Wichita nonprofits ‘part of the soul of the community’

Heather Starr assembles a Filimin lamp at the Wichita Women’s Initiative Network.
Heather Starr assembles a Filimin lamp at the Wichita Women’s Initiative Network. File photo

The Women’s Initiative Network, a nonprofit that helps survivors of abuse with education and employment, cares for about 25 women a year.

Most women are treated for about a year in an effort to help them break the cycle of domestic abuse and financial dependency.

It has only five staff members.

But those numbers are misleading, says executive director Karen Schmidt, because WIN’s impact can be felt throughout the community.

“We’re helping more citizens in the community be productive, working, taxpaying people who can then turn around and give back themselves when they’re in a better position personally and financially,” Schmidt said.

“Everyone benefits.”

WIN is one example of Wichita’s extensive network of nonprofits – more than 3,000 in all – covering health and human services, museums, the arts and more, Shelly Prichard says.

Prichard is president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, which partners with nonprofits to provide funding and other assistance.

Some nonprofits are small, with no paid staff, and some are large, with up to 400 employees, Prichard said.

“We have a very rich environment,” Prichard said. “It’s everything from amazing art facilities like the Ulrich and Wichita Art Museum to national nonprofits like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, or even amazing homegrown places like Heartspring that serves hundreds of kids with several needs.

“The landscape is very broad.”

Prichard said people tend to forget that some major attractions – the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, Music Theatre of Wichita – are nonprofits.

She said people don’t always realize the depth of a nonprofit. They may have an idea, but they’ve only broken the surface.

Envision, for example, provides employment and assistance to the visually impaired. Lesser known is that it produces products – it sold trash bags to several government entities nationally, for example.

The economic impact of nonprofits is significant, too, Prichard said. Heartspring, which serves children with developmental disabilities, has 400 people on its payroll and is getting ready for a $5 million expansion.

“That’s a big deal,” she said.

The size of each nonprofit reflects the amount of people it serves, Prichard said, but each nonprofit is as essential as the next to the community.

They’re part of the soul of the community. They’re part of what defines the people and culture of our town. Wichita has a higher quality of life because they’re here.

Shelly Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation

“They’re part of the soul of the community,” Prichard said. “They’re part of what defines the people and culture of our town. Wichita has a higher quality of life because they’re here.”

Support system

Seeing the work nonprofits do, whether it’s helping one person or 1,000, drives her to help them succeed, said Cindy Miles, director of the Nonprofit Chamber of Service. It provides training, networking, support and resources to about 90 nonprofits, mainly social services.

“I see how they impact people’s lives. … To me, it’s a way to impact the lives of those people at the nonprofits.”

Miles said the chamber is crucial for smaller nonprofits, providing a support system they wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“Imagine our world without these organizations,” Miles said. “It would not be pretty.

“If people get behind the nonprofit organizations in our community, we can offer things that really impact people’s lives.”

‘Caring attitude’

Wichita’s nonprofits provide a higher quality of life, meeting a variety of needs for the community, said Patrick Hanrahan, United Way of the Plains president and CEO.

“Everything from a baby in a cradle with a problem to a senior using hospice,” Hanrahan said. “From young age to old, we have a variety of programs.”

United Way of the Plains raises money, recruits volunteers and provides other assistance for nonprofits.

The organization works with 239 nonprofits to list volunteer opportunities for the community. It has 148 nonprofits listed in its 2-1-1 database, which helps match people looking for help with services.

The diversity and range of nonprofits in Wichita is reflective of what he sees as the Midwest attitude, Hanrahan said.

“There is a caring attitude and generosity from the people that live in the Midwest that you just don’t find anywhere else in the nation,” Hanrahan said.

“The old saying is a chain is as strong as its weakest link – I think that’s the same in a community. We’re strong if we take care of our most vulnerable person.

“In that way, Wichita is a strong community.”