In December of 2018, Community Knights announced the grants awarded in its GIFT (Grant Initiative Fundraising Team) program. A total of $80,000 was awarded to more than 50 public school programs and nonprofits. The grants ranged from $250 to a Special Olympics Bowling and Basketball program to $3500 for Hampton High School Boys Soccer equipment. Along with the many volunteers, the Community Knights grants fund a variety of events that would not be possible otherwise. To date, the organization has contributed and invested more than $1 million into the community. More than 550 grants have been awarded and 70,000 hours have been volunteered.
Jennifer Brown, president/CEO, and her long-time friend/neighbor, Teresa Michener, CFO, have an extensive history of volunteer work. Always supportive of their children’s activities, they have built a reputation as fundraisers. With the 2008 recession came deep budget cuts and loss of government funds. Activities were eliminated. Supportive of the gymnastics program that involved their children, Brown and Michener sought alternate funding. They attended school board meetings and looked into fundraising. Brown’s background is sales and marketing and Michener is an accountant. Bingo was the fundraiser of choice. “It is highly regulated,” says Brown. “There is a lot of paperwork. We needed to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It was quite a journey. It took us four years.”
“The bingo games are held twice a week and are really fun,” says Brown. “We have lots of regular players who have become a community. There are about 25 volunteers; we can seat 200 players. We publicize on social media.” Brown and Michener also volunteer. “We can’t be paid; it’s not legal,” adds Brown.
“We chose our name because we thought of ourselves as ‘knights in shining armor,’ rescuing those organizations that needed funding. We didn’t think about the fact that others would link us with the Knights of Columbus. There is no connection, other than using their hall for Bingo,” says Brown.
Community Knights has a seven-member board that screens the grant applications. Applicants must be a 501(c)(3) organization, a public school or a nonprofit. They must explain how their requests will benefit the community. Community Knights holds workshops to help applicants navigate the process. There are three grant cycles a year.
Gary Hunter, director of development at Hampton University and chair of the Newport News School Board, has been a board member from the beginning. “I love working on the board,” he says. “Community Knights is making a sizable contribution to the community.”
Amanda Jackson, another board member, is in website development and has served for three years. She also volunteers at bingo. “I love what Community Knights is doing. The funds have made such a difference to the children in the school system,” Jackson says.
Brown and Michener work 60- to 70-hour weeks, including volunteer time. “We keep crazy hours,” says Brown. When there is time, she enjoys baking. Michener is a huge Virginia Tech fan. All of her family are alums. Her bucket list includes her desire to visit all 50 states.
Brown is enthusiastic about a new program launched this year. It is called COACH (Creating Opportunities to Advance Capable Hands). This program aids post-high school individuals who have no other resources to help them become active and productive citizens in the community. The plan is to provide job-coaching services, improve self confidence and self esteem. “These are individuals who have been overlooked and marginalized,” says Brown. “They have skills and can become productive members of society.” Brown has much experience in this area since she has had to fight for services for her own child. Rita White is the mentor/team coordinator for this program.
Community Knights collaborates with other organizations, such as the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank and Thrive, which helps families remain in their homes when they can’t pay for utilities or rent.
Community Knights’ website has extensive information about its efforts, including videos detailing the use of some of their grants. Examples include sponsoring “Rumble in the Roads,” a competition between robotic teams; updating the Planetarium in the Jones Magnet Middle School; and rebuilding the theater program in the Phoebus High School drama department.
“I am excited about the future of Community Knights,” says Brown. “There is no limit to what we can accomplish.”
TO THE POINT
Community Knights, Inc.
Address: 733 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Ste. 170, Newport News VA 23606
Contacts: Jennifer Brown: president/CEO, Teresa Michener: CFO