Meghan Pearce is a fifth-generation Arizona resident who wanted to make a difference in her community and keep her family legacy alive by helping others. In 2013, she founded the Pearce Family Foundation, an organization that donates to families with children suffering from a chronic or life-threatening illnesses. With her foundation, the 30-year-old Scottsdale resident raised more than $60,000 through events in year one alone and has granted out another $13,000 to families in need, helping them with everything from paying grocery and electric bills, to getting service dogs.
The Pearce Family Foundation sponsors the Runway of Hope fashion show Friday, May 8, with a DJ, nine boutiques (including Pepper) and designers showcasing their fashions, cocktails and an open bar, pop-up shops, a silent auction and hors d’oeuvres. The event takes place in the old Coors warehouse building at 475 E. Lincoln Street in Phoenix, and doors open at 7 p.m. Get tickets here.
Learn more about Pearce and where her passion for helping others comes from here, and keep reading to watch her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m fifth-generation Arizonan. My family has been here since before it was even a state. I was born at Good Samaritan Hospital, went to high school at Desert Mountain, and went down to U of A and graduated with a degree in family studies. I moved back to the Valley after graduation.
How did the Pearce Family Foundation start?
After college, I worked for a public relations firm. I worked with the Lupus Foundation of Arizona and really learned how events are put together, from getting raffle items, to getting donors. It was really rewarding to see the full scheme of things, from thought, to idea, to the event, to clean-up, and then to being able to give a check.
After I was at the PR firm for awhile, I kind of jumped around and worked in retail before getting a great job at St. Joseph’s Foundation. I got to work with Celebrity Fight Night, and it was so cool to see how much money could be raised in a night.
I was there for awhile before moving to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and working there for two years. I would interview families and learn about how they became patients of the hospital. It was always a traumatic, happened-out-of-nowhere event. It was always eye-opening to me that things like this could happen to anyone. My sister and I were very fortunate nothing bad like that happened to us.
I decided I wanted to work on my own project, and I kind of bounced around with what I wanted to do and settled on wanting to help families in our community. In July of 2013, I went to my dad with the idea of starting a family foundation and creating a legacy.
My great-grandfather had a feed and grains business in Mesa. He sold to the community, and then they would deliver food to stores around town, as well as had customers come into the store. He had the coldest storage facility in the Valley, and Coors beer came to him and asked if they could store beer in his facilities, and he would distribute it to stores and restaurants. He was awarded the Coors license after Prohibition ended in 1933. Eventually my grandfather took over, and then my father did. My dad sold the company in 2004 and retired, and that’s why it was important for us to bring back the family name and leave that legacy my great-grandfather had started.
That’s how the idea of the foundation started coming about. I had my first event in November 2013 and got my 501(c)(3) status in April of 2014.
How has the foundation evolved?
At first, I wanted to help out all sorts of charities and give back to everybody. I hired a life coach to help me figure out the path and really go about asking for donors and how to get people to sit on my board and really believe in my foundation.
I had a family contact me from Phoenix Children’s Hospital who was in this horrible situation. Their daughter had been re-diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and the mom couldn’t work full time, and they weren’t going to be able to have a Christmas for them. I went to my attorney and asked how I could give to families, and we had to create a grant program where people could apply, and we could grant them money.
From that event we did for them, we raised more than $3,000 for them in gift cards. It was so great and eye-opening. One of the cards we got for them was for the mom to get her hair done, and she told us she hadn’t gotten it done in four years. Things we sometimes take for granted have to be put on the back burner for families like this.
After that, things started rolling. Our next event was at O.H.S.O. Brewery, where we got to brew two types of beer, and helped a family out with pharmacy bills and raised more than $10,000 in four hours.
What kinds of families does the foundation help?
We help any family that has a child suffering from a chronic or life-threatening illness. I try not to put too many limitations on it. I wanted to be sure we could touch on any type of disorder or disease that was occurring. There’s an application for grants on my website, and we also have referral partners at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center.
What’s your typical week like?
It ranges. I’m planning three events right now, so I’ve been running around doing that. I’m meeting with possible referral partners and have met with a couple other nonprofits in the Valley that deal with families in need, such as Camp Soaring Eagle and TEACHabilities. I want other charities to know I exist, and if they have someone who might qualify for my assistance, I’m here to help. It’s getting my name out there and letting people know I’m here to help.
What are your goals?
Last year, I helped about seven families, and this year, my goal is to help at least 15. I want to just keep having my events succeed. I try to think of things that aren’t your typical galas or golf tournaments. I have beer events, and I had a skeet shooting tournament. I’m really trying to think outside the box, so I really hope we even double the funds we raised last year, so we can bring in $120,000, and I can really grow my team.
What do you look for in your board members?
I look for diversity. All the people on my board have different occupations. Right now, there are five of us, including myself. I look for people I can trust and people who believe in the cause and people who are willing help. It’s not just a board for people to sit on to say they’re a part of — we’re going to get down and dirty and help at events. As long as they’re willing to help and give their time, they’re a good fit.
Why are you passionate about working for a nonprofit?
It warms my heart. I like seeing the return of being able to help somebody who feels like the whole world has turned their back on them, or like they’ve been dealt the worst cards in the world. There’s still hope and light at the end of the tunnel.
The money the foundation gives those families can help them get back on their feet and can give them that little glimpse of sunlight. One of my favorite mottos is, “The smallest gifts make the greatest impact.”
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own nonprofit?
I’d say, “Congratulations.” I think it’s wonderful when somebody wants to put in the time and effort to do something great like this in our community. There is so much need – don’t be afraid there is too much competition out there. You’re going to make a difference in our community and will find that niche as to where you want to give back and what you want to feel passionate about. You just have to follow your dreams.
What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned as a nonprofit founder?
The biggest is to follow my gut. I definitely have a vision and a way of looking at how I want the foundation to grow. I’ve had to say no to people who maybe aren’t used to hearing no. It’s about putting your foot down and continuing on the path you envision, which will take you to where you want to go.
I think we second-guess ourselves, and you have to keep moving forward in the way you envision things. That’s how you’re going to be different.
You’re making your own dream. You’re the one who is in charge of how you’re going to succeed. If I don’t want to work for a week, I’m really going to see the results of it. Even if I’m out of town or not in my office, I’m constantly working and hustling to make sure things get done.
Why is it important for people and businesses to support nonprofits?
Besides that it’s good karma, you never know when something could happen, or when there is a time when you’re not where you thought you would be, and you need to turn to an organization that can help. It’s in people’s genes to give back — there’s something inside you that wants to make the world go around in a better place.
I’ve been so fortunate to find so many people who want to volunteer for my events and companies who keep giving to me. They like what I’m doing, and it’s great I’ve found something I can really grow with.
Why would you encourage an individual or business to donate to the Pearce Family Foundation?
Sometimes the need is more at home than it is in the hospital. It’s great to have research and find new cures, but it’s wonderful to help at the home. If a child has a stable environment they can come home to after being in the hospital, then the chances of them getting better and stronger is times 10.
Plus, my donors can see the end result. Whether it’s getting a truck back out on the road, or giving a service dog to a family, my donors get to see that outcome firsthand. Every event, we invite our families to so they can meet our donors, and I am constantly trying to allow them to feel like they have a second family here at the Pearce Family Foundation.
Learn about other people serving the community:
Learn more about Wheelchair Labs founder Lance Greathouse here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Pineapple Triangle Artist Market founder Maggie McGrath here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Gabriel’s Angels Pet Therapy Program CEO Pam Gaber here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about PeppedUp! founder Ron Haberle here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Paper Clouds Apparel founder Robert Thornton here on Phoenix People.