Local charities benefit greatly from JDC’s ‘Birdies’

This Birdies for Charity story is the last assignment longtime sports writer and QCBJ contributor Steve Tappa submitted before his untimely death at age 58 on Tuesday, June 18. Jennifer DeWitt, Editor, Quad Cities Regional Business Journal

During last fall’s celebration revealing a record-setting $14.1 million raised for local charities by Birdies for Charity, Jenny Halupnik, right, received a check for Davenport’s One Eighty from Micaela Booth, director of the Birdies for Charity program. Ms. Halupnik is the board president and director of engagement for One Eighty, which provides support and services for people fighting alcohol or drug addiction. CREDIT ONE EIGHTY

Quad Citian Lonnie Jones overcame the desperation of homelessness to become universally celebrated last fall in the PGA Tour’s “100 Faces Across Fairways” publication.

That success story came thanks to the help he received from Davenport’s Humility Homes and Services, Inc. 

However, any of nearly 500 local nonprofits could paint a heartwarming picture of the many benefactors of the John Deere Classic (JDC) and its charitable arm, Birdies for Charity.

Just last fall, the Birdies for Charity celebrated its 30th anniversary with a local record of $14.1 million raised for charity during the annual local PGA Tour stop in 2023. 

JDC Tournament Director Andrew Lehman proudly points out that the Quad Cities area of fewer than 500,000 residents reigned again as the PGA Tour’s top fundraiser per capita. By comparison, the Waste Management Phoenix Open – with its earned reputation as the greatest regular party stop in pro golf — contributed $17 million back to charity in an area of more than 5 million people.

“Every charity has a great story to tell,” said Jerry Jones, executive director of Rock Island’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center, which offers programs for at-risk children among other community services. 

“Birdies for Charity gives all of our nonprofits great exposure and a fantastic platform for getting our mission out by being part of something bigger and so vital to our area,” he said. “Birdies for Charity gives us all a chance to grow our network and make more friends that want to volunteer or support us financially.”

With all Birdies for Charity administrative costs funded by Deere & Co., 100% of donations are dedicated to a donor’s specific Birdies for Charity charity participant. 

As a fun aside, pledges made by Wednesday, June 26, can compete for prizes – including a lease on a new Lexus – by guessing the number of birdies made during 2024 tournament week, July 1-7.

Charities also receive a 5% matching bonus with all profits generated by the JDC added to their donation total.

Online pledges are available at birdiesforcharity.com/donate. Any paper pledge forms must be postmarked Friday, July 5.

“The Bonus Fund creates an opportunity for all of us to fill in the gaps of our programs,” said Mr. Jones, noting that Birdies accounts for 20% of his facility’s operating budget. 

“For instance, in our after-school program, we all have kids who may need a fresh change of clothes and we don’t necessarily have grant dollars for that because you write grants for specific reasons so many times. Having these unrestricted dollars allows us to have real impact or real meaning and to make real judgments,” he said.

Same for the Rock Island-Milan Education Foundation, which Executive Director Monta Ponsetto said added new technologies for students and classroom supplies for new teachers thanks to Birdies for Charity.

For Honor Flight Quad Cities, the Birdies for Charity funds have allowed the organization to cover the extra, unforeseen costs of transporting 80 veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials built in honor of their military service.

Steve Garrington, Honor Flight’s local hub director, even recalls a medical emergency during one trip for one of those precious passengers, which required an ambulance ride and hospitalization. That also required housing and feeding a staff member to stay behind as a guardian until the veteran was allowed to fly home.

“There’s always something extra that happens. So, you need the money for that, too,” Mr. Garrington said. Other needs include replacing or repairing wheelchairs and updating outdated medical equipment ahead of the 60th Honor Flight Quad Cities on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

At Davenport’s One Eighty, the Birdies for Charity goal this year is to raise $35,000 – roughly enough to fund three new participants through its alcohol or drug addiction program. The organization neither accepts federal or state funding nor insurance payments for their services.

“And yet, we’re working with high needs,” said Jenny Halupnik, One Eighty’s director of engagement and board president. 

“But then you figure in that half the people we serve have kids under the age of 18. So then, you start thinking about the ripple effect  When mom or dad gets sober and starts paying their bills on time and becomes present for me when I’m home after school and helping me with my homework and doing things with me, then my trajectory as a child changes as well – and that really opens up a multi-generational impact,” she said.

The impact certainly was felt last year at Humility Homes, where Birdies for Charity accounted for more than $386,000 contributed to the mission of ending homelessness in the area, according to Joshua Graves, the organization’s marketing development director. 

However, awareness raising of local causes is just as important as the money, Mr. Graves and others point out.

“Birdies for Charity makes it easy for nonprofits to participate in their program by providing us resources and tools for a successful fundraising campaign,” said Rebecca Cantu, the chief development officer of another longtime Birdies’ benefactor, Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities. 

“The only thing we need to do is collect pledges, and they handle the rest,” added Ryan Wille, the Quad City Botanical Center’s executive director.

Most charitable organizations will have a year-end fundraising campaign, Ms. Halupnik said. Many also offer an annual dinner, golf outing or other fun event as ways to engage donors. Some write grants for funding a specific addition or project.

However, the Birdies for Charity delivers like no other donor, she added, because of the program’s long reach into the “Average Joe” donors, who may only have $20 to give and otherwise fly under the fundraising radar.

“Birdies for Charity says, ‘Hey, this is for everybody. You can support your local community; you can be a part of not only the fun golf but also the fun building up of the community,’” Ms. Halupnik added. “That broad appeal is so important. The average household is more likely to jump in because of the (guessing) contest than they are seeking out a charity that interests them and then make a donation.”  

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