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Impact Day: Feasting on grant recipients’ positive feedback

Liz Bruner, Marie Andress, Tony Zorbaugh, Rev. Dr. Crystal Bujol and Liz Remington.

The ladies of Indian River Impact 100 gathered at the United Against Poverty UP Center, enjoying wine and assorted hors d’oeuvres before hearing from the five 2023 $100,000 grant recipients, each expressing gratitude before relating how the money they received has been utilized to date.

After welcoming everyone, Suzi McCoy Shriner, current president, reminded that Impact membership dues must be received by Feb. 29 in order to vote in April to determine which nonprofits will receive 2024 grants.

“I just love what these nonprofits are doing in the community,” said past president Mary Ellen McCarthy, who introduced each speaker.

Rev. Dr. Crystal Bujol, founder and artistic director of the Gifford Youth Orchestra, spoke of their project to build a Music Center with an Audio, Recording and Communications Studio in the heart of the Gifford community. To date, renderings have been made of the facility, and they have purchased two portable Bose speaker systems with microphones.

With a recording studio, she explained, they can capture performances that will last forever, adding, “It will spread as far as airwaves will take it. And that’s what your investment is going to do for not only our children, but for their children, and their children’s children.”

Debbi Arseneaux, learning and arts integration manager at the Learning Alliance, spoke about their Moonshot Lab School and Hub for Teacher Training initiative, which was launched in partnership with the school district. The focus is teachers’ professional development and building a culture of literacy and learning through creative and engaging K-2 classroom instruction.

“Children are engaging in literacy by using art and drama to build comprehension, knowledge, creativity skills and learning,” said Arseneaux, adding that as students progress, each level becomes a steppingstone to further learning.

Liz Bruner, vice president of philanthropy, said the Senior Resource Association grant enabled them to greatly reduce the number of seniors on the Meals on Wheels wait list.

MOW provides meals and a human connection to eligible seniors via trained volunteers, who deliver hot meals each weekday and frozen meals on Friday for the weekend.

“We also purchased two institutional appliances,” said Bruner, explaining that the additional heating and cooling units were needed to keep food temperature safe.

Charlene Morris, a licensed mental health counselor at the Source, spoke about their new Dignity Wellness program. Over the past six months, they have taught 23 employees and 17 volunteers to recognize the signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with mental health disorders.

“And the feedback has been really great,” said Morris, adding that mental health is just as important as physical health.

While people become homeless due to a wide variety of reasons, she said the single greatest reason is a profound catastrophic loss of family, so the Source provides what they yearn for: a sense of belonging, of community.

Marie Andress, CEO of the Whole Family Health Center founded by Dr. Gerald Pierone, said they were able to purchase and begin using a Mobile Medical Office, which is removing barriers to care, especially for those with limited mobility or transportation access.

“Essentially, our mission is to provide accessible, caring, healthcare services to everyone.

But of course, we want to get to the most vulnerable people,” said Andress. She said they can now take the MMO to areas with vulnerable populations, such as the homeless individuals assisted by the Salvation Army and agencies such as the Hope for Families Center.

Impact 100 members donate $1,100 ($100 for administrative costs) and collectively vote to provide high-impact $100,000 grants to local charities. For more information, visit

Photos by Mary Schenkel

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