Turning Tragedy Into a Legacy In Perpetuity – Jennifer Riordan Foundation Grants

Last April, tragedy struck the Riordan family when a Southwest Airlines jet engine failed mid-flight, killing 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan and injuring seven other passengers. Jennifer Riordan, the wife of Michael and the mother of two, was vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo in Albuquerque and a prominent member of the Albuquerque community. It was a miracle that no one else on Southwest Flight 1380 was killed when the Boeing 737 plane flying from New York to Dallas with 149 passengers blew an engine which caused an explosion that blew out a window and damaged the fuselage.

Riordan served on the boards of many nonprofits and community projects like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the University of New Mexico, and the local city government.

The Jennifer Riordan Memorial Trust, created by the Riordan family, provided grants of $50,000 to seven nonprofits in 2018 from donations in her memory received from all over the world.

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These donations sparked the creation of the Jennifer Riordan Sparkle Fund, a donor-advised fund managed by the Albuquerque Community Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“The Jennifer Riordan “Sparkle” Fund is an endowed fund that is intended to last in perpetuity so her spirit and her generosity will continue on for the end of days,” said Joanna Colangelo, community impact director at Albuquerque Community Foundation.

“Our family has been absolutely overwhelmed with the compassion and support we’ve received from people around the world who have been touched by Jennifer’s spirit,” her husband Michael Riordan said in a statement. “The sole mission of this fund will be to continue Jennifer’s philanthropic enthusiasm to support organizations who shared her core value of striving to always be kind, loving, caring and sharing.”

The Albuquerque Community Foundation In Memory page described Jennifer as an inspiration to all who knew her.

“Jennifer Riordan’s DNA was comprised of love and kindness. In moments of division, Jennifer was a unifier. In times of need, Jennifer was giving. When a project seemed impossible, Jennifer became the champion. Jennifer’s sheer existence was a lesson to others in how to not only be a good person – but to be a humble person, full of dignity, grace and unwavering joy.

Jennifer’s energy touched every one of us at the Foundation and we will miss her laughter, enthusiasm and warmth tremendously. Jennifer: as your colleagues – and as your friends – the staff of the Albuquerque Community Foundation will forever carry your name, your generosity and your spirit. Your legacy will rest in all of us who continue to be guided by your infectious belief that when we work together for our community, nothing is impossible.

All of the funds received to date will be granted to nonprofit organizations this year, the news release said. An advisory board is working with the Albuquerque Community Foundation to identify how to use those funds in programming aligned with Jennifer Riordan’s philanthropic spirit. Beneficiaries of the Jennifer Riordan Sparkle Fund are expected to be announced this summer.

The groups were selected with help from the Albuquerque Community Foundation for exemplifying four pillars of work designed to continue Jennifer Riordan’s legacy: financial literacy, education, women’s empowerment, and Albuquerque vitality.

The Jennifer Riordan Foundation Awardees for 2018 were: 

Junior Achievement $10,000
Working Classroom $10,000
Barrett Foundation $10,000
Crossroads for Women $5,000
Family Advocacy Center $5,000
Galloping Grace Youth Ranch $9,000
Annunciation Catholic School $1,000

To qualify, organizations are invited to apply for the grant and propose how they will use it.

Grant to a New Mexico Nonprofit, School, or Agency to Promote Academic Success for Middle School Children in Eligible Areas, Conference Date: 6/5/2019, Deadline: 7/10/2019

The Jennifer Riordan Educate 2 Elevate (JRE2E) Grant is a collaborative funding opportunity that brings together funders from across New Mexico to pool resources and make at least one high impact grant of $50,000. The grant is a collaborative investment from funders in various sectors and encourages organizations to demonstrate similar collaborative thinking when submitting applications.

The JRE2E grant is focused on supporting educational initiatives for middle school students. Funding is intended to advance the future personal, educational, and professional pathways of students in grades 6 through 8. Eligible initiatives must serve students in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and/or Torrance counties.

  • Funding areas include:
  • Parent/adult/mentor involvement
  • Out-of-school time/extended learning programming
  • Project-based learning
  • Transitional programs
  • Career readiness
  • Teacher/professional development

This year’s grant awards will be announced in August.

“My hope is that Jennifer’s Sparkle Fund is going to be a part of Albuquerque for as long as the Albuquerque Community Foundation,” Michael Riordan said. “I want my grandkids to be working on the board of the J.R. Sparkle Fund.”

In addition, Albuquerque Business First has created a Jennifer Riordan Woman of Influence Community Impact Award with Annemarie Ciepiela Henton, vice president of business development and marketing at Albuquerque Economic Development, named the first recipient on February 25, 2019.

People can make donations to the Jennifer Riordan “Sparkle” Fund through the Albuquerque Community Foundation.

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About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantWatch.


Libby Hikind

Libby Hikind is the founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com and the author of "The Queen of Grants: From Teacher to Grant Writer to CEO". Libby Hikind, began her grant writing career while working as a teacher in the New York City Department of Education. She wrote many grants for her classroom before raising millions for a Brooklyn school district. Throughout her professional career, she established her own grant writing agency in Staten Island with a fax newsletter for her clients of available grants. After retiring from teaching, Libby embraced the new technology and started GrantWatch. She then moved GrantWatch and her grant writing agency to Florida to enjoy her parents later years, and the rest is history. Today more than 230,000 people visit GrantWatch.com online, monthly.

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