Charity allows employees to be givers

A job at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation comes with a truly unique annual benefit, one that turns employees into grant givers.

Its 16 eligible employees will each award a $10,000 grant to the nonprofit of their choice. The staff members will announce their selections and reasons for the choice at the sixth annual Employee Giving Program luncheon Tuesday at the Hotel Monaco on North Charles Street.

Ivy West, a program director assistant, calls the gift "a supreme benefit" of her job and an awesome responsibility "to step into somebody's life and help them." It is truly a job perk that keeps on giving, employees said.

Marci Hunn, program director for workforce redevelopment, has worked five years for the Owings Mills-based foundation, which annually provides millions in grants to nonprofits that serve the economically disadvantaged. This marks the fourth year she has been eligible for the give-away program and her enthusiasm has not waned, she said.

"I am thrilled by it each time," Hunn said.

In the past, she has chosen nonprofits that deal with jobs training. But this year, the mother of a newborn and a pre-schooler looked for an organization that assists children. She chose Maryland Legal Aid and asked that her grant be directed to Donna's Place at the agency's Baltimore city location. The space provides the agency's youngest clients, who most often are in foster care, with toys, computers, books, puzzles, paper and crayons and other things to help them relax and learn, according to its website. For several weeks in the summer, staff devote three mornings to reading to the children and creating a craft project.

"We can choose any group within our guidelines," Hunn said. "When I looked around, I found so many gaps for children in foster care and really wanted to do something for them. Small things can really make a difference for these children. Donna's Place is a sweet opportunity for these kids and gives them a respite from worry."

West researched before making her choice this year and was sold after visiting one organization.

"Once I saw what the Center for Urban Families does, I knew who would get my grant," she said. "I was impressed with their phenomenal ability to help people from all walks of life for no other reason than compassion. They really help people get their lives back and I know they will make my donation go far."

At the foundation's luncheon, each employee will speak briefly about the organization they chose and one man, who went through the Center for Urban Families' jobs training program, will tell his story.

"The luncheon event sheds light on what the foundation is doing and what these amazing grantees are doing," said Craig Demchak, the Weinberg Foundation's communications director.

The grantees vary their choices each year, often selecting specific programs at well-known charities that serve the homeless, assist those coping with HIV and AIDS or Alzheimer's or enhance the lives of children. Other employees look for little-known organizations that are making a difference.

Demchak, who is making his first award this year, chose the Preston Mitchum Jr. Foundation, which was established about 10 years ago by a former colleague in the media. Its mission is to improve the lives of area youth, with after-school programs, career-awareness training and community-based services.

"In the news business, you see a lot of great things and a lot of terrible things," said Demchak, a former television news producer. "And you see children who are victims of those terrible things. Preston did something to help the most vulnerable families. We can all take a lesson from him. He asked himself what he could do and answered that he would do whatever he can."

As for being in a position to fund such good works, Demchak added, "Working at a place that gives you the opportunity to hand out $10,000 to a charity, will never get old. It truly is an emotional gift."