- Photos by Anthony Jinson
Celebrating the people and places that faithfully serve our city.
This past year continued to provide unexpected opportunities for innovation in the ways our local nonprofits cared for our community — and the volunteers, staff, executive directors, local businesses, and board members rose to the challenge.
From creating new programs to developing original fundraising events, 2021 continued to raise the bar on meeting the needs of our community. So, as you flip through the pages of our Impact COMO feature, raise your glass to the stories of those who worked tirelessly this past year to improve the quality of life for those they serve.
Most Impactful Volunteer
Dr. Ellis Ingram, CALEB – The Science Club
Dr. Ellis Ingram, a retired pathologist at MU Health Care affectionately known as “Poppi,” has been nurturing a passion for science in children for more than 30 years.
When his children were preteens, Ellis wanted to encourage and equip them and their friends to excel. That’s when CALEB — The Science Club was born. Over the years, CALEB grew from a handful of kids to dozens of eager learners. After Granny’s House opened in 2001, Ellis moved CALEB under the banner of Granny’s House and collaborated with the MU School of Medicine and the Sinclair School of Nursing to ensure that CALEB participants had hands-on experiences as they learned world class, 21st century science lessons from physicians, nurses, award-winning researchers, and medical students each month.
Ellis is most proud of being able use the experiences that enabled him to graduate from the University of Michigan medical school and lead MU Health Care’s cytology department to mentor and encourage hundreds of children who’ve crossed the threshold at Granny’s House.
“I love using my education and training, along with my background, to unearth the unique brilliance of every single child we encounter,” Ellis says.
Ellis’ faith in Jesus Christ motivates him to serve and to consider the needs of others as more important than his own. “My joy comes from seeing others succeed,” he says. He credits his wife, Pamela Ingram, for the success of Granny’s House and is grateful for members of area churches, the volunteers at the School of Service Learning, and MU’s School of Medicine.
CALEB participants now meet every Wednesday afternoon at Granny’s House and on the first Saturday of the month at the MU School of Medicine or MU School of Nursing. CALEB is open to any student aged 10 or above.
Many of the students who have participated in CALEB are now pursuing medical careers.
Amelia Cottle, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter
After losing her husband to early-onset Alzheimer’s, Amelia Cottle became an educator with the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Instead of stepping away from the world of Alzheimer’s after we lost Brian, she turned toward the fight and ran in headfirst,” says Amelia’s son, Chris Cottle.
Amelia currently leads four support groups for caregivers and travels throughout the state teaching classes and advocating for people living with or caring for those with the disease. “If I can make one caregiver’s journey a bit better, then I’m honoring my husband and the people who helped me on our dementia journey,” Amelia says.
Mary Clark, Love Columbia
Mary Clark is a longtime Columbia resident with a large and diverse social network, as well as a registered nurse and a senior grant writer for the MU School of Health Professions. She also uses all these gifts and talents to further the mission of Love Columbia, where she has actively volunteered for 10 years.
“Mary is very moved by the plight of disadvantaged people and lives with an urgency to help both on an individual and systemic level,” says Love Columbia’s Jane Williams. “She loves to dream with me about new, more expansive programs, but stays close to the people in need with committed mentoring and support.”
Most Impactful Staff Member
Kerrie Bloss, Boys & Girls Club of Columbia
Kerrie Bloss has been serving our community in the social service industry since 1997. She joined the Boys & Girls team in 2014 and currently serves as the Community Development Director. She is known to wear many hats around the organization, but her primary role involves securing resources that allow the club to build capacity and serve more kids in their after-school and summer programs.
According to Valorie Livingston, Kerrie was instrumental during the pandemic to set up and manage a curbside meal pickup program for Columbia kids ages 5 to 18. From March to August, the program served more than 67,000 meals.
Kerrie is most proud of the growth the club has experienced in the number of kids served as well as the increase in revenue and fundraising events each year.
“In the last seven years, Kerrie has increased our Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cookoff revenue by 56%, raising a total of $789,907.69 since 2014,” says Valorie Livingston. “She also increased our Hoops for a Cause revenue by 79%, raising a total of $1,048,935.90 since 2014.” Valorie Livingston adds that in 2014 the Boys & Girls Club was serving 150 kids and they are now serving more than 1,000 kids each year.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t first give credit to the late Hank Waters for having the vision to bring a Boys & Girls Club to Columbia in 1997,” Kerrie says. “He saw the need for kids to have a safe and supportive place to go after school and during the summer.”
Kerrie is also grateful for the Club’s former executive director, Valorie Livingston, who continued Hank’s vision and grew the number of kids served to over 1,300 each year and increased the budget to more than $2 million.
“Everything we do is focused on academic success, good character, leadership, and healthy lifestyles,” Kerrie says.
Jessie Yankee, Missouri Women’s Business Center
In the three-plus years that Jessie Yankee has led the Missouri Women’s Business Center, she has had a dramatic impact on the business community and the community at large. “In our first full year of service , we served 76 clients annually in 260 sessions,” says Darin Preis. “This year, we are on the path to serve over 400 clients in more than 1,500 sessions.”
Jessie’s job is to create and cultivate opportunities for women in entrepreneurship. “Each day, I have the privilege of working with amazing, smart, driven, and talented women, both as clients and my staff,” says Jessie. “I have never had a more rewarding position!”
Kelli Van Doren, Love Columbia
Kelli Van Doren’s laugh, love, and energy provide high-octane fuel for Love Columbia. “Kelli can get more done than anyone we know,” says Jane Williams. “She is a high-level multi-tasker who can take a client’s call for help, untangle a financial dilemma, and send a volunteer out on a mission as she is walking to her car to visit a newly homeless family.”
Kelli began volunteering in March of 2015, and 18 months later she became the Extra Mile Program coordinator. “At any one time, there are 30 pairs of financial coaches and participants in the program,” Kelli says. “Each coach jumps into their participant’s situation and helps them make progress.”
Most Impactful Board Member
Eric Morrison, Job Point
Eric Morrison joined Job Point’s board in 2015 and got to work launching their first live auction at the 2017 awards banquet. He’s continued every year since, raising funds this year for Job Point’s affordable housing initiatives. Even without a co-host, he broke the organizational record by raising more than $16,000 in his fifth paddle auction.
Eric became chair of the board in 2018, and he relies on key partnerships with the City of Columbia, Boone County, the local judicial system, MoDOT, and YouthBuild to accomplish the organization’s goals. He credits the success of Job Point to the leadership provided by the senior leadership team and the execution of the mission carried out by the entire staff.
“The outcomes of Job Point for the clients we serve are outstanding,” says Eric. “And the combined annual salaries in one year of Job Point graduates is greater than the operating budget of the entity. In other words, Job Point returns more than $1 to the community for every $1 it spends.”
“Every year that Eric has served on our board, he has brought confidence, creativity, and a passion for getting other people involved in our work,” says Liz Sensintaffar. “He is first to volunteer when it comes to seeking out new and greater resources and is always ready to offer his advice and encouragement. He truly believes that all people deserve to have the opportunity to pursue educational and employment opportunities.”
Eric strives to treat others how he wants to be treated, and he is excited about paying off Job Point’s building this year and completing their capital campaign.
“Eric is truly all in when it comes to his service to this community,” Liz Sensintaffar continues. “He has changed the lives of the individuals we support, which has the potential of changing their trajectory for generations to come.”
Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, American Academy of Pediatrics Missouri Chapter
As the pandemic transformed our lives, Dr. Christelle Ilboudo stepped up to be a voice for children. In addition to her job at MU Health Care, Christelle uses her medical expertise in pediatric infectious diseases to appear on local news stations, breaking down the latest medical recommendations into tangible, usable information. She also shares her knowledge with local and statewide school officials, school nurses, and public health officials as they balance safety decisions.
“My personal goal for our organization is to increase our brand visibility,” says Christelle. “I want MOAAP to be the go-to place for any health care provider in Missouri who serves children.”
Brenda Potterfield, Great Rivers Council, Boy Scouts of America
For 22 years, Brenda Potterfield has supported the largest fundraising event for the Boy Scouts Great Rivers Council, a sporting clays tournament. Brenda has leveraged her connections in the outdoor industry to bring in hundreds of auction donations and shooting teams. Specifically, the 2000 tournament had 50 shooters and raised $4,830. In 2020, the fundraiser grossed $86,431 and Brenda personally welcomed 278 shooters to Midway Farms.
Brenda is motivated to serve because she believes scouting develops leaders. “Our son is an Eagle Scout from Troop 4,” says Brenda. “Larry and I can see how it helped mold him into the person he is today.”
Most Impactful Executive Director
Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger, True North of Columbia
Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger grew up in Puerto Rico, received a master’s degree in nonprofit management, and opened a PACE Center for Girls Inc. in Miami before falling in love and moving to Columbia.
That was five years ago, and July marked the anniversary of both her move and her decision to accept the role of executive director for True North of Columbia.
Elizabeth has always been determined to invest vocationally where she could help women find their value and reach their full potential. “I believe a community can be transformed when we invest in women,” she says. True North has provided a place for her to pursue that passion.
True North was started in the 1970s as a shelter for rape victims, and it exists today to provide a safe environment by educating, empowering, and advocating for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
In addition to successfully managing the day-to-day operations of the organization, Elizabeth hopes to provide steadfast and continued service to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and to ensure they are improving their organizational practices so that the staff feels balanced and valued for their incredible work.
Specifically, Elizabeth’s goal this year is to have a fully functioning victim advocacy center that will focus on addressing the current needs of survivors while providing prevention and intervention strategies to help them navigate life without their abusers. This goal includes healthy relationship education for both adults and children.
“Elizabeth’s drive is like nothing I have seen before. She is fierce, determined, empowered, and a fighter for all women that have been a victim of domestic violence and assault,” says Ashley Emel.
This drive also helped Elizabeth earn her SHRM Certified Senior Professional Certification this year. “This is a big accomplishment for me and something I am very proud of,” she says.
Kelsey Hammond, Columbia Art League
As the executive director, Kelsey Hammond keeps a lot of plates spinning at the Columbia Art League. “I think of the job of an ED as part octopus, part magician, part contortionist, and part cheerleader,” Kelsey says. “You’ve got your hand in everything. You’re trying to make funding appear out of nowhere, you’ve got to remain incredibly flexible, and you happily share your enthusiasm for your mission and what your organization does.”
Kelsey is excited to have partnered with Jabberwocky Studios this past year to launch a pilot program called The Art Bus, which brings a myriad of art activities to low-income neighborhoods in Columbia.
Lindsay Young Lopez, The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri
Lindsay Young Lopez knows firsthand that life is short and that tragedy can strike at any time. From her own experience of personal loss, she has committed herself to new priorities, the importance of family, giving back to her community, and the fierce need to surround herself with joy. These values guide her work every day as the president of The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri.
“I have always felt it was an honor to serve in this role,” Lindsay shares, “but I have felt that more profoundly in the last five years. This job helped save me at the darkest point in my life, and I will forever be grateful for that.”
Most Impactful Philanthropic Company
Mike Burwell, Director of Retail Sales and Operations
Since 2015, UScellular has been an integral part of the success of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia, especially in the areas of academics and STEM. Financially, they have invested more than $165,000 during that time and donated 80 hotspots for kids without internet access at home, as well as 25 tablets, hygiene kits, and additional Wi-Fi access points this year.
“Their continued support of STEM learning and experiences is designed to prepare the Club kids of today for careers of tomorrow, inspiring kids to explore STEM careers and opportunities for their future,” says Kerrie Bloss of Boys & Girls Club of Columbia.
Their support, however, goes well beyond a financial contribution. Each February, UScellular holds a “Black History Month Art Contest” for Club kids. Kids create artwork in recognition of influential Black people from around the globe. Finalists are then advanced to a public vote at a local UScellular location.
The organization also provides a photo booth at the Club’s holiday party, sends volunteers for their end of summer celebration, participates on their chili cookoff committee, and volunteers their time to read monthly to one of their school sites.
Mike Burwell, director of retail sales and operations, enjoys being a champion for the Club. His role is to support any local efforts that are needed, including Club projects and fundraisers. His mantra is to make a difference in his own life by helping others. “I am not shy to ask for physical, financial, or other help. When you believe in something, it’s easy,” he says. “What they do matters!”
And the support UScellular provides the Club does not go unnoticed.
“The team at UScellular is truly [full of] unsung heroes,” Kerrie Bloss says. “It is our honor to have them in our corner, as they truly believe in the great futures of kids in Columbia!”
Monarch Title Company
Chuck and Pam Bowman, owners of Monarch Title, love to give back to those who need it most. They serve on boards, raise funds, and give personally and corporately to help kids and families that struggle with everyday needs.
So far in 2021, Monarch Title has served as the title sponsor for First Chance for Children’s golf fundraiser and their Bingo for Babies fundraiser. They are also supporting GPMade Foundation by donating five dollars for every closing completed in 2021. In the first two quarters, the program has yielded more than $6,000 for the organization. Monarch also matches any money donated by the staff to numerous nonprofits.
Veterans United Home Loans
For almost a decade, Job Point has been impacted by the generosity of Veterans United Home Loans and the Veterans United Foundation. Earlier this year, VU surprised Job Point with a check for $500,000 to pay off the mortgage on their building. Their donation came after the foundation gave $100,000 toward the goal in 2018.
“We have the privilege of working with a lot of amazing businesses who are doing so much to help this community,” says Liz Sensintaffar from Job Point. “But what sets Veterans United apart is the way they give and give and give as a community of people and then say, ‘That was great, but what else can we do?’”
Most Impactful Fundraising Event
Heart of Missouri United Way
When the pandemic hit in 2020, it created new opportunities for nonprofits to be nimble with their fundraising efforts. That was the case for the Heart of Missouri United Way. “We had to rethink everything,” says Marketing and Communications Director La Toya Stevens.
The United Way needed to connect with the community, their donors, and potential new supporters. Board member Mary Ropp had the idea for CoMo Chopped. Through the 10-day competition, the organization raised funds, increased awareness, and facilitated support to local businesses.
Taking the lead from the popular television show “Chopped,” the inaugural event paired six chefs from local restaurants with six local celebrity chefs representing their businesses. Each restaurant prepared a dish especially for this event and presented it to a panel of judges. They also sold the dish in their restaurant and created a fundraiser for the United Way’s 2020 annual campaign. This gave the teams three ways to win: judges’ choice, community vote (based on most dishes sold), and most dollars raised for United Way.
The winners were announced in a live broadcast. “The look and feel of the event were something totally different for COMO, with its state-of-the-art production as well as the way in which it was delivered to the audience,” says Adonica Coleman “The pilot event raised over $40k, which was amazing.”
Since the environment in 2020 necessitated that every fundraiser take place online, The United Way was especially proud of the reach of CoMo Chopped. La Toya shares that, according to Facebook analytics, in less than 30 days, their 17 CoMo Chopped related posts reached more than 41,000 people organically. “We raised more than $25,000 through Facebook fundraisers, including support from 68 new individual donors,” she says.
The event was so successful that the United Way decided to keep it around for 2021.
Voices of Columbia
Heart of Missouri CASA
Heart of Missouri CASA launched their annual Voices of Columbia fundraiser in 2019. This event provides a way for local artists to share their talents while raising awareness for youth in the foster care system and the life changing work done by CASA’s volunteers.
The challenges of 2020 paused the event but created the energy and motivation for the 2021 fundraiser to be even stronger. “We sold out the event and raised over $52,000,” says marketing manager Angela Carson. “That exceeded our goal by $15,000. It was such a great night raising awareness and funds to help the most vulnerable children in our community.”
True North Star
True North of Columbia
In pivoting from their annual gala, Little Black Dress, True North of Columbia was forced to get creative in their fundraising approach this year. “A singing competition was a big risk to take,” says Executive Director Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger. “Nevertheless, we took a chance that ended up raising over $50,000.”
The True North Star fundraiser launched as a hybrid event with virtual viewing and limited-seating options at The Blue Note. Contestants applied in advance and shared their recorded vocal talent on social media, securing donations for votes. The top five fundraiser vocalists went on to perform live on May 22.