Travis Winship was knocking around on Facebook when he saw an announcement that made him take notice. It wasn’t much, just an ad, really, but it mentioned that a new international awards program focused on acknowledging the achievements of mission-driven organizations was accepting nominations for its first annual event.
The program, Winship quickly learned, was called the Anthem Awards. A spinoff of the high-profile Webby Awards, the Anthem Awards were created as a way to recognize organizations and individuals working toward lasting social change. Anthem Award winners are selected by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, a group of digital industry experts and influencers.
As co-founder and executive director of the Pink Cloud Foundation, a Twin Cities-based organization that helps pay move-in or damage deposits for low-income people seeking to transition into sober housing after completing residential addiction treatment programs, Winship decided — almost impulsively — to nominate his organization.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’” he said.
He carefully read over the application materials until he found a category that best fit Pink Cloud’s work. “I thought ‘humanitarian action’ and ‘service’ were good matches,” said Winship.
After he’d sent in the entry, he realized that the Anthem Awards were a pretty big deal. “I’m stunned by the number of entries,” he said. “They had 2,500 entries from 36 countries. The number of judging votes was over 10,000.”
Why did Winship think that his small nonprofit should join the ranks of nominees, which included people such as pro tennis player and social activist Naomi Osaka, and groups like the International Rescue Committee, National Geographic and the NAACP?
He said he felt that his young organization, which is just about to celebrate helping its 500th client put down a security deposit, had much to be proud of — but that it also needed more attention and financial support.
“I know we do really important work,” he said. “We have accomplished so much in the last three years. I know that Pink Cloud can grow more than it has. We’ve had mass adoption by the recovery community, but we need even more people to be aware of the good that we do.”
He also felt that people involved in Pink Cloud — from volunteers with Pink Cloud Pets, the program’s spinoff that provides safe homes for pets while their owners are in treatment, to the foundation’s financial supporters — deserved recognition for their work. He also wanted a way to bring more attention to the issue that Pink Cloud addresses.
“Personally, I wanted a little validation,” Winship said. “I also wanted to find a way to show that this problem still exists. There is still such a huge gap in getting folks into recovery housing, something that’s really important to their continued recovery. ”
While Winship’s organization has made progress helping to get more people into such housing, he said he feels frustrated that Pink Cloud still doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to help everyone who requests their assistance.
“We’ve received 2,300 applications since we began,” Winship said.
While helping 500 clients get into a recovery house is good, it’s still a drop in the bucket.
“We’re still doing some good, I know, but there needs to be a better way to do this,” said the director.
And the awards go to…
It turns out Winship’s optimism about his organization’s chances of winning an Anthem Award were well-founded. On Feb. 15, he received an email letting him know that Pink Cloud had been awarded three anthem awards: Gold in “Community Outreach” and silvers in the “Leader of the Year” and “Service” categories.
It felt like a needed boost for the organization, Winship said. “This gives us a little bit more of that credibility. It makes it very clear that we are going to be here for the long run.”
When Winship founded the organization with his friend Anthony Sorensen, the pair promised each other that they’d only launch Pink Cloud — the foundation’s name comes from the extreme happiness and overconfidence often felt during early sobriety — if they could keep it going for a long time. They didn’t want to create a fly-by-night nonprofit.
“We didn’t want this to not have the legs needed to keep it going,” Winship said. The awards add credibility — a sense that the organization is here to stay, he added. “This validates us within the recovery community. It says, ‘We’re working with you guys. We’re engaging the community.’ We’re getting their support and we’re being recognized.”
Jessica Lauretti, Anthem Awards managing director, said that this year’s winners are all individuals, brands and organizations that are making a clear impact in their communities.
“We launched this platform to show the world that all corners of our culture, from sports and entertainment to business leaders and celebrities, are all standing up to say, ‘It is time for systemic change and that social good is what we value as a society,’” said Lauretti.
Winship said he thinks that Pink Cloud was selected by the award judges because it is targeting issues that feel especially urgent during this time of massive social upheaval.
“COVID-19 brought a lot of things to the surface,” he said. “Mental health, substance use and addiction are some of them.”
He wondered if some judges had personal connections with these issues that helped them to identify with Pink Cloud’s mission. His organization was the only winner with a direct connection to addiction and recovery, he noted.
“We probably hit a chord that nobody else was hitting,” said Winship.
He’s hoping that this recognition will help raise national awareness around the issue his organization addresses. While big-name winners like “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and Jane Goodall may get more attention, the hope is for Pink Cloud to ride their coattails and also get a boost.
“It’s an honor to be with all those huge names, if even for a split second,” Winship said. “People are looking at this little nonprofit in Minnesota. We have to highlight the problem and get some support for the solution.”
That problem addresses a critical step for many people in recovery. Like security deposits required in traditional apartment buildings, move-in deposits in recovery housing are an essential way for building managers to keep their programs afloat. But because people in early recovery often struggle financially, these required fees can be an insurmountable hurdle, Winship said.
“We are helping people who’ve gone into treatment, done their 30, 60, 90 days,” and are at a turning point in their recovery where they are at high risk for relapse, he explained. “Our clients are people who want to go into a recovery residence, but they just can’t afford it and they don’t know where to go for help. This point is where we lose so many of them.”
As Pink Cloud is building a name for itself, Winship said they have been able to build partnerships with managers at some recovery houses. “We team up with some houses that are willing to work with their residents,” he said. “The house might take half of the deposit from Pink Cloud, half from the residents themselves, or even allow a resident to pay the deposit in installments, making it easier for them to get into a house and prove their commitment.”
Before the star-studded virtual awards ceremony on the evening of Feb. 28, winners will gather for Anthem Voices, a first-of-its-kind virtual conference featuring fireside chats from winners, including Monica Lewinsky, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and Maya Enista Smith, executive director of the Born This Way Foundation.
Like all Anthem Award winners, Winship is expected to pre-record an acceptance speech that will be broadcast to all participants. To keep the award program from going over time, organizers required that each speech be just one sentence long.
Winship seized on the challenge, hoping to make the most of Pink Cloud’s moment in the sun. He joked about squeezing everything he could into the one-sentence limit — and hoped to make the best impression possible.
“All I can say is it’s going to be unforgettable,” said Winship, speaking of his dashing ensemble of pink paisley bowtie and matching suspenders.