Grace Center receives surprise $20,000 donation from Valero

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
News alert

Late last week the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma received a surprise $20,000 donation from Valero. The Valero Ardmore refinery had received the extra funds from their corporate office in recognition of the success of their local campaign to raise money for the United Way of South Central Oklahoma. The Ardmore Refinery could give the extra funds to the United Way partner agency of their choice, and they chose the Grace Center.

Sara Jones, community relations advisor for the Valero Ardmore Refinery, explained why Ardmore was selected to receive the extra funds.

“Every year Valero basically holds internal competitions between individual refining sites for how much they can raise for their local United Way, and that includes things like employee giving, fundraising activities and the company match to the overall total,” she said. “The company as a whole raised over $16.2 million for United Way, and with the Ardmore refinery our contribution was $642,561 with 93% employee participation which is phenomenal.”

Jones noted that the Ardmore Refinery is actually the smallest in the company, yet they still managed to raise more money per capita for United Way than other refineries two and three times larger. Therefore Ardmore was selected to receive $20,000 to give to the agency of their choice.

Jones said Ardmore selected the Grace Center because they offer unique services to the area that are not duplicated by other nonprofit agencies — especially their services for the homeless population and their utility assistance programs to those who are struggling.

“There is a big community conversation going on right now about the homeless population and some of the gaps that are there,” Jones said. “So I reached out to Laura (Akers, executive director of the Grace Center) and had a conversation with her. I know that she and the board and the staff at the Grace Center are looking into some much needed projects that will make some needed changes and fill in some of those gaps.

"We wanted to find out if there was a plan in motion to see if there was something in the works that we could perhaps support. When she told me about what they were looking at doing along with the conversations they are having with other organizations, we thought the Grace Center would be ideal candidates to receive the funding.”

Akers said she is still will be working with Valero in the coming weeks and months to determine where and how the money can be put to the best use. 

“One of the great things about this gift from Valero is that it’s unrestricted, however when we receive gifts like this we always try to find ways in which we can invest that money into the community in a way that meets the goals and vision of the donor as well as those of the Grace Center,” Akers said. 

Akers pointed out one unique aspect of The Grace Center is the way it is able to adapt quickly to sudden changes such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When our governor declared a state of emergency back in March, that was the day our organization changed,” Akers said. “That was the day that we knew that neighbors would lose their jobs. Our neighbors would get sick, and our neighbors would have their children going to school one day and not the next. and suddenly have to make arrangements. And we as an organization have always been there in the wake of crisis.'

She said their utility and rental assistance program has been particularly beneficial to those who have found themselves out of work or their wages greatly reduced because of the pandemic. For example in July 2019, the Grace Center assisted 47 households with utility and rent assistance totaling $3,029. In July 2020 that number skyrocket to 102 households with a total of $16,294. Many other months have seen similar increases. 

Akers said The Grace Center could also potentially put the money towards their work with the homeless.

“Ardmore has been seeing an uptick in the number of people experiencing homelessness,” Akers said. “The Grace Center has been on the frontline of working with and caring for the homeless in our community, and we have worked diligently during this time to keep our facility open. So that means buying lots of things like hand sanitizer as well as spending a significantly more on cleaning supplies than we had anticipated in our 2020 budget. We are the only day center for the homeless where they can come in, warm up, take a shower, get clean clothes and have breakfast.”