MY VIEW | Jonelle Stachura Wallmeyer

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Why ACT Now?

Spring has finally sprung and were turning our focus to getting outdoors again, focusing on springtime rituals: soccer leagues, gardening and the return of tourists to our cobbled streets.

Unfortunately, the much-noted economic downturn continues to dampen the bright outlook that the change of season brings to most of us.

As Alexandrians we pride ourselves on being a caring community that has always stepped up to answer the need for the most vulnerable in our city. During the holiday season last winter, individual donors answered the call (actual phone calls) from many nonprofit organizations to help provide coats for school children who stood at the bus stop on those cold winter mornings, turkeys aplenty for holiday food baskets and extra donations to help pay utility bills for those who couldnt afford to keep their homes warm. Many charitable organizations even reported increases on their year-end giving requests. But even that expanded generosity has not stopped the growing numbers of clients asking our nonprofits for aid.

The safety net providers who directly address the basic needs food, clothing, shelter and medical are seeing an increased demand that surprises all of us. In the first quarter of 2009, requests by nonprofits are up considerably over last year:

Food donations: up 20-40 percent;

Rent /Utility assistance: up 42-60 percent; and

Medical Assistance: up 50-90 percent.

These numbers are staggering. Across the country nonprofits are overwhelmed by need. Sadly, Alexandria is not immune to this downturn. Our own neighbors are suffering. Lazarus Ministries, which provides food, clothing and assistance to those in need, reports their client base has expanded past the homeless and unemployed to include working families who are not able to provide food for their families. ALIVE!s March monthly food distribution program saw a 94 percent increase over the same monthly distribution last March. The Arlandria Health Center saw a 30 percent increase in patients in 2008 and a 40 percent increase in health care visits almost twice the national average for community health care centers. Christ House, a local emergency service organization, noted that requests for assistance increased overall an alarming 350 percent in 2008. As a result, nonprofits are finding themselves turning clients away, referring them to fellow nonprofits that are already past their capacity or reducing the amount of assistance that they can give to each client.

Were all hearing this news everywhere these days: at city budget hearings, in our workplaces, in our church bulletins, at our childrens schools and on our neighborhood listservs. Its almost debilitating for caring, generous Alexandrians. Who needs help most and now? Donors are frustrated on how to give to make the best impact, and now more than ever, we need to act smartly.

At ACT, we quickly gathered some resources together and worked to figure this out. With $25,000, we created the ACT Now Fund to respond to the needs of safety-net nonprofit organizations experiencing a significant financial shortfall affecting their ability to provide services as a result of the economic downturn. The ACT Now Fund is a grant fund set up to help the citys nonprofits meet basic human needs in our community, including emergency financial assistance, housing assistance, food, clothing and medical/health assistance. This fund does not provide direct support to individuals requesting emergency assistance. Instead, it funds the organizations that are already serving individuals. Grants are being given to organizations whose main mission is providing aid and/or meeting the basic needs of people in the City of Alexandria.

The first round of applications were due earlier this month and funding requests exceeded $90,000. With only $25,000 to distribute, ACTs grant committee now has the unenviable task of narrowing down the requests to a few awardees. Could we do more now? Yes, clearly with more contributions to the ACT Now Fund we can impact those increases in food requests, rental assistance and medical services. The ACT Now Fund provides donors with a simple, single point of entry to give where it is needed most and act now to make a difference. Our hope is that the ACT Now Fund will continue to fund these growing needs on a rotating basis but to do this we will need more supporters. If youd like to help, get in touch with us. Gifts of all amounts are welcome.

As the community foundation for Alexandria, ACT has become a catalyst for engaging people, creating solutions and leveraging charitable investments. ACT is a civic leader and a resource for charitable information, a place for grant-making and a financial vehicle for donor advised funds. The ACT Now Fund is an example of how ACT goes beyond simply making grants that advance charitable activities. ACTs staff and board identify current and emerging issues, generate resources to address those needs and help the region plan for the future.

Over the past four years, ACTs accomplishments have been significant. Through ACTs support and leadership, nine powerful initiatives are at work making a difference in Alexandria including the Center for Alexandrias Children, the Giving Circle of Alexandria, Give Back Alexandria and the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations. And now our latest effort to get resources to community safety net organizations the ACT Now Fund.

Alexandrians are known for their spirit of involvement, generosity and a history of neighbor helping neighbor. By having a community foundation dedicated to effective philanthropy, Alexandrians now have a smart, easy way to give and to get involved by taking ACT-ion in their backyard to make a difference.

Jonelle Stachura Wallmeyer is the founding Executive Director of the ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation dedicated to raising the level of involvement and investment in philanthropy in Alexandria. To learn more about the ACT Now Fund or to get involved, please visit www.actforalexandria.org or call 703-739-7778.

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