With the giving season in full swing, it’s a good time to remember not just the largest, widely recognized nonprofits, but also the smaller organizations that help those in need right in your backyard.
My organization, RiverzEdge Arts, is such an organization – small by the standards of the big nonprofits, but vital to the communities we serve. We run a social enterprise program for at-high-risk teens in Woonsocket, an Expanded Learning Opportunity Center at Woonsocket High School and deliver highly enriched, applied-arts learning programs in underserved schools around the state. To better meet the needs of artists and entrepreneurs in northern Rhode Island who face barriers to economic success, we recently launched an Arts & Business Opportunity Center in our Main Street Woonsocket studios. These highly effective arts-intervention services reach more than 600 youth and adult learners each year.
We believe we do good, vital work. But we do so – like many small organizations – outside the limelight and often far away from the corporate-giving network.
That’s why we’re lucky Citizens Bank has taken a different approach to corporate donations and support through its Champions in Action Program, which focuses solely on groups like mine.
The Champions in Action award RiverzEdge Arts received in 2007 propelled the transition of RiverzEdge from a single-program, single-city organization in Woonsocket, to a multiprogram statewide problem-solver in education and economic development. The $25,000 unrestricted grant we received as a Champion in Action came at a critical time in the development of our Arts & Business Entrepreneurship Program, allowing us to increase the number of youths working four afternoons per week in small arts and design businesses year-round.
The media attention and video created by the Champions in Action program’s media partner NBC 10 WJAR further provided us statewide visibility and a new tool for communication. It was the first time in our history that we had a professional video that told our story, and it provided the model for future RiverzEdge-produced videos.
Together, the investment in our work and new visibility helped us dramatically increase our income generated through social enterprise, and to share our success on a national platform. We received national recognition for our work in 2009 and 2010 when RiverzEdge was awarded a MetLife Foundation Afterschool Innovator Award by the Afterschool Alliance and a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities.