GREENFIELD — Monica Kucan and Denise Arland jumped up from their table and hugged, beaming, as the banquet hall erupted in applause.

The $25,000 grant their nonprofit had just won would go so far toward supporting local families of children with disabilities, they knew. Aptly named the Big Impact Grant, the funding came courtesy of the Hancock County Community Foundation at a gala Saturday in honor of its 25th anniversary.

Kucan and Arland, who wrote the FUSE (Families United for Support and Encouragement) grant application to fund an after-school social skills program in county elementary schools, stepped onstage and accepted their giant check with grins equally big, thinking of the children they will help navigate life more smoothly.

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The Big Impact grant, a one-time award from the community foundation to mark a quarter-century of philanthropy in the county, took nearly a year to finalize, said grant committee chair Flory May.

More than 30 nonprofit organizations applied for the grant, and foundation officials painstakingly narrowed the field to six organizations before Saturday’s gala at Adaggio’s Banquet Hall and Conference Centre.

The foundation filled the evening with surprises — mini-grants and awards. As far as the people representing the six finalists for the Big Impact grant knew, those who missed out on the big prize would receive a $2,500 grant for making it to the final round of the application process.

But foundation officials had one last surprise in store at the end of the night.

Announcer Steve Vieweg reached into the same gift box where he’d drawn the card naming FUSE as the top award recipient and revealed two more finalists — the Boy Scouts of America Crossroads of America Council and Hancock County Senior Services — would receive $25,000 grants from the community foundation as well.

It was challenging to keep the additional awards a secret, said community foundation president Mary Gibble.

Leslie Anderson, development director for the Boy Scouts council, was thrilled by the surprise, holding back emotion as she walked to the stage to accept the check for her organization.

The council plans to use its $25,000 grant to establish five new Career Exploring Posts in Hancock County, Anderson said. The posts pair 14- to 20-year-old men and women with real-world, hands-on career exploration for monthly events through the school year, Anderson said.

“I’m humbled by the trust … given by the community foundation to the Boy Scouts to develop this program,” she said.

The council polled about 2,000 county students and learned students are interested in learning more about careers in the medical field, she said. Nursing was the top career of interest, while several others cracked the top 10. Anderson hopes to work with Hancock Regional Hospital to establish career exploring posts as the council moves forward to use the funding to serve area students, she said.

They weren’t the only ones brainstorming ideas.

Leaders with FUSE said they are ready to get started on their new project.

FUSE has conducted a summer social skills program for community teens for several years, but its organizers want to work with younger kids for a sustained period of time, said Arland, executive director.

The grant should help the organization establish the program and sustain it for the first 18 months, after which it will be self-sustaining, said Kucan, who is a skills development specialist.

Providing that service to the community will make life easier for local families, a theme echoed among organizations that sought funding from the foundation.

With its funding, Hancock County Senior Services plans a pilot program to provide Saturday transportation service for its Hancock Area Rural Transit system, which provides county residents with low-cost or free rides to county destinations. Senior Services will hire a firm to conduct a community-wide transportation survey to better understand the county’s public transportation needs, said board of directors vice chair Susan Broome.

Broome and senior services director Teasa Thompson said they were shocked but pleased to learn they would also receive the maximum grant amount.

“This will be transformative for our small organization,” Broome said. “We are so terribly excited.”

At a glance

At Saturday’s gala honoring 25 years of philanthropy, the Hancock County Community Foundation honored three organizations with $25,000 grants to support their missions.

The top honors of the night went to:

  • Families United for Support and Encouragement
  • Boy Scouts of America Crossroads of America Council
  • Hancock County Senior Services

The foundation also awarded 25 mini-grants to organizations throughout the county and announced the recipient of the Martha Beckenholdt Youth Philanthropy Award, which provides a grant to the charity of the student recipient’s choice.

Greenfield-Central High School student Ethan Elsbury won the award for his efforts to establish a community garden on the school campus. He chose to provide the grant to Greenfield-Central’s FFA club.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.