WEXFORD — Ethan Nicholas stood before those assembled, prepared to share a story that wasn't easy to tell.
Last winter, his wife, Kimberly, told him he didn't have to worry about going with her for a routine doctor's appointment for their unborn child. Soon after, he was told doctors couldn't find the baby's heartbeat. When he finally got to the hospital to be with his wife, the family was told there was no heartbeat.
The heartbreaking news became even more complicated through hospital delays and missteps, turning the real-life situation into a nightmare. The family felt lost, and Kimberly Nicholas wasn't sure what to do.
They found the Still Remembered Project, a peer support group for women and families who have had stillborn children or early infant loss. It's helped the family tremendously, Ethan Nicholas said.
“They gave my wife a place to go where people understand,” he told those gathered June 28 — ironically, the due date for their child.
Within minutes of finishing the story, those assembled were writing checks, eventually raising more than $12,000 for the Still Remembered Project. Nicholas' story had beaten two other pitches made by members of the 100+ Men Who Care Pittsburgh group, which aims to raise money for charities in the community.
The decision was unanimous.
“We didn't even bother counting the vote because there were so many in his pile,” said Kirk Vogel, a co-founder of the 100+ Men group.
Vogel and co-founder Rick Malik started the group after Malik learned about a chapter of the group near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Malik said he had been feeling the urge to get involved with a cause that could have an impact, and the simplicity of the model made starting the group a no-brainer.
The concept is simple: a group of business owners and other professionals get together four times a year to network and socialize. At the end of that 90-minute meeting, three members make the case for their charity of choice after being randomly selected from a hat during the previous meeting. They have less than five minutes to make their pitch and try to win the support of those in attendance.
After the presentations, a vote is taken, and everyone in the group, whether they're in attendance or not, must write a check for at least $100. The checks are written directly to the charities. The group makes no money.
“In a matter of minutes we're raising $10,000 for the charity of choice,” said Nicholas, a Butler native and Cranberry Township resident who serves as the group's secretary.
Malik approached Vogel and pitched the idea. The two started a website — 100plusmanpittsburgh.org — and social media presence to target potential members around Southwest Pennsylvania.
“At the end of the day, this is just about driving numbers of guys who are interested in the cause,” Malik said.
Vogel said thus far, the group has had six meetings, all held in Wexford. At the beginning, there were roughly 40 members, with membership now hovering around 125. In total, the group has raised about $48,000 for local charities. In addition to the Still Remembered Project, recipients include A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, which provides support to those battling breast cancer.
Similar to Nicholas' presentation, the Glimmer of Hope presentation came with a personal anecdote.
“That's the winning recipe,” Vogel said. “You have that passion because it touched you personally so much.”
Malik said representatives from the various charities have been thankful for the contributions, and are invited to meetings to share where the money is going. With A Glimmer of Hope, 15 women were able to pursue a program at Allegheny Health Network due to the donation, and a patient came to the most recent meeting to share her story.
“It really inspires us,” Malik said.
While being an active participant is a key factor in the process, Malik said the impact of a small amount of time and money is powerful.