Pay it forward: Nicholas-Groves leverages Milwaukee volunteers to support food sustainability projects worldwide

Maria Nicholas-Groves and Sarah Fracek
Maria Nicholas-Groves and Sarah Fracek Credit: Lila Aryan

Maria Nicholas-Groves

President and chief executive officer
Talent Growth Partners
Nonprofit served: Feeding Mouths, Filling Minds
Service: Founder

In 2012, Maria Nicholas-Groves, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Talent Growth Partners, co-founded Feeding Mouths, Filling Minds, a Brookfield-based nonprofit that partners with orphanages and schools to develop sustainable water and food systems.

Nicholas-Groves first spent time in Kenya while on a service project in college. A decade later, she returned to an orphanage and school she had visited during that initial trip and discussed with its founder about how the orphanage could better utilize the land to sustainably feed its children.

“I thought my husband and I would help fundraise for that and offer some guidance. It ended up catapulting not just that project in Kenya, but projects in other parts of Africa,” Nicholas-Groves said.

That project launched Feeding Mouths, Filling Minds. Since then, the organization has supported computers and training, food, water and sanitation systems in Cameroon; built a slaughterhouse in Guatemala; funded rainwater collection and storage systems in Rwanda; and helped other organizations with their fundraising efforts to build water wells for schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Fueling FMFM’s work is a network of volunteers, including Milwaukee area professionals that Nicholas-Groves has recruited to leverage their areas of expertise in support of the cause. Today, about 20 core volunteers – including marketing professionals, architects and engineers – gather regularly to work on FMFM projects.

“We are a nimble, thoughtful, deliberate nonprofit,” Nicholas-Groves said. “Every penny actually goes to the projects. You don’t have this massive overhead, so the skills everyone contributes makes a massive difference.”

Sarah Fracek, vice president of strategy and marketing for Kane Communications Group, got connected to FMFM through a former employer that was fundraising for the organization’s large water project in Cameroon. She quickly became a key volunteer and now serves as its board chair.

Recruiting and leveraging the skills of the organization’s volunteers is one of Nicholas-Groves’ strengths, Fracek said.

“Maria in her day job is an executive recruiter and naturally stocks talent easily,” Fracek said. “People are drawn to her because of her profession and personality … Once you get connected, it’s hard to stay away.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.