Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 18th 2019


Impactful Women

IMPACT 100 down to finalists
By Jennifer Leigh

The formula is simple.

One woman, $1,000, one vote.

“Those are the main core values,” said Belle Bear, one of the founding members of IMPACT 100. “I won’t let anyone change them because they work.”

For 13 years, IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area, Inc. has raised more than $7 million for local nonprofits in Escambia and Santa  Rosa counties. And like clockwork, they’re going to do it all again giving away $108,200 to 10 deserving organizations next month.

A sound investment
Want to see $1,000 turn into $1 million? Just look to IMPACT.

The Pensacola IMPACT 100 chapter started in 2003 when founder Debbie Ritchie read an article about a similar organization in Cincinnati, Ohio. With the help of some friends, she organized IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area.

Bear recalls the local chapter came to fruition over lunch at Skopelos. The founding members discussed logistics with the original IMPACT founder, Wendy Steele, but she didn’t give too many guidelines, Bear said.

“It made us have ownership,” she added.

In its first year, there were 233 members. This year, the organization has grown to 1,082 women. It’s the largest IMPACT group to date. Every year membership continues to rise, said Cyndi Warren, president of the board.

“This is the third year in a row that we’ve raised more than $1 million,” Warren said.

IMPACT has a good reputation of making positive changes in the Pensacola area, which is why members come back and are able to recruit their friends.

“Some members who don’t even live here anymore have stuck with us,” Warren said. “They want to continue the mission.”

Warren admits $1,000 is a lot of money and that some members have to make sacrifices to write the check. But considering it goes toward 10 individual grants of at least $100,000, it’s a sound investment.

“For more members than not, it’s a significant amount of money,” Warren said. “We’ve had women who ask for an IMPACT membership for their anniversary or for a Christmas present.”

When you break it down, it’s $83 a month, Warren added. Board member Meri DeSalvo Asmar breaks it down even further.

“It’s really just $2.73 a day—less than your daily Starbucks,” she said.

How to make an IMPACT
The IMPACT process is detailed. There’s a list of deadlines, and eligible projects must be designated to one of the focus areas—arts and culture, education, environment, recreation and preservation, family and health and wellness.

Not only do members review the submitted grant applications, but listen to presentations and do site visits. Women can choose to just pay their dues and vote, but about 250 members choose to be active participants by serving on the board or one of the committees.

Asmar has served for four years as chairperson one of the focus area committees, where members narrow down the finalists.

“It is so rewarding to watch approximately 30 to 60 women meet, reviewing the grants, conducting site visits, engaging in intelligent conversation and analysis of the projects,” she said.

Many women are learning more about the community they live and work in by serving on these committees.

“What’s interesting is learning about organizations you didn’t know existed,” said publicity chair and secretary, Maria Goldberg. “It’s the impact of IMPACT.”

In October, members have “the big meeting” and vote on the final 10 grants. Voting machines from the supervisor of elections office are used for the final votes to make the process fair.  And then, the fun part is handing out the big checks.

“It’s like Christmas morning,” Goldberg said.

Even after the finalists are named and the voting ends, organizations work with IMPACT to make sure they follow through on their proposed projects. The key word committee members use is “sustainable.” They look for projects that will have the legs to continue even after the money runs out.

“We don’t just sign checks,” Bear said. “This is not like any board other board I’ve been on.”

It’s not lost on many of the women how empowering it is to be a part of IMPACT. While Warren said some men might donate money or sponsor memberships, it’s truly an organization created by women and run by women.

“I recently did a presentation on women’s philanthropy—how women think differently than men,” Warren said. “Men want to support organizations because they like them, while women typically volunteer before they support. They want the follow-up, which falls right in line with IMPACT. Women are doing the site visits and learn about organizations and winners come back and give us updates.”

Like many members, Asmar is a wife and mother with a career. It wasn’t until she joined IMPACT that she realized how successful an organization run by women can be, she said.

“I work in a predominantly male industry, and it’s natural to expect men to be the leaders,” she said. “Most of us tend to think we are even stronger because we’re all women–because women are doers. We are moms, full-time workers, caregivers to our parents, community volunteers, and we’re used to juggling all that to get it done.”

What the nonprofits say
In its 12 years, IMPACT has funded 77 projects in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. And that’s not including the 10 grants that will be awarded this year. Drive around the community and you’ll probably notice IMPACT 100 logos at museums, parks, playgrounds—you name it.

“I was at the museum (Pensacola Museum of Art) for the Suite Soiree and I just looked up at the lights and at the floors … both of those were funded with IMPACT grants,” Bear said.

Raven Holloway, executive director of the Pensacola Museum of Art, said projects like new lights and floors “wouldn’t have been an option” without IMPACT.

“We probably would’ve had to wait for something major to happen,” she said.

IMPACT helped Ballet Pensacola purchase a new production system, which included a lighting system and the necessary tools to control it.

“The women of IMPACT have provided dancers with the opportunity to perform in shows with the highest production levels,” said Richard Steinert, Ballet Pensacola’s Artistic Director.

Funds received by Children’s Home Society of Florida last year helped the nonprofit partner with Escambia County Clinics and Weis Community School to build a playground on Weis’s campus.

“Our community’s children are now able to play safely like their peers in other neighborhoods do,” said Tim Putman, executive director of CHS. “For that, I am grateful.”

The Veteran’s Memorial Park was also a grant winner last year and used funds to improve drainage issues and provide a solid foundation to better serve those in wheelchairs or other mobility issues.

“It’s a win-win for our foundation, the park and the community,” said W.A. “Butch” Hansen, president of the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation.

Jamie Cochran, outreach coordinator with Lutheran Services of Florida, said their shelter was in dire need of reliable transportation before they were awarded an IMPACT grant last year. The funds went to purchasing a minibus and minivan so that kids could be transported safely to home visits, doctor appointments and fun outings.

“We can’t say anything negative about IMPACT,” Cochran said.

These are just a few of the organizations that have been touched by IMPACT.

Moving forward
This is Warren’s last year as board president, but certainly not her last with IMPACT, she said.

“It’s bittersweet … I’ve been on the board for seven years,” she said. “I’ll be on the board for one more year. It means a lot to me. I’ve learned so much about this community.”

Asmar said Warren brought to the table, “strong leadership, knowledge-based decisions, a detailed eye and moral compass” that helped IMPACT continue in the right direction.

“Cyndi’s professional expertise as a CPA and previous experience as our treasurer enabled her to really understand the fine details of the grant process and how we disburse funds to make sure we were watchful stewards of our members’ money,” added Asmar.

Asmar will begin serving as president starting in October. There’s no paid staff for the organization, but that doesn’t mean these women don’t take the job seriously.

IMPACT’s version of passing the baton is likely moving boxes from one office to another.

“We don’t have an IMPACT office,” Warren said. “I have an extra cube at my office to store materials. And it will probably be moved to the next president’s office.”

The organization is always looking forward, which is why they implemented a mentor program this year, which pairs new members with seasoned members.

“We noticed when whenever we had first-year members who didn’t rejoin, they said they didn’t feel connected,” Warren said. “So we wanted to change that. Every 100 people we have is another grant we can fund.”

While it was never intended to be a social organization, a lot of women have made deep connections with fellow members. And it all started because they wanted to give back to their community.

“I know I’ve made lasting friendships,” Warren said. “You appreciate these women for the knowledge and passion they have. You come together and help the community… it really does make you want to spend more time with these ladies.”


Ten of these fifteen finalists will receive a grant of $108,200 at IMPACT 100’s annual meeting on Sunday, October 16.

Arts & Culture
Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society, Inc.
Project: The Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Historical Center. The Center will provide a secure location for the display of the GCKWS permanent collection of ceramic art and historically significant ceramic artifacts while providing a location for ceramic art exhibitions, and a secure space for equipment, materials, and instruction through hands-on experience, lectures, and video presentations.

The Santa Rosa County Creek Indian Tribe, Inc.
Project: Construction of a permanent Native American Cultural Center that will provide a setting better suited for teaching about Native American culture. A multi-purpose room, a covered area, an artifact museum and a genealogy resource center will be the focal points of the center.

St. John’s Cemetery Historical and Educational Foundation, Inc.
Project: Create an “outdoor museum” at the cemetery by refurbishing the existing gatehouse, purchase benches and interpretive signage for the cemetery, and purchase a State of Florida Historical Marker as well as road signage to direct visitors to the museum. The refurbished gatehouse will transform that part of the property into a community meeting room for visitors and small groups.

The Arc Gateway, Inc.
Project: Reopen Jeff’s Corner Garden at Arc Gateway’s new location. Jeff’s Corner Garden will be a hydroponic greenhouse, expanding the existing horticultural education program. Funds will be used to hire a horticultural/nursery manager to provide and purchase equipment needed for the hydroponic growing system.

Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Inc.
Project: Interactive displays at IHMC’s research facility. Funding will provide for the design and installation of 23 touch screen computers with high-impact displays, 10 HoloLens augmented reality displays, two robotic arms, virtual reality headsets, and other equipment to allow for self-guided tours of IHMC research accomplishments.

Milk and Honey Outreach Ministries, Inc.
Project: Build a classroom for GEMS (Girls Embracing a More Excellent Way) program and other after school activities. The GEMS program is designed for economically disadvantaged African-American preteen and teenage girls. The girls participate in a year-long program that focuses on the positive aspects of being African-American and female while stressing the realities of AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and disease.

Environment, Recreation & Preservation
Navarre Beach Marine Science Station
Project: Coastal Conservation Corp. Funds will be used to purchase a 24-foot trailer and the structural modifications and equipment needed to implement the creation of “Discovery Depot,” a mobile conservation vehicle outfitted with state of the art exhibits and a touch tank with marine animals found in the Gulf of Mexico.

The First Tee of Northwest Florida
Project: Golf and Life Skills Training Facility. Funds will be used to renovate four batting cages at the facility and transform them into netted hitting bays for full-swing practice; build a short-game practice area with a 9-hole artificial chipping/pitching green and practice bunker, and renovate and reopen all 36 holes of the former Goofy Golf course.

The Pensacola Rowing Club, Inc.
Project: Youth Rowing Program. Funds will be used for the acquisition of a variety of safe, dependable, long-lasting rowing shells, rowing machines, oars, and other rowing equipment. The equipment will be used for the youth as well as the training and certification of PRC staff so that they can meet U.S. Rowing standards in order to participate in the National Juniors program competitively. The funds will also be used for marketing and promotion of the Pensacola Rowing Club Youth Rowing program.

Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast
Project: Youth Excelling for Success (YES). The program will offer intensive assistance to a group of 30 young people, ages 16-24, in the low to moderate income range so that they may enter adulthood prepared to be self-supporting. Funding will pay the first year of instructor salary, purchase all materials and supplies for startup, and provide classroom furnishings and equipment such as computers and audio-visual equipment.

Manna Food Pantries
Project: Tools to fight hunger. MANNA is seeking funding from IMPACT 100 for the development and delivery of a user-friendly web-based application that includes a Client, Donor and Food Inventory management system, plus hardware, that will provide the tools needed to fight hunger. Funds will be used for software hosting and replacing outdated equipment.

Studer Community Institute, Inc.
Project: IMPACT Brain Bags. Funds will be used to provide IMPACT Brain Bags to every parent of a newborn in Escambia County, as they leave the hospital, to help explain the importance of talking with their babies. The bags will contain print and multimedia tools to help parents nurture their children’s language development by using the guidelines of the successful Thirty Million Words Initiative and other programs currently in use elsewhere in the state.

Health and Wellness
PACE Center for Girls, Inc.
Project: Transportation to execute Reach program. Funds will be used to purchase four new vans to transport girls enrolled in Reach Escambia/SantaRosa. Reach Escambia/Santa Rosa will provide counseling and support services to a minimum of 80 girls per year and will target girls ages 11-17 who are experiencing personal, family or school issues. The services of the program include: counseling, goal planning, behavior modification, case management, vocational empowerment and enrichment lab.

The EscaRosa Coalition for the Homeless, Inc.
Project: Street Outreach Housing First Accessibility. Funds would be used to purchase two new vans, one of which will be refitted for a wheelchair. The new transportation will allow the street outreach team to expand their reach and also to provide immediate transportation for individuals experiencing homelessness in the City of Pensacola, Escambia County and Santa Rosa County. IMPACT funding will also provide four iPads and data plans, which will be used for immediate on-site assessment, intake and reporting.

Escambia Search and Rescue, Inc.
Project: Sea, Air and Land Capabilities Improvement Initiative. Funds would be used to purchase a 1999 22-foot Boston Whaler with a trailer; two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) and associated equipment; five anti-exposure suits for ESAR boat crew personnel; 10 auto-inflatable personal flotation devices for crew members; 400 infant and youth sized personal flotation devices to be given away at various public events; and 12 Project Lifesaver Response Systems. Through this project, ESAR will dramatically increase their capabilities on sea, air and land.