Leadership Bartholomew County Class of 2022. Photo credit: Submitted.
Leadership Bartholomew County Class of 2022. Photo credit: Submitted.

A series of fortuitous events and unique opportunities have ushered the Student’s Fund of Hope one step closer to achieving its ultimate goal.

It began this spring when the organization was anonymously nominated for the Peterman Brothers Award, which recognizes outstanding work by area nonprofits and organizations.

Set up like March Madness, the Student’s Fund of Hope was among 64 charities competing in four divisions. Voting would begin on Monday and closed on Sunday each week. The winning charities for that week would go on to the next bracket and the voting would begin again.

The Student’s Fund, alongside Turning Point Domestic Violence Shelter, was the winning charity for Bartholomew County, says Whitney Budd, co-founder of the Student’s Fund.

“There were some big names in there, like Riley Children’s Hospital, so to even be nominated in a category with those million-dollar nonprofits that are doing amazing things was incredible,” Budd says. “To be in the same area with them was a huge thing for me.”

In the end, the Student’s Fund was one of four winning charities – one from each division.

“Between those four divisions, they will receive $5 from every service call to the Peterman VIP members,” Budd says. “Last year they did this as well and gave out just over $70,000 to those four divisions and split it between each division. It comes out close to $17,000 for each.”

The first installment of the award was given in April shortly after the winners were named.

[Watch the Peterman Brothers 2022 Charity Partner Spotlight: Student's Fund of Hope HERE.]

Students Fund of Hope board member Jeff Yarnell says he was unaware that Peterman Brothers offered such an opportunity, but he knew once the Student's Fund was nominated, there was no question a win was next.

“People in the area who hear anything about Student’s Fund they jump fully onboard,” he says. “That is one board you don’t have to do much explaining about and everyone is in your corner. That was the easy part. It was a really fun process.”

Student’s Fund co-founder Stephanie Long says she and others in the organization were a bit overwhelmed simply due to how prestigious the award is coupled with the outpouring of community support.

“We were kind of blown away,” Long says. “There was some stiff competition and deserving organizations. When you get an award like that, and to think our community voted for us to win the award, is a huge compliment to what we do and what our organization stands for.”

Long added that the Student’s Fund does plan to do some sort of fundraising event for the Hoosier Burn Camp, who were the runners-up.

“We hope to do something to raise some money for them showing our support because what their organization does is pretty amazing as well,” Long says.

At the same time the Student’s Fund was garnering votes, its co-founder was among nearly 40 other community members excelling in Leadership Bartholomew County (LBC), which helps foster leadership and engagement among new and seasoned community leaders for the betterment of Bartholomew County.

Budd’s leadership journey had begun in the fall of 2021, she says, when she attended a meeting at the Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to discuss the Student’s Fund and its mission.

“They mentioned if I had ever been networking or involved with Leadership Bartholomew County,” Budd recalls. “They thought it would be a good opportunity for me to meet different organizations and people in the town.”

The group met once a month for nine months before completing the course earlier this summer and Budd says the opportunity was invaluable.

“I learned a lot about my leadership style, how to engage my board and just be better at my position,” Budd says. “I’ve been in a position of leadership in the nonprofit sector, in the classroom and within administrative roles with preschools, but that is totally different from what I am doing now.”

Budd says she now draws on the lessons leadership training taught her, and it has been beneficial for everyone involved.

“There was a lot of times I felt like I started [Student’s Fund], so it was my obligation to do all these things and I didn’t utilize my board the way I should have,” Budd says. “These people come to me with great skill sets and they have a lot of skills I don’t have and a lot of it came from almost this guilty feeling of I started this so I have to see it through. I had this whole board saying, ‘Hello, we are here to help you. Let us help you.’”

As Budd has grown more comfortable in her leadership role and delegating responsibilities, the only way to go is up and onward.

The Student’s Fund recently found a space for generalized events. It is the Student’s Fund of Hope Community Engagement Hub, located at 321 Washington Street on the Hope Town Square.

When families contact the Fund for assistance, they fill out assistance forms to get an idea of their situation and the extent of their need. Prior to the hub, most of that information was gathered and discussed by phone, Budd says, which can limit the evaluation process.

“Mainly when we have people submit assistance forms, we get it in by email and I contact them,” Budd says. “I am not able to put eyes on them unless I go to their house. And so that never felt good because you want to have a personal relationship with these people where they feel like, ‘She is a safe person, she isn’t going to judge me.’ And I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have a place to do it.”

Now, when families seek assistance Budd is able to call and set up a meeting at the Hub.

“I just think it is so important to have that physical meeting,” she says. “Because I just don’t know without seeing them if there’s additional resources that they need.”

The Hub is currently abuzz with activity as it is being prepped for its official opening.

For now, the space is hosting Recovery Out Loud group meetings on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

“They are really popular in central Indiana,” Budd says. “It is a recovery group that is not affiliated with any religious organization. It appeals to people who are freshly out of recovery, so they feel there is support there without that religious piece to it because maybe they aren’t ready for that yet.”

The hunt transitional housing is still ongoing, Budd says.

Oftentimes, families in crisis who are needing housing end up having to leave the area to find it. The idea of offering transitional housing would do wonders to keep Hope residents in Hope, Yarnell says.

“Somebody loses a job in Hope and all of a sudden, they lose their house,” Yarnell says. “If something isn’t available, they may move out of the town completely. And we don’t want to force people away from family or force kids out of schools that they are already familiar with.”

Despite the momentarily difficult search, transitional housing is something that will remain in the cards, she adds.

“There are a lot of legalities that go into it that we are learning,” Budd says. “We currently have families who would be perfect for the transitional house, but I can’t find a house that is not without needing a lot of fixing up or a full mortgage. But we are getting there.”