By Randy Redner’s estimate, the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia works with hundreds of community organizations — not only in Gwinnett, but across the northeast Georgia region — each year to support and promote the missions of those groups.

Those organizations reach across a number of areas, whether it be education, community service, the arts, health care or human services. The foundation writes plenty of checks each year to benefit the community, according to Redner, who is the foundation’s executive director, but the work goes beyond that.

The community foundation also wants to raise public awareness of the needs of the community organization — awareness that could lead to members of the community donating money or volunteering their own time and resources to help those groups as well.

“We try to share that (and say) ‘Here’s some of the good. Here’s some of the challenging. It’s not all an easy world out there but we’re all working at it, and if you want in the game on any of that, let the Community Foundation know,’” Redner said. “Our motto is ‘We connect people who care with causes that matter.’”

The foundation’s Star Wars-themed Good2Give Gala, which was recently held at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, is one example of how the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia supports community efforts and local nonprofits in Gwinnett.

The event included a distribution of $25,000 — $5,000 each — to FCA Forsyth, Annandale Village, North Fulton Community Charities, Gwinnett Ballet and Mosaic Georgia.

“(Five times during the ceremony) we surprise a nonprofit in the room with a $5,000 unrestricted grant to use however they want to further their work,” Redner said.

But a big part of the gala is that it highlights organizations who do work in the areas of community, human services, arts, health care and education.

Those are the five areas where the 34-year-old foundation hands out money throughout the year, and the programs highlighted at the gala represent the types of organizations who can benefit from that support.

Unlike the grant recipients, these organizations don’t receive money for being recognized, but they do receive something that could be just as important: public exposure which helps raise awareness of their efforts.

The organizations, agencies and government efforts highlighted included Gwinnett County Public Libraries (education); the Hi-Hope Service Center (human services); Leadership Gwinnett (community service); the city of Suwanee’s Art for All Campaign (arts) and Navigate Recovery (health care).

“The Good2Give Celebration is not about a fundraiser or asking for money. It’s about highlighting and celebrating organizations doing great work in the great community we live in,” said board chair Sandra Strickland. “We are all neighbors. The Community Foundation is an active board of directors who commit themselves to connecting people who care with causes that matter such as homelessness, food insufficiency, early education, health care, and the arts.”

Fighting addictionHealth care in particular is an area that the community foundation has been trying to target. Navigate Recovery was highlighted for its work to help people who are struggling with addictions.

Redner said the foundation has been watching Navigate Recovery for a while. He said it seemed like a good time to highlight the program while there is a lot of attention in the community focused on battling the opioid crisis, as well as the fact that Navigate Recovery is working to open a women’s center in a few months.

One aspect of Navigate Recovery’s work that the foundation is keen to highlight to the public is its coaching program.

“We really liked the coaching (program),” Redner said. “They have a coaching model where they go into our hospital systems (in Gwinnett and north Fulton) and within an hour (of receiving a call from the hospital), one of their addiction recovery coaches has to be there within an hour.”

Addressing early learning

Gwinnett’s library system is being highlighted for its work helping young children, from newborns to 5-year-olds, develop skills to help them later on when they start school.

That work includes a plethora of STEAM education programs as well as Tummy Time, ABC and 123, Baby and Me, Music and Movement, Toddler Time, Tinker Tots, Preschool Discovery Lab and storytime activities which are held at libraries across Gwinnett on a weekly basis.

Redner said there is an estimate from Gwinnett schools that about 52% of Gwinnett kindergartners are not prepared for kindergarten when they start. At the same time, Redner said there are about 60,000 children ranging in age from newborns to 5-year-olds in Gwinnett.

The libraries, therefore, fill a key pre-kindergarten gap in the education system in Gwinnett that isn’t covered by the school systems or colleges in the county, according to the foundation’s director.

“The libraries do amazing work because (residents are) lifelong learners,” Redner said. “The school system has them for a set period of time, but the library system has them for their whole life.”

Raising money for public artElsewhere, Suwanee’s Art for All Campaign is designed to raise money to pay for new public art pieces which will be installed in the expansion of the city’s Town Center Park.

Suwanee has long supported public art in the Town Center area, particularly with its SculpTour program. Now it is looking to exposure the arts presence in its community.

“They want the community to make donations to their fund here that will ultimately fund the new artwork for that new park,” Redner said.

Developing leadersLeadership Gwinnett has been chosen for recognition because of its leadership development efforts, which include programs and events, that are designed to encourage residents to become more involved in civic activities.

“The thought around Leadership Gwinnett was to highlight them under community service because to accelerate some of these nonprofits, all of them have boards ... and when you put in good leaders, both at the staff level and certainly at the volunteer level, it just accelerates what we’re trying to get done,” Redner said.

Working with people with special needs

The Hi-Hope Service Center has been recognized for its work with adults who have development disabilities. The nonprofit center has been around for 60 years and its goal is to help the people it serves “define and live a meaningful life.”

The center’s website shows it is focused on working with people who need its services on the “basics of communication, mobility and safety” and community engagement.

It puts these adults in groups and takes them to places and events such as concerts, local restaurants, stores and cultural events.

“These people can play a unique role in society and you see Hi-Hope, Annandale and others who work in that sector starting to push out (with these programs),” Redner said.

The mission continues

But while the gala offered an opportunity to highlight some of the work that community groups are doing, Redner said there is an ongoing need to support these organizations.

“The Good2Give gala is an opportunity to showcase this work (and say) ‘In these five lanes, here are some organizations doing some really leading-edge work. If you want to know them, let us know and we’ll get you connected — and by the way we’ve got more work to do because we’re a growing community and a diverse community,’” Redner said.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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