Giving back is a way of life in Lorain County. It’s a significant part of the community’s heritage, with more than 2,200 nonprofit organizations supporting children, families, veterans, animals, education and a wide array of causes that touch the sick, vulnerable and anyone in a time of need.
“Lorain County is incredibly fortunate to have a robust philanthropic network supporting local nonprofit organizations,” says Patricia O’Brien, executive director of The Stocker Foundation, adding that no single donor or foundation has the resources to meet all of a community’s financial needs.
Because of the county’s diversity of nonprofits, more good work can be accomplished. Often, organizations partner to elevate the impact.
“I am always encouraged when The Stocker Foundation can join with other Lorain Countians to help nonprofits avoid crisis or find solutions to longtime community challenges,” O’Brien relates. For instance, the foundation is a longtime partner of Neighborhood Alliance and has awarded 55 grants during the last 43 years, “the most any nonprofit organization has ever received,” she says.
Indeed, not only do “for-purpose organizations” lift up the community, they also support each other to achieve vital missions. The Community Foundation of Lorain County’s Connect to a Cause annual daylong campaign has raised over $1 million for 94 different nonprofits since its inception in 2020.
“Our tagline is, ‘Connecting people who care with causes that matter,’ and especially in this day and age, people want to connect,” says Cynthia Andrews, the foundation’s president and CEO.
Support for Lorain County’s helping organizations comes from all angles, including at the chamber level where nonprofit and business members can get the word out about their purpose and find common threads.
“When we have new businesses move into the area and they might not be familiar with Lorain County or Northeast Ohio, a lot of times they want to support a cause in the community, so they might ask us if there is a food bank, animal shelter or other nonprofit with a cause that’s close to them,” says Tony Gallo, president and CEO of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. “We can connect the dots.”
Following is a snapshot of how Lorain County gives.
A Champion and Conduit
“Everyone has their passion, and we have so many different nonprofits in Lorain County — there is something for everyone,” Gallo says, relating that the chamber hosts Business After Hours that showcases various businesses and causes. A recent event highlighted You Belong, which offers on-the-job support and helps place diverse employees into the workplace, focusing on individuals with disabilities.
“Our workforce is in a situation where we are constantly needing to add employees, and we have to start recruiting in different ways, and organizations like You Belong, a vocational and pre-employment transition services company, allows great people to find meaningful work in the county’s businesses,” Gallo shares.
Similarly, P2R in Elyria helps marginalized populations and particularly those previously incarcerated with resources to find success in the workplace. “We have organizations like the Nord Center who counsel those fighting addiction and/or mental health issues so they can better themselves,” Gallo says, noting another pipeline for employing those who desire to wake up with a sense of purpose, “And a job allows them to do that.”
Gallo adds, “We are blessed in Lorain County to have so many programs that help people get studies under their belts, while addressing potential obstacles that might hinder them, such as childcare and transportation issues.”
In Lorain County, there are so many ways to give.
“We have a vast array of nonprofits in Lorain County and all of them need support from the business community and residents to accomplish their programs of work, and we have a very generous county,” Gallo says. “In spite of coming out of the pandemic and inflation, people haven’t stopped giving. There is a long history of supporting nonprofits that give back to help the most vulnerable people in Lorain County.”
Safe and Sound, with Blessings
The vibrant red heart that hangs like a wreath of hope over the entrance to Blessing House on Elyria Township’s Olivet Avenue is a telling symbol of what families find inside. When parents or guardians experience a crisis and need a home for their children while they stabilize, Blessing House is “the kid hotel,” as one of its four-year-old guests once called the cheerful shelter.
“We started out with a very simple idea of these kids need a place to stay,” says Sister Mary Berigan, relating a vision she shared with co-founder Donna Humphrey while they were working as guardian ad litems in the children’s advocacy program, Voices for Children. They wanted to find a way to prevent vulnerable families from entering the child welfare system.
There are all sorts of reasons why a family might need a temporary home for a child — intermittent homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, hospitalization and health issues, legal concerns or unsafe housing. The majority of clients who seek help from Blessing House are single moms.
Consider the dilemma. Mom is hospitalized and there is no one to care for the children at home. Blessing House is a safe, nurturing home for children ages birth through 12 years old. And aside from offering a home with decorated bedrooms, engaging play-and-learn spaces, a dining room and family meeting spaces, Blessing House offers support for parents by way of quarterly Parent Cafes. Families share a meal, the kids play and a child advocate helps process some aspect of parenting.
Blessing House can host supervised visits with family in a comfortable space where they can build a positive relationship. Staff provides referrals for parents and caregivers. Children participate in age-appropriate activities delivered by professionals with trauma-informed care. Plus, Blessing House offers extended, ongoing support for families as part of its aftercare services.
All of this developed over time and because of generous donor support. The greatest milestone was “getting the doors open,” Sr. Berigan says, describing the first child-friendly, five-bedroom home that became Blessing House in 2005 when the nonprofit secured its state licensing.
The new building, which has been open for a little over two years, is nearly 17,000 square feet and can house up to 20 children at one time. “We will build that number as we grow staff,” Sr. Berigan says. With eight bedrooms, families can stay together if appropriate. “Sometimes, you have an older child who has been caring for younger siblings, and now we can offer them their own room next to brothers and sisters, so they have a space of their own.”
Sr. Berigan says, “There is so much more to come.” And there is so much Blessing House has provided to families. In 2022, 150 children from 73 families stayed there. “It’s much bigger than we ever anticipated in terms of what we can provide for children and families.”
The impact is loud and clear from the young voices who are guests at the “kid hotel.” Berigan relates that one child who had stayed a number of times through the years was about to turn 13. Sr. Berigan says, “She asked if she could have one more stay before her birthday.”
Connecting in the Community
Community is intentionally the first word in the foundation’s name, Andrews says. The 43-year-old organization started when trustees of the Nordson Foundation wanted to make charitable giving more accessible. They pledged $500,000 to start the Community Foundation of Lorain County if others could match their gift — and this came to fruition. Early on, the foundation pioneered school endowment funds and created organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank and Leadership Lorain County.
“We have the back office that helps nonprofits and donors, and by providing that service to the community we are able to lift these voices,” Andrews says.
It’s one of the first community foundations in the country to be certified in compliance with National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations and, by 2013, its assets topped $100 million — a significant milestone marking its rise to the top 2% of all U.S. foundations. In 2019, prior to its 40th anniversary, the Community Foundation had awarded more than $100 million in grants and scholarships during its time. In 2022, it awarded $6.2 million, and the 2023 Connect to a Cause 12-hour campaign raised $311,788 for 94 county nonprofits.
“I received a card the other day that said, ‘Thank you. If not for this, we would not have been able to raise those dollars,’” Andrews says of the annual day of giving, now moving into its fifth year.
The Community Foundation’s four affiliate funds include The African American Community Fund, Hispanic Fund, Women’s Fund and Youth Fund. Among its many initiatives is the Imagination Library, an effort launched by Dolly Parton in 1995 that now gifts more than 2 million free books every month to children across the globe, including about 11,000 children in Lorain County.
The Stocker Foundation initially spearheaded Imagination Library with the Community Foundation supporting its back-office needs. Now, a coalition of partners including Stocker and the United Way of Greater Lorain County manages the early childhood reading program.
Imagination Library supports early literacy by delivering a free book to families’ homes every month until age five. The books are paid for through a partnership with the Lorain County Imagination Library Coalition, the Ohio General Assembly and other local donors and foundations.
The Community Foundation is committed to education for all children, and strategically considers how every student in the county who wants to go to college, earn a certificate or join the military can achieve their dreams. “We know in Lorain County that only 55% of our students have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and we hold a FAFSA workshop at El Centro,” Andrews says. “But moving forward we are reimagining our scholarship work to focus on access and all of the things a community foundation and our partners can do to engage all parts of our community to make sure kids get the education they need to succeed.”
Aligning to Support Local Nonprofits
“Choosing a favorite grant or nonprofit organization is somewhat like being asked to select which child is favorite,” says The Stocker Foundation’s executive director, Patricia O’Brien. “Lucky for me, I don’t ever have to choose because The Stocker Foundation has nothing but outstanding grantee partners.”
Established in 1979, The Stocker Foundation initially funded in the areas of arts-and-culture, community needs, education, health, social services and women’s issues. Following a lengthy strategic planning process in 2009, the foundation narrowed its grantmaking approach to focus on furthering reading literacy — and then in 2019, the addition of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).
Since its inception, 6,651 grants have been awarded to more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations totaling more than $67 million, O’Brien reports.
Notably, in 2023 The Stocker Foundation supported Neighborhood Alliance’s Repair, Renovate & Reimagine capital campaign, granting a $1-million gift to foster early childhood education and kindergarten readiness in alignment with the foundation’s grantmaking focus.
“It is our strong belief that over time, the methodology behind The Child and Family Continuum of Care [at Neighborhood Alliance] has the potential of being replicated in any community throughout the country using existing resources, expanding the reach of those services, and fostering connections and relationships that will allow families to have referrals to the resources they need in their own community,” O’Brien says.
Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, The Stocker Foundation will make submitting grant applications easier for nonprofits through its online portal. O’Brien says, “We will continue hosting a community convening around improved literacy outcomes for students and finding new ways to advocate for and promote our grantee partners.”
A Caring Continuum
What started as a resettlement agency in 1927 providing housing has grown into a full-service nonprofit that meets critical needs including emergency shelter, homeless outreach, daily meal delivery, nutrition services, socialization for seniors, childcare and enrichment and access to family support programs such as Help Me Grow for addressing developmental delays.
Its Haven Center Emergency Shelter in Lorain has 68 beds, many of which are occupied by families and children in times of crisis when they have no place to call home, says Alicia Foss, president and CEO.
In September, Neighborhood Alliance broke ground on an addition to its shelter and expects to add about a dozen more beds. There is dire need. “It will also help us move from being a congregate shelter to offering more privacy and dignity,” Foss says, describing a plan to move toward bedroom/family room settings with private bathrooms versus a dorm-style arrangement.
“We want it to feel a little more like home so families can do something that is as incredibly normal as watching T.V. together — something we take for granted,” Foss relates.
This is possible following a historic $1 million grant awarded to the alliance by The Stocker Foundation. The funds will also help support its plan to foster early childhood education and development through The Child and Family Continuum of Care programs. A strategic grantmaking goal is to close the education equity gap by supporting kindergarten readiness, foundation reading and writing skills, and making sure students can read at or above grade-level by third grade.
“We are one of three agencies in the county that offers home visits for families that need additional parenting support, and we are the service coordination agency for Help Me Grow,” Foss says of the critical support services and navigation the program offers to families who suspect a development delay in a child ages birth to kindergarten. Trained professionals empower parents with skills and tools to help nurture their children.
Childcare programs are also an integral service. “If you think about a single mom who is re-entering the workforce, she lands a great job but needs childcare,” Foss relates. “We offer childcare programs and subsidies so she can feel good that her children are at a place where they can grow and develop while she works to support the family.”
Neighborhood Alliance’s services touch every age and stage in life.
“With our mobile senior centers, we can bring our services into the community where senior centers are not readily available,” Foss says, likening them to pop-up shops. “And we are the county’s provider of home-delivered meals and an affiliate partner of Meals on Wheels.”
Across the board, there is even greater demand for shelter, meals and support, Foss says. “Our organization is continuing to grow, and the more we grow, the more we can provide services in the community,” she says.
In-Home Support, Enabling Independence
The name came about in the 1950s when Easterseals’ most successful fundraising drive involved sending out stamps around Easter time, usually showcasing a lily or spring flower. (Prior to this, the organization was called the Society for Crippled Children.) The Easterseals, as the stamps were called, became a collectible for society ladies who coveted their annual sticker as a symbol of their support for the organization, which is now an international nonprofit with roughly 80 affiliates, including Easterseals Central and Southeast Ohio that serves Lorain County.
The organization started in Northwest Ohio, and in Lorain County, Easterseals provides in-home support through the Medicaid Individual Options Waiver that provides support services for “homemaker personal care.”
“We have a case worker in the county who works with a disabled young lady with quite a few hurdles that allows her to get assistance while living independently in an apartment,” explains Conor McGarvey, director of adult community and home services in the Northern Region.
“They share holidays together, she makes sure there are groceries, helps with medical advocacy, filling medications, paying bills and really making sure she receives whatever services are identified by the Individual Service Plan team,” McGarvey explains.
Currently, Easterseals serves individuals in Lorain County who require in-home support. “It’s very personalized care, and it expands and contracts to the needs of the individual,” he says. “The goal is to foster as much independence as humanly possible.”
The Nord Way
Nordson Corporation’s late founder Walter G. Nord was a lifelong supporter of mental health services and maintained a tradition of community leadership and philanthropy. The Nord Family Foundation is a successor to the charitable trust he established in 1952 and provides grants to nonprofits to support projects in the areas of arts and culture, civic affairs, education and health and social services.
The foundation has contributed more than $145 million throughout Lorain County and beyond. Some of those grants include continued support for Blessing House in Elyria, funding for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County, Firelands Association for the Visual Arts in Oberlin, Lorain Historical Society and Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio in Lorain.
In October 2023 alone, the foundation awarded $3,251,475.
With a mission to advance equity, expand access to opportunity and build thriving and inclusive communities, the family foundation’s support makes a measurable impact in the county and other regions of the country where family members live.
A Legacy of Giving
Lorain County is mourning the loss of a devoted philanthropist but celebrating her marked impact on numerous nonprofits and local organizations. Sara Jane Stocker Norton — the first executive director of The Stocker Foundation from 1980 until her retirement in 1999 — passed away in April 2023.
Stocker Norton's passion was family and improving the quality of life in Lorain, as a lifelong resident who married her high school sweetheart, Benjamin G. Norton. They were married for 58 years.
She was a lifelong Girl Scout, working as a camp counselor for many years, serving on the board of Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio (GSNEO) and co-chairing its capital campaign for GSNEO Western Division to renovate Camp Timberlane. She shared her skills with her three sons and grandchildren.
Her giving was second nature.
Stocker Norton was awarded the Lorain YWCA Woman of Achievement, Erie Shores Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction, Heart of Ohio Boy Scout Council Distinguished Citizen and is in the Lake Ridge Academy Hall of Fame. With her surviving husband, Ben, the couple was a Best in Class 1993 Leadership Lorain County Distinguished Citizens Award recipient. She posthumously received the DAR Medal of Honor.
She was described as distinguished and humble. Enjoying
the little-big things in life like cheering on children and grandchildren at the sidelines and supporting the family’s activities were most important.
Nick Abraham Cares
Every month, the Nick Abraham Cares program highlights a different charity, using its voice and publicity to raise awareness and support for nonprofits that make a difference in Lorain County. The initiative launched in October 2023 and includes a spotlight on Channel 8’s New Day Cleveland.
So far, Nick Abraham Auto Mall’s effort has highlighted Power 4 Pink, an organization supporting women and men fighting breast cancer who cannot financially support themselves. “We donated $50 per new and used vehicle we sold in October and all of our commercials spoke about Power 4 Pink,” says Michelle Sartor, daughter of Nick Abraham and the dealership’s business development manager.
Nick Abraham Cares has also supported Blessing House with a monetary donation, served as the presenting sponsor of Blessing House’s biggest fundraising gala and hosted a children’s clothing drive. “We spread the word to our employees and vendors, and the whole idea is to inspire others to give to these great charities,” Sartor says.
Giving is a tradition for the 40-year-old business. Sartor describes a food drive the auto mall organized for Saint Jude Helping Hands Food Distribution Center in Elyria. “We had a customer bring in two pallets of pasta” she says. “Another customer saw the commercial and went to B.J.’s and bought so much food they had to order two Ubers to get it all to the dealership. It’s pretty special when you can get the community to contribute.”
All told, the Nick Abraham team delivered two pickup trucks full of food to Saint Jude.