Spotlight on…Birdies For Charity

Matt Moeckl has been with Wildwood Hills Ranch of Iowa since its inception in 2001.

Located in St. Charles, the ranch welcomes boys and girls ages 8-18. Most arrive from places of abuse and neglect.

Wildwood offers structure and a chance to be successful through a 10-year leadership program.

“We’re helping kids develop spiritually as leaders and with life skills,” said Moeckl, Wildwood’s executive director. “The goal at the end of the 10-year commitment we make with our students is to have a clean hand-off to a two-year school, a four-year school, or directly to a career.”

Moeckl said his organization’s affiliation with the Principal Charity Classic and its Birdies For Charity program has been an incredible gift.

“The funds we raise help us provide scholarships for more kids to come through our life-changing programs,” Moeckl said.

How it works.

Since Principal became title sponsor of the Principal Charity Classic in 2007, the tournament has raised more than $13 million for Iowa children’s charities – including a record $3,581,427 last year.

More than one-third of this total was generated through the tournament’s Birdies For Charity program, which gives Iowa non-profits with programming for children, as well as K-12 schools, a unique and risk-free opportunity to raise additional funds year-round.

Participating organizations and schools ask for donations from their supporters based on the number of birdies made by PGA TOUR Champions players during the Principal Charity Classic – for example, 10 cents per birdie.

Or supporters can make a one-time flat donation of any amount, at any time, throughout the year.

Participating organizations then receive 100% of every donation they collect, PLUS a 10% match thanks to the generous support of Sammons Financial Group and Wells Fargo.

More than 100 non-profits and schools across Iowa currently participate in the program – and that number continues to grow each year.

Funding a second chance.

Anawim Housing has been giving citizens a second chance since 1987. A local leader in affordable housing, its mission is to build homes, hope and community.

“People don’t realize how large we really are,” said Tiffany King, Anawim’s director of advancement. “We own and manage more than 1,100 households in the Des Moines area, so more than 2,000 people call Anawim home.”

And Anawim’s mission is twofold.

“We started, over 30 years ago, providing safe and affordable housing for people who just needed it,” King said. “It’s not subsidized; it’s just a safe and affordable place to live. And then about 20 years ago, we started permanent supportive housing programs.”

Anawim does get funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but raises additional money because it is required to have a match – which Birdies For Charity helps fulfill.

Kate Rolfes, Anawim’s marketing and communication manager, said 64 percent of Anawim households are single mother-led, and more than 86 percent of Anawim units have at least once child living in them.

With the exception of the HUD-VASH program, which helps homeless veterans and their families sustain permanent housing, 88 percent of permanent supportive housing in Polk County is provided by Anawim Housing.

“These are individuals who are chronically homeless or families who are homeless living in their cars,” King said. “They come out and live at a unit that we lease and sublet to them. And it’s a chance for them to start fresh.

“We connect them to services. And now we have staff that are also case managers and working with these individuals to get back on their feet, reaching goals of self-sufficiency.”

Supporting dreams.

The Dream Team is a five-month program that uses cycling as a vehicle for teenagers to build relationships, achieve personal goals and learn from adult mentors.

“Our primary mission is to help youth in the Des Moines area learn how to achieve goals to better themselves,” said Scott Garner, assistant director of RAGBRAI and a member of the Dream Team’s leadership board.

The program, aimed at boys and girls 13-18 years old, is goal-driven. It starts in February with indoor training at the Wellmark YMCA and ends at the Mississippi River with the completion of RAGBRAI.

In between, participants log 1,000 miles of training. They also receive a bike, jerseys, a water bottle, bike shorts and t-shirts that they get to keep at the completion of the program.

The Dream Team is a grassroots organization, traditionally funded by the cycling community. But being part of Birdies for Charity has expanded the program’s reach.

“Birdies For Charity has opened up and introduced the program to a whole new group of people who aren’t necessarily cyclists but who just want to help youth in the Des Moines area,” Garner said.  “They may not be cyclists or know anything about RAGBRAI, but they enjoy seeing kids have success.”

Creating a ripple effect.

Back at Wildwood Hills Ranch, Moeckl can cite countless examples of success stories.

“There’s one young man who we’ve helped since he was 8 years old,” Moeckl said. “He used to be our best fighter. His mom had 16 brothers and sisters, and they had eight or nine kids apiece, and every male in his family had dropped out of high school by age 17. Many were in prison – until him.

“Now he’s set a new standard as the first kid in his family history to graduate from high school.”

The young man’s two sisters and a brother, as well as cousins, have since graduated from high school.

“If we can impact even one kid, a lot of times there’s a ripple effect,” Moeckl said.

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter