Community Foundation donor issued a challenge, and the community responded
If the importance of mental health services in a community is any indication of how quickly Vera French Community Mental Health Center of Davenport was able to meet a challenge match made by an anonymous Quad Citizen through the Quad Cities Community Foundation, it’s a serious priority, said Executive Director Jessica Malcheff.
“We were surprised and humbled and blessed,” said Malcheff, when the Community Foundation called to let her know an anonymous donor made a $10,000 challenge to Vera French Housing Corporation, a branch of the organization that serves more than 10,000 adults and children each year.
The challenge—which was issued this spring and matched with another $10,000 a few short months later—will boost an endowment supporting their housing corporation, a critical component of their work. Vera French Housing Corporation was formed in 1994 to help individuals with mental health illness live in an affordable, permanent, stable environment. Currently, Vera French provides housing for 128 individuals and families within the Iowa Quad Cities, with intentions of expanding.
“There’s a huge need for family housing in the Quad Cities, especially for low-income and vulnerable people,” she said. “We’re looking at land that could be home to a 20-unit family housing apartment,” Malcheff said. “This money can support that effort—and ongoing maintenance on our current housing.”
Residents housed through Vera French Housing have access to all of Vera French services and can take advantage of a once-a-month food pantry available at one of the locations. “We have so much need in the area,” Malcheff said. “Housing is one of the last steps in moving toward a completely independent lifestyle—something we are committed to helping Quad Citizens achieve.”
The challenge issued by the anonymous donor is a great example of how generosity can change lives when the right organizations are equipped with the right tools, said Anne Calder, vice president of development at the Community Foundation. “It’s hard to even pin point the number of lives that will be improved because of these permanent gifts,” Calder said. “This donor really wanted to be purposeful in impacting the mental health care needs in the community and this was a generous, thoughtful way to do so. We were excited to see the community join and support that.”
That support is crucial for Vera French to provide quality services, Malcheff added. Still, she was nervous when she received news of the challenge. “Our donor base is only so big,” she said. “You’re always excited about a challenge, but always quietly wondering, ‘Can we do this?’”
Vera French decided to first approach 200 of their mid-level donors and were pleasantly surprised when they almost reached their goal quickly. Several board members also stepped up, Malcheff said, and they were able to hit the mark by May. “We’re super grateful to everyone who gave and to the anonymous donor who has an amazing heart for our program,” she said.
Mental health has always been important, Malcheff emphasized, but has been the topic of more national conversation recently with school shootings and high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Ensuring that every person in the community has access to Vera French services is one way that the community can address mental health issues in the Quad Cities. “We really feel strongly that we are a community mental health center, meaning that we have a serious responsibility to provide services in the community to everyone,” she said.