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Grants That Make a Difference: Community Alliance for Learning

January 27, 2009

Several grantees have come forward to share their stories through our new Grants That Make a Difference series. Last week we posted the story of Atlanta-based Reach for Excellence, a nonprofit educational enrichment program that works to provide talented, limited-income students with opportunities to achieve their full potential. This week's post, from Kathleen Kahn, board chair of the Community Alliance for Learning in Albany, California, north of Berkeley, illustrates the critical role that basic operating support plays in program development and expansion.

Grant Recipient
Community Alliance for Learning
Albany, California

Clear writing and critical thinking are essential to students' success in school and in life. WriterCoach Connection™, a project of the Community Alliance for Learning, brings trained volunteers into the classroom to give students at all levels of ability the one-on-one help they need to master these skills.

Grantmaker
Y & H. Soda Foundation
Moraga, California

About the Grant
$40,000 over one year (2007-08)

The community Alliance for Learning had been working on a shoestring budget in Berkeley and Albany schools since 2001. The grant from the Soda Foundation allowed us to expand our staff from two to three people (1.8 to 2.5 positions) and research and plan a long-desired expansion that could not have been attempted with a smaller staff.

While other funders indicated they would fund an expanded program, we didn't have the resources to start one. The Soda Foundation understood that we needed a planning grant a year before we could actually expand the program to other sites. The grant freed up enough of our executive director's time to allow him to meet with staff of nearby school districts and to determine where we had the greatest chance to launch a successful expansion of the program. The expanded program went into operation toward the end of the grant year.

Impact of the Grant
CommAlliance_Oakland When we received the grant, we were contemplating an expansion into the Oakland, West Contra Costa, or Emeryville school districts. The grant gave us the time to select a district, a school, and funding sources that offered the best promise of a successful expansion of the program.

WriterCoach Connection™ began working at Media Academy in Oakland in the fall of 2008. With the enthusiastic support of the principal, the tenth-grade English teacher, and school district officials, we recruited enough volunteers (and secured enough additional funding) to coach the entire tenth grade and have begun working with students.

A professional assessment of our work with Media Academy will be done at the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the program has been well received by students and the teacher, and we hope to expand to the ninth grade in the near future. Other schools in the district have also indicated an interest in the program, and we have received additional funding from the Dreyer's Foundation, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation.

What makes this grant a good example of effective use of philanthropic funds?
The grant gave a tiny organization whose staff was working full time on current operations breathing space to plan for an expansion. Other funders had indicated they would fund a program in Oakland if we could start one; the Soda Foundation was willing to take a chance on an idea that had great promise.

________

Do you have a story about a grant that made a difference? We encourage you to share them with our readers by submitting them through the handy form we've provided for that purpose. We'll feature a selection of grants regularly here on PhilanTopic, at one or more of our regional Philanthropy Front and Center blogs, and at other areas of our web site. During these tough economic times, we also encourage you to submit stories of grants that are addressing basic needs such as food, shelter, and foreclosure assistance.

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