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TOLEDO, OH, October 28, 2021 – Greater Toledo Community Foundation and The Blade, in partnership with The Center for Nonprofit Resources, The Andersons, Buckeye Broadband and WTVG-13abc, are happy to announce the 11th Annual Northwest Ohio Nonprofit Innovation & Excellence Award winners, recognizing local nonprofit organizations that stand out for their contributions to our community.

A panel of judges selected the following three organizations to receive recognition at this year’s ceremony:

  • Innovation award: Valentine Theatre
  • Small Organization Excellence award: Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
  • Large Organization Excellence award: The Victory Center
From left: Innovation & Excellence Award winners Dianne Barndt-Executive Director of The Victory Center, Aimee Arent-Executive Director of Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Jori Jex-Executive Director of the Valentine Theatre, and Jim Stengle-Board Chair of the Valentine Theatre. Photo Credit: THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

The 2021 Northwest Ohio Nonprofit Innovation & Excellence Awards presentation took place virtually, on Thursday, October 28th. You can find the link to the video on Greater Toledo Community Foundation's Facebook page at or LinkedIn page at

In addition to being recognized as a leader among northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan’s nonprofits, these winning organizations receive a $5,000 unrestricted grant from Greater Toledo Community Foundation; a $1,000 unrestricted grant from The Andersons; free half-page ad in The Blade; and a one-of-a-kind blown glass art creation by local glass artist Shawn Messenger.

About Our 2021 Innovation & Excellence Award Winners

Valentine Theatre closed their doors in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent statewide lock-down. Being seated in close proximity to others for extended periods of time meant indoor theatres were among the first to close and the last to reopen to full capacity. Despite the theatre’s acute financial losses and the uncertainty of when the theatre would reopen, staff was determined the Valentine should remain the cultural hub of downtown Toledo and continue its mission of providing arts education to young people through the pandemic. Two new programs were created to engage the community in the arts: Sessions and StoryTime at the Valentine.

Sessions films local musicians, dancers and artists performing live on the Valentine Theatre stage and keeps the community engaged in the arts and connects local artists to audiences via a safe, professional platform. StoryTime reflected their continued mission to engage Toledo’s youth ages 3-12 in arts education while fostering a sense of community at a time when communities were at their most fractured and isolated. Each StoryTime episode is filmed from the Main stage and features a local notable reading a book that reflects their role in the community.

The community has responded positively to StoryTime and Sessions. As the Toledo Cultural Arts Center, the Valentine is committed to showcasing local artists, and Sessions provides the perfect opportunity to feature local artists and introduce them to a wider audience.

Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (FONWR) exists to support conservation in the Lake Erie marshes at Ohio’s only national wildlife refuge complex. Since the beginning, they have grown immensely with over 800 members from numerous states across the country.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is a data-driven program. Data informs three main initiatives:

  • Youth Services;
  • Land Acquisition and Restoration; and
  • Creating the Next Generation Complex.

In 2019, FONWR supported more than 344,000 visits to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Of those visits, 5,500 were students for environmental education programs from across Ottawa, Lucas, Sandusky, Erie and Wood Counties. Underserved schools have the opportunity to apply for an assistance grant through FONWR to ensure a visit to the Refuge. One of the organization’s strategic goals is to assist the refuge by purchasing property and restore land to help with clean drinking water and aid community health. FONWR supports refuge projects that help with maintenance and visitor services. People who visit the refuge gain an understanding of the importance of wetlands which creates lifelong stewardship of the environment.

The Victory Center has existed for 25 years and is committed to providing hope and support to cancer patients and survivors for free to any men, women or children who have had a cancer diagnosis. Since 1996, The Victory Center has reached out to cancer patients and their families providing love, support, compassion, hope and laughter.
With an increase in the number and variety of services offered by more than 100% in the past 10 years, 11,000 services were provided in 2018 alone to those in the community going through the journey of a lifetime. Through their hard work, cooperation and strength of belief in their core mission, The Victory Center has been able to grow into a financially-healthy agency with two locations, and just recently completed the purchase of their own building after leasing space for 25 years.

Special Drawing

One organization in attendance at the virtual ceremony was chosen to win a $1,500 unrestricted grant. The winner of that drawing is the Dyslexia Education Training Center.

About Greater Toledo Community Foundation

Greater Toledo Community Foundation is a public charitable organization created by citizens of our community to enrich the quality of life for individuals and families in our area. In existence since 1973, the Foundation has more than 900 funds with assets of approximately $409 million. The Foundation provides philanthropic services for individuals, families, businesses and corporations to meet their charitable giving needs. For more information about Greater Toledo Community Foundation, visit or follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The mission of The Center for Nonprofit Resources is to ensure nonprofit organizations in our region have the information and resources required to operate in an efficient and effective manner. For further information about The Center, visit or contact Milva Valenzuela Wagner, Director, at [email protected].

Past Award Recipients

Nonprofit Innovation
Unison Behavioral Health Group (2011)
Bittersweet Farms (2012)
The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo (2013)
Shared Lives Studio / Lott Industries (2014)
Imagination Station (2015)
Advocating Opportunity, Inc. (2016)
A Renewed Mind (2017)
Center of Hope Family Services (2018)
Neighborhood Properties (2019)
Midstory (2020)

Nonprofit Excellence - Large Organization
Hospice of Northwest Ohio (2011)
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (2012)
East Toledo Family Center (2013)
Cherry Street Mission Ministries (2014)
Family & Child Abuse Prevention Center (2015)
Catholic Club (2016)
Thomas M. Wernert Center (2017)
Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo (2018)
Habitat for Humanity-Maumee Valley (2019)
Bittersweet Farms (2020)

Nonprofit Excellence – Small Organization
Read for Literacy, Inc. (2011)
Beach House Family Shelter (2012)
Toledo/Lucas County CareNet (2013)
Water for Ishmael (2014)
Black Swamp Conservancy (2015)
Diabetes Youth Services (2016)
Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism (2017)
Leadership Toledo (2018)
Lucas County CASA (2019)
Baby University (2020)

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