It pays to make a good impression on an employee of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation — literally.
Fifteen Maryland nonprofits each received a $10,000 grant through the foundation’s fifth annual Employee Giving Program, which allows support staff to handpick an organization to receive the money.
The employees presented the checks to representatives from their chosen charity at a luncheon Tuesday, where about 80 attendees heard from the recipients about their group’s mission and how the money would be used to pursue it.
The Weinberg Foundation, which was founded in 1959 and has offices in Owings Mills and Honolulu, awards about $100 million annually to organizations dedicated to helping the poor by providing medical care, education or workforce development and other resources that empower the individual.
The foundation focuses on eliminating poverty among the elderly, but also gives to groups that help children, the disabled and other populations. The Employee Giving program adds a personal twist to the foundation’s longstanding philanthropic mission by inviting employees to get more directly involved.
“We’re very passionate about it because it gives our employees who ordinarily don’t get to investigate grants, make site visits and make recommendations, a chance to really get involved doing that at least once a year,” said Chairman Donn Weinberg.
The recipient organizations ran the gamut of services, including Dress for Success Baltimore, the Maryland Family Network and The Fisher House Foundation. Janna Krizman, who has worked as a program assistant for three years, selected Community Support Services Inc., which provides residential services to people with disabilities, such as purchasing a home for Ryan Greenspan, who sat in the audience.
Several staffers said they chose organizations they feel particularly close to, but the program is even more meaningful for some.
Christina Laumann, a receptionist and administrative assistant, said she selected the House of Ruth — which helps victims of domestic violence — because she turned to the organization when she found herself in a dangerous situation four years ago.
“It’s an awesome way to be able to give back to an organization that actually helped me,” she said. “It’s an incredible experience, I can’t even describe it.”
It’s those personal connections that keep the foundation thriving even in difficult economic times, said several people involved. Additionally, Weinberg said nonprofits targeting the elderly are especially critical now, as the nation’s large “baby boomer” generation ages and demands more resources from a cash-strapped population.
Those who spoke on behalf of Partners in Care, which helps older adults remain independent in their homes, cited the elderly’s great contributions to the community and expressed gratitude that the foundation prioritizes this demographic.
“It’s really wonderful to receive this during very, very challenging times,” Partners in Care President and CEO Barbara Huston said.
Program Director for Basic Needs Amy Kleine said she chose The SEED School of Maryland — a public, urban boarding school for students who face environmental barriers to academic success — because it tackles those obstacles head-on.
Kleine introduced seventh grader Diego Varela, who thanked the foundation for the money, which will be used to fund the athletic and physical education programs.
“It feels great,” Varela said after the event, explaining why he enjoys attending SEED Maryland, which will serve about 300 students in grades six through nine for the upcoming academic year. “We have more support, we feel safe and comfortable there at our school.”
Other companies run employee-driven grant programs that give money donated by the employees themselves, but Weinberg’s program is unique, said Director of Community Affairs Craig Demchak. Though they must have worked for the foundation for a year to become acclimated with the kinds of nonprofits that satisfy the mission statement, employees have free rein to choose a recipient, but the Weinberg Foundation writes the checks.
The program isn’t open to the five trustees on the Board of Directors, but assistants, receptionists and program directors — six employees who each investigate grants in one focus area, such as workforce development or disabilities — can participate.
Workers do independent research, choose a nonprofit and write a proposal to submit to the Board of Trustees for approval. Weinberg said 15 participants is a typical turnout, adding that in the five years since they launched the program, the board has never declined a proposal.