One couldn’t help but be in a celebratory mood Friday evening, Sept. 20, during the grand opening of the Community Connection Center (CCC) in downtown Vermillion.
Along with the scheduled building tours, a VIP thank you reception and a ribbon cutting was a surprise in the amount of a $24,000 donation thanks to Sammons Financial Group of Sioux Falls and Dustin Oelmann, who lives in Vermillion and works at Sammons Financial Group.
‘He is the agency champion for the Vermillion Community Connection Center. He came to our subcommittee and said, ‘I’ve heard about this organization, they want to get everything under one roof, their mission is amazing, the concept is awesome, every community should band together and share resources for the good of the entire community and I really like that is what the Community Connection Center is doing,” said Kristy Tripp, an executive assistant in the IT organization of Sammons Financial Group, shortly before Friday’s check presentation.
The company reached out to the Community Connection Center and asked, ‘how can we help?’ They said we’re thinking about providing some medical services, she said, and provided a list of about $3,000 worth of supplies.
That listed included a couple IPads, and other basic medical equipment.
A subcommittee at Sammons began to brainstorm as it reflected on the CCC’s request to see if there was more that could be done.
“We hoped to go from a couple hours a month at the CCC of seeing the medical clinic with diagnostic medical care being used up to 20 hours a week, so in addition to those $3,000 that we can provide in supplies, we’re going to write a check to this facility for that medical clinic for the amount of $24,000,” Tripp said.
The announcement was met with loud applause from the over 100 people who filled the CCC Friday evening, and it left Kelsey Collier-Wise, the executive director of the Vermillion United Way nearly speechless.
“Thank you all so much,” she said. “This is an amazing surprise and an amazing thing to put on top of everything else that’s happened tonight.”
Sammons Financial Group has a long history of being philanthropic partners, Tripp said in an interview following the check presentation.
“Our mission statement is ‘Making Lives Better.’ So, while we’re an insurance company, part of that mission statement goes to our policy holders, goes to our employees, to our agents, but it also encompasses our community,” she said. “We strive to make lives better for our community. The founder of the community has a very strong community-centered heart, he was from Dallas, and gave a lot of money to the Dallas community and the Dallas Cancer Hospital. We have four locations -- Sioux Falls, Fargo, Des Moines and Chicago, and each year each location, based on the population of the employee base, gets a certain amount of money to donate within their community.”
Tripp said that many years, those donation decisions were made by a very small number of executive senior leaders.
“Six years ago, the president of the Sioux Falls company said, ‘Our employees are the ones that live and work in our communities. They are the ones that volunteer for the agencies that they are passionate about and often times they are the ones that use the services of the agencies that provide services in our communities. Let’s push down some of those decision-making abilities to our employees so they can decide where they want to donate funds for volunteer work or whatever the case may be, she said.
Six years ago, Sammons Financial Group created a Community Impact Challenge within its organization.
“We are divided up into eight teams and each team is given a certain amount of money and those teams get to decide within our community who gets those donations each year,” Tripp said. “The employees are the ones who bring the ideas to the small subcommittee.”
Dustin Oelmann, who lives in Vermillion and works at Sammons in Sioux Falls, brought the CCC to the attention of those involved with the company’s Community Impact Challenge.
“He brought the Community Connection Center organization to the table and said ‘I would really like our team to consider this organization because of what they’re doing with this new building, they want to bring all of their services under one roof, they want to provide a comprehensive center to meet the needs of all of the community in Clay County and in the city of Vermillion,” Tripp said. “He brought statistics about the poverty rate in Clay County, some of the hunger issues in Clay County, some of the medical issues, but what he really brought was the whole idea that bringing all of these organizations together under one roof made so much sense because it’s so much easier for people to access services when they’re all together.”
The concept of connection and relationship-building struck a chord with the subcommittee. Oelmann reached out the CCC organization and asked for information about its greatest needs.
“They were very humble, very simple and they provided information about how they wanted to provide a medical clinic. The CCC requested $3,000 for supplies,” Tripp said. “As we dug a little deeper and we learned about the capital campaign, we learned about the idea for naming rights for a room -- that’s always been secondary for us -- but we decided we can move the needle; we can have the impact of seeing a community center for a medical clinic that goes from two to three hours a month.
“We can help provide the facility or the room to see medical services, diagnostic services, preventative services that can go up to 20 hours a week, so with our partnership, with the partnership of the USD medical students, we took this extra step of deciding that we wanted to take over the part of the building that we were going to sponsor,” she said.
Sammons Financial Group decided to pay to have naming rights for the room where the medical services will be offered in the CCC. It also decided to pay for needed equipment and supplies and, Tripp said, the total funding amount came to be “a nice round figure of $24,000.”
The donation came after a rather intense process that’s followed at Sammons Financial Group before such funding is awarded.
“We have to make a written proposal that requires all of the financials and all of the vetting of the organization,” Tripp said. “It helps that this was under the umbrella of the Vermillion United Way. Obviously, they are a very well-known organization.
“Kelsey (Collier-Wise, executive director of the Vermillion United Way) was very good about sending back all of the information we needed,” she said. “Our written proposal passed the first stage and then, as a group, we have to get together and do a formal, 30-minute presentation in front of the executive committee.
“Part of the challenge is we get certain funds but then we’re eligible to receive additional funds based on certain criteria and one of the criteria is creativity of the presentation,” Tripp said. “So, we went from ‘Mission Impossible’ to ‘Mission Possible’ and as we presented the organizations that we wanted to support, we decided that this community deserves the possibility of providing the services to all of the people in the community. What once seemed impossible has now become much, much more possible because of our support.”
On Thursday, Sept. 12, all of the teams at Sammons Financial Group met and the winners were announced.
“All of the funds that we requested were approved officially,” she said. “It just happened to line up nicely with this event.”