At 22 years old, just eight months out of Duquesne University, Maura Rodgers may be the youngest applicant to give a pitch to the Social Venture Partners-Pittsburgh (SVP
) and win their annual Fast Pitch event, which coaches area nonprofits on telling their story effectively and rewards the best ones.
But the pitchers whom Rodgers helps in her own nonprofit are younger still, and even more impressive, she believes.
Rodgers is the executive director and only employee of The Miracle League of the South Hills, which runs baseball leagues that pair mainly kids (but also adults) with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. The kids without disabilities may run or hit for their baseball buddies, or they may just cheer them on. But both groups learn important lessons while having fun and making friends.
"What's innovative about the Miracle League is that we're giving kids with special needs the chance to become teachers and teach their peers about falling down and getting back up again… The Miracle League is changing our social fabric."
Her $20,000-prize winning message, she says, was not about why her group needs the money but about what the Miracle League is doing for the community and how the community can get involved.
After just a year and a half in existence, the South Hills League (there are two others in Pittsburgh) has 150 kids as young as age five on their Upper St. Clair field, and they are always looking for more players and buddies. "We're still growing and learning and SVP was certainly invaluable in that process."
The SVP gave all competing nonprofits seven weeks of coaching about everything from fundraising to sharing their story with a larger audience. "Very often it's hard to see what is appealing about your message," says Rodgers, "and what really connects with people in your community, because you're so close to your organization."
Indeed, says Elizabeth Visnic, director of SVP-Pittsburgh, the seven weeks of training is more important in the end than the prizes. The money and the time are investments by SVP's partners, working toward the group's goal of "growing philanthropists and strengthening nonprofits. Our focus on capacity building for the nonprofits was a step deeper" this year. The coaches, she says, helped the presenters become "incredibly inventive and articulate."
Nonetheless, the money certainly helps. Winners were chosen based on the innovation of their programs, their programs' impact or potential impact and their presentations' effectiveness. "This year it was anybody's to take," Visnic says of the first-place award. "Everybody was amazing."
SVP offered more prizes this year, including second place to Strong Women Strong Girls, the Coaches’ Prize to The Saxifrage School, and the SVP Kids Prize to Camp COPES. The SVP Kids are SVP partners' children who are learning about philanthropy as well; the prize, given for the first time year, came from money Kids' group graduates pooled by themselves. Finalists Beverly’s Birthdays and Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center also $500 prizes. Additional capacity prizes were awarded from the three judges and their organizations,including Pop City.
SVP gained three new partners through the event as well, who immediately gave $1,000 prizes of their own.
The Miracle League's award money, Rodgers says, will help them build a playground next to their field. It will contain adaptive features devised from working with special-needs professionals, parents and kids. "It's a place designed for development and growth and interaction with all children," she says. "Hopefully it will be unlike anything anyone in our area has seen before."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Maura Rodgers; Elizabeth Visnic, Social Venture Partners-Pittsburgh