The ELM Foundation

By Missy Hanks
Executive Director of The ELM Foundation

When South Huntsville residents John and Helen Nolan started The ELM Foundation in 2012, they never dreamed the impact it would have in ten short years. ELM is an acronym for “Expect Little Miracles.” We create those “little miracles” through grants to individuals who are doing the best they can and who simply need a little help removing barriers to success.

ELM has funded over $1 million in grants in ten years to more than 300 highly-motivated individuals. Each grant is a “little miracle.” While many agencies define poverty as a lack of resources and direct their efforts toward providing those resources, we believe poverty is defined as broken relationships. Real relationships inspire accountability and lead to progress. At ELM, our case manager helps identify root causes of poverty and works with participants to overcome significant barriers to self-sufficiency. She holds participants accountable and celebrates their successes.

Messi and her son, Johsias, were the first ELM participants. Messi is an African refugee who escaped a violent marriage with her young son. She received her Certified Nursing Assistant training and then her RN from Calhoun with tuition funding and housing grants from ELM. She is now employed full-time as a nurse at Emory Medical Center and has purchased a home. ELM helped Johsias with college applications and ACT preparation as he neared high school graduation. He received a full scholarship to Amherst and is now in his third year of medical school at the University of San Francisco.

The ELM Foundation was founded to end generational poverty by helping individuals and families become economically independent, free from government assistance, able to pay their bills on time, and save for the future. This is hard work, and we know we can’t do it alone. Therefore, we use a collaborative case management model and work with multiple community organizations to create wrap-around development plans that open doors to economic independence.

ELM extended its collaborative approach to the community through our Community Connections project in 2019. We have built a network of churches, corporations, and community leaders that work together to create real solutions to poverty, reshaping attitudes and approaches, while creating practices that target root causes. We use CharityTracker, a web-based tool that helps over 300 community organizations share resources and information, coordinate client case management, and reduce duplication of services. It also helps agencies set and track client goals and report outcomes, so we know what is really working.

For the past ten years, ELM has not only been creating “little miracles” in the lives of its participants, but it has also been helping the community “give better” by focusing on effort-based service delivery through a partnership with the national True Charity Initiative. This affiliation is designed to help agencies and donors fund what really makes a difference in the lives of people in need.

Since 2012, ELM has impacted individuals, agencies, and community funders by challenging how we fight poverty as community. To find out how you can help create more “little miracles,” please visit

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