Community Leadership Awards finalists: Volunteer of the Year

Sep 15, 2013 @ 12:01 am

HATIM SMOUNI

When Hatim Smouni takes on a project, he attacks it with zeal.

In 2008, the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute asked the popular community altruist to start up its volunteer network/outreach program.

Five years later, the ebullient Mr. Smouni, a vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Little Rock, Ark., built the program, called the Envoys, into an energetic community of 1,000-plus boosters.

Envoy volunteers reach thousands, helping the institute with cancer education, fundraising for research, public relations, and retention and recruitment of doctors.

The group specifically raises funds for the institute’s Seeds of Science program, which provides grants to small research projects, allowing them to work toward eligibility for major grants. Under Mr. Smouni’s leadership, they raised more than $1 million over the past five years.

The Envoys also welcome potential new doctors and provide a support network for newcomers.

Mr. Smouni, who immigrated to the United States from Morocco 20 years ago, is usually active with at least three charities at a time.

What motivates him?

“I have a double duty to do this. First, as a member of the community, and secondly, I appreciate this country and I want to give back,” Mr. Smouni said.

“My life is the true American dream, and I will never forget how lucky I’ve been here.”

MICHAEL J. SWALLOW

Michael J. Swallow, senior vice president at CBIZ Retirement Plan Services in Cleveland, is leading the way for the next generation of philanthropists.

Mr. Swallow, 37, and his team co-founded the Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism in 2011 to support local military personnel and their families, and to create a bridge between military and nonmilitary Ohioans.

“Our generation wants to do great things. There’s a pent-up demand for community,” Mr. Swallow said. “You just have to make it exciting and easy.”

Neopat’s 10 board members are all between 29 and 45.

The charity focuses its energy on four areas: health/morale/emergency aid — such as rent, utilities, home repairs and holiday gifts — remembrance/memorial projects, educational scholarships, and events that promote patriotism.

Neopat’s mission has resonated powerfully with its supporters. Fundraising and donor engagement exploded from the start.

For example, the charity’s first annual gala attracted 500 attendees and netted $42,000 just two months after the organization was launched. Last year, the net was $70,000, and it is $85,000 so far in 2013.

Since January 2011 — with the help of some 40 corporations and 500 nonmilitary families — Neopat has donated more than $250,000 to serve the needs of about 3,000 military families.

“This cause is unopposed,” Mr. Swallow said. “It’s tremendously powerful.”

DEBRA BRENNAN TAGG

Debra Brennan Tagg, managing partner of Brennan Financial Services in Addison, Texas, is using a venture capital approach to solve community problems.

She is co-chairman of the GroundFloor social-innovation fund for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

“Social innovation is addressing problems in a new way — convening people with different backgrounds and providing funding and mentors to startup nonprofits that want to solve social problems,” Ms. Tagg said. “We have defined gaps in education, health and income in our region, and we are targeting those areas.”

Since 2011, Ms. Tagg has helped raise $500,000 for the fund through individuals, foundations and grants.

The first two startups funded were a chef-run café that provides culinary job training with job placement for juvenile offenders, and an initiative that provides vocational videos to high schools demonstrating the importance of studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called STEM subjects deemed critical to the economy.

GroundFloor recently released its first nationwide request for proposals to bring to Dallas the most innovative business plans with measurable outcomes. United Way hopes to fund five to eight of these entrepreneurial nonprofits.

Future RFPs are planned for every spring and fall.

“We’re looking for innovative best practices to replicate or amplify,” Ms. Tagg said.

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