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Elevate Conference brings together Alabama nonprofits, Alabama Power Foundation, to drive positive change

Leaders from more than 200 Alabama nonprofits gathered last week in Montgomery for the 2023 Elevate Conference, hosted by the Alabama Power Foundation. The annual event, held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, brings together nonprofit changemakers from across the state to recharge, network and share ideas to help elevate Alabama.

This year’s conference theme was “All Forward” – reflecting the many successful partnerships among nonprofits and the foundation that are helping move the state forward. The event provided an opportunity to showcase the good work of nonprofits that are helping lift families and communities in every corner of the state.

“One thing we’ve learned from so many years of serving Alabama is that we cannot stand still,” Staci Brown Brooks, Alabama Power vice president of Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation, told the gathering.

“We’ve been so very fortunate to work with incredible organizations that meet Alabama’s future head-on,” Brooks said.

Brooks shared information about foundation initiatives supporting educational advancement, including Alabama’s two-year colleges and historically Black colleges and universities. The foundation also supports nonprofits involved in civic and community development, arts and cultural enrichment, health and human services, and environmental stewardship.

Brooks updated nonprofit leaders about the foundation’s increased focus on career training and workforce development, and on impact investing, in which the foundation provides low-interest loans to nonprofits. The funds returned to the foundation can then be reinvested in other projects and initiatives to help improve quality of life in the state. The foundation was one of the first in the nation to launch a program-related investment initiative.

Staci Brown Brooks, Alabama Power vice president of Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation, briefs nonprofit leaders on the foundation’s priorities. (Nik Layman)

Brooks applauded the continuing partnership between many nonprofits at the conference and the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), comprised of more than 6,300 Alabama Power and Southern Company employees in Alabama, and their families, who volunteer their time to support communities across the state. She also noted the ongoing work of the Energizers, made up of Alabama Power retirees who contribute tens of thousands of hours of volunteer service each year. Combined, members of APSO and the Energizers have provided more than 1 million volunteer hours to schools, nonprofits and community groups since the two organizations were created.

Another area where partnerships are key, Brooks said, is in the work of the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund or ABC Trust. It was established by Alabama Power shareholders in 1992 to help economically distressed Alabamians through energy bill assistance, home weatherization and other programs.

The ABC Trust works closely with the state’s Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits, supporting their efforts to assist Alabama families in need. Recently, the trust broadened its emergency support programs; it now provides help with rent and food insecurity through its community action and nonprofit partners.

One of the highlights of Elevate this year was expanding the amount of time for nonprofit leaders to informally interact and network. Typically, there are few opportunities for leaders of the many varied nonprofits from across the state, even if they have complementary missions, to come together, get to know each other, discover synergies and informally brainstorm ideas.

That’s precisely what happened when Blake Huynh met Lane Hagan at Elevate. Hunyh is executive director of Pelham-based Equip, which provides vocational, social and life-skills training for individuals living with disabilities. Hagan is executive director of Libby’s Friends, also based in the Birmingham area, which works to ease the burdens of families living with disabilities. Before Elevate, Huynh and Hagan didn’t know each other, and weren’t familiar with their respective organizations. Now, they are looking at the potential to collaborate.

At one table during breakfast, leaders of a divergent group of nonprofit and educational institutions – the Jules Collins Smith Museum at Auburn University, Northwest-Shoals Community College and Catholic Social Services in Mobile – ended up sitting together. They were soon sharing information about their respective programs, and ideas. Similar conversations took place throughout the conference.

Also on the conference agenda was a panel discussion featuring three nonprofit leaders: Carlos Aleman with the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama; Mary Allison Cook with the Birmingham-based disability advocacy and health organization, the Lakeshore Foundation; and Kevin King with the Montgomery arts and place-making organization, The King’s Canvas. The leaders shared valuable information about grant writing, community engagement, communications and inclusivity. The panel was moderated by Danielle Dunbar, executive director of the Alabama Association of Nonprofits.

Attendees also heard inspirational words from Terence Lester, leader of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Love Beyond Walls, which works to provide support for, and build awareness around, the needs of the homeless. And, they received guidance about work-life balance and how to avoid burnout from Kim Hines, a registered nurse/Ph.D. and nationally recognized leadership coach, counselor and consultant.

“This was my first time at Elevate, and I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Samantha Arceneaux with Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham. “I was so glad to meet nonprofit leaders from all over.

“Nonprofit leaders in our state are doing incredible work, whether they are a staff of one with a tiny budget, or part of a team that serves the whole state. I was able to meet new people and talk about potential collaborations for the future. The conference was also a great opportunity to talk to Alabama Power Foundation staff and learn what the areas of concern are in different regions of our state,” Arceneaux said.

Tiffany Adams, development manager for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship of Alabama, also was a first-time attendee.

“It was a pleasant surprise that much of the focus of the conference was about pouring into me as a nonprofit leader, with keynotes that were inspiring and refreshingly honest in acknowledging the unique challenges that nonprofit leaders face,” Adams said.

Lindsey Jinright, development manager with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, said the foundation has been a strong supporter of ASF and so many other nonprofits. “The Elevate Conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet these other not-for-profits and learn about the amazing work that they do.”

Rachel McMullen, development director with Prism United in Mobile, which provides support for LGBTQ youth and their families, said: “We’d like to express our genuine appreciation to our partners at the Alabama Power Foundation for orchestrating such an exceptional event.

“It was a world-class experience with abundant networking opportunities and profoundly inspiring presentations,” McMullen said. “Just what we need to keep our fire burning for the rest of the year!”

To learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation, APSO and the Energizers, and the ABC Trust, please visit