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Igniting generosity across the region

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | May 25, 2020 1:14 AM

From classrooms to COVID, Innovia Foundation helps communities thrive

It just makes sense to those who comprise the Innovia Foundation to take care of the communities they serve.

The mission is simple: To ignite generosity that transforms lives.

The objective is clear: To build vibrant communities where every person can thrive.

“I spent my entire career working for nonprofit charitable organizations, universities or local community-based nonprofits, and in my career, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything more beautiful and more powerful than when someone has the opportunity to be generous," Innovia Foundation Chief Strategy Officer Aaron McMurray said. "In my experience, the blessing of that generosity impacts both the person who gives as well as those who receive. And I’ve seen it time and time again."

Founded in 1974, the Innovia Foundation serves 20 counties in the Inland Northwest, including Kootenai County. Since Innovia's inception, its foundation’s endowment has grown to $135 million. Through the generosity of donors and the support of nonprofit and community partners, Innovia has awarded more than $81 million to organizations that improve lives.

"We're really interested in that idea of, 'How can we help people be more generous?'" McMurray said. "And how can we help people across our region understand that opportunity to be generous in the form of creating funds that are invested and endowed, and then create that benefit back to communities and nonprofits for generations to come? And that’s really the power of the idea of endowment."

Through innovation, inclusion and collaboration, this foundation is constantly finding ways to support local nonprofits and encourage philanthropic giving. Its programs and partnerships are many, including a grant process that supports local nonprofits such as St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho and Safe Passage Violence Prevention Center and “Opening Books, Opening Doors,” a community partnership dedicated to helping third-graders in the Coeur d’Alene School District meet grade level reading goals.

Amy Voeller, Opening Books, Opening Doors Coeur d'Alene program manager, said what resonates with her so deeply about the Innovia Foundation "is the opportunity to live a story that is bigger than myself."

"I think that’s contagious," she said. "Through the power of generosity and sharing a message of generosity, I believe that encourages others in our region to live a story beyond themselves, to see that they have impact and value that is larger than their own personal story,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Innovia Foundation immediately mobilized to work with other organizations and entities to launch the COVID-19 North Idaho Community Response Fund.

"A whole bunch of amazing organizations came together quickly, we set our individual institutional identities on the sidelines and we worked together to create these funds," McMurray said. "I think that’s, in my opinion, the coolest part of the story."

In the first cycle of emergency funds, $219,000 was distributed to provide immediate relief for nonprofits large and small in Idaho's 10 northern counties.

In some cases they were small grants, including a $500 grant to a food pantry in Spirit Lake, McMurray said, "and we loved being able to distribute money out really broadly across all those communities."

Innovia had just formed 10 volunteer leadership councils, including one in Kootenai County, that helped inform the decisions of where and how fast to send the funds right at the outbreak, without a drawn-out grant process.

"They’d already been selected because they’re trusted voices and they have a finger on the pulse in their communities," McMurray said.

McMurray said moving into the recovery period, which could take months or even years, "we want this fund to continue to have legs."

"We want to be able to do this second round that we’re planning for in June," he said. "Ideally we’d love to grow this fund and do a third round of another $200,000 perhaps at the end of summer or in early September or beyond as it gets more and more clear where the greatest needs are to help our community recover."

The second round of COVID funds will be awarded through a simple application process, McMurray said.

“We would love to encourage nonprofits that are experiencing an increased demand in their services to fill out the application,” he said. "It gets at the heart of what nonprofits are needing in order to provide services to their clients."

COVID-19 North Idaho Community Response Fund applications will be accepted through Tuesday.

Info: www.innovia.org

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Amy Privitt, executive director of Spirit Lake nonprofit Cup of Grace, which serves weekly free meals, hands a bag of bread to a client. Innovia Foundation provided a $1,000 grant to support this nonprofit to help with food purchases.

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Safe Passage Violence Prevention Center advocate Ashley Vandergrift takes a phone call in the Coeur d'Alene office. The Innovia Foundation is a supporter of Safe Passage, recently providing a $3,000 grant that was used to provide shelter for an increased number of domestic violence victims. (Courtesy photo)