Local nonprofit wins $10,000 IKEA bonanza

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$10,000 can take you pretty far at an IKEA store.


One local nonprofit hopes to renovate not one, but two kitchens at local outreach centers in the area. Washington Hospital Teen Outreach Center recently won a $10,000 prize, awarded in IKEA products and services, after coming in first in the national IKEA Life Improvement Co-worker Challenge.


“I thought there was no way we could pull this off,” said Mary Jo Podgurski, director of the Teen Outreach Center. “But, they told us it was a landslide.”


IKEA workers in retail stores throughout the United States nominated local organizations that could use the funds, and each branch named one winner. In order to obtain the donated services of IKEA, the Teen Outreach Center was placed in a three-way online voting race with two other nonprofit organizations from Southwestern Pennsylvania: the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Pittsburgh Food Bank.


“I really am excited that we got such a great response,” said Jennifer Stockdale, marketing and public relations manager for IKEA Pittsburgh, the branch in Robinson Township that will hand out the winnings.


Stockdale, a Washington native who graduated from Trinity High School, was actually the employee who nominated the outreach center. She said it was great to see a local group receive such a large prize.


“We’re very used to working with organizations in Pittsburgh, and we have a tendency to work with larger ones,” Stockdale said. “But we’re so excited that we got such a great response from a smaller group in Washington.”


The road to the championship wasn’t an easy one for the teen center. A technical glitch meant all of the hard work the group did during the original voting period in March was wiped out. Volunteers had to generate enthusiasm for the contest and drive people to a website to vote online not once, but twice.


“When the glitch happened, we asked them, ‘What do we do?’” Podgurski said. “They said we had to start over.”


Podgurski said she appreciated the community support. Ken Elliot, Podgurski’s colleague at the Washington Hospital Foundation, helped to get the word out about the revote, and the teen center used social media to help keep up the momentum. Several thousand votes later, the center was informed it had taken the prize.


The foundation will use the money to improve kitchen facilities at both the Teen Outreach Center on North College Street and at the Academy for Adolescent Health building on North Main Street. Both kitchen facilities will be used to teach young people how to prepare meals for themselves.


Podgurski said the space at the Academy for Adolescent Health is especially important because it is used to teach teen parents how to take care of themselves, something that is critical to many young people who often consider a fast-food menu their only option for dinner.


“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the reaction of someone who’s never seen a real, whole chicken,” Podgurski said. “You know, one not in nugget form.”


IKEA designers will meet with Podgurski and the rest of the staff next week to determine the best way to use the money in order to remake both kitchens and, it is hoped, some of the common areas. Among the items on the academy’s wish list are a new dishwasher, garbage disposal, cabinets, counters and stove.


“We’ve been really blessed,” Podgurski said. “This will go a long way in helping us do the work we’re here to do.”


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