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Michele Hall Duncan, Erik Coleman, in the zone, Indra PR, enCourageKids
MARCH 21, 2019 - Erik Coleman NFL Great, Sebrina Coleman Athlete, Michelle Hall Duncan and NFL Legend Howard Cross attend the ÒENCOURAGE KIDS FOUNDATION HOSTS 34TH ANNUAL GALA HONORING TOP REAL ESTATE EXECUTIVES (Photo by Mychal Watts/Shutterstock.com - Provided for use by Indra PR)

BIZ

Fundraising During a Pandemic Through the Eyes of a National Nonprofit Leader, Michele Hall Duncan

These days, it has been a challenge fundraising during a pandemic, many people out of work and thousands of nonprofits depending on donor dollars more than ever.

I had the opportunity to interview Michele Hall Duncan, President & CEO enCourage Kids Foundation.  I’ve met Michele several times through their Serving Up Smiles event, annual Gala and a night of NY Mets Baseball with the enCourage Kids at Citi Field. Michele is one of those people you meet and feel as though you know her for years. She has a big personality, boundless energy and a smile that lights up every room that she goes in.

These days, it has been a challenge fundraising during a pandemic, many people out of work and thousands of nonprofits depending on donor dollars more than ever.

I also spoke with Erik Coleman, former NFL Safety who played with the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions and who supports the enCourage Kids Foundation. What I did learn about Michele is that she will not give up and that the enCourage Kids Foundation is working harder than ever to make each pediatric patient feel comfortable and at ease. Job well done!

Double G Sports: Please share a little background on the enCourage Kids Foundation.

MHD: enCourage Kids Foundation helps humanize healthcare for children and their families by resourcing impact-drive pediatric programs and supporting the child life community. In essence, we make hospitals a better place to get better. What we try to do is help everyone in the hospital who is on the frontline — the Child Life Specialists, the doctors, the nurses — with the things that they need that insurance doesn’t cover, to help those hospitalized children and their psychosocial well-being. We have been doing this for 35 years and we are a true leader and an impactful partner with hospitals across the country. Over the years, we’ve invested over 50 million dollars to help medically challenged kids, their families, and hospitals, and we’re excited to do even more. It’s our passion for improving the lives of these kids and their family members that continues to drive us, especially now.

Double G Sports: As a leader during these challenging times, what are some of the creative ways you’re continuing to fundraise?

MHD: Just before New York City began its quarantine, we were forced to cancel our largest fundraising event of the year, our Annual Gala, which was scheduled to take place on March 11th, and soon after had to cancel two additional spring and summer events. Like many nonprofits, we had to scramble to adjust and found ourselves having to pivot our focus to foundation and corporate grants, and peer-to-peer and individual fundraising.

One creative fundraising initiative we started was the VIRTUAL HANDSHAKE CHALLENGE that we felt would resonate with donors and help us keep our promise to deliver joy, hope, resilience, and healing. As hospitals had to close their playrooms, impose visitor limitations, and shift resources toward fighting this pandemic, pediatric patients had become more secluded and more scared than ever before. And those feelings of isolation reached beyond the hospital walls. Our staff devised the VIRTUAL HANDSHAKE as a way for us as an organization and as individuals to stay connected in a fun and inspiring way. We spread our message on all social media channels to our friends and family and complete strangers, asking them to share videos of their version of a virtual handshake on their social media platforms to support enCourage Kids. Every dollar raised with every virtual handshake, fist bump, and high five could help pediatric patients feel connected and stay positive during these uncertain times. We also started a High Five Fundraiser campaign across all our social media platforms in conjunction with the Virtual Handshake Challenge where we collected virtual high fives, $5 donations, to make sure our hospital partners have the power to meet the ever evolving and urgent needs they faced every day.

Double G Sports: You and your wife Sabrina support many charities. Why the enCourage Kids Foundation?

Erik Coleman: The work they do for children and their families in the hospitals across our country is outstanding. They have different programs and activities that are made available to the children. They hear the concerns of parents of hospitalized children and understand the fears and challenges that they experience. They also assist their hospital partners and help them promote well-being and healing for these children and families. Through their work, children and families can have a brighter, more positive hospital experience.

Michele Hall Duncan, in the zone, enCourageKids,

(Photo provided for use by Indra PR)

Double G Sports: For the golf event in September, who are some of the committed guests attending?

MHD: Our Annual Golf Outing is sponsored by Nouveau Elevator, Excel Security and Cool Breeze Air Conditioning, three well-known companies in the New York City real estate community. Now in its 17th year, the event draws participants from construction, utility, engineering, building maintenance and service industries which comprise the backbone of the real estate industry.

Double G Sports: Can guests still play and if so, how can they sign up?

MHD: Yes, absolutely! We have foursomes and spots for individual golfers available. We also have some great sponsorship opportunities as well as ad buys for our digital journal. Sponsorships range from $500 to $2,500 and cover everything from individual holes and goody bags to sponsoring competitions such as Longest Drive and Closest-to-Pin. To purchase a foursome, sponsorship or ad, visit our website: https://encourage-kids.org/ekf-golf/.

Double G Sports: Great job on Serving Up Smiles at Home? I’m a big fan of chef David, chef Ralph and chef Chris. They all bring a different energy and flair to their meals. Will you continue this throughout the coming months as this is such a great fundraiser and experience for people?

MHD: Serving Up Smiles at Home has been so much fun! We are so grateful to all the incredibly talented chefs who have given their time to share their culinary expertise with us. We do plan to continue offering more cooking and mixology sessions in the fall. Thanks to a generous sponsor, participants can now attend the classes for free and will enjoy access to some of the best culinary talent in the country. Be sure to follow us on social media for updates or check out the Serving Up Smiles at Home page on our website to learn more: https://encourage-kids.org/sus-athome/.

Double G Sports: Let’s talk about Serving Up Smiles.  I’m sure there is a possibility of having to cancel this due to the pandemic. If that is the case, what will Serving Up Smiles look like this October?

MHD: Unfortunately, with all the uncertainty surrounding holding large indoor events, we are not moving forward with an in-person Serving Up Smiles event. We are exploring holding a virtual event and plan to continue offering a silent auction so there’s an opportunity for people to bid on some incredible auction items from a variety of categories including restaurant gift certificates, sporting tickets, hotel stays, beauty items and golf foursomes. Bidding will begin October 13th so be sure to look for more information on our social media channels and our website www.encourage-kids.org.

Double G Sports: Let’s talk about the disparities in health care.  What insight can you share that takes place in the hospitals with children of lesser means?

MHD: The statistics on health disparities across the country based on factors such as race, zip code, socioeconomic status and language spoken are staggering. The relationship between lack of opportunities and poor health is clear. In many cities and counties, neighborhoods with lowest educational attainment and highest levels of poverty are also the areas with the greatest concentration of obesity, diabetes and many other adverse health outcomes, and we see the disparity when it comes to life expectancy and premature mortality rates. For example, in cities like Houston, Atlanta and New York, life expectancy for residents in more affluent neighborhoods is more than 10 years longer compared to zip codes where incomes are less. In New Orleans, there is a 25.5-year difference between zip codes.

The good news is that there are coalitions of organizations and hospital health systems working toward equity access across communities. Many are taking a multi-layered approach that involves encouraging healthy behaviors; increasing income and economic prospects; increasing care coordination; and expanding health insurance coverage. But we still have a very long way to go.

Double G Sports: How can we “as a nation” close the gap on health disparities in the country?

MHD: The first step in closing the gap is for everyone to be willing to take the steps that are necessary. I think most people agree that the problem exists, but many are unwilling to make the sacrifices and choices necessary to alleviate it. Eating unhealthy meals is often easier, and sadly much cheaper than healthy options. People often want to eat what is tasty and quick to make, and sometimes those things are not the healthiest choices. Why are salads often so much more expensive than fast food french fries? If a person is on a limited income and trying to feed a family, those choices become much harder. Appealing and healthy options need to become more easily available to low income families. We need to pay attention to communities that have food deserts like my hometown of Flint, Michigan. Grocery stores have closed all over the city in the past several years, leaving families without transportation in dire straits, and with limited access to healthy food options. Preventive healthcare also needs to be more widely accessible. Regular health screenings can help prevent the onset or growth of many preventable diseases, but so many individuals don’t have health insurance or access to inexpensive healthcare.

Double G Sports: How does enCourage Kids Foundation provide support to children in hospitals?

MHD: For more than three decades, enCourage Kids has worked with the child life community to meet their needs so that they can provide the best care to their pediatric patients. Through our Pediatric Hospital Support Program, we fund projects that are not covered under normal hospital budgets such as music therapists, treatment room renovations, and pet therapy. We’ve provided tablets for Child Life Specialists to use not just for distraction but for medical interventions and to explain complex medical procedures to families and young children. We provide cuddly teddy bears that offer comfort and companionship to children during the often-lonely hours when caregivers aren’t able to be with them. For years, we have listened to the needs of Child Life Specialists across the country. We hear them now when they say things around them are changing at a rapid pace. What they need today may look completely different than what they need tomorrow or from what they needed two months ago.

At the start of the pandemic, many CLS requested supplies and technology to help their pediatric patients cope with the extreme isolation they were experiencing, particularly in cities like New York where the COVID-19 caseload was high. We learned they were adapting items traditionally used for play to use for medical interventions and therapies instead. Some asked for breathing toys such as kazoos and pinwheels to use for breathing treatments to help build lung capacity in preparation of the spread of the virus. Others requested self-care items for exhausted staff working around the clock. For months we have been working closely with hospitals across the country to respond to immediate needs and preemptively prepare for what is inevitably to come.

Double G Sports: Your focus is to step in and help the communities that are inundated right now, providing the support and critical resources they uniquely need, when they need it. Please share a few examples.

MHD: The NYC borough of Queens was one of hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. We determined that pregnant mothers who had lost their spouses and other key family members were going home alone with their newborn babies feeling alone, afraid and without needed resources. enCourage Kids stepped in and provided supplies for those new moms like diapers, wipes, newborn outfits, blankets and other essentials.

enCourage Kids, Camp Pontaic, in the zone

Camp Pontaic (Photo provided by Indra PR)

Double G Sports: What are some of the activities that the children in hospitals have been doing during the pandemic and the lack of parents, family members and friends being able to visit them?

MHD: Because playrooms are still closed, pediatric patients are more isolated than ever before. enCourage Kids Foundation has sent hundreds of coping kits with individual games, arts and crafts, gift cards, and other items that help to mitigate boredom. These items are sealed in a plastic bag for infection control as well. We also created a version of these kits that includes items like adult coloring books and gel pens, inspirational journals, playing cards, small electronic games and other items geared toward teens, who are often an overlooked population.

Double G Sports: There are many great nonprofit leaders. In your opinion, what sets Michele Hall Duncan apart from the others?

Erik Coleman: Sabrina and I went to the Annual Nigh at Citi Field with the children and families of enCourage Kids. The kids along with their parents and siblings were able to enjoy a night out, even for a few hours, without any distractions. Additionally, each year we attend Serving Up Smiles event and their Gala.  The passion that Michele brings each and every day to whatever it is she is doing to help raise additional funds and awareness to advance the mission of enCourage Kids, is incredible.  We are a big fan and love supporting the organization.

Double G Sports: What do you feel is the biggest learning lesson from COVID?

MHD: Don’t put off telling people how you feel about them. Personally, I lost my younger cousin, and a dear friend that I had known for 35 years to COVID-19.  My aunt and my cousin were both hospitalized due to the virus and thankfully are recovering. Life is incredibly fragile.

Double G Sports: As a woman of color who is an exceptional leader I might add, what would you like to see more of as it pertains to black and brown females?

MHD: I would love to see even more black and brown women serving on nonprofit boards as well as serving in leadership positions.

Double G Sports: Let’s have some fun…

MHD:   Basketball or Football? – Basketball

Chocolate or Vanilla? – Vanilla

Fish or Meat? – Meat

Day or Night? – Night

Summer or Winter? – Summer

Double G Sports: What would you tell your 13 your old self since that is a year of big change?

MHD: Don’t take no for an answer. Start a business. Keep a journal.

Double G Sports: This is a very challenging time for many nonprofits given the climate of the economy during the pandemic crisis that we have been faced with.  What do you have to say to our readers at this time?

Erik Coleman: It is a very challenging time and this is why we have to continue to support the charities that we are passionate about and it doesn’t have to always be through financial support.  Many organizations can use assistance with services, helping at events, answering calls, and so on.  Give the organization a call and see how you can assist.

Double G Sports: What is one of the challenges taking place in the world today that you would like to see change?

MHD: I would like to see increased equity, access, and parity in our health care system today. A healthier nation is a better, more productive nation. We also need to continue to place preventative health care at the forefront, to ensure that people are able to head off many preventable diseases before they begin.

Double G Sports: It was a pleasure to interview you and I look forward to speaking with you in the coming months. To follow the enCourage Kids Foundation:

https://www.instagram.com/encouragekids/

https://www.facebook.com/encouragekidsfoundation

https://twitter.com/encourage_kids

MHD: Thank you and I look forward to our next interview and seeing you at our next in-person event when the timing permits.

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