Walking the Journey with Nonprofits

Kathie Thomas made a promise to God. “I said that I would start down this road if He would provide support and the seed money…and then along came YouthBridge,” says Thomas, Board President and Founder of Hope Creates, a nonprofit working to empower young adults in recovery through expressive arts and the development of related entrepreneurial skills.
Nationally, alcohol and drug abuse account for more than 150,000 deaths each year. Missouri has the third highest drug problem in the country. When the pandemic hit home, Thomas hit back. “We fought long and hard against my daughter’s addiction – trying all types of therapy and counseling, eventually sending her thousands of miles away for treatment – but it wasn’t until she discovered a community of long-term support close to home that she began to thrive,” she says.

Battling her concerns for her daughter, Thomas says she found respite in making collages and photographing the landscapes out West during her daughter’s stay at a rehabilitation facility in Utah. She began to wonder if there was a way to marry these two healing agents – creating beauty and a sense of community – to bring about real recovery.

“People I approached thought it was a bad idea, but it wouldn’t go away. And so I made the deal with God,” says Thomas. Attending a six-month course on social enterprise and innovation at Washington University, called the Social Enterprise and Innovation Accelerator (SEIA), was a first step in fleshing out the idea. She found out about the SEIA grant, funded in part by YouthBridge. “The SEIA grant is awarded based on the quality and creativity of your assignments,” she explains. “Turned out, I was able to earn that seed money.” Her idea soon evolved into a model that would give young people in recovery an opportunity for self-expression through art, in all of its forms, as well as skills development in being social entrepreneurs and speaking about their art and recovery.

During the SEIA process, Thomas met Barbara Carswell, YouthBridge Vice President, who advised her that YouthBridge could serve as fiscal agent – lending her their tax exempt status – while she got her organization off the ground. “This is one way we can support start-ups that we believe have real potential,” says Carswell, adding that YouthBridge is drawn to those with a fresh approach to an issue impacting children and youth, as evidenced by the nature of its grant programs such as Think Big for Kids. “Status quo rarely moves the needle; it’s the bold ideas that can truly transform.”

Support doesn’t end with fiscal sponsorship, according to Carswell. “YouthBridge provides touch points and support along the way, particularly in building infrastructure, which is often harder to raise money for.”

In 2018, Hope Creates participated in YouthBridge’s JumpStart program, providing a donor management system and coaching sessions, “we never could have afforded otherwise,” says Thomas. “And when YouthBridge moved into its new offices, they allowed us to display many of the pieces created by our artists, which has greatly increased our exposure and even brought us a new Board member.”

Carswell says two-and-a-half years into its partnership with Hope Creates, YouthBridge has watched a community develop around youth in recovery that has resulted in 85% of exhibiting artists remaining sober one year after sobriety and participation. “We’re really excited to see what’s next for them and to be along for the journey.”