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Owners Jennifer Brown and Teresa Michener founded Community Knights in 2009, earning a non-profit 501(c)(3) status in 2013. Community Knights provides grant funding and civic opportunities to public schools, non-profits, and the nearly half a million people they serve on the Peninsula through investments, collaborative opportunities, and inclusive efforts.

“Groups kept coming to us asking to set up Bingo games in order to raise funds because they were struggling from the 2008 recession,” Brown and Michener explained. “They didn’t have the capacity to sustain this sort of funding and we realized if everyone worked together to raise these funds, then it would be much more successful.”

Prior to this, Jennifer worked for the family print distributorship and Teresa had a bookkeeping business, serving small companies. They were both heavily involved in local public-school committees for a number of years before deciding to start their own organization.

Their biggest challenge when they started out was getting the 501(c)(3) and procuring sponsorships due to their unique business model. “We had mentors who believed in us and thought what we were trying to do was great, but it was difficult to get community investment because many people thought that what we wanted to do was impossible. Due to this, we sought a $20,000 personal loan to get the business started which has since been repaid. In hindsight, we would have spoken with a nonprofit consultant earlier due to the complexity of our model. Nickeling and diming can put you at a disadvantage and initial investment is important.”

But their passion and perseverance has allowed them to see their vision come to life. “We can see the impact our work is doing and we are able to watch collaboration happen. We can be effective changemakers and get to hear unexpected stories about our impact. Even though you don’t get nearly as much sleep, your life is enriched, you get to meet amazing new people, and you can connect people with the resources they may not have known about.”

Their biggest success thus far has been their GIFT program. “We have awarded $1,475,000 to 184 public schools and nonprofits on the Peninsula through 726 grants,” they shared. “The community comes together as one to raise money in order to invest it back into the community. When different organizations and residents collaborate, we achieve so much more. Our GIFT committees are open to program participants and create diverse and safe environments that challenge people to share their strengths and form partnerships. Our volunteers have put in more than 82,000 hours over the last six years.”

In addition to their GIFT program, their COACH program fosters inclusive and enriching environments by placing volunteers, along with one-on-one coaches, with intellectual and developmental disabilities at local nonprofit organizations. Soon, they will touch a wider array of organizations and help them serve their constituents in meaningful ways.

Their future goals include partnering with the Hampton Public School System on a MATCH program which focuses on underdevelopment. This program will pair students with volunteer opportunities in the community that will fulfill their volunteering requirements for their specific academy’s area of study. They will develop community connections and experience that will help them moving forward, as well as help local nonprofits get the extra hands they need to do their amazing work.

“We are also currently exploring innovative solutions to the transportation barrier many of the organizations and people they serve encounter. In addition, we will be working on ALIGN which will serve as a nonprofit incubator in the community and a safe space for civic groups to collaborate.”

Right now though their biggest challenge is getting volunteers, community awareness of the needs on the Virginia Peninsula, and community engagement to help resolve these needs. In order to overcome these barriers they work collaboratively in the community by bringing volunteers, and those who engage in their programs, together. They nurture collaborations between stakeholders leading to amplified impact.

Their advice to others who are interested in starting their own business is to “Make sure that before you jump in that you research. You should check that no one does what you are trying to do already and if they do, you can work with them and meet needs they may have. Also, do not assume that you know how to ‘fix’ the people you are trying to impact. If you don’t get to know the people you want to serve, then you probably don’t know what they need. Finally, nonprofits are a business. The difference is that you do not answer to shareholders, you answer to a board with the objective of fulfilling the mission to the people you serve. Business fundamentals and some business savvy are important. If you don’t have those, then partner with someone who has the skills you don’t or take classes.”
733 Thimble Shoals Blvd, Ste 170, Newport News, VA 23606