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  • Impact Austin

SOCIAL IMPACTS: A Partnership Beyond the Check with half Helen Foundation

In celebration of our 20th anniversary year, Impact Austin is highlighting Community Partnerships. From 112 grants totaling $8.26 million to 91 local nonprofits, here is just one of our stories.

(Parts of this blog were shared in April 2020.)

half Helen Foundation Executive Director Chelsea Elliott was thrilled when her nonprofit was chosen as Impact Austin’s 2019 Health & Wellness Community Partner. She knew that the $100,000 grant would allow her organization to buy the equipment needed to offer vision screenings, make lenses, and provide eyeglasses for thousands more low-income students in Central Texas. But what Chelsea didn’t realize until a few months later was that the connections made as a Community Partner would help her meet - and exceed - her organization’s goals sooner than she expected.

Networking with prospective members offered a strategic benefit The first valuable connection was made at an Impact Austin member recruitment event last fall. “At the second recruitment event I attended, I learned that one of the prospective members was a good friend of the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) for Bastrop ISD. One of half Helen’s goals for 2020-2021 was to collaborate with a traditional school district,” Chelsea said. Through that prospective member, Chelsea met the Bastrop’s CAO. They began negotiations for a formal partnership to deliver vision and hearing screenings, as well as eye exams and glasses, to 5,500 Bastrop ISD students in the upcoming school year.

Another Community Partner opened a corporate door Austin Bat Cave (ABC), our 2019 Education Community Partner, provided another valuable connection for Chelsea and half Helen. ABC has an eight-year partnership with Warby Parker, a company Chelsea had repeatedly tried to access for potential partnership. The connection between the two nonprofits paid off. “I had coffee with Ali [Syed Ali Haider, then Executive Director of Austin Bat Cave] after the Impact Austin Check Presentation Ceremony, and he sent a connecting email to Warby Parker’s Creative Director. That connection then introduced me to Warby Parker’s Department of Innovation. Now, I’m flying up to New York to finalize our agreement to provide Warby Parker glasses on our new mobile vision-care vehicle!” Chelsea said. The partnership will also give students access to 20 new types of frames they can choose among, in addition to the 100 they already had. “And they get the ‘cool’ factor of Warby Parker glasses!” Chelsea explained. The Impact Austin Grant strengthened other funding requests In addition to the valuable connections she found as our Community Partner, Chelsea saw firsthand how favorably other Central Texas funding organizations view Impact Austin Community Partnership. For example, she requested a capital grant from St. David’s Foundation for a new mobile vision-care vehicle last year. “St. David’s saw the investment that Impact Austin made, and it added a new degree of credibility to half Helen Foundation’s grant request,” Chelsea said. The new mobile vision-care vehicle would allow half Helen to hire two optometrists and expand their work to include adults as well as children.

Then half-Helen returned the favor to Impact Austin

Chelsea Elliott joined Impact Austin as a member during half Helen's tenure as Community Partner. Chelsea demonstrated a passion for collective giving, as seen in the video below. She has even created a giving circle among half Helen's supporters.

What did half-Helen accomplish with the Impact Austin Grant? Quite a bit - even during the pandemic!

Our grant helped to fund half Helen's mobile eye clinic capabilities, and they were generous with their acknowledgment of our support. Specifically, our funding purchased the equipment (including a state-of-the-art grinder) to fabricate lenses for eyeglasses. Eye exams and eyeglasses were typically disseminated in visits to Austin-area schools. And those visits first happened with "pop-up" optometry clinics with the help of Optical Prime Jr., which sported logos for Impact Austin and Kendra Scott (see above). During the clinics, students had the chance to choose from hundreds of high-quality frame styles and find a new pair of glasses to fit their personal style. Services were provided at no cost to schools, students, or families.

A bigger, better Optical Prime debuted two years later, increasing the efficiency and number of students who could be served with vision care and screenings. From half-Helen's blog:

"In May 2021, half Helen launched a mobile tiny house featuring two exam lanes to replace its 'pop-up' clinics. This upgraded clinic program increases half Helen’s capacity to serve multiple children at once and expand care to additional schools. To learn more about optical Prime’s journey, check out our blog."

During the term of the Impact Austin Grant (mid-2019 to 2021), half Helen proposed to produce 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses with Impact Austin grant funding. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic quickly curtailed their services, but they still managed to produce 325 pairs of glasses for Title I students. In addition, half Helen conducted 7,846 vision screenings and 162 comprehensive eye exams. With Impact Austin’s agreement, half Helen pivoted and converted some grant funds to operating support and hired a Director of Development. See their Grant Outcomes video:


Learn more about Impact Austin's grant to half Helen Foundation and then explore the website of our amazing Community Partner and see how to get involved.


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