SVP Fast Pitch finalists share innovative solutions for a better Cincinnati


Social Venture Partners (SVP) Cincinnati hosted its third annual Fast Pitch competition March 2, when eight nonprofits shared their stories in front of a panel of judges and a sold-out crowd eager to hear about the innovations each organization offers.
 
More than $30,000 was awarded to the evening’s big winners MASTER Provisions and Ballet Moves, which along with the other finalists are making “Cincinnati a stronger and more vibrant community,” said SVP Chair Sandy Hughes.
 
Perhaps even more important than securing money for a cause, though — at least from the perspective of last year’s grand prize winner Tim Arnold — is that the opportunity provides the nonprofits a venue for their voice.
 
“What I truly won last year was your attention,” Arnold said to the crowd just prior to 2016 finalists taking the stage. “I finally got someone to pay attention to what was on my mind.”
 
Arnold founded Lawn Life with the goal of putting a dent in childhood poverty and juvenile crime by providing at-risk youth with a job and opportunity for a better life. The organization has now provided 602 youth with a “sliver of hope” and a sense of freedom, Arnold said, as they come to recognize their true potential — a stark contrast to the hustle and defeat that accompanies poverty and life on the streets.
 
“For 10 years of my life, I struggled to get attention by doing all the wrong things,” he said. “But this time last year is when I realized I am an artist, and if you have a job and you work hard and you’re passionate about it you’re an artist, too.”
 
But Fast Pitch 2015 didn’t just change his life through communications-based coaching received from SVP members, he reminded the crowd.
 
“You didn’t just change one life last year,” Arnold said. “They (the youth involved in Lawn Life) are going to change our city.”
 
Here’s a bit about this year’s eight Fast Pitch finalists, all of whom share Arnold’s passion when it comes to changing Greater Cincinnati for the better.
 

MASTER Provisions
 
MASTER Provisions was awarded $10,000 — $5,000 of which comes in the form of a FlyWheel Social Enterprise Services scholarship — following Director John Eldridge’s 3-minute pitch.
 
The nonprofit is seeking funding for a refrigerated truck since “tens of thousands of pounds of high-quality healthy food go to waste on a daily basis,” Eldridge said. And it’s not because the food is expired. Instead, food companies need warehouse space more than they need the actual product, so a lot of food ends up in landfills as opposed to hungry neighbors’ homes.
 
“Fifteen percent of the people in Greater Cincinnati experience hunger at least one point in the year,” Eldridge said. “That’s one in seven of your neighbors.”
 
In addition to being able to provide food to hungry individuals, MASTER Provisions would also serve as the vehicle — literally and figuratively — for individuals to provide food for themselves. Through its trucking social enterprise, individuals could gain employment to begin working their way out of poverty.
 
“This truck will be the tipping point of an upward spiral that will create jobs, provide money for nonprofits and help provide food for our hungry neighbors,” Eldridge said. “We want to build pillars in the community instead of crutches.”
 

Ballet Moves
 
Dance has changed the life of Julie Sunderland, who serves as director of education and outreach at Cincinnati Ballet. About 10 years ago, she needed a career change and knew she wanted out of the hospitality industry but wasn’t sure where to go or what to look for.
 
“I began taking DanceFix at Cincinnati Ballet and became obsessed,” Sunderland said. “It sparked so much joy in my life and reignited the dancer in me.”
 
Sunderland began volunteering as a dance instructor, teaching classes to anyone and everyone who would attend.
 
“I taught women in rehabilitation facilities, incarcerated teens, battered women, anyone who wanted to dance,” she said. “I ended up volunteering as much as working at my job.”
 
So when her current position became available, she jumped at the opportunity, and she’s now changing lives through dance as a result.
 
Take Jack, for example. He has Down syndrome and is a “star student” in his dance class because he has the best “fast feet.” Through a partnership with Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Ballet Moves is able to incorporate dance in the lives of individuals like Jack who are “hyper-flexible in a way dancers train be" but who lack strength, Sunderland said.
 
The class is a success, as it allows individuals and their families to recognize their potential through the creative outlet of dance while improving strength, endurance and coordination.
 
Sunderland will only continue to further her impact in the lives of others after securing $21,000 for Ballet Moves at Fast Pitch, claiming both the student award and the audience choice award in addition to first place. She will have the opportunity to share her pitch at SVP’s Philanthropitch International.
 
With the money, Ballet Moves plans to continue its partnership with Children’s Hospital by introducing a class for children with cerebral palsy — an idea inspired by the story of a 31-year-old actor named Gregg who spent his entire life dragging his feet until he trained with a choreographer for an upcoming production, which led to the revolutionary moment when his feet touched the ground for the first time.
 
“With your help, we’ll use this award to break these children out of their solitary confinement and give them the same gift that Gregg received,” Sunderland said. “A gift that can last a lifetime.”
 

ReSource
 
ReSource collects and distributes corporate surplus to nonprofits, serving more than 300 local organizations that are in need of everything from personal care items to office furniture. The organization keeps 170 tons of useful material out of the landfill each year while also benefiting its nonprofit members with much-needed items for a fraction of what they would otherwise cost.
 
Though the nonprofit didn’t receive prize money at last week’s event, it continues to work toward its goal of finding a way to transport the truckloads of unneeded products from corporations like Costco and Walmart — businesses within ReSource’s national network of community redistribution partners — to Cincinnati.
 
“An investment in ReSource is an investment in the entire nonprofit community,” said Christie Brown, the nonprofit's executive director.


WAVE Foundation 
 
For presenters like Scott Wingate, executive director of the WAVE Foundation — a nonprofit partner of Newport Aquarium that works to engage and educate youth about aquatic life and conservation —a passion for the outdoors has long been in existence.

“I grew up outside being a curious kid, exploring our backyard creeks, and forested areas,” Wingate said. “Today, I want to make sure kids have that same opportunity.”
 
And the WAVE Foundation does just that by presenting young people with unique experiences that can be both inspiring and even life changing.

Just three weeks ago, WAVE ventured a few hours away to eastern Kentucky — one of the most socioeconomically oppressed regions in the nation, according to Wingate — with a traveling aquarium, live sharks, a penguin, a snake and a turtle. Many of the students had never visited an aquarium or an ocean and many had never even left the county, he said, but the kids were “so engaged, they were jumping out of their chairs wanting to know more.”
 
The WAVE Foundation hopes to inspire that same spark in even more students in 2016, but it needs your help to purchase another outreach vehicle so it can double its current community impact of 35,000 to 70,000 students. 
 
“We believe we must teach kids to love wildlife before we ask them to save wildlife,” Wingate said.

 
Music Resource Center
 
The Music Resource Center (MRC) of Cincinnati aims to increase its impact in the community by expanding beyond the 2,000 area teens it currently serves. MRC functions not only as a recording studio with its own radio station but also as a safe haven and family unit for youth who are six times more likely to commit or be victims of a crime during the hours immediately following the school day.
 
“Each day I talk with teens that would normally not eat dinner if our doors were not open or would not have dreamed of going to college before coming to us but now are living successful, prosperous lives,” explained Bethany Monahan, development assistant and member coordinator at MRC.
 
For just $2 per month, students can use the space to form rock bands, become rappers, learn to play musical instruments and even serve as a radio talk show host (MRC broadcasts its own station).
 
“Music has the ability to connect to the deepest parts of our souls and in turn change our lives,” Monahan said. “Each teenager regardless of economic or social position deserves the chance to experience the transformative power of music.”

 
Project Yoga
 
For individuals like Laticia, practicing yoga offers a sense of purpose and relief.
 
“It happened in mountain pose,” Project Yoga co-founder Katy Knowles said. “She looked at me with tears in her eyes. She was feeling something she couldn’t explain, something that felt good.”
 
Laticia was 17 and working to complete her GED but had come into Knowles’ class visibly agitated. After grounding and balancing herself, taking deep breaths and listening to words of encouragement, however, Laticia was able to find her inner voice of serenity and self love.
 
Project Yoga works to foster those same feelings in the 250 students it serves each week at homeless shelters, senior centers, programs for at-risk youth and homes for women recovering from lives of prostitution.
 
“It’s working,” Knowles said. “Last year the National Institute of Health spent $13.8 million researching mindfulness and yoga and confirmed these practices can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and can enhance physical strength and flexibility.”
 
Project Yoga hopes to expand by providing enhanced training to its instructors so they can help school teachers learn to implement yoga and mindfulness practices in the classroom.

 
UC Blue Ash Dental Hygiene Program 
 
Nearly half of adults and more than half of children in Ohio have no dental care, according to Luke Burroughs, dental hygienist, educator and member of the Dental Hygiene Community Impact program at UC Blue Ash
 
Access to care is one of the biggest barriers to oral health, but UC Blue Ash is working to address that community health need by offering free or reduced rates for dental care to its patients — all while students learn and are immersed in a culture of volunteerism.
 
“I have seen firsthand the impact of poor oral health on our patients’ overall health, their self-esteem and their quality of life,” Burroughs said. “And I have seen how our students, faculty and volunteers can help bring health, hope and understanding to our patients.”
 
While UC Blue Ash currently operates a 34-chair clinic, it’s seeking funding for an ADA-approved dental chair so all clients can receive quality care and privacy. 

For one client with muscular dystrophy, Burroughs says he wishes the care could have been better.
 
“In three visits, we transformed his mouth and he was able to smile again,” Burroughs said. “But sadly we didn’t give him the best care possible.”
 
The chairs, which he said are quite narrow, could not accommodate the client’s needs. So he instead sat in his wheelchair in the middle of the aisle throughout his treatment.
 
“He didn’t have the privacy you and I expect when we go to our dentist,” Burroughs said.
 
With added community support, UC Blue Ash can serve each and every patient with dignity regardless of one’s age, weight or mobility.

 
iSPACE 
 
“OK, class, take out your science books, please,” Lori McAlister said as she began her pitch. “Open to chapter 7, the chapter on inclined planes. I want you to read the chapter and answer questions 1-34, even only.”
 
That’s the style of learning many of us grew up with, but she argued that it certainly does little to foster a love for science.
 
iSPACE provides area K-12 students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) focused programming through innovative hands-on learning opportunities.
 
One student, for example, came to iSPACE through a partnership with Lighthouse Youth Services and the Hamilton County Juvenile Court System to participate in the nonprofit’s program “Dinner and a Robot,” where she learned to program a robot to climb an inclined plane.
 
“She knew she could be a scientist, that she could do technology, that she could figure out the engineering that made that robot go up that inclined plane and that she could do the math as well,” McAlister said.
 
iSPACE hopes to bring programs like “Dinner and a Robot” to 4,000 more youth in the Cincinnati area.
 
“We are committed to have a STEM-literate society,” McAlister said. “Your investment in iSPACE isn’t rocket science, but it is an investment in a kid’s future.” 
 

Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a freelance writer, adjunct English composition instructor and server at Orchids at Palm Court. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.
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