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A Community Joins Forces to Battle Human Trafficking

Two decades ago, victims of human trafficking in northwest Ohio — and indeed, in most of the nation — faced bleak prospects. Labeled as criminals, they had little hope of escaping those who exploited them, as their alternative to slavery was usually imprisonment.

In the late ‘90s, as the public began to better understand the real nature of human trafficking, the criminal justice system likewise began to change its approach, and area social service agencies got involved. But while the goals were admirable, the shadowy nature of human trafficking made it hard to identify those in need, and the various groups working on their behalf were not well coordinated.

To improve the situation in northwest Ohio, stakeholders came together to form the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition (LCHTC). It brought together key partners in law enforcement, health care, social services agencies, and education to improve prosecution of traffickers and assistance to their victims. But process issues still persisted.

Enter PATH

“PATH — Partners Against Trafficking in Humans — Is both a network and a methodology,” explained Chris Dziad, program officer for the Toledo Community Foundation. “The network includes more than 60 area agencies and individuals who work with victims of human trafficking on everything from legal services to housing to job training and placement. PATH’s methodology is to find victims of human trafficking, link them with services, and use data from those services to improve outcomes.”

PATH was the product of collaboration between the LCHTC and Dr. Celia Williamson, director of UT’s Human Trafficking Institute, and PATH Coordinator, Fanell Williams. “I had been serving as an evaluator of a program called Pathways, developed in Mansfield, Ohio by Dr. Sarah Redding,” said Williamson. “Pathways was incredibly successful in improving outcomes for low-birth-weight babies. I saw that it could be applied to the human trafficking issue with similar results.”  

Data-driven feedback improves outcomes

 “What’s different about PATH is the academic component,” explains Brett Loney, UT Foundation Associate Vice President of Central Development, who brought the project to TCF’s attention. “UT’s Human Trafficking Institute provides both teaching and research to analyze and improve outcomes.”

Commenting on the Institute’s role in PATH, Dr. Williamson explained, “The Pathways model that we adapted involved the use of a ‘hub’ that served both as a resource for connecting victims to services, and for gathering data from those services.

“With the data collected from those agencies,” she continued, “we can identify the interventions that work and those that don’t. Our leadership subcommittees then work with those findings to break down barriers and improve our processes.  That allows us to direct community resources accordingly.”

In the local PATH model, the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio houses and manages the PATH hub.  Said Dziad, “The Council was already involved with the low-birth-weight project, and so PATH was a natural fit for them. Their collaboration is an essential part of the process.”

PATH also has a mission-critical training component that was Dr. Williamson’s innovation. “To succeed, we must first prepare the community,” said Williamson. “Upon joining PATH, all participating agencies receive training in human trafficking issues, trauma-informed care, and the PATH model – so we are all on the same page.”

A well-conceived plan opens funding doors

When PATH needed startup funding, Loney thought it might be a fit for the Toledo Community Foundation.

“When I first learned of PATH, I thought it fit the Toledo Community Foundation way of doing things,” said Loney. “It involved community collaboration with established participants who had proven track records, and it was well-visioned.”

Loney also noted that PATH had already obtained both private and public grants, and had excellent prospects for continued funding once the program was established. “The evidence-based approach of this program is very attractive to supporters,” he added.

Chris Dziad agreed. “Human trafficking was an issue the Toledo Community Foundation had established a decade ago as a priority,” she said. “So, when the UT Foundation approached us about PATH, we were thrilled.

“We could see it had all the characteristics we look for in a funding opportunity,” she continued, “and UT’s commitment of support meant they had both stability and strong potential to win large grants from major funders to sustain their work.”

“We could see it had all the characteristics we look for in a funding opportunity and UT’s commitment of support meant they had both stability and strong potential to win large grants from major funders to sustain their work.”


Stability for PATH’s clients and a safer, healthier community is the ultimate goal of everyone involved with PATH. “We don’t just want victims to survive.  Our goal is to move them from victim to survivor to THRIVER,” said Dr. Williamson. “I never once met a victim who didn’t want a better life,” she added. “We can make that happen.”

No more "throwaway people"

The story of PATH begins more than two decades ago with one remarkably determined individual, UT professor Dr. Celia Williamson, and her conviction that a broken system not only could be repaired, but could be completely reconceived.

“Back in the early ‘90s, I was just going to be a social worker helping women and kids in Toledo’s North End, and then retire,” mused Dr. Williamson, reflecting on her early career goals. “Human trafficking victims were not my focus. Initially, I just wanted them off the streets and not troubling ‘my kids.’

“But then I started to realize that these women were actually victims,” she said. “And where was the help for them? There wasn’t any – because we treat these women as ‘throwaway people.’  We think, ‘I’m going to help someone who DESERVES help,’ and we pass them by. I couldn’t just let that happen.”

Creating a "go-to" place for victims

Williamson recognized at the outset that before she tried to solve the problem, she needed to understand it — and so her first step was research. After six months of interviewing victims in Toledo’s north end, she formed her first program to serve trafficked women, named by the women themselves as Second Chance. “Second Chance (now known as RISE) soon got a reputation as being the place to go for anyone having trouble with ‘the system.’ Even insiders like police and health care workers got involved,” said Williamson.

Reframing the discussion

Knowing that the public felt such women didn’t “deserve” help, another of Celia’s goals was to reframe the discussion surrounding trafficking victims. “I worked closely with The Blade to connect reporters to stories they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to tell – and in so doing, we were able to heighten public awareness and shift public opinion,” she recalled. “I also did a LOT of presentations to area churches. Our first grant for Second Chance came from the United Methodist Church as a result of one of those presentations,” she noted.

When the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, the problem was finally redefined legally. “We didn’t even use the term ‘human trafficking’ originally,” said Williamson. “With the passage of that law, anyone under 18 engaging in prostitution was automatically defined as a victim, as was anyone who was under force, fraud or coercion. Calling this ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ completely changed the discussion.”

Developing a global network of experts

The year 2000 saw another important goal completed for Dr. Williamson: she finished her PhD at Indiana University and accepted a position on the faculty at The University of Toledo. “I knew my research opportunities were here because I already had an established network of people in the tough communities I had served in the past – so doors would open here.”

And open they did. With her new duties of teaching and research, Williamson turned over Second Chance to its well-mentored staff and turned her attention to overcoming the next major barrier in human trafficking: communication.

“People in the field weren’t sharing what was working and what wasn’t – we needed a conference. So I decided to host one.” she said. Now in its 14th year, the annual Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference attracts more than 1500 attendees to the UT campus each year, and has greatly expanded both awareness and understanding of human trafficking.

Establishing UT's Human Trafficking Institute

As UT’s thought leadership in the field of human trafficking grew, University leadership recognized the need for a greater commitment to support that work.  And in 2014, UT’s governing board voted unanimously to create the Human Trafficking Institute at UT, one of the first of its kind worldwide.

The Institute’s mission is to expand knowledge about human trafficking and to establish best practices in the field of human trafficking intervention. Its ongoing partnership with the UT Foundation was an important factor in the establishment of PATH.

“The UT Foundation was a tremendous asset to the Institute. It’s been a wonderful partnership,” she said. “Together, we’ve identified objectives and priorities; drafted case statements, opened doors, and started the conversations that have led to real change in the community.”

Jim and Pam Fletcher both had the same goal in mind when it came to estate planning — to assure that their assets would provide ongoing benefits to the causes and organizations that they care about and support.  And the Toledo Community Foundation’s Legacy Fund provided a perfect means to achieve that goal.

Pam and Jim met while attending Oberlin College.  They married and moved to Boston, where the two of them earned master’s degrees and Pam taught high school in nearby Quincy.  After graduate school, they moved to Long Island, where Jim worked for Grumman Aerospace and Pam continued to teach. When Jim was hired by Owens-Corning, they relocated here and Toledo became their home.

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“After teaching another three years at Lake Local High School, I was ready for a career change,” said Pam, “so I earned my J.D. at The University of Toledo College of Law and became a staff attorney in the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.  Then I took a position as in-house counsel at Libbey-Owens-Ford Company.  I worked in corporate securities and other legal areas for the rest of my career eventually retiring from Dana Corporation.”

Strategic and financial planning was a continuing thread for Jim’s career, as he moved from Owens-Corning to Arthur Young and then on to independent consulting and running his own business.

With no children or close relatives who might personally benefit from their estate, it’s not surprising that the Fletchers looked to TCF as a resource to accomplish their estate planning goals.  “I knew of the Foundation through my friendship with the former executive director, Pam Howell-Beach.

We worked together for a number of years as members of the Toledo chapter of Zonta, an international executive and professional women’s service organization,” Pam recalls.

The Fletchers had given some thought about how to structure their fund.  “We didn’t think single one-time bequests would be as useful to the organizations we support as a continuing stream of revenue,” said Pam.  Jim agreed, noting, “With our Fund, every year when distributions are made, we will be remembered as benefactors by those organizations we care about.”

“With our Fund, every year when distributions are made, we will be remembered as benefactors by those organizations we care about.” - Jim Fletcher

They both appreciated how convenient it was to establish their fund.  “The amount of our estate wouldn’t justify the cost and effort of setting up an endowment fund on our own — but with a Toledo Community Foundation fund, the work was done for us.  The whole process was easy. We didn’t have to pay a fee to make it happen and there was no requirement to commit a specific dollar amount,” said Jim.  “We didn’t want to lose control of our assets during our lifetimes — and with our Legacy Fund, we won’t.  All we had to do was work with TCF staff to set up the fund.  One meeting and some paperwork, and it was done.”

The Fletchers’ Legacy Fund will ensure that local and national causes dear to their hearts will benefit from their generosity for many years to come.  As Jim observed, “Now, when I listen to public radio and hear announcements crediting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their support, I think ‘and we’ve got the Pam and Jim Fletcher Fund at the Toledo Community Foundation.’”

Beach House Family Shelter

Ninety-five years ago, Toledo’s “wayward women” were housed in the local jail. Seeing that these women were more victims than perpitrators, Helen Beach, the wife of Toledo’s legendary Mayor, Golden Rule Jones, gave her home to create what is now the Beach House Family Shelter.

In 1982, ten area churches that were working separately to help the homeless recognized their work would be much more effective if they joined forces, and created FOCUS — Family Outreach Church-Community United Services.

And in 2009, the United States Congress enacted new legislation that dramatically affected both organizations. This is the story of how, with the support of Toledo Community Foundation, these two established, successful nonprofits merged to respond to changing needs, and in so doing, became stronger together.                                        

When the U.S. government created the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness seven years ago, it effectively ended one-to-one government reimbursements to nonprofit agencies for services rendered to the homeless. Instead, those payments would now be based on the performance of the entire community in meeting government goals for addressing homelessness and its causes.

The core of this plan was an approach called rapid re-housing. This replaced indefinite stays in homeless shelters with a mandate that communities place the homeless in transitional housing within 72 hours, and connect them with support services to address issues that led to the loss of their housing.

“We were already following this model to a large degree before the federal changes,” said Jim Karasek, interim executive director of FOCUS. Tammy Holder, executive director of Beach House, agreed. “We were already doing reciprocal referrals with FOCUS and had an extensive collective network of resource relationships to help identify homelessness causes, as well as, address and decrease barriers to permanent housing.”

But the new model created challenges. FOCUS, which had a well-established revenue stream of government reimbursements, was seeing a decrease each year. Beach House, which had strong private funding sources was primarily a shelter and wanted to expand programs and services without competing with other local organizations.

A leadership change leads to organizational transformation

When the executive director of FOCUS announced her retirement in 2014, a colleague suggested to Tammy that she apply for the job. “But,” said Tammy, “my thought was, why not join forces?” As it turned out, Michelle Klinger, former director of The Center for Nonprofit Resources and program officer for the Foundation’s Strategic Alliance Partnership* (SAP), had already been assisting FOCUS with their search for a new leader, and suggested applying for a SAP grant to support formal discussion of a merger.

With their first SAP grant, FOCUS and Beach House hired Aurora Consulting to lead meetings with agency stakeholders and conduct formal investigation of one another’s organizational culture, finances, vendor contracts, and donor relationships. The grant also covered legal services in the event of a merger.

SAP Grants

Learn more about Strategic Alliance Partnership (SAP) grants offered through Greater Toledo Community Foundation.

Discover SAP grants!

“These consultants are experts in helping people think through what it means to have one organization instead of two,” said Michelle, who notes that the least successful mergers are done without this process. “Too many rush into a merger without properly facilitated discussions. This creates a situation where people can become misundertstood and alienated. The facilitators funded by these grants make both organizations feel welcome at the table and see that everyone’s voice has been heard.

“The process doesn’t always lead to a merger,” she notes, ”but that’s OK, too. Stakeholders learn about their own organizations and the sector they are serving, and that is useful regardless of whether the two organizations join forces. Sometimes it turns out that the two are not a good match, but someone else is.”

After a careful investigation, FOCUS and Beach House decided the two would indeed be a good match — and on January 1, 2016, their two boards of directors merged into one. A second SAP grant is funding the transitional steps to creating a well-functioning single organization, including technology changes, staff training, board integration, and branding the new entity.

“It’s important to have a strong balance between compassion and accountability,” noted Tammy. “We hope we’re a model to the community, and that this will show effective use of donor funds.”

When Judy McCracken moved to Toledo with her husband, Steve, and four young children, she had no idea how her life was about to change.

“Steve had been with DuPont for 30 years, and we’d moved a lot,” she recalled, noting that relocation had been a way of life for them. “We were considering moves to Texas and Kansas, but ended up in Toledo after Steve accepted the CEO position with Owens-Illinois. My mother’s uncle lived in Ottawa Hills, and I knew it was a great place to raise a family. So when we came here, that’s where we decided to build our dream home together.”

But just three short years later, a severe illness took Steve’s life. To provide a lasting legacy for Steve, Judy established a donor advised fund at the Foundation in his name for memorial contributions. “Frank Jacobs, a TCF board member, was our estate attorney. He introduced me to TCF and how easy it is to manage charitable giving through the Foundation. Once the fund was established, it just made sense to continue it.”

As she put down roots in Toledo and raised her young family, Judy recognized she had advantages that many other women and children in her situation did not.  “I’ve been able as a single mother to provide for my family and raise them in a safe environment, and I know not everyone is so fortunate,” she said, “so women, family, education and the environment are all causes I am passionate about.”

"Frank Jacobs, a TCF board member, was our estate attorney. He introduced me to TCF and how easy it is to manage charitable giving through the Foundation. Once the fund was established, it just made sense to continue it."


Judy also supports the arts because of the value it has for children. “You HAVE to have the arts in your community. When we first came to Toledo, I was impressed at how many opportunities in the arts there are in Toledo for children from all walks of life – and high-quality opportunities, too. My children have benefitted from being introduced to these forms of expression, and I want others to benefit as well.”

Judy also values the local impact her TCF fund provides. “It is important to know that when we’re giving, the money stays in the community,” she said, recalling the assistance TCF provides in vetting and presenting local causes worth supporting. “You need to give back where you live – you want to see your community thriving.” 

Read about the Library's early literacy program

Ready to Read
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's early literacy program Ready to Read.

When the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL) set out to reassess its programs and staffing after state budget cuts in 2009, three significant facts led to the adoption of an early literacy program called Ready to Read:

  •   After the third grade, a child’s ability to learn is dependent on his or her reading skills.
  •   If a child starts kindergarten without the basic skills required to learn to read, it is virtually certain that he or she will not succeed in school thereafter.
  •   In the Toledo area, more than one third of children tested each year score below minimum kindergarten literacy readiness standards.

When you look at a group of third-graders’ reading scores and compare them to the same group’s kindergarten readiness scores from three years earlier, the breakdowns are virtually identical,” explained TLCPL’s Youth Services Coordinator, Nancy Eames.  “That carries all the way through to graduation rates — and it has serious implications for our community.”

Assessing Needs, Creating Solutions

“Budget cuts at the state level in 2009 forced us to reconsider how we were utilizing our community outreach resources,” said TLCPL’s Development Coordinator Kathryn Fell.  “Early literacy had been an ongoing focus for the library, but we wanted to do more.  The Toledo Community Foundation helped us start that process through a capacity grant, which funded a new strategic plan for the Library Legacy Foundation.  The Ready to Read program was an outcome of that planning.”

“The Ready to Read program is distinctive because the focus is on developing skills in parents and child-care providers — not on the children themselves,” said Nancy, who suggested the program to the strategic planning team.  “Studies show that children need six basic skills to be ready to learn to read, which are developed largely through five types of interaction with a child’s primary caregivers (see sidebar at right).  Ready to Read provides parents with resources to support these interactions, which in turn build foundational skills for reading.”

Two full-time librarians, Lauren Boeke and Cristin Brown, bring the TLCPL Ready to Read program to the community via a van filled with resources for parents and in-home child-care providers, including children’s books, how-to manuals — even GED prep courses. 

A Community Funds grant from Toledo Community Foundation ensures that low-income parents who enroll in the program receive a Ready to Read kit, which includes books and other educational materials for children.  The kit is key to the program because it is designed by library staff to equip parents to work with their children, engaging both in the five behaviors on which early literacy is built.  “Parents are thrilled with the kit — and librarians can mentor parents in behaviors that lead to early literacy by demonstrating the kit’s components,” Nancy commented.

Critical to the success of Ready to Read are the librarians themselves. “The relationships our librarians build with parents and caregivers is one of the most important aspects of the program,” said Nancy.  “And our librarians’ outreach to in-home child-care providers is bringing essential skills to a group largely without access to this kind of training and development.”

6 Skills

Early literacy skills that every child needs: 1. Phonemic awareness, 2. Vocabulary, 3. Print awareness: the recognition of print as a means of conveying information, 4. Print motivation: the love of books and understanding of the conventions of books (left to right, top to bottom, front to back, etc.), 5. Narrative skills, 6. Letter knowledge

Learn more!

Sustained growth through strategic funding

To develop and sustain the Ready to Read program, TLCPL’s Library Legacy Foundation developed a two-prong capital campaign, called “Planting a Seed to Read”.  The campaign plans to allot $1 million to programming, and another $1 million to fund a Ready to Read endowment. 

One of the major Seed to Read donors was ProMedica, which committed $150,000 to the campaign through its Community Revitalization Fund with Toledo Community Foundation. ProMedica’s director of community relations, advocacy and grants, Stephanie Cihon, cited the Foundation’s vetting of the program and the community outreach component of Ready to Read as factors in ProMedica’s support. “We need a strong, literate workforce for a strong community,” said Stephanie. “Knowing the library was taking this program directly into neighborhoods where it was most needed was very important to us.”

With the initial goal of reaching 500 families achieved before even a full year had been completed, the next goal is to reach 1000 families annually.  However, the Ready to Read team will not achieve its ultimate goal until EVERY child in Toledo is ready to read by kindergarten.

“We want to assure this program is here for the long run,” said Kathryn.  “By creating an endowment for Ready to Read, we provide our donors a measure of assurance that the program will be sustained.  We’ve enjoyed strong support from a broad range of community partners.  Having the Toledo Community Foundation with us at the outset gave credibility to our vision, and encourages others to come forth with support.”

Like so many of the Greatest Generation, Katherine Gruber Smith made a life for herself far from where she grew up.  But at the end of that life, she returned a great blessing to the children of the region she originally called home, with a gift of $1 million to the Waterville Community Foundation (an affiliate of Greater Toledo Community Foundation).

Born and raised in Liberty Center, Katherine met her husband, Tom, during his World War II service in the Navy. After the war, they moved to Connecticut, where they both enjoyed lifelong careers in the corporate world.  When Tom passed away in 2005, Katherine returned to northwest Ohio to be near family.

Waterville Community Foundation

The Waterville Community Foundation (WCF) was established in 2002 to support nonprofits in and around the Waterville area. With input from the WCF, the GTCF manages, invests and distributes assets from WCF funds. The City of Waterville was instrumental in establishing the WCF, and made the first contribution to a WCF fund.

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Shortly thereafter, her niece, Marilyn Simpson, introduced her to attorney Paul Croy to help manage her estate.  Paul took an instant liking to the sharp, independent-minded 88-year-old. “When I first met her,” he recalled, “I thought to myself, ‘I hope I’m this together when I’m her age!’”

Paul noted that Katherine was very clear about her estate planning goals. “She wanted her assets to be used for charitable purposes in her home community. Not having lived here for most of her adult life, she didn’t know much about specific programs or agencies in the area – but she was very definite about what she wanted to accomplish.

“Katherine had no children of her own, but she loved children and was deeply concerned about young people in need,” he said. With Paul’s help, Katherine established four separate funds through her estate: two that aid abused and developmentally disabled children; one that supports youth-focused area nonprofits; and a scholarship fund for college-bound area high-schoolers.

“She’s not someone you’d tell what to do,” noted Paul. “She’d ask for ideas, and we’d weigh the pros and cons ­– but she’d make the decisions. She also liked that after her passing, decisions about how to use fund resources would be made locally.”

“She’s not someone you’d tell what to do. She’d ask for ideas, and we’d weigh the pros and cons ­– but she’d make the decisions. She also liked that after her passing, decisions about how to use fund resources would be made locally.”


While many estate plans are structured with tax advantages in mind, charitable giving was Katherine’s sole focus in creating her plan. “People get so excited and enthused when they think of what their assets can do to benefit others,” said Croy. “Katherine took great pleasure in knowing the benefit she would provide young people in our community.”

Are you interested in how you can make a difference by giving back to your community? Call us at 419.241.5049 and we’ll show you just how easy it can be.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo

Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo
Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo

It all began with a Christmas dinner for 102 rough-and-tumble newsboys in 1892.

Realizing that those struggling boys needed much more than a holiday meal, John Gunckel solicited support from community leaders and went on to help thousands of area youngsters at what became the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo.  Eighty years after that first generous act, the Clubs entered a new era of community partnership with support from the Toledo Community Foundation.

“The Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo was among our very first grant recipients,” noted Foundation President, Keith Burwell.  “Over the past 40 years, nearly a million Foundation dollars have supported the Clubs’ mission of helping kids reach their full potential.”

Continuing the legacy of business community leadership, founding TCF board member Sam Carson began the partnership between the Foundation and the Clubs.  Carson family donor advised funds have supported capital improvements, helped establish the Clubs’ Goal Setters program, and assisted with college expenses for 30 Clubs’ alums.  When the Clubs sought to expand their community partnerships in the mid 1990s, the Foundation again played a role.

Clubs and Toledo Public Schools: Better Together

“While developing new strategic initiatives, the Clubs’ governing board realized that Toledo Public Schools and our Clubs were the two oldest institutions serving kids in our city,” said Clubs’ Executive Director Dave Wehrmeister.  “With the vision of then School Superintendent Eugene Sanders, we began our new full service Club in Sherman Elementary — and Carson family funds helped us establish a Club in Marshall Elementary. 

“We now have three in-school Boys & Girls Clubs in neighborhoods where we’re needed most, supporting what kids are doing during classroom hours,” Wehrmeister noted.  “Goal Setters and our Power Hour homework completion program not only help kids achieve, but also provide character-building experiences as older kids mentor the younger in a fun and caring environment.  Toledo Community Foundation resources have done much to make this progress possible.”

New partnerships for even greater impact

In coming years, the Foundation will support organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs in a significant new way.  Aspire, a major strategic partnership to help Toledo’s children develop from cradle to career, brings together leaders of business, education and community groups in strategic collaborations much like that of the Clubs and Toledo Public Schools. 

One such business leader is Al Stroucken, Chairman and CEO of global glass container maker Owens-Illinois, Inc. and Chair of the Aspire Board of Managers.  “Aspire is using continuous improvement processes and data to drive accountability and results among the many initiatives already underway in the city.  We believe we can help enhance the collective impact of the many groups at work on behalf of the children of Lucas County to bring long-lasting change.”

“The Foundation’s investment in our Clubs has paid real human dividends,” said Wehrmeister, noting that he himself was a former Boys & Girls Clubs member.  “Ninety-six percent of our kids are on free or subsidized school lunches, and their family circumstances are often challenging — so there is much work yet to be done.  We look forward to playing a role in Aspire as our relationship with the Foundation continues.” 

When Hussien and Randa Mansour Shousher first contacted the Toledo Community Foundation, it was to establish a donor advised fund. But before long, the relationship turned into one of collaboration and community engagement that extended well beyond what they had originally envisioned.

As children of immigrant parents, philanthropy was a practice that both of the Shoushers learned in youth. “People wore out the carpet coming to our parents’ homes and offices for help,” recalled Hussien. “The cultural obligation was family first, community next, not only with financial support, but contributions of time and talent were also expected.”

Hussien, as the CEO of GEM Industrial and board member of several area philanthropic organizations, knew well that much could be accomplished when this generosity of spirit was amplified by a community effort. So, nearly a decade ago, he and a number of other Arab-Americans came together to create the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP), a national philanthropic organization funded by Arab-Americans. “Our philosophy was that giving together has more impact,” he said. “We believed that if we started it, other people would jump on board — and they have.

“At first, what we were doing was raising money annually to support grants to various 501(c)(3) organizations that would apply to CAAP for grants,” he said. “But to grow nationally, we saw we needed an endowment — and we couldn’t develop that alone.”

An experienced advisor at CAAP recommended the organizers work through community foundations to fund their philanthropic efforts via donor advised funds, and introduced the Shoushers to TCF. But their fund was only the beginning.

“TCF was a game-changer for us,” said Hussien. “TCF knows what’s ‘on the ground,’ and has connected us with others who share our goals, and resources we didn’t even know existed. Their team also has helped us be a lot more strategic.” Some of those connections included other community foundations throughout the country. Since their first encounter with TCF, the Shoushers try to include meetings with community foundation leadership in other cities when they travel. “Different communities have different needs, and different approaches to meeting those needs,” said Randa. “We learn something new from every visit.

“TCF was a game-changer for us. TCF knows what’s ‘on the ground,’ and has connected us with others who share our goals, and resources we didn’t even know existed. Their team also has helped us be a lot more strategic.”


“Today, donors don’t want to just write checks. They want to see impact, and to make a difference in people’s lives,” she added. “We don’t always know how to demonstrate the value of what we are doing. Through the Foundation, we’ve learned what donors need to see to inspire them to give.”

The Shoushers are applying principles they learned in collaboration with TCF and others to their work with various other charities, including HearCare Connection, a nonprofit in which Randa devotes her services as an audiologist to needy hard-of-hearing individuals, both in northwest Ohio and overseas. “We’ve gone overseas five times now to provide hearing care for refugee children,” said Randa. “With each trip, our work has grown. We had 13 audiologists and 14 volunteers on our last trip, nine of whom were from Toledo. “Kids that have hearing aids can then go to school,” Randa said. “The ultimate goal is to enable them to get an education and training so that they can make a business for themselves and have a future beyond the refugee camps.”

Here in northwest Ohio, HearCare Connection serves children and adults alike. “HearCare Connection was actually started by a student that Randa mentored,” Hussien explained, “and has grown over the past five years to include a number of local HearCare Connection groups across the country. Each of these local organizations must find ways to raise their own funds, and community foundations have been an important resource for them. To date, we have also received great financial support from local businesses and individuals.

“One of our goals is to reduce the distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and more toward ‘we,’ said Hussien. “Our efforts are funded by Arab-Americans, but our grants do not require ethnic ties to the Arab-American community. We’re ethnic in funding, but diverse in who gets the money — because when the wider community benefits, we benefit, too.”

Jenna Perez
Jenna Perez

Jenna Perez, 13, never thought spending a summer at the Catholic Club’s Summer Camp would open up an entirely new and exciting world for her.

“Because I couldn’t stay home alone, I had to go to the Catholic Club last summer. I would go there and just sleep and not talk to anyone. Then we went to the Toledo Ballet and even though I had not sung or danced before, it was so comfortable for me,” says the junior high school student.

Jenna participated in the Summer Musical Theater Program, collaboration between the Ballet and Catholic Club, funded by the Greater Toledo Community Foundation.  The pilot program offered musical theater instructions to 13 boys and 13 girls. From this group, the ballet awarded three scholarships for dancers to continue lessons.

Because of her talent, Jenna was awarded a scholarship to take vocal and musical theater lessons. “I would have never had the opportunity to do this. Performing comes so naturally to me and it pushes me to work harder. It has helped me grow and now that I know what I’m doing, I’m no longer scared,” Jenna adds.

“This is just one of our programs where we work very hard to reach out to young people who may have never been exposed to dance. We don’t want dance to be exclusive but inclusive and this program helps break down barriers,” says Mari Davies, executive director of the Toledo Ballet Association.

Mari says with pride that “Jenna has such tremendous talent and interest. Her introduction to musical theater is a real success for our program and to her future no matter where her life takes her.”     

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Meet Mary Mennel

Not many people find their life’s calling by the time they’re nine years old — but Mary Mennel was one of the lucky ones. “I’ve been involved with YMCA Storer Camps from the third grade on, starting with Camp Storer” she said. “First it was as a camper, then as a counselor. After college, I went back, and eventually was made the Summer Director for 6th and 7th graders and Director of Outdoor Education.”

But after 17 years and a management change at Storer, Mary decided it was time for a new direction. One night, she got a call from her parents with news that Mrs. Virginia Stranahan was “looking for someone to run what she was doing with her estate — so I had a parental directive to call her.”

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After her first three-hour interview in the garden of Mrs. Stranahan’s Perrysburg home, Mary returned a second time with her resume. On interview number three, as Mary was thinking, “how can I get out of this?”, Mrs. Stranahan announced that she’d like Mary to be the executive director of The 577 Foundation, which Mrs. Stranahan was creating from her family estate.

Mrs. Stranahan, a victory-garden-era person who grew her own organic vegetables, had community gardens as her top priority, and their first project was to establish an indoor observation beehive. Next came pottery, inspired by Virginia’s experience hiring a professional potter to teach her own children.  Today, community gardens, pottery programs, classes and events are the ongoing focus at 577, which now has five full-time staff and numerous seasonal and part-time employees.

Mrs. Stranahan provided for 577 through a field of interest fund with Toledo Community Foundation, the Secor Fund. “Each year, 577 applies for a grant to fund its activities — so TCF becomes a ‘second eye’ on our operations,” observed Mary, who is now in her 26th year as its executive director. “And Virginia was adamant that The 577 not depend on the community for funds, so her goal was for her endowed fund to provide for its operation.”

When Mary recently decided to establish a TCF Legacy Fund, it just made sense to continue what she’d been doing all her life — so her own future fund supports these two favorite causes. “The YMCA and 577 Foundation were my only two jobs, and they’re who I am today,” she said. “Staying with jobs like these for as long as I have, I can see the impact these organizations have in people’s lives. So it’s natural that I would want to continue this work into the future.”

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