The challenge for Shannah Tharp-Gilliam, in giving her three-minute address to the audience at the recent Fast Pitch networking event for nonprofits, was to drive home the message that there is hope for support of the more than 1,000 youth and their families served at the Homewood Children’s Village.

“People want to help. They just need to know how they can help,” says Tharp-Gilliam, the interim president and CEO of Homewood Children’s Village (HCV).

She spoke swiftly and eloquently about Homewood’s issues of hunger and low literacy and, in a very competitive contest, captured the $15,000 Top Audience Vote Award.

Held March 3 at the Circuit Center on the South Side, Fast Pitch showcased eight innovative nonprofits whose leaders conveyed their inspiring work and missions to vie for prize money totaling $25,000. The popular event is held annually by Social Venture Partners.

“All of the pitches were great, very compelling,” says Elizabeth Visnic, executive director of Social Venture Partners. “Everybody in Pittsburgh understands the need for positive social change for the children of  Homewood so the interventions used by her program to enhance nutrition levels and increase reading abilities definitely resonated in her pitch.  Shannah presented the audience with a clear way for $15,000 to have a huge impact in real and quantifiable ways.”

Around 300 attendees listened intently while representatives for each nonprofit presented their causes – without PowerPoint or other visual aids – to commentators Matt Zieger of The Forbes Funds, Evie Gardner of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management and NEXTpittsburgh’s own founder and publisher, Tracy Certo.

Other top awards went to Debra Bogen of Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank who took home the $7,500 Audience Award, and Nina Barbuto of Assemble who received the $2,500 Coaches Award.

The recipient of the biggest award was grateful, to say the least. “This $15,000 is extremely important,” says Tharp-Gilliam. “The goal (of HCV) is to tear down the barriers to success for children and youth who live in Homewood.”

To help with that goal, the award money from Fast Pitch will go toward the agency’s Power Pack program, a weekend nutrition effort to combat hunger by sending nonperishable food home in backpacks. The award money will provide 40 students with weekly backpacks for the 2015-16 school year. Currently, 257 students receive Power Packs each weekend, says Tharp-Gilliam.

The second HCV initiative that will be impacted by the Fast Pitch award is attendance and literacy support through the Homewood Children’s Village Full-Service Community Schools model. The agency provides staff who work directly with students at Pittsburgh Lincoln and Pittsburgh Faison schools in Homewood, helping them academically and to deal with the traumas of their lives.

“This is so important because we can actually buy time for staff to support student needs,” says Tharp-Gilliam.

The challenges that HCV faces are complicated, she continues.

“We are dealing largely with the fact that 62 percent of African Americans under the age of five in Pittsburgh are living in poverty,” she says, adding that Pittsburgh tops the list of national metropolitan areas with high percentages of African Americans living in poverty.

And with poverty comes issues of unemployment, lack of quality of education and higher levels of chronic diseases, violence and drugs.

HCV supports the community through myriad programs like coat drives and health and wellness fairs and through health programs that address physical, behavioral and nutritional health needs.

“The challenge with the pitch is you just know you have three minutes to tell it and tell it well,” says Tharp-Gilliam.

Other honors handed out that evening included:

Friends of Harvard Business Alumni Association of Pittsburgh ‘Strategic Brainstorming Session” -Shannah Tharp-Gilliam, Homewood Children’s Village Literacy Program

The Forbes Funds– Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Network membership for one year- All 12 Semi-finalists in the 2015 Fast Pitch Coaching Program

The Forbes Funds – Organizational consultation by the Forbes Funds capacity development support team- The 8 finalists who presented on stage on event night

BoardsWorks! -Full scholarship to be a BW award agency- Jonnet Solomon, YMAWHA

New Partner incentive award $500– Karen Phillips, Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary

SVP Partner Appreciation Award $500- to each:  Fund it Forward, Gwen’s Girls, Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, Nature Classroom, YMWAHA, Production Services, Reuse Revolution, Sisters Place, The Pittsburgh Project

NEXT Pittsburgh: a news story, $500 and sponsorship – Shannah Tharp Gilliam, Homewood Children’s Village Literacy Program

NEXT Pittsburgh Feature Story- Karen Phillips, Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary