GUEST POST: MEG ERSKINE, MULTICULTURAL REFUGEE COALITION

We are thrilled to be joined by Meg Erskine, Co-founder and Executive Director of Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) and 2015 Philanthropitch finalist. Last year alone, Austin resettled more than 1,500 refugees from 25 countries. MRC is helping these families build a life of self-sustainability and successfully integrate into the Austin community.

The nonprofit social enterprise branch of MRC, Open Arms, offers sustainable apparel and sewn goods made by women refugees through living wage employment. Open Arms has partnered with IKEA and currently has pillows made by Central Texas refugee women in the Houston, Round Rock and Frisco IKEA stores. We highly recommend these products, especially for anyone who needs to do some last minute holiday shopping! Check out a video about the partnership here and look for the HÅLLNING collection in IKEA stores!
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Guest Blog Post, Written by Meg Erskine

About 9 years ago when I co-founded Multicultural Refugee Coalition and would speak about my excitement about this work–many people didn’t know what a refugee was. If you used the term “political refugee” or aiding those fleeing violence and genocide- some people were afraid I was getting involved in something that was dangerous or something that I shouldn’t since these were words that we don’t often have much experience with in the United States. That all changed when folks would meet or hear more of the individual stories of refugees that were fleeing these kinds of situations and could understand clearly the commonality and heart that unites all of us.

Here we are, 9 years later, and now the topic of refugees is very top of mind for many, for which I am oddly grateful, but worry deeply about in the same sense. I believe to my core that Love is always greater than Fear and that the best way to overcome fear is actual experience. Many people haven’t had the chance to engage with refugees, and without this experience their mind, often fueled by commentary of the media and politicians, is left only to fear. My attempt here is to share a little bit about the refugee situation and why I am inspired and compelled to help this population resettled to our community.

First and foremost – refugees are the most vetted people trying to enter our country, taking at least two years of intensive processing and screening that proves they are fleeing the violence and persecution themselves that we are so fearful of. Many refugees have only known life in a refugee camp- some 20 plus years- waiting, hoping for a chance of a peaceful new start for their families. Our work at Multicultural Refugee Coalition is to provide a warm welcome and connection for refugee families to the opportunities for success in their new community. We do this by helping them to gain access to growing opportunities for their families through our Agriculture Program, learn a new skill such as sewing that can lead to employment at our social enterprise- Open Arms, or provide support through our weekly community center programs.

The unifying theme of all refugee families I have come to know and love is HOPE. They live with such fierce determination and hope for their family’s future and I am amazed by the love they show, even with such unjust experiences they have lived. I will never forget meeting a refugee child from the Congo who was resettled with her family of 8 here to Austin. She was only in the 5th grade but wanted someone to hear her stories of the country that she loved and the violence that she had witnessed, and to help provide her some hope for life here in Austin. She was determined and hopeful and has become an incredible writer and is now a freshman at a major university here in Texas. She is one of the most inspiring people I know.

I treasure my relationships with other refugee women- mothers who taught me how to become a mother myself. These mothers held baby showers for me, helped me to learn to carry my baby on my back, and so much more. We are connected by the love we share as mothers and the hope we have for our children.

I adore our dear friends from Iraq that served as interpreters for the US Military, who we have celebrated birthdays and marriages with, and who never miss the chance to acknowledge every major holiday with a warm phone call of gratitude for our friendship.

I am always amazed by the sense of hospitality- always ready for a visit over tea and snacks and open and ready for dialogue. These experiences teach me how to slow down and engage in real dialog, prompting me to do the same for guests in my own home.

I love having refugees in our community which provide the opportunity for rich cross cultural experiences, opportunities to learn about the world around us and make our communities so much stronger.

If you would like more opportunities for engaging with the refugee community, please contact us and we will share the various ways to get involved here at Multicultural Refugee Coalition. Donations are always welcome as well, as we continue to provide a warm welcome and show the refugee population and the world that love is always greater than fear.

-Meg Erskine
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Contact Meg at merskine@mrcaustin.org to learn more about how to get involved with MRC. Make any donations here: http://www.mrcaustin.org/donate-now/

COLIN’S HOPE: A CASE STUDY + PICTURES

“Philanthropitch can really refresh organizations!”

-A conversation with Alissa Magrum, Executive Director of Colin’s Hope
 by Taylor Prinsen, Associate, Philanthropitch, a program of the Notley Fund

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Colin’s Hope, a water safety awareness program to prevent children from drowning, received $28,500 from Philanthropitch Austin in 2015. We wanted to check in with Colin’s Hope to see how the money impacted their organization and where they are now. I met up with Alissa Magrum, the Executive Director of Colin’s Hope, at the YMCA of Austin to see their Pre-K prevention program in action.

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Philanthropitch’s goal is to help innovative programs like Colin’s Hope grow their impact significantly. How did the $28,500 prize help Colin’s Hope scale?

This donation was a tenth of our budget for the year, so it has been a huge help programmatically for us to expand the program to two more schools, and ultimately tripling the number of children and families impacted with our water safety messages. We are launching our new programs in Spring 2016 at Dobie and Uphaus Pre-Kindergarten Centers here in Austin. We are also currently running our initial program this Fall at Lucy Read Pre-K and are further refining the curriculum and the model.

That’s incredible! About how many more children now understand water safety?

450-500 children plus their families received training that otherwise would not. And, thanks to Philanthropitch, we provided an additional 4,000 swim lessons.

Philanthropitch aims to provide more than just funding. In what other ways has this experience helped Colin’s Hope?

Organizationally, we saw a HUGE increase in brand recognition…throughout the year at different events, people would come up to us and say “I recognize you from Philanthropitch!” Brand recognition is huge for us as we are an awareness program. It also helped us look at our program and determine how much impact we could truly make.

Personally, having Philanthropitch as a speaking opportunity helped me learn how to tighten up my messaging when giving a pitch about our program’s purpose and evaluation strategies. It helped me get super distilled and focused at “selling” our model.

How can people help?

We will be launching the replication programs in the Spring. We are most in need of donations so that we can hire a staff member to serve all of these kids and their families.

We also need $2,000 to fund a bus to transport the children to the YMCA from the Uphaus Pre-K Center. Without this funding, students will not be able to participate in the lessons because they don’t have a means of getting to the YMCA. The school did not have it in their budget to cover a bus or driver and it was an unforeseen expense for us.

I’d also really like to partner with an guidance from an accelerator-type coach who can to help us launch new programs and help us develop the curriculum into a product/toolkit that can then be used to “sell” the program and scale it.

And, swimsuits! Many of these children either do not have a swimsuit or cannot afford one. New suits are okay, but a monetary donation allows us to get the right size when we need to. But if you’d prefer to donate a new suit, the sizes are as follows: Girls/Boys Size XS (4/5) or S (6/7)

As for people who want to volunteer, in January, we’d like to train some new “Community Ambassadors” who can represent Colin’s Hope at our events or in their own communities spreading the water safety message. In February, we need volunteers for our Austin Marathon waterstop that we sponsor. Then, from March through June, we need TONS of volunteers to assemble and distribute water safety information cards, which is a very flexible opportunity that’s great for groups, families etc. This can be done onsite at a workplace or can be done on one’s own.

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After speaking with Alissa, it was clear that Colin’s Hope has made great strides to help lower incidents of drowning in Central Texas and raise awareness about water safety. Alissa said that participating in Philanthropitch helped them verify the Pre-K program is where they can make the biggest impact. We’re so proud of the work they’ve already done at Lucy Read Pre-K this fall.

It was a huge honor to get to go watch these tiny, adorable children learn to swim for the first time. Many of them have never even been in a pool before, so to see the excitement on their faces as they experienced the joy of paddling around the pool with a swim instructor was a reminder at the wonderful work Colin’s Hope is doing! Colin’s Hope programs not only provide memorable experiences to these children, but also provide incredibly valuable education to help prevent unnecessary deaths due to drowning. We, as Philanthropitch, are so glad that we were able to help this program come to fruition.

Colin’s Hope needs your help!

  • Donate before the end of the year to help provide transportation from Uphaus Pre-K to the YMCA so these 4 year-olds can receive swim lessons! 95.6% of students at Uphaus Pre-K are considered “economically disadvantaged,” so providing these lessons for free is significantly helping these families. Colin’s Hope needs $2,000 to make this happen.
  • Donate swimsuits for the children receiving swim lessons in Spring 2016.
  • Volunteer with Colin’s Hope (see Alissa’s volunteer needs above)!
  • Spread the word! Colin’s Hope is an awareness program dedicated to highlighting the need for water safety among children and families. Check their website and Facebook page for more info!

If you are interested in donating swimsuits or volunteering with Colin’s Hope please contact Alissa Magrum at alissa.magrum@colinshope.org.

  • This was the first swimming lesson these students from Lucy Reed Pre-K have gotten so far. They will have 7 more days of practicing!

OUR BLOG’S PURPOSE

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Are we the only ones who think it’s crazy that 2015 is coming to a close? We’ve hit some big milestones through Philanthropitch this year and have some pretty exciting plans in place for 2016! But the real story here is the awesome work our finalists continue to do long after their involvement in Philanthropitch.

For those of you who have attended a Philanthropitch event, you know that these nonprofit leaders have about 3 minutes to share their story with you and hopefully get you hooked on their mission/vision. But then what happens? How do you keep up with their programs?

We plan to use this blog as a platform to extend these nonprofits’ stories and share them with all of you, plus create a resource for you to find ways to stay engaged in the community in between Philanthropitch events.

Sound like something you might be interested in? We hope so!

Now we keep mentioning our previous nonprofit finalists, but who are they? We’re so proud of the work each of the finalists have accomplished after participating in Philanthropitch and are excited to add to the list in 2016. Check out the full list of finalists and results here!

Since we started Philanthropitch in 2013, it has given $375,000 among these organizations! We look forward to sharing with all of you how this program (and the funding that comes with it) has made a tangible impact, as well as our plans to expand Philanthropitch. So check back for more exciting updates and stay tuned for our next post as we’ll highlight a previous Philanthropitch finalist. Think about it as a “Where Are They Now” segment!

Stay tuned!

VIDEO: WHAT IS PHILANTHROPITCH?

You’ve been told that Philanthropitch is a one-of-a-kind “Shark Tank” style fast-pitch forum for high-potential nonprofit organizations. But…what does that really mean? What does the event look and feel like? What kinds of questions do judges ask during the Q&A session? What do some of these pitches actually sound like?

Let Chelsea Woodhead, Chief People Officer at BuildASign.com, tell you all about it!