Seven for 7: For a Good Cause | Okoboji Magazine

Meet and learn about seven area organizations doing good

“Do well by doing good,” advised Benjamin Franklin.

And there are plenty of people dedicated to “doing good” in the Iowa Great Lakes. There are a number of nonprofits working to help fundraise, care for people, kids and animals in times of need and so much more.

These organizations do good to help the Iowa Great Lakes, as a whole, be a more wonderful place for everyone.








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1. Okoboji Foundation — Mindy Gress, President

How did you get involved with this organization?

My first job in the nonprofit sector was as the Director of Affiliates with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa (CFNEIA) in Waterloo, IA nearly 14 years ago. During my time with CFNEIA I grew to appreciate the community centered approach to giving that a community foundation provides. In 2012 my husband and I moved to Spencer where I was the Executive Director for the Spencer Regional Healthcare Foundation for seven years. Even in that role I stayed connected with the community foundation world, assisting in developing a fund with the Clay County Community Foundation for the benefit of the Healthcare Foundation. In early 2020 I was contacted by a friend of the Okoboji Foundation to see if I would be interested in the President position. I grew up in northwest Iowa, so Okoboji is a place of nostalgia for me. I was excited about the opportunity to marry my love for community foundations and for the Lakes region.

Tell us about the organization.

The University of Okoboji Foundation was founded in 1989 by Spirit Lake Industries group including Tom Bedell, Fred Weber, Jim Ladegaard and Chuck Maxwell to draw businesses into the area. Tom Bedell, CEO of Berkley Fishing, gained permission from the Richter Family/The Three Sons retail store, to use University of Okoboji as part of the original foundation name. The name was later changed to the Okoboji Foundation.

The mission of the Foundation is to be the center point of community giving. The Foundation is unique in that we partner with donors, businesses and area nonprofit organizations to provide leadership and build beneficial partnerships to make a lasting positive impact in the Iowa Great Lakes Region.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Donors and local businesses use the Foundation to establish advised funds which allow them to direct grants in alignment with their personal charitable goals.

Area nonprofits partner with the Foundation to raise endowed funds in support of their mission, take advantage of back office financial support, as well as seek grant funds from the Foundation’s annual grant cycle.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

The original dream of the Foundation was to raise enough endowment funds to allow the Foundation to grant out at least $350,000 to area nonprofits each year. This year the Foundation granted out over $400,000 to worthy projects that set the Lakes Region apart.

Since 1988 the Foundation has granted over $4.8 million to area nonprofit partners for projects around the lake.

In 2010 the Foundation created the Youth In Philanthropy program to empower and challenge area youth to identify community needs while teaching the next generation the importance of community giving.

In 2012 a donor survey prompted the establishment of three designated funds that would allow our donors to provide some direction to their gift, while allowing the grants committee the ability to determine the greatest need in each of those areas. The three funds are: Arts & Culture, Lake Quality & Environment, and Outdoor Experiences & Recreation.

Mostly I am proud of the growth over the years:

We’ve grown from that first campaign to raise $300,000 for the Lakes Art Center to providing over $400,000 annually to worthy projects in the Lakes region. We’ve grown. From a place that creates a legacy for the Lakes to a place where individuals come to create their personal legacy. We’ve grown, from a place that builds Philanthropy to a place that builds Philanthropists.

We’ve grown. From a place that gives grants to nonprofits once a year to a place that partners with and empowers organizations to build endowments. The catalyst for this growth simply started as the sharing of a dream. Philanthropy can only continue forward when we share and inspire the next generation.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

My personal dream for the Okoboji Foundation is for our name and reputation to be a household name. The mission of a community foundation, over the last 15 years, since the passing of legislation in 2006 that introduced the Endow Iowa State Tax credit, has become more widely known. Yet, it is still one of the best kept secrets. We truly are the center point of giving and my dream is to partner with each family who has a charitable dream. We want to be your catalyst to making great things happen.

By continuing to build the name for the Foundation we also will increase our impact. While we are proud to have grown to where we are today, there are larger needs that exist. Each year we can only fund a portion of what is being requested. We need to continue to increase donations and build our granting endowment funds to allow us to continue to meet growing needs. Your investment in the Okoboji Foundation is permanent. Each time you give, you are giving toward immediate and future needs.

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

I love the people. I love getting to know the personal stories of how and why each family has traveled to the Lakes region. I find it fascinating how our different arrivals here culminate in a common reason for staying — the atmosphere and the love for the Lakes. Ultimately I enjoy assisting our donors in giving back to the place they love.

712-332-7177

P.O. Box 395, Okoboji, IA 51355

Office Location: 243 West Broadway Street, Arnolds Park

[email protected]

www.okobojifoundation.org








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2. Good Neighbor Fund of the Okoboji and Spirit Lake Territory, Luke Donnenwerth, Board Chairman

How did you get involved with this organization?

I have been involved with the organization for approximately 10 years. I really like the mission of the organization and the concept of making one donation that goes to benefit a wide variety of nonprofit agencies in the Lakes area. When you look at the long standing history of the group it’s easy to get excited about the mission.

When was it founded?

The GNF was started in the 1950s

What is the mission of the organization?

The Good Neighbor Fund for Okoboji and Spirit Lake is a long-standing nonprofit organization whose primary focus has been to support other local nonprofit agencies in Dickinson County.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Donations made to the Good Neighbor Fund are collected and distributed to various charities throughout the Lakes area. In 2022, the Good Neighbor Fund provided $118,000 to 22 local nonprofit organizations. Every October for “Good Neighbor Month,” the committee sends a mailer to all Dickinson County residents encouraging them to help their “neighbors.” Donors have the option to designate their donation to a specific charity, or if they don’t want to designate their donation, the amount is split evenly among each agency supported by the Good Neighbor Fund.

The Good Neighbor Fund also collects donations throughout the year and then distributes those donations to the supported groups in April of the following year.

What we are able to raise through the community giving is a big part of each organization’s budget and has a huge impact on what they’re able to do here locally. Since 2004, the Good Neighbor Fund has given over one million dollars to these local nonprofit organizations.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

It is hard to narrow down specific examples because I think each group that is awarded money is well deserving and making a big impact in our community. It is really rewarding to see the amount of money that has been awarded over the years and the number of agencies that we support continues to grow. Thanks to the continued donations from the community we are lucky enough to play a role in supporting the work these groups are doing.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

I think everyone involved with the Good Neighbor Fund would like to see it continue to grow so we can continue to support these local nonprofits. The organization has been around for 70 years and as long as the community continues to support the cause we will be able to keep it moving forward and make a difference.

Each year, the committee receives numerous “Thank You” notes from awarded organizations, detailing how big of an impact the donation has in their existence and how they are able to help others. Just seeing these notes of appreciation lets you know that as a community we are making a difference.








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3. Humane Society of Northwest Iowa — Hailey Dirks, Shelter Manager

How did you get involved with this organization?

I have been involved with animals for my entire life. I started my shelter experience at a smaller shelter volunteering during nursing school. When I came home I started working for the local shelter and I was there for three and a half years before I came to the HSNWIA to continue my adventure in the shelter world.

When was it founded?

HSNWIA was founded in 1987.

How did this organization get started?

Friends and neighbors concerned about the plight of stray cats and dogs organized and began to act as a group to help homeless pets. They worked to care for and find homes for many stray dogs and cats. In 1987 this group became incorporated as the Humane Society of Northwest Iowa

What is the mission of the organization?

The Humane Society of Northwest Iowa is a 501(c)3 nonprofit animal shelter that proudly serves Dickinson, Clay, Emmet, Palo Alto, O’Brien and Osceola counties. Our mission is to promote the ethical and humane treatment of all animals, as well as provide care, housing, and rehabilitation for animals in need while they are with us and promote responsible pet ownership by educating on the importance of spaying or neutering animals.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

We emphasize education. Any individual that encounters our facility or employees has the opportunity to be educated on the proper handling and care of animals. We also ensure that any animal that comes into our care is up to date on their vaccinations and altered.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

We are very proud of our efforts to decrease the population of homeless animals in the area. In doing so, we are able to help maintain a healthy relationship with adopters in the area while continuing our efforts.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

I hope to continue with our efforts to maintain a positive relationship with the public as well as educate anyone who is open to it. We are working on more outreach programs to get the public involved and into our building, as we strongly believe in the phrase “it takes a village.”

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

I enjoy being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same desires, which is a common occurrence here! The wonderful people that help out at the Humane Society probably have better things to do, but they choose to help the lives of the homeless. We are surrounded by selfless and humble humans who make coming to work every day something worth celebrating. We couldn’t do this without these wonderful people.

Contact information: 712-338-2738








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4. Okoboji Foundation — Youth In Philanthropy — Alison Schmitz, Executive Assistant

How did you get involved with this organization?

My husband, Brad, spent summers here visiting his grandparents at their summer home as a child. Brad brought me here to visit them and I knew right away this was where I wanted to live someday. We moved here together in 2008 and started our family shortly after. We attended several of the Foundation’s annual dinner events and his employer, Bank Midwest, was the 2018 Platinum Sponsor.

As a wealth adviser, Brad utilizes the Charitable Investment Partner Program of the Okoboji Foundation to assist clients who wish to support various nonprofits in the Lakes region, including his grandparent’s family’s fund.

I was presented the opportunity of the executive assistant position and knew working at the Foundation would be a great fit.

When was it founded? How did this organization get started? What is the mission of the organization?

The Okoboji Foundation’s Youth In Philanthropy (YIP) program started in 2009/2010 with a goal to educate area youth on the importance of philanthropy. The program teaches the skills needed to assess community needs, solicit donations and evaluate grant requests to create a ripple of impact in their community.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Each year students, grades freshman to senior, from Lake Park, Okoboji and Spirit Lake high schools are encouraged to apply to the program. Twenty-five students are chosen and meet October through May. Each month, students meet at a different nonprofit to learn about the mission, reach, and impact of various organizations around the region. They also learn about the Okoboji Foundation’s lasting positive impact and raise funds to make grants steered by their decision.

Since its inception, the YIP program has had 190 participants, raised $525,500 and granted $415,302 for vital capital projects. Talk about impact!

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

This is my third year with YIP and every year I am amazed. Each year they set a higher goal and each year they exceed their goal. Not only am I proud of their commitment to YIP, as they are busy with school and other activities, but also how they come together as students and decide where they want to make an impact with their money. This year they granted $53,000 to three nonprofits.

$26,000 to the Pearson Lakes Art Center for their Art Smart Children’s Interactive Gallery Renovation project.

$24,000 to the Lakes Area Hockey Association for their Facility Accessibility and Inclusion project.

$3,000 to the Okoboji Yacht Club Sailing School for their Sonar Sailboat motor and motor mount.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

Maximum impact.

Each year our students work hard to create impact by raising money and reaching as many needs and organizations as possible. Students get excited when they can support the full amount of any one grant request. However, they receive several requests each year, and much like the Okoboji Foundation’s grant cycle, our students want to be able to fund each request that comes in.

Just as the students strive for a bigger reach, we too want to reach as many students as possible. We want them to understand what it means to be a community member, and how important it is to be involved.

The nonprofit sector isn’t just about volunteering. There are real jobs with great purpose that speak to any one of our students. Although work in philanthropy is more widely talked about now, it’s still the best kept secret. We want to open up that world to our students!

We simply want to challenge students to keep looking ahead and to continue to build the program and its impact.

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

Getting to know the students and building a relationship with them even as I see them outside of YIP. Their passion to help the community is amazing and they continue to raise and grant more each year.

It’s fun to hear from YIP alumni when they come back to their roots and see the projects that they supported now complete and flourishing.

Contact information:

712-332-7177

Mailing address: P.O. Box 395, Okoboji, IA 51355

Office Location: 243 West Broadway Street, Arnolds Park

[email protected]

www.okobojifoundation.org








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5. Cherish Center — Shantel Pausley, Executive Director, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, Perinatal Mental Health — Certified

How did you get involved with this organization?

I first became involved with the Cherish Center around 2007. My husband, Jon, and I were invited to a fundraising banquet called ‘One in Heart.’ I fell in love with the mission and checked the box that night to be a volunteer!

I began to volunteer in the office and eventually came on staff helping with the Baby Bottle Campaign fundraiser. Through this, I developed a very close bond with the founder, Jan Turner-Manley, who mentored me as a young mother and working professional. My love for the mission grew even more when I became a relief house parent at Cherish House.

In 2010 we moved out of the area for three years. It was during this time that I began my Masters program focusing on Mental Health Counseling. Soon after my family returned to the area, I began working at the Cherish Center as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Play Therapist serving both the community and the residents of Cherish House.

It was summer of 2020 that the role of Executive Director became available. I knew this was the opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming the Executive Director of Cherish Center. It is one of the biggest honors of my life to lead the organization that my dear friend and mentor founded and led for so many years. Cherish Center has been and will continue to be a treasure I hold close to my heart.

When was it founded? How did this organization get started?

It’s hard to know the true start date of our mission, as it started in the heart of our founder, Jan Turner-Manley, many years before being established with pen and paper.

In 1999 Cherish Center was formally established as a nonprofit corporation known as Shepherd’s Fold Ministries.

In 2001 Jan Turner-Manley was appointed as Executive Director. Under Jan’s leadership, Cherish Center started incorporating more programs to educate women and help foster those skills so the women could start applying them as they raised their children. Not long after, Cherished Again (formerly known as thee Garage Sale), our thrift store, was also established both to raise funds and as a way to serve those in need.

In 2004 over $450,000 was raised to build a maternity home — what is now Cherish House. Cherish House opened its doors in the spring of 2006 and has hosted nearly 80 women and children in its first 15 years.

What is the mission of the organization?

The Cherish Center is a sustainable organization offering faith-based, life changing services for families to be strengthened and renewed through care and compassionate support.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Cherish House provides expecting mothers and their children with a safe and supportive home. At Cherish House, women have the space to explore what the future could look like, access to experienced and supportive staff, counselors, and mentors, as well as tools to help them grow.

The Cherish Center also offers monthly connection gathering for parents called ‘Parents Connect’. The goal of Parents Connect is to provide instruction and an opportunity to build stronger relationships between families.

Cherished Again is our donation-based thrift store, where we sell high-quality and gently used household items and supplies for children. Cherished Again helps to generate greater awareness and financial support for Cherish House. When you donate or purchase from Cherished Again, proceeds go toward housing expenses, food, education, and more for residents of Cherish House.

Cherished Again actively partners with other community resources to be able to gift out donations that may be needed by participants in their organization, through our donor funded “Request for Care” program.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

While I love many aspects of all the services we provide, being part of the Cherish House is what I am most proud of leading. The Cherish House can touch every facet of a life. Whether it be helping with a morning routine that sets expectant mothers up for success, giving a shoulder to cry on, or teaching a basic life skill the Cherish House provides the opportunity for those moments to take place. Plus, there is nothing like being part of a new life entering the world and being there for those precious first months of a newborn’s life when mom and baby return to Cherish House to adjust to life together. Or being able to be part of an adoption story; seeing the beautiful bond that has been developed over the birth of the child. It is all so beautiful and an absolute honor to be a part of.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

My dream for the organization as it moves forward is that we live out our core values. For if we do this, we will have the wisdom and courage to make any dream a reality!

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

My favorite part of Cherish Center is having the opportunity to impact the trajectory of every story and give hope to situations that are desperate. I see firsthand the impact our services have as we come alongside mothers with care and compassionate support. We join mothers in such a delicate season of life. From mentoring to mental health counseling, to those who partake in our community programs to those who reside at the Cherish House — little by little you start to see their hearts soften, they open-up and learn to trust not only us but themselves.

It’s in those moments that I know I am right where God has called me to be. Making an impact on the life of a mother and her child.

Contact information:

E-mail: [email protected]

712-338-3333








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6. Discovery House and Daniel House — Jessica Amendt, Executive Director

How did you get involved with this organization?

I have been a social worker for 21 years and have a passion for working with individuals who struggle with substance abuse, mental health, trauma and homelessness. When I saw that the previous director was retiring, I decided to send my resume. That was the best decision I’ve made in my career.

When was it founded? 1993

How did this organization get started?

The founder, Phyllis, saw a need within the community and she had the heart and home to fill that need. It was her passion and desire that ultimately led to the program I am honored to serve in today.

What is the mission of the organization?

Discovery House provides a safe, supportive, Christian environment for homeless adults and those recovering from addictions. Residents receive counseling and the tools to begin to build a new foundation for a better life.

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Fundraising and donations are an important part of meeting the needs of our residents. We ask for funding from local and surrounding community governments, hold an annual No Show Charity Ball, host free will donation Porch Parties each month in the summer, and accept food, clothing, household, personal items and cash donations to assist with running the two houses and providing the best possible chance for success for the individuals who come through our doors.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

Since becoming director, we began offering a relapse prevention group, Love & Logic parenting classes, Financial Peace University courses, activities groups, and we have expanded our services to allow for more residents by making Discovery House all women and Daniel House all men.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

Ultimately, I hope to be able to provide transitional housing that would suit parents who have been reunified with their children/families. If we could have an apartment building close by that would be HUD approved and would allow the residents to move forward with their children while still being able to utilize the services within the houses would fulfill my ultimate dream.

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

My favorite thing about being with Discovery House is being in a position where I can allow God to use me as His hands and feet to meet His will and His purpose. As residents come in, they are promised that they will be loved until they can love themselves and we will meet them where they are at. No two people are alike, and no one’s needs are the same. I believe that these are the three keys to successfully providing the best environment for recovery and healing.

Contact information:

712-363-2722








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7. KINGS & QUEENS LOCAL — Tina VandeHoef, Executive Director & Founder

How did this organization get started?

In 2012, we lived in northeast Iowa and during our time there we mentored students at a local residential treatment center while teaching them, our heart broke for them — their stories. We then signed up for foster care classes and opened our home. In 2013, we committed our life forever through adoption. In 2014 we moved to northwest Iowa. And in 2016 we decided to advocate for families like ours through Kadens Kloset: Okoboji. Our vision grew bigger than just a resource closet (adding meals, monthly support groups, etc.) so we founded KINGS & QUEENS LOCAL.

When was it founded?

KINGS & QUEENS LOCAL, 2019

Practically, what does the organization do to help it meet its mission?

Our organization strives to support local foster, adoptive and kinship families in many different ways. Our efforts include: building connections, providing resources/education, and raising awareness within the larger community. We desire to continue with this mission.

Building Connection — We provide two opportunities a month where caregivers can come together in their current life stage and share among individuals who can relate. One of the two opportunities, children are invited too (free childcare). When the children are present, we provide kid-friendly activities in hopes they also connect with other kids who have similar circumstances. This has been healing for many of our kids.

Providing Resources/Education — We have a free resource closet where kids can “shop” for free (new clothes, shoes, toys, etc.). Families also receive freezer meals in the hopes that the caregiver has one less thing to worry about. We also provide educational evenings where we share the latest mental health resources.

Raise awareness within the larger community — We have partnered with local schools, churches and the judicial system to educate about trauma and encourage them in their line of work.

What are some of the projects/efforts of the organization that you are most proud of being a part of?

One of our Connection Projects is called OKOBOJI WISH. We have partnered with Arnolds Park Amusement Park and had a night in the park for all our families. Some of these kids have never had the opportunity to ride the rides down at the park. About half way through the evening we had a pizza party in the Roof Garden, and then finished the evening back in the park. The joy on the kids’ faces was indescribable.

What is your dream for the organization moving forward?

Continue to raise awareness within the community, recruit more foster/adoptive families, offer support the families need, and make sure the kids know they are special, no matter the story they have.

What’s been your favorite part of being a part of this organization?

That our family has made it our family mission together to care for kids from hard places.

Contact information

[email protected]

www.kqlocal.org

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