Excellerate Foundation mobilizes aid, resources amid COVID-19

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 916 views 

The Endeavor Foundation has rebranded itself as the Excellerate Foundation to better reflect its commitment to serving those in the region by working with existing resources while also spending $2.5 million in the community during the past five months.

CEO Jeff Webster said the Springdale-based foundation’s mission is to get granular by identifying the needs of individuals and families, fostering connections to resources and also making grant awards and other financial aid to help drive lasting change that ensures everyone in the region has the opportunity to thrive.

“COVID-19 has deeply affected our community, and the work to alleviate the needs of our neighbors goes on,” Webster said. “As part of our renewed mission, Excellerate Foundation will continue to connect organizations to each other to address the many challenges of the pandemic, while also connecting individuals to the vital resources they need to weather the storm. Excellerate has been—and will remain—at the forefront of the efforts to keep Northwest Arkansas safe and secure during these uncertain times.”

Webster said in 2017 the foundation developed a database that connects people to resources they may need such as legal assistance, housing, help with utility bills or counseling. The database, known as HARK, connects with people to help in 50 different areas. As COVID-19 began to unfold across Benton and Washington counties in the past five months counties, Webster said the foundation, using HARK, created more than 5,000 client plans that included more than 15,000 referrals to access resources and services.

He said one of the first foundation actions was to provide local non-profits with $400,000 in emergency grants so they could remain open. Excellerate also helped nonprofits access data which resulted in $400,000 in federal funds for rental and utility assistance. Working with the Walton Family Foundation, Excellerate also used its $1 million Catalyst Fund NWA to provide rental, utility and general assistance to more than 1,500 households affected by COVID-19. He said this aid was given to help families stay in their homes as they lost their jobs and ability to pay rent.

“We don’t just hand them a check, we make the payment on their behalf and then work to help them find longer-term solutions. For homeowners we help connect them to forbearance and forgiveness programs from their lenders,” Webster said.

Excellerate Foundation CEO Jeff Webster

He said 1,500 families were helped by the Catalyst Fund which in turn helped 500 small business owners who are the property managers to get paid.

Webster said COVID-19 has created a ripple effect in the community, and the magnitude of simultaneous needs has been unprecedented and has tested the region’s support services. He said Excellerate saw an opportunity to step forward to identify the regional needs and help fill in the gaps.

He said the foundation’s research had identified 150,000 local people who fall between $20,000 and $50,000 in annual income and much of the work done by Excellerate is with this demographic. However, when COVID-19 hit, many in the hospitality and service industries found themselves in need of support services, he said, adding again that the local need has tested the region’s support services like never before.

Webster said early on much of the help was financial assistance but more recently it has been health-based as the Marshallese community and minority groups have fallen ill from COVID-19. He said many positive cases were associated with workers in the meat processing industry. Excellerate is also working with Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese on education and translation with regard to services and aid.

Webster said Excellerate has a team of 20, most whom are working remotely. He said the foundation will continue to align its work within the three pillars of social support, housing and education and its ongoing efforts in each of these areas. He sees the foundation growing its scope and focus in the coming months and years noting the region is resource-rich but connection poor. He sees Excellerate as the link between needs and resources. Webster said Excellerate will continue to provide financial grants but its work will also address sources of problems and work with partners on sustainable solutions.

Excellerate has invested more than $100 million in Northwest Arkansas during the past 20 years. As a health-conversion foundation, Webster said that $100 million of the original investment in the fund remains intact.