In 2009, Gateway Children’s Charity was founded by a group of eight people who wanted to make a tangible difference in the lives of local kids. “In our opinion, there was a void or gap that existed in funding projects that were on the smaller side, which maybe didn’t qualify for or were overlooked by bigger charity groups. We wanted to help fill that void,” says Michael Todorovich II, the nonprofit’s president and one of the founding board members.
Since research shows that the educational gap starts at a very young age, GCC decided to focus on projects that would help pre-kindergarten-age children. “There are lots of great organizations doing good things to help high school kids catch up. But empirical evidence shows they get behind early,” Todorovich says. “These kids are born into a disadvantaged situation and it’s not fair to them. Whether it’s society’s fault or the parents’ fault or bad luck, let’s help them get where they should be and hit the first grade in stride—and hopefully prosper from there.”
As its first project, GCC raised $20,000 to renovate a nursery at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, which is on the border of downtown St. Louis. “The nursery was in bad shape,” Todorovich says. “It was an unsafe and uncomfortable place for kids to be. It also didn’t have a learning-environment feel: There was no corner where the teachers could take kids to read books. After the renovation, it’s a beautiful room. It’s bright, clean, safe, and has a learning-center feel to it. The kids are encouraged to put blocks together and the teachers have a place to read to them.”
Another project at North Side Community School allowed the school to renovate two vacant rooms and turn them into classrooms, creating space for about 45 kids each year to have access to an educational setting. “We’re big fans of making direct contributions,” Todorovich says. “The return is significant for donors because they can see exactly where it’s going. Instead of going into a big pool, where 5 percent of your money is going to one project and another part is going somewhere else, we raise money for specific causes and you can see the tangible impact.”
Though GCC learns of potential projects from a variety of places, they are all thoroughly vetted before the work begins, Todorovich notes. “It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side, but you want to make sure the money is going where it’s most used and needed.” The nonprofit’s funding comes primarily from an annual fundraiser, which will take place Sept. 28 at Barry-Wehmiller’s Clayton office courtyard. “Every year we’ve raised more money than the year before,” Todorovich says. “We’re hoping to raise more than $100,000 this year to continue to fund projects that benefit underprivileged kids in the St. Louis area.”
For more information about Gateway Children’s Charity, call 409-6089 or visit gatewaychildrenscharity.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Kristi Humes
Though she had never been so deeply involved in a nonprofit before, when Kristi Humes was approached about becoming one of the founding board members of Gateway Children’s Charity, she knew it was the right fit. “I have young children myself,” she says. “Just knowing the amount they need at that young age to be successful later on tears at my heart strings.”
Humes originally wanted to get involved because she knew that early intervention is one of the best ways to help children succeed. “There are so many places in St. Louis where the facilities aren’t acceptable enough, or they need funding for programs or for transportation. We just all felt like we could contribute.”
The main way Humes contributes to the cause is by planning each year’s GCC fundraising event. “We all have our niche,” she says. “I love entertaining and organizing things, and I don’t do that in my everyday job.” This year, the Sept. 28 event will feature food and drinks, entertainment and a silent auction, she says. “We have a lot of corporate sponsors to help out, and we expect up to 200 people to attend. We make a little bit more each year and it continues to grow.”
The hard work pays off in a big way, Humes notes. “When we do a project—whether it’s a room that was renovated or a playground—and it’s successful, it makes you feel like you did something for a child who might not have had that otherwise. It’s not like a big unknown either—they’re small projects that actually make a difference at one place.”
To others who might consider becoming actively involved on a board, Humes says, “If there’s something inside you that feels like you should do that, then go search for it, don’t wait for it to come,” she says. “I never really searched out for it; I just felt like it might happen one day if someone asked me. I could have done it a lot sooner, and I’m glad that I’m doing it now.”