Didn’t get a chance to listen to our new podcast or would rather read through our show notes? Here you go!
Hello and welcome to the Giving Back to Gwinnett podcast. Each episode, we tackle community issues, tell stories that matter, and show how you can make a difference. Presented by the Gwinnett Coalition and the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, Giving Back to Gwinnett showcases the nonprofits and people making an impact here in Gwinnett.
I’m Heather Loveridge, Founder of Magnolia Media Group and Chief Storyteller for the Community Foundation, and I’m your host. I’m joined today by Randy Redner, CEO and President of the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia; Renee Byrd-Lewis, Executive Director of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services; and Paige Havens, who oversees Marketing and Community Relations for Gwinnett Cares.
Today, we wanted to share a vision for the podcast since this is a new venture, introduce the Gwinnett Coalition and the Community Foundation, and talk about some of the issues facing our community, and how you’ll hear about them in future episodes. So, welcome, everyone, and thanks for being with us today. I’m going to turn it over and let Randy introduce himself. And then, we’ll toss it over to Renee and Paige to introduce themselves as well. So, Randy tell us who you are.
Randy Redner: Who I am. Thank you, Heather. Appreciate it. So, Randy Redner, CEO of the Community Foundation. I’ve been there – believe it or not, Heather – six years now. So, I did a 20 year corporate career and finishing up a 20 year nonprofit career. So, stops at Habitat, the American Cancer Society, the United Methodist Children’s Home, and then here to the Community Foundation. Do some good work in my own community. It’s been great.
Heather Loveridge: Yes. That’s awesome. All right. Renee, tossing it over to you.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Good afternoon. Renee Byrd-Lewis, Executive Director for the Gwinnett Coalition. And unlike Randy, I’m actually only six months in my role, so I still can pull the newbie card for a little bit.
Randy Redner: That’s right.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Having actually come from the corporate sector myself as well, a decade at Scientific Atlanta and Cisco Systems, six years in higher education at Georgia Gwinnett College, and a couple of years consulting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And it took me not too long to realize I wanted to come back to Gwinnett and do my work here. So, glad to be back in my home turf.
Randy Redner: But Renee always involved in the community through all those things you just talked about herself, you know, being involved and engaged in community work here in Gwinnett, always been part of her heart. So, we’re glad to have her in this new role. Six months in, she is no rookie. Don’t let her get by with that.
Paige Havens: Well, I’m Paige Havens, and I’m a Marketing and Community Relations Consultant here in Gwinnett County. And I work across so many different spectrums and across many different sectors. But one of my biggest passions is to really work with the nonprofits in our community and help connect them to be most impactful.
So, over the course of the last year, I have been helping to lead the communication efforts for Gwinnett Cares, which was an initiative to care for our community through COVID-19. And so, now, I’m working very closely with Renee and Randy to begin to fold that effort up under the Gwinnett Coalition and to really begin to see how we can amplify all of that work as we move forward from relief to recovery.
Randy Redner: But Paige is also not a rookie to community leadership and community work. It goes back and way. I mean, you know, when you see her sign on for her email and it says Spitfire, there’s a reason it says Spitfire. So, has helped in so many ways, including our concussion center at Gwinnett Medical. So, we appreciate –
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Her fingerprints are all over this community and successful initiatives.
Heather Loveridge: All right. Well, we’ve introduced everybody. So, let’s tell our listeners a little bit more about the organizations that you guys are in charge of, since not everyone may know who, what, why of the Coalition and the Community Foundation. So, Renee, tell us about the Coalition and what you want people to know about it.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Happy to lead off. So, the Gwinnett Coalition is a 30 year nonprofit, so it’s not a stranger to the Gwinnett community. First established by a needs assessment that Gwinnett County and other institutions in the community led in 1991. So, it’s actually sort of the Coalition coming full circle. It was the planning and convening organization for many years. Doing great work like creating the Veterans Resource Center, Miles Mason’s Community Clinic, Great Days of Service, five cooperative ministries, and, most recently, G.R.E.A.T Little Minds. So, it has programs that it has initiated and spun off in the community for lasting legacy.
But as we think about how Gwinnett County has changed over the years, we’ve become a mini United Nations. I mean, we are, you know, just a representation of all corners of the world. And with that and those changed faces, the needs have changed as well. So, the Coalition is evolving. We’re in the middle of a transition to evolving into a more strategic and impactful organization, which is requiring a little bit of work on the inside in terms of restructuring and ensuring that we have the staff competencies and skillsets to take that forward.
But we’ll be looking at identifying issues that we know exists. I mean, this is not a surprise for any of us in the community. There have been all sorts of underlying issues that have been exacerbated or really brought to the forefront through this last year and COVID. But we will do a comprehensive community wide needs assessment in the coming year. And based on our learnings from COVID-19 and that assessment, we will come up the other side with some strategic priorities that we hope we can really focus on and use a collective impact model. So, maybe more on that later.
Heather Loveridge: Great. And, Randy, give us the 411 on the Community Foundation.
Randy Redner: Well, Heather, you handle all of our marketing so –
Heather Loveridge: I will let you fill in for me.
Randy Redner: Thank you. Yeah. You fill in the blanks for what I miss. But the Community Foundation, you know, 900 community foundations across the country, but ours was founded in 1985, so 35 years into the work. The same year, Renee, that Leadership Gwinnett was founded in Gwinnett County. So, leaders decades ago that said, “Hey, we’re going to need a pipeline of leaders and we’re going to need a pipeline of philanthropic funds to go do what we don’t even know what’s going to happen three decades from now.” And they position, what Renee was just talking about, our generation, our leaders right now thinking about, “What are we going to need a decade out?”
But the Community Foundation, really, our tagline sets it up really well, which is, you know, We connect people who care with causes that matter. And when we’re on our game, you know, causes that matter to people that care. And how do we do that? We have, today, some 300 fund holders. Majority of those are families that do their giving through us. That run, you know, successful lives, busy lives, but they want to do good in the community. So, we helped be that bridge, that connector, sometimes that coach to connect them to what’s happening. So, we want to see the work that Renee and her team are doing around homelessness or food and security. And then, how do we drive that down to help one family say, “I can make an impact to that.”
Earlier or last summer, you know, a call from our largest school around special needs saying, “Hey, we know we were in the middle of a pandemic, but we have a chance to put in a new playground for our special needs students.” It took us two days and six families that said, “Yup. We’ll do it, to fund something like that.” So, that’s what we get to do. The exciting work we get to do every day.
Heather Loveridge: The heart of it all is helping those people. Well, thank you for those introductions to the who, what, why. And let’s talk a little bit about, for those who have been listening to the Giving Back to Gwinnett podcast or those who are brand new, because we have a little bit of a different angle we’re taking with this. So, Paige, just share with us about the past year, some of the important focus areas that have come out of COVID and kind of our vision for what’s going forward.
Paige Havens: Well, certainly with our efforts with Gwinnett Cares, we have found that the pandemic has really shown a light and spotlighted those gaps that we have in the community. Not only has it actually accelerated some of the work that we were doing because it was just absolutely necessary for us to get in and respond. But it has also helped us realize, maybe there were some gaps out there that were a little bigger than we thought.
So, as we begin to go through this needs assessment phase with the coalition and looking at where the donors want to give with greater impact, you know, this is an opportunity for us to align all of this. So, when we take that strategic planning component and we take the philanthropic force that we can put behind it, and begin to identify – thanks to the work that we’ve done, we’ve had some very impactful response teams through Gwinnett Cares, through the pandemic, that have focused on homelessness and housing, food and security, multicultural needs, education, health care gaps. So, we have our eyes wide open, more than I think we ever had before in this community.
And this pandemic actually will make us stronger because I think every sector now realizes how important it is that the health and wellness of our community is there, and that every member of our community thrives. Because when that doesn’t happen, it brings us all down. And so, I think that we’ve got a collaborative nature building that we have not seen in many, many years, that all sectors are now aligning and saying how can we get behind this collective impact and really move the dial more on these things. You know, we could feed hungry people all day long, but what can we do to actually require them not to be hungry anymore?
Randy Redner: Yeah. We get down to those root causes that really get it and stop – not stop the Band-Aid. You always have to do that – but really dig down deep.
Paige Havens: And I think it’s really important to realize, too, one thing the pandemic really made us check ourselves on very carefully was the equitability of it all. And making sure that we are looking at the data and knowing where our resources are and where they’re not and where we need to disperse them greater. And the specific needs, a very unique populations within our community. So, from the black-brown community, to the Latino community, to all of the different Asian communities that we serve, their needs and the way they approach life oftentimes are from a different filter. And we’re learning more and more because we’ve all been working side by side through this pandemic to care for each other.
So, I’m super excited about what’s ahead. And when we align the forces of all of this, we are really going to be a community that thrives like never before.
Randy Redner: And we thought we needed to communicate in a different way out to the public. And that was the reason, at least for the Community Foundation and I’m pretty sure for Renee the same thing, is, “Okay. What’s a different new channel that we can get other people engaged in this work?” Because, you know, the four of us aren’t going to solve this thing. But, boy, if we can get the energy of a million people both here, and I think the other thing we’ve learned, Paige and Renee, over last year is, we’re going to need help outside the community.
Where do we go to other folks, other organizations? Who’s the best practice across the entire country? Or, we don’t care if it’s in the globe that are doing some really great work around housing and affordable housing or whatever, and bring that here. So, we thought the podcast was, “Okay. Let’s do this.” Mike from RadioX has been after, you know, us for like five years to do this. But we thought it was really good timing, Mike, to go ahead and try it now.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: I just would add, I mean, I do think timing is everything, right? And so, as I’ve been doing my listening sessions with community leaders – and this is not nonprofits only. It’s government leaders. It’s the private sector. It’s health care leaders. It’s education leaders. It’s the whole gamut – it is all about alignment. It is all about bringing this community together and sort of having everyone in the same boat, headed the same direction, and our oars are rowing in the same in manner, so that we can actually get to the bottom of some of these root causes and and make some changes that are lasting and sustainable, not just the surface fixes.
And I can tell you that, as I met with some of those private sector leaders, the question was, who else are you working with? And are you duplicating services? And how can you work better with others? It is that whole thing. So, the private sector is asking for this alignment, and I think they’re ready to support that both here. And if we’re lucky, Randy, we get our big thinking caps on. Maybe we can pull in some of the dollars, too.
Paige Havens: And I think that’s important for us to acknowledge then that, for the purpose of this podcast, what we really want to do is kind of shift. Instead of just inviting various nonprofits to come in and just talk about their mission, which is very important, what we really want to do is let’s tackle a topic. Let’s talk about what are we going to do about affordable housing. And what efforts are we doing in the community so that we’re all educating ourselves more about those root causes and those issues. And then, we can identify who are those players within that space.
So, if that’s a cause that really speaks to your heart, then you can step in and really empower them. And that’s where you need to connect. So, we want to allow people to give back with greater impact through the information we share on this podcast.
Randy Redner: Yeah. We want to invite tur listening audience, you know, into the solution of what we’re doing. So, give them opportunities and ways to connect with this group or other groups. So, the more the merrier. You know the great quote, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.” We’re trying to take a million people together.
Heather Loveridge: Yeah. That’s our hope, is that people don’t just listen, but they listen and they go, “Oh, I need to go do something.”
Randy Redner: Right. And we need to give them connections to get to that engagement piece and come along with us.
Heather Loveridge: Right. Right. Well, along those lines, Randy and Renee, just tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen, experiences this past year through COVID. Because, you know, we’re talking about these different focus areas, but why they’re important to each one of you. So, I’ll toss it over to you, Randy.
Randy Redner: Well, I’ve seen it. You know, I’ve seen obviously a lot in the last year from the first meeting when there was a group of us on a Friday the 13th sitting at 12Stone in the conference room, and eight of us going, “We think this thing is going to be a little bit bigger than we thought.” And at that point we thought it was going to be big for about 60 days. So, that tells you how good we are at the leadership.
But, for me, when people ask me that question now, a year later, I always come back and say, what I’ve seen and learned the most is about leadership. And especially about the younger generation that the leaders that have been in our community for a couple of decades, you know they’re going to stand up, you know they’re going to do what they need to do and all of that. But you look back for the younger ones and what is the set behind us are working with us today going to do. And those folks that step up and step into the problem and those that step away. So, we’ve seen this group of new young leader dynamic. We are not scared. We will figure this out. We will try that, fail at that, figure something else out, and spin, grind, pivot, the whole thing. And that, for me, has been the most exciting thing out of the work that I’ve seen in the last year with our community.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Yeah. So, I had one foot in Chattanooga and one foot in Gwinnett County. So, I had a unique seat, I think. I sat really on the sidelines for quite a while watching the work of Randy, and Paige, and many, many others. Denise Townsend was right in there. I mean, you could list them.
I mean, they all were wholeheartedly 150 percent in. And they lived and breathed that for over a year. And so, I’m coming in and really able to benefit from their learnings and their perspective. And then, also try to make that transition to what is that sustainable, more lasting model going forward. Because it’s been a year of intensive giving, and hours, and feet in the ground, just heavy lifting, a lot of heavy lifting. So, it’s how do you take those learnings and then sort of ratchet them up in a way that they can still have the great impact, but in a more sustainable fashion. So, I’m glad to be at the table, honored to actually just be working with all of them through this process.
Randy Redner: Yeah. That shift from the relief work to the recovery work, very difficult and very challenging. In many ways, relief work is kind of easier, right? We know we need food. We know we need this. Let’s go get it. We get it there. The recovery work – and I’ve been sounding this to not only my own board, but leaders in the community – every issue that we were working on before the pandemic, the housing and food and security, all of that, those issues are going to be bigger and worse as the pandemic pulls away.
You know, just in healthcare, our health leaders, they had the healthcare roundtable summit call this week. Well, they spent half of that call on mental health. That is the healthcare issue inside the healthcare issue. And as COVID pulls away, all the stress and strain the entire country has been under is playing its way out. So, Renee comes at the right time because some of us are a little tired. Boy, new energy at the table. Because the recovery work is going to be big, long, deep to get down to those root causes that we all talked about. So, again, why we need a podcast to get more people into the game to come help us do this work.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: And if you just take mental health as one of those issues, that has existed for a long time. We just didn’t want to talk about it. We didn’t want to bring it to the surface. It’s embarrassing. There’s a stigma. All of that attached to it. Well, now, buddy, we’ve got mental health issues at every age group right on down the line. And our kids, we know that for sure. Watching school board meetings, children stepping up to the podium saying, “I have anxiety. I have depression. I cannot do my schoolwork.” You know, I mean, it’s real stuff for all of these families across the community.
Randy Redner: So, we were so excited to see the announcement from Lawrenceville City Police Department, where they are going to embed a mental health worker from Viewpoint Health into the calls to respond to calls in the community. Because police officers are not experts at mental health. Mental health experts are not police officers. So, we’re going to try something, great. Leaders told us a couple of years ago when we started to dig into this work – Paige, remember this? – one of the things that our top leader said was, “Don’t take a lot of time. It’s okay to fail. Fail fast, figure it out, we’ll try something different. It’s okay.”
Paige Havens: Let’s just try it.
Randy Redner: You know, corporate leadership is a bunch of really entrepreneurial kind of people. And that’s, typically, not for the nonprofit side. We want to do it right. We want to do it slow. We want to do Kumbaya all together. And we’re learning some great lesson from the corporate side. So, they go, “No. It’s okay. Let’s give it a shot. If that doesn’t work, let’s come up with something different.”
Paige Havens: I think we’ve learned to leverage the entrepreneurial spirit of our community more than ever before. And I think, you know, definitely in our crisis work early on in the pandemic of, literally, we would brainstorm ideas and then we’d have no idea if that’s going to work, but let’s give it a try. And then, we’d go, “Oh, my gosh. That worked. That was amazing.” So, we gave each other permission to try new things, and to think outside the box, and to bring totally new partners to the table than we had never thought about bringing and aligning with before. And so, I think that that is just a tremendous gift that we can now leverage.
And I also think that we didn’t realize at the time what a significant gap we had from a communication standpoint in our community. We have a population of a million people and not one central place of communication. So, when we had to say, “This is where you can go to get tested. This is where you can go to get a vaccine. This is where you can go to get help.” We had no one central line to do that. That’s where Gwinnett Cares was birthed, and trying to at least just create an online platform.
So, now, we have people who are tapping into those resources and learned how important their voice was and how they had a place to fit in. And any talent, any time that you could give, and any treasure that you could do, we could put to good work right away. And I hope that many in our community will come out seeing themselves as philanthropists more than ever before. I mean, just think about the people who gave hundreds and hundreds of hours just sewing masks. You tell me those people were not philanthropists.
Randy Redner: They definitely are.
Paige Havens: I hope that as part of this communication that we offer here through this program is helping people find that inner giving component within themselves. So, you know, it always feels like minds is just a drop in the bucket. But I promise you, if we align it intentionally, everyone can make a difference.
Randy Redner: Connect people who care with causes that matter. I like it.
Paige Havens: Yeah. That concept.
Randy Redner: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like that. But one great story of exactly what Paige talked about, you know, one, YouTube. Paige and Heather, you guys created the branding in 24 hours. I talked about it in March 13th, and about March 16th you guys had that developed and launched and all that kind of stuff. But just think about it. That first week of it, we figured out really quickly for every one of our food banks, no longer could people get out of their car and walk into our food bank, every food bank. And we have 42 locations that push out food, probably many more. But everybody had to flip to mobile, drive-through.
And just that and having those conversations, one that came back to us out of the Community Foundation was we said, “We need one box. One size box.” And they were running around trying to find boxes, all coops trying to find boxes. And we said, “Stop. We will buy the box. Let’s go to one size fits all. We will have them dropped, shipped, and delivered to you. Get out of the box business. We need you to be worried about how do you deliver the food.” And that was done in the first week to two weeks. And by, you know, week number three, they had flipped the system. Things were rocking and rolling. But crazy stuff, right? You know, crazy stuff. But it was fun.
Heather Loveridge: Yeah. Well, and it goes back, Paige, to your point, too, like we say at the Community Foundation, people think philanthropy is just giving money. But we have seen that just portrayed in so many different ways through the pandemic that it’s time, talent, and treasure, and people volunteering. You know, I was at the coops, too, and just so many people who came in from kids who are of the age that they can start helping to senior adults stepping in. Because some of the senior adult population who was serving couldn’t be serving anymore because they were a high risk. But other ones would step in and fill that gap.
Randy Redner: Making masks, right? When that first came out, we’re thinking, “Really, we got to do this? We’re Americans.” And then, boom, by week number three, man, they had the whole community organized around making masks and getting them out there.
Paige Havens: Even my husband learned to sew masks.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: And then, the appreciation efforts for healthcare workers. And sort of delivering gift cards, and baskets, and just things to just keep the life in those individuals who are giving their heart and soul every day are just celebrations.
Heather Loveridge: Right. The parking lots. Everybody honking their horns for the healthcare workers
Paige Havens: Even understanding the power of your voice of encouragement to people who just really feel that they just lost hope. And I think that we have found a new voice in that as well.
Heather Loveridge: And I hope we’ve broken down some barriers. You know, going back to our food coops, you know, you see a car pull through, a brand new car and you immediately start to judge it. But then, you hear their story and you realize that they just lost their job because of the pandemic. And maybe their husband had just left or they are in an abusive situation. And so, you cannot ever just judge someone based on what you think. You have to get to know them. And I think and hope that has broken down some of those barriers, too, that we’re all more alike than we think we are sometimes.
Paige Havens: Well, not to mention the cultural differences that we have in this community. And I mean, we have over 125 languages spoken in our school system. So, that all connects back to families, and learning those family dynamics, and the cultural differences, and understanding, and helping break down. I know maybe in your home culture, this is something that you need to be shameful to ask for help, but you don’t need to. And that we open our hearts and we open our minds to help everyone learn to accept help and to give help in the way that they needed it most.
Heather Loveridge: Yeah. And I love hearing the stories. Because at the Community Foundation, we love the stories because that shows the impact. Any nonprofit knows that, if you can drill down to that one person or something like that and show the impact. You know, talking about COVID, coming out of it, Randy, Renee, Paige, any stories or anything that comes to your mind that just kind of helps show that impact? I know, Randy, we talked about the masks and we talked about different things. But what do you all think of?
Randy Redner: Oh, I think of a lot of different stories. But, you know, it’s always those hidden ones. You see the big stuff out in front. You know, you talk about healthcare, we are really blessed to have a group called the Medical Reserve Corps here, which is nothing but a volunteer arm. And, you know, Sherwin Levinson, that runs that organization.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: What a hero.
Randy Redner: What a hero. A very unsung hero in our community. Behind the scenes of Dr. Arona – yet, another hero in our community – and what she’s done. Definitely got to get her on the show sometime. You know, and him growing from that – I think the numbers I heard from him the other week was like from 500 volunteers to 3,000 volunteers. And the number of hours, you know, that they volunteered and are still volunteering for all the vaccine and all of that. And us to provide a small – we did one donation.
We’re hopefully about to do another one because he goes, “Randy, I need more t-shirts.” I go, “Sherwin, you need more what? He says, “I need more t-shirts and more lanyards because when people pull into those parking lots for their shot or for their testing, they need to know that it’s us, and it’s safe, and it’s all that.” And he said, “We’re a small nonprofit. We have no budget, especially for all these.” So, we were able to fund t-shirts, and lanyards, and welcome kit into that. So, just just incredible stories like that.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: And these are professionals, too. I mean, these are die hard. Like, when I sat down to get my shot at the mass vaccination clinic at Sears, I happened to ask the person giving the shot. And I said, “By the way -” it was a Saturday “- thank you for volunteering.” Number one, because he have one of the t-shirts and the lanyards on. And I said, “What do you do for a day job? I was just curious.” He said, “Oh, actually, I work at Shepherd Spinal Clinic. I’m a nurse. I’m an RN.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, you’re going to probably give me a really good shot, so go right ahead.”
But I mean, these are the types of levels of professionals that are volunteering. And then, it’s also just the regular everyday citizen who can be there to check people in, and help guide, and translate, and be sure you’ve waited your 15 minutes. And so, it’s that whole collective sort of pitching in to make all of that work seamlessly.
Randy Redner: Yeah. Because philanthropy, you know, as I tell my board and I tell our fund holders, if we’re going to write a check and solve poverty, Rockefeller would have done it 100 years ago, right? You know, money is not going to solve. Writing a check is not going to. It’s a one tool in all the tools that we have. But it really comes down to people. People that care, that use their skills, and their God given talent, and all of that, and bring their connectivity and say, “I’m going to go do something about it. Let me roll up my sleeve, whatever it is, and jump in and make the difference.”
Heather Loveridge: Yes. Everybody can make an impact in their own way.
Randy Redner: You tell them the story about the girl that did the rocks. Painted rocks to raise money.
Heather Loveridge: Yes. We had a fundholder’s daughter, I think it was, who had already started painting rocks. Like, that was just her hobby that she loved. Was she a teenager? She was either middle school or high school, I think. And so, she decided to start painting rocks to sell and donate the proceeds to the community foundation because she wanted a way to help –
Randy Redner: Into our COVID relief fund.
Heather Loveridge: Yes. I just love that.
Randy Redner: Jump in.
Paige Havens: I want a rock.
Heather Loveridge: I know. I’ll have to send you her Instagram. [Inaudible]. But I thought, “What a creative way.” And then, I saw kids who set up food drops in their neighborhoods. They’re trying to get the neighborhood to rally round, and they did that. There was another fund holder’s two daughters that, I think, for the Norcross Coop, that they were doing food drives and loading up their trunk and getting involved.
Randy Redner: Brooke Waters from Leadership Gwinnett did that.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: That’s right. Drop it at my driveway.
Randy Redner: Drop it in the driveway. He took chalk and art, put a nice little blah, blah, blah, and boom. Simple. Easy peasy.
Heather Loveridge: So many different things. When we were actually filming for The Good2Care Gala and talking about Impact46 and the work that they’ve done on homelessness, I’ll never forget being at one of the extended stay motels off of 316 and hearing the caseworker tell me a story about a gentleman who was living there and didn’t have a car, didn’t have a bicycle. And so, he walked six miles to work every day. It took him an hour each way back and forth. But he wanted to work. He wanted to get out the situation he was in. And somebody else heard about that story and donate a car to him so that he could have a way to get to work.
And I thought, again, even if you think – I don’t know – I’m homebound or I’m sick, but you can share stories. You can help get the word out there. And somebody else goes, “Oh, I’ve got this resource. Let’s work together.”
Paige Havens: You know, I think about when I got a call, there was a lady in the community who said, “I’m a healthcare worker and I have been displaced,” Shelia McKenzie. And she started a nonprofit because it was tearing her heart apart. She worked for a doctor’s office that was doing elective surgeries and that type of thing. So, she got laid off and it was killing her. She said, “My people are on the frontline and I can’t be with them and I can’t do it.” So, she started a nonprofit called Help for Healthcare Professionals. And her sole mission was to care for those people on the frontlines.
And just watching her rally just case loads and case loads of water, and snacks, and things that she did. So, you know, there was some powerful stories where you saw people move to do things they probably would have never done.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Well, just last week, there was a corporate contribution from – talk about that one, Paige. That was amazing.
Paige Havens: Renee have had a couple of instances and, Randy, I’m sure you probably have, too, where you get this email and you’re like, “Is this like my great grandmother has died over in another country? Is this legit?”
Randy Redner: Hit delete. Yeah.
Paige Havens: I got a call, “Hey, we have over a million items of PPE that we have in our warehouse that we are not going to need. Our clients don’t need them anymore. And we would like to give them.” And as we began to unfold, it was a local company in Duluth, Restore Robotics. And they said, “You don’t understand how much we have.” And I go, “I get it. I can do the math in my head.” And he says, “I just don’t know that you really can give away this much.” I said, “I will be back in touch with you within 36 hours.” There’s something about that 36 hour thing that happened a lot.
But 36 hours later, I called him back, “I have every piece of your PPE accounted for in the nonprofit community. When can we arrange to get it moved to a warehouse to get it out?” And within a matter of just a-week-and-a-half, we got it moved out and that was done. But it helped them. It cleared the space they needed in their warehouse. They felt great. That donation was well over –
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Seven hundred thousand.
Paige Havens: It was $700,000 worth of PPE. And what that did will sustain our nonprofits. They don’t have to spend that money now to go buy masks and gloves and things.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Cost savings.
Paige Havens: It’s cost savings to their bottom line. And it just helps them be able to serve more people in the end. So, everybody wins. And there’s a story after story like that.
Randy Redner: But I also want to just pull in, our big systems. And what I mean by that, like our county government stepped right in. Our public school system, Gwinnett County school system, right in. I mean, in all the meetings, all the calls. Library, in. Public health, certainly, with Dr. Arona, in. You know, when we said we had a table – there’s a table, folks, very wide from the COVID funding coming down into the community. And that worked to how do we get technology into these kids hands and all of that?
So, our big systems, you know, really worked well with our small nonprofits. So, tops down, bottoms up. Let’s get this worked out. And they’re still at the table and they’re still asking for help. Renee, I know you’re having some really great ongoing conversations with our school system, 180,000 kids, 150 schools, and what did they see going forward that we can help with.
Renee Byrd-Lewis: Yeah. And putting together, you know, a community support model that is really nonprofits that already do work in this space. And leveraging that and taking it into the schools. So, we’re hopeful that we can create that deeper partnership and provide those additional services to help Gwinnett County Public Schools, and especially the kids and their families. I mean, these kids don’t live on their own. They’re connected to families who are also feeling all sorts of pain. So, however we can make those resources more available in a way that’s meaningful is a win-win again.
Heather Loveridge: So, as we wrap up today’s episode, you know, we always kind of want to end with a call to action, how can people get involved. So, Renee, Randy, Paige, how would you guys love to see the community get involved going forward?
Randy Redner: I’m going to let Paige go first, because I really think when she talked earlier about, you know, the first thing you guys did, Heather and Paige was, “Okay. We need a one stop shop.” If you need help, go here. If you want to give help, go there. And I still think that is the place to start. We can certainly give, you know, our website and all that. But I’d love for Paige to go first and then we can add on to that.
Paige Havens: Well, the gwinnettcares.org website certainly outlines how to get help and how to give help. And connects back to many of the organizations that we’ve been working with. And so, I think it is really important that everybody in our community be aware of that resource. And when you hear of people in need, direct them there first.
But we also have developed a volunteer bank that has allowed us now to have a group of people that have said, “I love to get out and volunteer and I want to help and make a difference where I can.” So, we now will email them and blast out volunteer opportunities. And they are signing up all over the place
Randy Redner: We’ve been unloading a lot of trucks every Friday. I know, for me, on the food side.
Paige Havens: Yes. Our Farmers to Family program with Rotary has been really reliant on that group. So, if people are looking for a way to connect, don’t know where to start, don’t know what to do, reach out to Gwinnett Cares. Look at that. Also follow us on Facebook because we are often publishing those types of resources as well. And we need you to be a voice for us. We need you to be the eyes and ears out in the community who are saying, “I see someone in need and I bet I know somebody I can connect them to, to help.” Let’s just don’t walk past it. Let’s do something about it. You can be a person of action.
Heather Loveridge: Yes. I love that. Renee?
Renee Byrd-Lewis: The Gwinnett Cares site now is so happy to have it under the Coalition’s umbrella site. And so, it’s that whole culture of caring that has been built over the past, well, 15 or 16 months now that will, hopefully, endure and live and grow. And then, while that’s happening, the Coalition, of course, is making that transition, and I just want our listeners to know that we will be coming to you out in the community. And we are going to be asking you to participate in this needs assessment. And lend your voice at every level. Of course, we’re going to have leader interviews and focus groups and all that.
But we are intentionally going to be going out into the communities that we don’t know much about. And more distinct communities and the people that we all need to serve and bring under the umbrella. So, I’m excited to begin that work. And we will have a partner that is helping to guide the work, a firm that actually knows how to do this really well. And we’re going to help to champion that effort together, along with many organizations in the community. So, it will definitely be a groundswell, I think, that’s going to happen within the next 12 months or so. So, be on the lookout and engage.
Heather Loveridge: Stay tuned for exciting things. Randy?
Randy Redner: Yeah. The Community Foundation, I’ll go back to the tagline, Connect people who care to causes that matter. So, you can just start at our website, www.cfneg.org. And you’ll see, you know, all my contact, all the staff email, and all that. And then, you know, we’ll connect you appropriately and try to answer your question.
You know, at the end of the day, we want people to do what makes our heart happy. We all can’t do everything. You have to pick your lane, figure out what you bring. This really makes my heart happy, “Let me go help here.” Again, let’s help get you put in play in the community in the recovery work that’s underway right now.
Heather Loveridge: Awesome. Well, Randy, Paige, Renee, thank you so much for joining us today as we kick off this slightly different version of the Giving Back to Gwinnett podcast. And thank you so much to everyone who’s joined us listening out there in the podcast world. If you would like to learn more about the Gwinnett Coalition or the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, please visit them at gwinnettcoalition.org or, as Randy said, cfneg.org. I’m your host, Heather Loveridge. Thanks again for joining us. And, now, go make a difference in your community.