Just hours after hearing they’d received a $5,000 SPARK grant from Diversified Insurance Solutions, the Dominican Center for Women, Inc. had purchased enough school supplies to fill the back of a minivan. Classes had already started for 80 K-4 and K-5 students at Hopkins Lloyd Community School but most students didn’t come with anything. The school is located in the Amani neighborhood, and 94 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Through careful shopping, the SPARK grant was stretched to also cover new headphones for computers and age-appropriate toys, games and balls for the kindergartners to use at recess.
“Our Spark Giveback program was designed to provide an infusion of cash so local nonprofits can quickly address an issue or a problem,” says James McCormack, founder and chairman of Diversified Insurance Solutions. “Knowing that our funds got 80 young ones properly outfitted with supplies that are absolutely necessary for school is an amazing feeling for me and all the associates at Diversified.”
Since 1995, the Dominican Center has been a trusted anchor in the Amani neighborhood. It serves as a catalyst for change, involves residents in revitalization projects and mentors and convenes resident groups. In 2011, the Dominican Center and Hephatha Lutheran Church successfully worked with Amani neighbors to prevent the closing of the neighborhood Hopkins School.
The new Hopkins Lloyd Community School serves 428 students, 95% of whom are African American. The school has a significant number of families who are homeless and, while academic scores for grade 3 and above are low, neighbors and teachers are committed to improve the school climate and academics. The school doesn’t issue a basic supply list because its families don’t have the money to purchase extras.
“We’ve adopted the kindergarten classrooms and are committed to supporting the children who are just starting their formal education,” says Sister Patricia Rogers, OP, executive director of the Dominican Center for Women. “It’s so crucial to have four and five year olds begin the school year on a positive note. If we hadn’t received the SPARK grant, the children and teachers would have had to just make do with the few supplies they had on hand.”
Last summer, the Dominican Center was named the lead community based organization for the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP). The U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Treasury support this program, with technical assistance provided by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. The BNCP is designed to help neighborhoods develop and implement plans to improve education, employment, housing, health and safety. The BNCP collaboration is a new catalyst for resident-driven change in the Amani neighborhood.
The year-long $30,000 Spark Giveback community program was developed as part of Diversified Insurance Solutions’ 30th anniversary. The company looks to fund new or existing programs that use fresh ideas to address a community need or problem. The next $5,000 SPARK grant will be awarded in November.
The first grant was presented in July to Royal Family Kids Camp Hartland, a new program in Waukesha County that gave 30 abused and neglected children life-changing experiences during a week-long sleepover camp this August.
“As a company, we’re extremely community minded so we wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a way that has an impact beyond our doors,” says McCormack. “We hope our program will spark change and positive results in the community. We’d also like it to have a ripple effect so other small and medium-sized businesses are encouraged to get involved in the community and give back in any way they can.”
Tax exempt, nonprofit organizations in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties are encouraged to submit their grant request at www.DiversifiedSPARK.com now through April 30, 2014. A total of six nonprofits will be awarded $5,000 each to positively impact the community and people they serve.
Community Commitment and Involvement
Diversified Insurance Solutions has a long history of supporting area nonprofits and engaging its associates in community activities. McCormack estimates Diversified is involved with nearly a dozen local groups.
As part of its 25th anniversary, the company “adopted” Sherman Park and supplied tens of thousands of dollars and manpower on an ongoing basis. For five years, Diversified Insurance Solutions organized a restoration and cleanup day where the company’s associates refurbished fitness stations and basketball and tennis courts, repaired backboards and bleachers, painted benches, picked up trash, planted flower beds and tackled other projects.
The company grew the initiative and secured other businesses to provide additional manpower and other needed supplies. Some of the company’s funding was also used to support the Sherman Park Community Association, hire a security professional to provide extra eyes and establish Friends of Sherman Park, a group that has now taken over regular maintenance and stewardship of the green space.
The company has been involved with the MS Society on multiple levels for the past 23 years. In addition, for the past four years, through the Volunteer Center of Milwaukee, Diversified Insurance Solutions has participated in the Giving Tree to provide gifts to a total of 215 children and seniors during the holidays. It’s been a regular sponsor of the Milwaukee Center for Independence, United Way and Common Ground Ministries’ annual “Refashion for Life,” a charity fashion show that benefits Elena’s House, a home for persons with HIV/AIDS. The company provides scholarships at several area middle and high schools, teaching position endowments and has held a number of holiday food drives.
“We’re always looking for ways our company and associates can get involved with the community and provide support and help,” says McCormack. “We’ve developed a culture of outreach that’s embedded in our company’s personality.”