Question: What is the best way to show exactly what Via Foundation does and whom we support?
Answer: Sharing stories about specific people who are changing their communities for the better.
Given how long we’ve been working in the field, we’ve got hundreds of stories up our sleeve, but we’ve had to choose just a few to share here.
They show how we try to support our foundation’s main fields of interest: community projects, which connect people as they care for their communities together, and philanthropy, which we try to grow in the Czech Republic.
Story No. 1: Changing the community in which we live
During World War I, Mr. Jelen fought on the Italian front and saw a few pleasant things as well – such as outdoor swimming pools. When he returned to the town of Velvary in Central Bohemai, he got a group of people together to establish their own swimming pool. It was a lively place, complete with an orchestra which played in swimsuits and which drew people all the way from Prague. Unfortunately the site became neglected in the 1950s.
A few years ago, a group of local residents decided to restore the outdoor swimming pool – and we helped them with a grant of CZK 300,000 ($15,000), workshops and other support. First, the project leaders brought the community together to plan out the revitalized site. Next, their vision was drawn up by an architect and then community members returned to the site – this time with shovels and wheelbarrows. Over six work weekends they completed most of the revitalization work and finally, in fall 2015, they gathered again for the grand re-opening of the site. We support public space revitalization projects through our program The Community in Which We Live – more here.
Story No. 2: How to convince 7,700 lidí of a good cause
Eighteen years ago her grandson was diagnosed with leukemia. He recovered, but a three year old boy who occupied the adjacent bed in the hospital died. If he had had a bone marrow donor he would have lived. For Zdenka Wasserbauerová, an accountant in a tire factory, it was a turning point.
Over the past 18 years she has visited schools, lectured, persuaded blue collar workers in factories. According to estimates from the national donor registry, some 7,700 people have donated bone marrow thanks to her efforts – which means that she has saved numerous sick children and young people through her work.
Zdenka Wasserbaerová was one of the winners of the 2015 Via Bona Philanthropy Awards, which we present every year to Czech philanthropists who give their time, energy or money to help others. The purpose of the Via Bona Philanthropy Awards is to inspire others and show that each and every one of us can be a philanthropist.
Story No. 3: A long forgotten cemetery is revived
For years Renata Hergetová operated a restaurant in the Česky Švýcarsko region in North Bohemia. She was aware that there was an overgrown Sudetenland cemetery near the village of Všemily that no one cared for. The gravestones were barely visible under layers of leaves, moss, nettles and trees. Renata Hergetová promised herself that one day, when she retired from business, she would restore the cemetery that had been forgotten.
And she did. After she retired from business, she began repairing and cleaning gravestones one by one, finding more under moss and needles as she worked. Gradually local residents joined her and over the course of many work days they restored practically the entire cemetery. We supported their efforts with a grant of almost CZK 45,000 ($1830) through the Cultural Heritage Fund, which supports people working together to restore small monuments such as chapels or wayside crosses. Renata Hergetová’s group used the grant to have a new central cross made for the cemetery.
Story No. 4: A housing estate with an active community
Via Foundation has been helping more and more associations striving to engage residents of Czech housing estates in community events. It’s not an easy task, trying to engage people in places on the outskirts of cities that are often anonymous bedroom communities. But there are cases of hosuing estates where people are engaged – for example Černý Most in Prague. This housing estate on the edge of the city has a high number of wheelchair accessible apartments and consequently a higher number of physically disabled residents than other housing estates. A local community theater called “Divadlo na Mostě” involves disabled residents into regular life by making them part of the theater company.
The community theater association also holds other events to bring community members together. We supported their work through our Neighbors program/Poštovní spořitelna bank regional development fund, which supports local active groups holding various neighborhood events to engage people and improve relations in a given community regardless of age or education level. Specifically, we gave the group a grant of CZK 100,000 ($4,000) to build a theater performance space.
Story No. 5: Beyond the border
Transforming a housing estate is a difficult job anywhere in the world. Laura Panait lives in Kluž, Romania, where she aims to engage people in a local housing estate in community projects. Educated as an anthropologist, she is trying to involve residents in the improvement of a public space in the middle of the Manastur housing estate, the largest in the entire city. She is trying to make the site a “people place” where residents will gather and meet one another. Laura is inviting residents to help plan site improvements (the photo shows a theater for children held by local residents at the site).
Although the majority of our foundation’s work focuses on the Czech Republic, we are open to the surrounding region and strive to connect people with similar goals and experience across borders. Laura Panait is one of the participants in our program ViabilityNet 2.0, which links active people working in communities in Central and Eastern Europe. Each of them has its own story and issues to resolve.
Story No. 6: A business that helps the community
Can you do business and make the world a better place at the same time? Through our Better Business program, we support business concepts and emerging businesses with these objectives. An example is the Pasparta publishing house, which combines profit and charity in a mutually beneficial way. Pasparta is a social enterprise that employees autistic individuals (mild forms, i.e. Asperger’s syndrome) and uses their specific talents (autists often have a great sense of detail and graphic design).
Pasparta also publishes books about autism to help spread knowledge of this condition. We supported the project with CZK 150,000 ($6,100).
Story No. 7: Living Villa
An international-style villa in the town of Prachatice was slated for demolition to make way for a road bypass. A group of local residents seeks to save this valuable building and has proposed an alternative route for the bypass. The group holds various events in the villa to draw public attention to the issue and explain why the building is unique. As part of their efforts, a small bakery has been established in the villa garden and events about architecture and urban planning have become a tradition.
This project in Prachatice is one of many supported through our Live Grants program, through which we support active people trying to transform Czech cities into lively places. By working together to change public spaces, they bring fresh ideas into the urban landscape and revitalize specific areas. We supported the Living villa project with a grant of CZK 70,000 ($2,850) which the group used to buy a bread oven.
Story No. 8: Learning to lead well
She has gone through a number of crossroads during her lifetime. “I enjoy challenges and I have accepted a huge one. I have become the leader in a non-profit organization. After several years I am certain that this is my path in life and looking back I have found that even the obstacles that I have had to face have helped me grow,” says Lucie Kašparová, who manages the Jičín Regional Charity.
She knew that managing a non-profit organization was not a piece of cake, she was aware of her strengths and weaknesses and she needed help to move forward and learn to lead well. We aim to help leaders of Czech non-profit organizations aware of their actions and the motivations behind their actions. We give them training, meetings and workshops through our program Leadership Aid.
Story No. 9: What to do to prevent demolition of a beautiful brickworks
Vysoké Mýto is a town, not a bad place, not a great place, just a regular town. At least that is what a local association called “ProMejto” says as it tries to show residents that there is more to Vysoké Mýto than just its pretty town square – such as a number of lovely buildings. The association also inspires local residents to take part in community planning, to take an interest in the development emerging around them and even in overgrown sites in the neighborhood.
One of the association’s projects involved saving a brickworks that was slated for demolition to make room for a parking lot. Unfortunately, despite local residents’ protests, the brickworks was torn down. The group’s story shows that not all efforts end successfully. But, as we say at Via Foundation, sometimes there’s more to the outcome than meets the eye – such as a new sense of community, new relationships and a desire to change things.
We supported ProMejto through our Viadukt educational program, which seeks to inspire, educate and connect active people in the Czech Republic. Specifically, one of the association members took part in a series of workshops about fundraising, community engagement and media relations.
Story No. 10: Snow White and the Nine Dwarfs for Kristýnka
Snow White and the Nine Dwarfs was the name of a benefit performance held by a group of elementary school students in the south Moravian town of Komořany. The students worked with their teacher to organize this benefit event to help their disabled schoolmate Kristýnka, who needed a positionable chair. By raising money from their families and friends and adding their own contributions, the students raised enough money to purchase the chair.
Via Foundation matched the proceeds from the benefit event and also provided guidance during the entire project. Snow White and the Nine Dwarfs is an example of how we help children and young people learn philanthropy by doing through our program Be Helpful.