The Association of Fundraising Professionals Alabama Chapter has honored its National Philanthropy Day winners. The luncheon at Birmingham’s Harbert Center included awards to nine individuals and organizations whose achievements have made a significant impact across Alabama. In addition, AFP Alabama recognized eight “Volunteers in Philanthropy.”
Here are the award-winners:
Dr. and Mrs. Marnix Heersink, William M. and Virginia B. Spencer Outstanding Philanthropists
She’s an international food safety advocate. He’s a successful ophthalmologist. Together, Mary and Marnix Heersink are among Alabama’s most prolific philanthropists. “As Saint Francis Assisi said many years ago, ‘For it is in giving that we receive,’” Marnix Heersink says. And give they have, including a $95 million gift to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the university’s largest gift ever, to name the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and create two institutes – the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation and the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health. Marnix Heersink is the co-founder of Dothan’s Eye Center South and has supported numerous organizations with financial and leadership support. Those organizations include Wallace Community College, Troy University, Marion Military Institute and Boys and Girls Club of Alabama. Mary Heersink, trained as a visual artist and a published medical illustrator, co-founded STOP Foodborne Illness, an organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens. They split their time between Alabama and the Netherlands, where they also are involved in philanthropic efforts. The Heersinks have six children – five physicians and one dentist – and 10 grandchildren. Marnix Heersink says he and his family have been privileged to be able to give back to the many organizations that they support. “My hope and dream is that our family’s use of our resources is seen as an inspiration to others,” he says. (Nominated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham).
Lori Livingston, United Way of Central Alabama Outstanding Civic Leader
Lori Livingston created the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation after her mother died at age 65 from ovarian cancer in 1992. “She was my best friend, and when she was diagnosed she was stage 4c with hardly any options for treatment,” Livingston says. “Losing her was the hardest challenge our family ever faced, and I wanted to change the face of ovarian cancer treatment and possible cures.” With guidance from Dr. Mack Barnes, Livingston created the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation, which has donated more than $1.8 million to research for cures and early detection of ovarian cancer. The foundation has created patient, family and survivor support programs, created an ovarian cancer car tag and hosted many events to raise awareness, including the Motherwalk 5K and Fun Run and an annual butterfly release at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. The foundation will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024 with goals to increase its reach throughout Alabama. Livingston hopes she has led by example. “My husband and I have taught our children the value of philanthropy and certainly hope they will carry on and make their own choices of what’s important to them in their respective communities,” she says, adding that she has lofty goals for her own foundation. “In my heart of hearts, I want the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation to live on forever and find a tool for early detection and a cure for ovarian cancer.” (Nominated by the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation).
Jennifer Philpot, William S. Roth Outstanding Fundraising Executive
Jennifer Philpot, senior director of development at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, is a trusted health care fundraising executive with more than 24 years of experience in fundraising operations and steering strategic development for health care organizations. Her expertise in major gift and grateful patient fundraising, strategic operations management and building comprehensive fundraising programs has been the hallmark of her career, through work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Vanderbilt University, Baptist Health Foundation, St. Vincent’s Foundation and others. At UAB, Philpot and her team are charged with supporting the philanthropic initiatives of eight departments within the UAB HSOM and Callahan Eye Hospital. Philpot has been a member of the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, the Alabama Planned Giving Council and the Association of American Medical Colleges. She is the immediate past president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Alabama. She has served on the board of Leadership Vestavia Hills as community events chair and was a founding board member of the Community of Hope Health Clinic. Philpot is also a past board president of Camp Bridges Foundation and has volunteered her time with the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation and Easter Seals of Birmingham. Her advice to would-be philanthropists? “You can make a difference right where you are,” Philpot says. “Do not wait until you have more money or more time. If you see a need that you can fill, do it. Every minute and every dollar spent in the service of others is significant – the amount does not matter as much as the dedication and commitment.”
Kathryn W. Miree, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham Outstanding Professional Advisor
Kathryn Miree worked as a law clerk in the United States District Court before going to work for AmSouth Bank (now Regions), eventually serving as senior vice president and manager of the Personal Trust Division, working with nonprofits and their boards. “It was fascinating to learn so much about the charities in the Birmingham area,” Miree says. After establishing and serving as president and CEO of Sterne, Agee & Leach’s Trust Co., Miree in 1997 established the consulting firm Kathryn W. Miree & Associates, where she focuses on charitable gift planning, administration and planned gifts and endowments compliance. Her clients include nonprofits across North America. A leader in several planned giving organizations, she is a member of both the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners Hall of Fame and the National Association of Estate Planners and Council Estate Planning Hall of Fame. She’s also a published author and frequent lecturer and has been chair of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, United Way of Central Alabama and the Altamont School. “My advice to donors and volunteers who want to make a difference is to select a charity you are passionate about and then get fully involved,” Miree says. “The more you engage, the more your contributions (time and/or financial) will not only add capacity and impact but will inspire others.” (Nominated by United Way of Central Alabama and the Alabama Association of Charitable Gift Planners).
Christopher Biggins, AFP Alabama Chapter IDEA Award
Chris Biggins grew up in Maryland, and after graduating from Methodist University, he moved to Birmingham, where the golfer is director of player development at the Country Club of Birmingham. Soon after his arrival in Birmingham, he found United Ability, a nonprofit that provides services for adults and children with disabilities. “My connection to United Ability is one of the main reasons that I made plans to stay in Birmingham long-term,” he says. “This is personal for me. I have cerebral palsy and had some major struggles due to my disability in the early 2010s. United Ability helped get me through those times, and I certainly felt the need to give back to them somehow.” Biggins serves on United Ability’s board of directors and has helped raise more than $1 million for the organization with various fundraisers he has co-chaired or co-hosted over the years. He’s also the top adaptive golf player in the U.S. and No. 3 in the world. “Sports have always been my passion, and one of my main goals has been to introduce sports to as many disabled individuals as possible,” he says. He does that with United Ability, as well as Hand in Hand, the European Disabled Golf Association and the United States Golfers Association, among others. “The work that I have a passion for and that UA does has a unique goal,” he says. “We don’t want to help disabled individuals become ‘impressive for a person with a disability.’ We want the help them become ‘impressive’ period.” (Nominated by United Ability).
Ethan Hill, Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy
A 13-year-old in the 8th grade at The Altamont School, Ethan David Hill is already a seasoned philanthropist, having founded the nonprofit Ethan’s Heart Bags4Blessings when he was 6. Hill’s mission is to provide essential survival supplies to the unhoused homeless population, and since 2016, he has distributed more than 5,000 care packages and other supplies to those in need. In 2022, Hill introduced The Ethan’s Heart Free Mobile Store and Educational Unit, a mobile unit that goes into homeless encampments, allowing people to shop for needed supplies without financial burden. “That Hill is able to make a substantial, immediate improvement in the lives of others is exemplary,” his nomination letter says. “That he is able to multiply his own passion by inspiring and organizing others makes him an exceptional philanthropist.” Hill has garnered media attention for his philanthropic efforts from local and international news outlets, as well as Nickelodeon, “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and “The Wonderful World of Disney Magical Holiday Celebration.” He’s been named to the 2023 Hormel 10 Under 20 Food Hero list, 2023 Humanitarian of the Year from the Women’s Committee of 100 and 2023 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes Award, among other accolades. In school, Hill is in the orchestra and jazz bands as a trumpeter, and he is a member of the varsity golf team. He has a simple motto: “Every day is a day to help someone in need.” (Nominated by The Altamont School).
Express Oil Change and Tire Engineers, Outstanding Corporate Citizen
The name Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers leaves little doubt as to the main focus of that company, but for the past 15 years, there has been another aspect of the company and its employees. Since 2008, Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers has been the sole supporter of Children’s of Alabama’s Art and Expressive Therapy program as part of the company’s Changing Oil, Changing Lives campaign. “We are passionate about supporting our communities,” says Nicole Self, senior marketing manager for Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers. “It is a privilege to support an incredible hospital like Children’s of Alabama and to provide art therapy. The therapy offers the patients and their families a creative outlet to express their feelings.” Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers’ support comes in the form of $1 donated for every oil change in Alabama during the month of April. (The company has a similar partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta). Money raised in Alabama goes toward supporting two areas of Children’s – the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders and the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center – with the art therapy program. The program provides a much-needed creative outlet for patients, the nomination letter says. “This not only fosters a sense of normalcy but also provides strength and comfort to patients, granting them a much-needed respite from the intense emotions associated with their hospital stay.” (Nominated by Children’s of Alabama).
Heart Gallery Alabama, Outstanding Charitable Organization
For nearly 20 years, Heart Gallery Alabama has taken professional photos and video to help foster children get adopted in Alabama. “Before Heart Gallery was formed, all the social workers had to use to advocate for our youth was a Polaroid photo and every diagnosis that a child had ever been given,” the organization says. “They were often not even put on a website. For potential families, the portraits and the videos that are produced by Heart Gallery Alabama can be used to spark a lifelong connection.” Inspired by Heart Gallery New Mexico, Michelle Bearman-Wolnek, Karen Nomberg and Julie Marks founded Heart Gallery Alabama in 2005, with the first gallery of photos exhibited in November 2005 at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Heart Gallery Alabama isn’t a placement agency, but it recruits potential parents by exhibiting photos and videos at ballparks, churches, businesses and other high-traffic areas. Heart Gallery Alabama has featured more than 2,100 children in photoshoots, including 141 in 2022 (of those, 107 were adopted). “It is very fulfilling to attend the adoption proceedings for a child that you have recruited for,” says Bearman-Wolnek, executive director of Heart Gallery Alabama. “The photos that we take for Heart Gallery are beautiful portraits, but to see the difference in the children’s smiles on their actual adoption day is a feeling that you will never forget.”
In addition, “Volunteers in Philanthropy” were honored at the luncheon: Cathy and Tom Adams, honored by Ascension St. Vincent’s Foundation; Ingram Equipment Company, honored by Childcare Resources; Sara Sciara, honored by Greater Birmingham Humane Society; John Braggment, honored by Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School; Walter M. Beale, honored by Lakeshore Foundation; Wendy Feild, honored by Samford University; Rt. Reverend Dr. William Wilson, honored by the Lovelady Center; and Abe Mitchell, honored by the University of South Alabama.
Sponsors of the event were Business Alabama, BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, United Way of Central Alabama, Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation, Samford University, UAB Heersink School of Medicine, Ingram Equipment Company, The Rising Tide, Bloomerang, Steak & Eggs Media Group and Swell Fundraising.