Google awards $50K to Oklahoma City nonprofits

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Four Oklahoma City nonprofits are to be announced Thursday as winners of the Google Impact Challenge and will receive $50,000 toward their community initiatives.

Sunbeam Family Services, ReMerge Oklahoma, The Curbside Chronicle, and The Y Achievers Program are the four winners. They were chosen by a panel of community judges after submitting proposals for ideas to grow local economic opportunity. Officials from the four programs expressed excitement about winning and eagerness to begin the work outlined in the proposals.

“We are absolutely thrilled and honored to be one of the four charities selected in Oklahoma City,” Sunbeam spokeswoman Erin Engelke said. “We were beyond ecstatic.”

The Google Impact Challenge funding will provide parents of children attending Sunbeam early childhood centers the opportunity to earn their Child Development Associate certification.

The Curbside Chronicle, which is part of the Homeless Alliance, seeks to expand its offerings with the funding.

“We really want to expand from a print magazine to a multimedia digital platform,” Curbside Chronicle Director Ranya Forgotson said. “There are some limitations. We have a lot of people who want our product, but live out of state and can’t reach a vendor.”

ReMerge is a program working with mothers of minor children or pregnant mothers to keep them out of prison. It seeks to provide resources to keep these women from situations that would lead them into the criminal justice system. The nonprofit recently launched a program to connect women with employers, but the program lacked significant funding to accomplish its goals.

“We launched an initiative to find what we call second-chance employers, just to highlight the need for more employers to be aware of how important this is for individuals,” ReMerge Executive Director Terri Woodland said.

“We got a little bit of funding to host our first breakfast, two or three thousand dollars, so we were trying to figure out our next steps,” Woodland said. “This is truly a godsend.”

Y Achievers partners business professionals with Oklahoma City Public Schools students. The professionals work once a month with high school students to emphasize the importance of working hard to attend college and explore careers.

“It really helps jump-start the students’ interest in higher education early on so they can take care of business all four years,” said Shannon Presti, YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City’s director of Teen Leadership Initiatives.

Google is making the donations, but the organizations were selected by local leaders in the community. Oklahoma City Thunder Executive Vice President Sam Presti, Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology Executive Director Michael Carolina, former superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools Aurora Lora and Wheeler District Developer Blair Humphreys were panelists on the selection committee.

Sam Presti is the husband of Shannon Presti, but Shannon Presti said her husband recused himself from voting for the Y Achievers Program.

Google will award an additional $50,000 to one of the four organizations based on a popular vote from the public. Representatives of the four organizations said an additional $50,000 would be put to good use.

“We are so fortunate to have such incredible nonprofits within our city, but one of our biggest issues we’ve had reaching more students is funding,” Shannon Presti said. “If we were able to get the additional $50,000 the impact we could make would be really grand.”

Engelke said Sunbeam is a hidden gem in Oklahoma.

“We feel strongly about the importance of the program,” Engelke said. “Support from companies like Google is so critically important.”

If selected, the Curbside Chronicle would use the additional grant to expand more quickly.

“An extra $50,000 will really help us test some new products to see if there are other opportunities for our vendors and really put that into practice,” Forgotson said.

ReMerge, with one of the smallest budgets among the four winning programs, is hopeful for the additional $50,000 and plans to launch a grass-roots effort to attract votes.

“You know we are going to reach out to the community employers we already work with and get their help,” Woodland said. “A lot of the voting will occur with social media. It’s going to be really competitive, and we are going to reach out and see if we can’t win this. We’ll do the best we can with the staff we have.”

The public is invited to help award the additional funding by voting online at g.co/okcchallenge starting Thursday and concluding April 6.

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