Pay It Forward Funds Help Nonprofit Shift Focus During Pandemic
When social distancing recommendations and shelter in place requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic forced Inspire Innovation Lab in Moorhead to shut its doors to business as usual – and cost the lab an operations grant – Bell employees used Pay It Forward funds to help.
Tracy Frank, Senior Content Writer
Connie Schultz, Vice President/Senior Retirement Plan Consultant
Inspire Innovation Lab, Moorhead, Minn.
Carrie Leopold launched Inspire Innovation Lab in 2014 to provide hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STE(A)M) learning opportunities to kids in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Through experiments like creating rockets from used pop bottles and disassembling cell phones, kids learn about science in a welcoming, creative atmosphere where art and science intersect.
“I want every child to have the opportunity to be happy. I want every child to have the foundation they need to be successful in whatever it is they are passionate about. I want every child to grow up with a love of learning and to feel confident in themselves. And I want every child to feel creative, goofy, have friends and feel loved,” Carrie explained in an interview with Fargo, INC! magazine. “I want them to feel like they have inner superpowers.”
Over the past couple of years, the nonprofit has shifted its focus toward building resiliency in students.
“Approximately half of our students have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives,” Carrie remarks. “We serve children and families from all walks of life, including children from wonderful homes as well as children who have experienced abuse or neglect, having a parent in prison, been in foster care, and some who are on the autism spectrum. For some of these kids, the lab has become a sort of refuge.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic meant closing their doors to business as usual.
“Like everyone else, we found ourselves in uncharted territories,” Carrie comments. “We have again pivoted our programs to focus on helping families with distance learning. This means we have lost our current income, and we even lost a grant that we were counting on.”
While the lab is applying for federal relief funds, Carrie expected to have to lay off employees and temporarily shut down – until she found out the lab would be receiving a Pay It Forward donation from Bell Bank.
“Because of the Pay It Forward program, we have been able to continue our operations and not lay ANYONE off,” Carrie says. “Your generous donations are bridging the gap we needed, as we wait for federal relief.”
When Tracy Frank, a writer in Bell’s marketing department, heard about what Carrie and the lab were going through, she decided to use her Pay It Forward funds to help – and Connie Schultz, a retirement plan consultant at Bell, readily joined in the effort.
“Carrie has made it her life’s mission to help others,” notes Tracy. “When asked to help, she doesn’t hesitate. When not asked, she starts nonprofits, launches social movements and runs for office to try to make her community – and her state – a better place. I am so grateful that when she and her lab needed help, I was empowered to do something about it, thanks to Bell’s Pay It Forward program.”
In addition to running the lab, Carrie is an adjunct instructor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, runs a science-based toy store called Nerd Nook to help fund the lab, and spearheads the inspirational social movement “Be Kind to Others” to help encourage and share stories of kindness.
“I cannot even begin to tell you what this means to our staff and the families we continue to serve,” Carrie affirms. “The kids who are receiving help from us currently are the ones who don’t have the resources available for them to succeed in their education at home during this time. I want to give a HUGE shout out to Bell Bank employees for making this happen! YOU have really made an impact in ways you may never know, but in ways that are lifelong.”
Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell Bank gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.