“What would our parents do?”
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the spring of 2020, it’s a question Don Otis, Carol Stolp, and Nancy Knight had to ask when they met to discuss if utilizing the funds in the Donor Advised Fund established by their parents, Rol and Dorothy Otis, to support the COVID-19 Community Response Fund was the right thing to do.
That answer came quickly to the siblings who agreed to place a hold on distributions to the preferred nonprofits outlined in their parent’s agreement, and instead diverted that year’s funds to the COVID-19 Response Fund established by the Omaha Community Foundation in March 2020.
They intended to revert to supporting the traditional philanthropic interests of their parents when they reconvened to distribute funds in 2021. However, the effects of the pandemic—especially long-term job loss and housing evictions—were still lingering. They asked the same question, “how would their parents react in such a situation?” and again arrived at the same conclusion and for the second year, chose to instead fully support OCF’s newly established Community Resilience Fund.
“There is a trail that is being left of consequences we’re not done with yet,” said Don.
“We are confident Mom and Dad would fully support the decisions we have made these past two years,” said Carol.
Aimed at supporting an equitable, long-term recovery, the Community Resilience Fund is designed to complement local and federal support and focuses on five key areas: Arts and Culture, Housing, Learning Recovery, Mental Health, and Workforce.
Each time siblings Don, Carol and Nancy meet to reflect on what their parents put in writing years ago, an important part of that conversation includes evaluating the current needs of the community. These annual meetings have been great opportunities for the siblings to share knowledge with each other and discuss the challenges and opportunities they see throughout the Omaha region.
Rol and Dorothy were quick to give of their time and treasures throughout their lives. Rol served as the board chair for the Omaha-Council Bluffs YMCA and also was active in Rotary Club of Omaha and the Kiwanis Club. Dorothy gave her time managing the gift shop at Methodist Hospital for several years, in addition to volunteering for the Junior League of Omaha, Omaha Community Playhouse, and Omaha Symphony.
“They were passionate about it and did it for all the right reasons,” said Carol.
While each sibling has their own philanthropic passions and conducts their own significant research to keep them up-to-date on the issues and areas impacting Omaha. So it was no surprise to them the pandemic made things much worse for those who already were struggling, but also impacted people who may have never needed assistance before. Particularly, just finding enough to eat.
“We became more aware than ever of the community’s struggles with food insecurity,” Carol said. “Many people, particularly those in the service industry, lost income due to workforce shutdowns. School children and little ones in day care no longer had easy access to breakfasts or lunches.”
The awareness of the ongoing need was amplified during a Corner Conversation for fundholders hosted by OCF in March 2021 that focused on the Resilience Fund priorities. Carol was able to attend the virtual event as a representative of her family, and said the information provided reinforced her belief the urgent needs of the community wouldn’t be solved in a calendar year and that many local residents who needed assistance last year still hadn’t fully recovered from the pandemic.
That information was integral to the eventual decision to support the Community Resilience Fund this spring with a gift from their parents’ Fund.
“We were drawn to continue supporting our community,” Carol said. “COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, and our community continues to struggle on so many levels. Housing, employment, learning recovery, mental health are all significant areas of concern, and areas we felt we could impact in some small way.”
Making a difference is always the goal. When the three of them come together and discuss how best to honor the lives and interests of their parents, Don said they’re channeling their parent’s “philanthropic mindset.”
Since launching in March, the Community Resilience Fund has distributed $350,090.75 to 24 local nonprofits. To learn more about the Community Resilience Fund or to donate visit omahafoundation.org/resilience.