The mission at the heart of the Central Kansas Community Foundation — located in Newton, with affiliates throughout the region — is focused on "building stronger communities through charitable giving."

Based on both her personal and professional history, it makes sense that Brenda Sooter would join the CKCF staff — where she has served as Program Officer for Grants for three years now.

Sooter, a former teacher and Director of the Kansas Learning Center for Health for eight years, has always been invested in her community. Specifically, in her previous roles, she was working to help the youth of the Halstead community. While she wanted to carry that over into her work with the CKCF — with some exposure to its mission in grant writing for KLCH — she noted her efforts have certainly grown in scope with her current position.

"I wanted to share, I wanted to kind of be a part of that and it really has been eye-opening for me because I was really focused on my entity when I was at the learning center and now I have 425 organizations on my list that I learn about, all of their missions and what they do," Sooter said.

As Program Officer for Grants, Sooter oversees the grants that go out to all affiliate non-profits located in Harvey, Butler and Marion counties. It is a "huge process," Sooter admits, to organize the grant cycles (setting up grant committees, scoring grant applications, filing follow-up documentation, etc.), but at the same time it is an extremely rewarding one making sure nonprofits in the region receive the resources they need.

Following Sooter's addition to the CKCF staff, she took over the "#GiveNowNewton" campaign — part of the national Giving Tuesday initiative (to promote charity in the wake of the holiday consumerism that immediately follows Thanksgiving).

Recently, Sooter was highlighted for her work organizing the Newton campaign and she believes part of the reason behind that was to illustrate that giving, no matter the size, can have an impact (as Newton is one of the smaller communities involved in the national initiative).

"I realize being a nonprofit any little gift is so important," Sooter said. "When you're in that nonprofit sector, you will take whatever."

That includes volunteer hours, with Sooter giving her own time in that realm as well. Given her previous work history in the classroom and the learning center, a lot of that effort has been directed towards youth organizations in the past.

"You always see the need there that people on the outside don't see, so that's probably kind of an area of compassion for me, too — education and children," Sooter said. "There's something about those children; it hits my heart."

Current causes she is involved in include sponsoring a Filipino child through Compassion International (helping provide food, clothing, etc.) and teaching, doing mission outreach, etc., at her church.

Kids will always draw funding, but Sooter said some of the most fruitful and rewarding work she has done at CKCF has been securing much-needed support for organizations serving adults — like Newton Meals on Wheels and Victory in the Vally (a cancer support nonprofit).

Given the challenges that so many of the clients of these nonprofits face, the biggest goal for Sooter in her work is exposure — with Giving Tuesday being a perfect example. While she knows resources in a smaller community like Newton are limited, what CKCF can do with Giving Tuesday and other initiatives is draw attention to the local charities and how residents in Harvey County can get involved —something she noted can be extremely rewarding.

"We want to connect people to the charities in our community. That's our mission here — to connect people to the charities," Sooter said. "I just hope people look at all the different charities or ways to volunteer — you don't have to give money; you can give your time — that they can look at that and say, 'wow, I could give to something.' When you give you're going to be happier, no matter what."

For more information on ways to get involved with local charities or their needs, you can call Sooter at 316-283-5474 or visit centralkansascf.org.