With a shoe box full of her notes, Wendi Winters’ children pieced together how to continue what their mom was known for: supporting local journalism.
Along with continuing the tradition of hosting a PR Bazaar, now called the Wendi Winters PR Bazaar, her children have started a foundation in her name and a community organization continues to work on behalf of Winters and the four other Capital employees killed in a shooting at the newsroom last year.
“We have to let go of our anger, we have to let go of our guilt and we never really truly let go of our sadness or our memories,” Montana Geimer, one of Winters’ daughters, said.
“We hope that we can share our memories of our mother with other people, keep her alive and be able to in someway share her with the community that she loved.”
Right away, Winters’ children realized they wanted to do something in honor of their mother, according to Summerleigh Geimer.
“We just didn’t have the direction of knowing exactly what we were going to do,” Summerleigh Geimer said. “We are a family trying to do something with the support we are receiving.”
They started the Wendi Winters Memorial Foundation, still pending for nonprofit status, to organize and promote programs that support local journalism, journalists and news organizations.
“Really this organization supports journalists the exact way mom did when she was alive,” Winters’ son Phoenix Geimer said. “It is showing local groups in our area that journalists are approachable.”
According to Phoenix Geimer, Winters left a positive impact on people, specifically on the perception of local journalism.
“I think that what happened last June has caused the entire community to reflect on what the local media does for them,” Phoenix Geimer said.
Despite feeling exhausted and tired after losing her mom, Summerleigh Geimer, talked about the community support and how people wanted to help.
She saw the support at two blood drives held in her mother’s honor and the money going to the family fund.
“We want to create an opportunity for them to still make a difference,” Summerleigh Geimer said.
Currently, the focus is to support events but in the future the mission of the foundation may broaden to support more local journalism initiatives.
For example, Summerleigh Geimer says the focus could support smaller newspapers and journalists and on keeping up the morale, something Winters was known to do.
Winters was known for giving out $5 gift cards at The Capital that journalists could nominate one reporter to win.
Summerleigh and Montana Geimer talked about the foundation potentially working with small newspapers around the county and supply them with gift cards as a small gift to motivate and encourage reporters.
“Not everything Mom did was in effort to change the world,” Montana Geimer said.
“A lot of times it was because she liked her co-workers and wanted them to enjoy work. It wasn’t about changing the world but changing someone’s mood.”
The foundation may also focus on gun control and keeping up a presence on social media as a voice of support, according to Summerleigh Geimer.
“Gun violence prevention is a pillar of why we started the foundation,” said Summerleigh Geimer. “We obviously aren’t voiced activists, but we don’t want to leave it in the shadows behind everything else we’re trying to do.”
A donation initiative by Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County also provided people with a place to monetarily support the victims and survivors of the shooting and their families.
The creation of the Capital Gazette Families Fund began after The Baltimore Sun and the parent company, Tribune Publishing, reached out to CFAAC, according to an official.
“Everybody thought it was just great, and very supportive to the fact that there was a fund to put into place for families and anyone directly affected by the shooting,” said CFAAC Director of Development Amy Francis.
All the contributions made through December 2018 were distributed to the employees of The Capital Gazette and the families of those who were killed.
A committee made up of members of CFAAC, mental health professionals, an attorney and a local certified public accountant came up with an application process for victims to apply for the donations. Once applications were submitted, the committee worked on the distribution of the $1.8 million.
The committee also met to decide how to allocate the funds, Francis said.
From the donations given through December 2018, 80% was given to family members who applied and 20% went to individuals who were employed at the Capital Gazette at the time of the shooting.
Now the fund exists in perpetuity, Francis said. CFAAC plans to work with the survivors and the families to come up with another purpose of the fund, such as to support first responders or active shooter trainings, she said.
Currently, CFAAC is working with The Baltimore Sun to create a committee made up of representatives from areas such as mental health and fire rescue, according to Francis. The committee will suggest criteria for future funding.
In addition to the family fund, CFAAC is also in charge of the Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will support students pursuing a degree in journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. It currently has nearly $176,000.
Three members of the Annapolis community decided to continue another tradition that was coordinated by Wendi Winters, the PR Bazaar.
At this event, local nonprofits and businesses could learn the best way to pitch and work with the media.
On June 3, the 16th annual PR Bazaar will be hosted in honor of Wendi Winters and her commitment to connect small businesses and organizations with journalists.
Lisa Seborowksi, founder of a marketing organization called L’attitude 38 degrees, came together with John Frenaye of Eye on Annapolis and Marc Apter of Image Power, to bring back the two-day event.
“Three of us came together and said we need to keep it going because it is such a great event,” Seborowski said.
“It’s something small businesses and nonprofits could come to and learn how to get their story out. We just can’t let this drop.”
Seborowski, Frenaye and Apter met with Winters’ children to go over the event as a way to honor her and keep the tradition going, Seborowski said.
“I never imagined trying to do something like this without her,” Montana Geimer said. “I never considered how many pizzas we have to order for everyone, how many panelists is a good amount for the number of people coming, do we need coolers and ice?”
“How do you do all of this without Mom? She did so much and it’s weird to really only appreciate that in her absence,” she said.
Still, with the help of Montana and Summerleigh Geimer, they were all able to piece together how Winters would create the event.
“We had to pull out a shoe box of what she did and had to find the documents — but those are just the bones,” Summerleigh Geimer said.
In addition to reconstructing her process, the community also came together to assist. According to Seborowski, the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts donated the venue, Homestead Gardens donated flowers and Ledo’s Pizza will donate food.
Currently, there are 10 panelists from TV, radio and social media positions who will participate in the event, according to Seborowski.
Though the event has traditionally been held over two nights, this year it will happen for one night and Summerleigh Geimer hopes it can get bigger with each new year.
“We are hoping to create something that is sustainable, more than just a shoe box full of paper,” Summerleigh said.