nonprofit that makes sense with the story of the art, or sometimes the artist already has a strong connection to a nonprofit, ” says Roberts. “We connect the nonprofit to the artist to the gallery so everyone has a meaningful experience.”

For instance, one recent group show entitled “Aqua Vista” featured various works devoted to Savannah’s natural surroundings, thus proceeds were donated to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

“When we figure out what nonprofit to pair with the work, the whole idea becomes bigger,” adds Roberts. “The art becomes a component of the mission of the nonprofit and then it weaves back and forth. It’s kind of a cool lab.” —O.W.

Big Plans at Second Harvest

On any given week at America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, some 100 volunteers can be found packing up nearly 1,600 boxes of food (precisely 25 pounds of it per box) to be given to local families in need.

Those numbers will soon increase, thanks to three extremely generous donations from Publix, Georgia Food Bank Association and Colonial Oil Industries Inc., which enabled Second Harvest to acquire the 10,000-square-foot building behind its President Street warehouse. Renovations are scheduled for a mid-December completion.

“This will help us tell the Second Harvest story even more,” says executive director Mary Jane Crouch. “We’re a resource for the community, but we’re also here to be part of the community. And with this, we can bring in more volunteers.”

And more volunteers mean more donations—Crouch anticipates that 2,000 boxes will soon be packed and distributed on a weekly basis.

The new building will serve as a front-of-house space for volunteers and families, with extended evening hours as well as a “teachers’ nook” and a “working family pantry.”  At the former, Savannah teachers at Title I schools can stop in for any number of classroom supplies.

“We’re working with the school system to get teachers from the highest-need schools in first,” says Crouch. “This will enable them to not have to spend their own money.”

Meanwhile, the family pantry allows income-eligible families to pick up canned and frozen foods, as well as breads, pastries and produce.

“If a family calls us now and needs food assistance after work, there isn’t anywhere for them to go except for a shelter,” explains Crouch. “The pantry is a good connection to help make ends meet, to help families get through.”

—Sarah Taylor Asquith