153 posts categorized "Children and Youth"

As COVID persists, New York's youth need nonprofits now more than ever

October 22, 2021

Boys_and_girls_town_nycThis was not the "return-to-normal" back-to-school season many of us had hoped for. Remote learning and isolation for more than a year have left many students, especially the most vulnerable, behind. On average, K-12 students are now an estimated five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. And there is a mental health crisis among teenagers hit hard by loneliness. While schools, families, and government agencies continue to provide substantial support for youth, it is simply not enough. Nonprofits are playing a vital role in supporting our youth through this pandemic and its fallout.

As executive director of A Chance In Life, a New York City-based nonprofit that supports at-risk teens through positive youth development, I've seen how essential such organizations have been over the past eighteen months. We operate all over the world and recently opened a center for youth on Staten Island, our first U.S. program. The demand for our services, which include paid internships, food distributions, and afterschool programs, has been high.

As schools, government agencies, and the private sector come together to improve the lives of youth and their families, nonprofits must have a seat at the table. They can help mitigate COVID-related learning loss, provide supportive social reintegration settings, and use their local connections to provide support where other entities fall short.

The negative repercussions of the pandemic on youth and their education are staggering. The effects are even more pronounced for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students and those from high-poverty districts. Educators are doing everything they can, and I am deeply thankful for their work. But volatile conditions and insufficient funding have put them in an impossible position. Moreover, budget and time constraints limit teaching to core subjects, leaving little room for the additional support many students need.

Nonprofits are perfectly positioned to provide extra support to supplement students' classroom education with free tutoring, afterschool enrichment programs, and distribution of school supplies. They can also broaden students' education to include topics that don't always make it into school curricula, like financial literacy education.

Just as essential are the spaces for social development nonprofits provide — away from the pressures of exams and grades. Teens have been particularly negatively impacted by the social isolation of COVID-19, with 61 percent of young adults surveyed in a recent study reporting feeling lonely. Detachment puts young people at risk for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Nonprofits offer safe, enriching spaces that foster peer-to-peer connections. Whether it is for group tutoring, an internship or a music lesson, it is important to carve out room for teens to be themselves and form bonds away from outside stressors.

In addition, the close community ties many nonprofits forge through their work help them recognize problems sooner. And they can respond with solutions more efficiently because they're less constrained by red tape than government agencies.

As COVID-related budget cuts stretched social services to their limits, nonprofits have been stepping up. A Chance In Life chose Staten Island as the site of our first U.S. program in part because it had fewer social programs than other New York City boroughs. Nonprofits across the country have done the same by setting up shop in neighborhoods that have been most neglected — whether the problem is a lack of public transportation, crowded schools, or food deserts.

For-profit businesses that care about giving back should also work with nonprofits to achieve a meaningful and sustainable impact — for nonprofits are the link to the community. Community-based organizations, their leaders, and staff have built local relationships and know where resources are needed. Nonprofits use their trusted voices to let residents know how to access donations from businesses. They also know where to go in a community to reach the people who need those resources the most.

For example, this past August, we partnered with another community-based organization, Staten Island Community Partnership, and ShopRite to distribute food donated by the supermarket chain. Without the corporate donation, we would have had no food to share with our neighbors, but without our connections with local residents and physical presence in the borough, ShopRite would not have known where to distribute that food.

We may not yet have returned to "normal." But nonprofits are willing, ready, and able to ensure that the nation's youth are supported, no matter the state of the city. I urge those in influential positions — leaders in government, business, and philanthropy — to actively support and include nonprofits as we all work towards solutions to this crisis.

(Photo credit: Boys' and Girls' Town of New York City)

Headshot_Gabriele_Delmonaco_PhilanTopicGabriele Delmonaco is executive director of A Chance In Life, a nonprofit dedicated to providing shelter, education, and development for at-risk youth.

'Tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic': A commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods

October 18, 2021

News_mental_health.2Five tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic: Lessons learned supporting adolescent mental health organizations during COVID-19

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread losses people have suffered — of loved ones, jobs, safety, and a sense of normalcy — community-based organizations are stepping up to bridge the gaps in social services. While government agencies are slower to move resources in response to real-time and evolving needs, philanthropy can act quickly and mobilize resources through rapid-response grantmaking.

At the Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, we've seen firsthand the challenges of reviewing high-volume, short-turnaround proposals. The initial concept for the fund was proposed in July 2020 as a collaborative COVID-relief fund at Panorama to focus on adolescent mental health and well-being, and was seeded by Melinda French Gates' Pivotal Ventures with additional support from the Klarman Family Foundation. Over the course of three months, we developed a grantmaking and implementation strategy supported by an advisory committee of practitioners, policy experts, and researchers, and issued a request for proposals in late October, with applications open for six weeks. The fund received 485 proposals from forty states and the District of Columbia, and to date has awarded more than $11 million to ninety-two organizations.

We'd like to share five considerations for rapid grantmaking that were critical to our process and designed in the spirit of advancing trust-based philanthropy. Some validated our own grantmaking principles at Panorama, such as the importance of giving general operating support grants, while others were unique to processes required to execute on an expedited timeline....

Read the full commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods, a program officer for Panorama's Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health.

 

Building better futures for young refugees through education

October 14, 2021

Globe_handsThe emergency evacuation that recently unfolded in Afghanistan once again placed a spotlight on the plight of the world's refugees. It is a recurring crisis. In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that of the 82.4 million people forcibly displaced from their countries in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations, or other events, thirty-five million were under the age of 18. That's a staggering number of young people forced to live without the support, structure, and safety of their communities and unable to move beyond their present circumstances.

Tragically, education, which is so essential for young people to achieve their full potential, is overlooked when considering the welfare of refugees.

While working in Angola in the late 2000s, I saw firsthand the downstream consequences for people who grew up in refugee camps or far from their home communities with limited to no access to education. Make no mistake: Fleeing to neighboring countries allowed those young people to avoid forced conscription, brutal and violent war, and in many cases death. But few had the opportunity to pursue education beyond elementary school, and this no doubt hampered the post-war development of Angola, a country that experienced one of the longest civil wars of the twentieth century.

The current situation in Afghanistan is equally as urgent and dire. Afghan students and academics are under daily threat. We have not forgotten the attacks in 2016 on the American University of Afghanistan, when fifteen people were killed and at least fifty injured, including students, professors, and staff.  

To offer one solution to the ongoing refugee crisis in Afghanistan and around the world, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has launched and funded a new scholarship for student refugees and displaced persons. The IIE Odyssey Scholarship covers tuition, housing, and living expenses for refugees and displaced students pursing undergraduate or graduate degrees for the duration of their degree programs. We also created new scholarships for students from the now closed American University of Afghanistan. With these scholarships, displaced students will be able to safely continue their studies at college campuses abroad.   

In designing the Odyssey Scholarship, we leveraged our global network and expertise from within our regional offices. A regional approach has an additional benefit because 73 percent of displaced people are hosted by countries in the same region, according to UNHCR.

In addition, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has launched the Hilde Domin Programme, which supports students who are denied education in their home country. In Mexico, Proyecto Habesha began by supporting young people fleeing Syria, offering Spanish language training, financing, relocation support, and opportunities to study at Mexican universities. Their unique public-private programs grew over time, and today Proyecto Habesha brings displaced students from all over the world to live and learn in Mexico.

For all of these programs, the goal is to enable students to learn, grow, and one day return home to rebuild their countries. However, more must be done. At a time when crises around the world are worsening, resources for the displaced are severely lacking.

We know from our more than hundred-year history the importance of education in unlocking human potential. When young people have the opportunity to pursue their studies in safety and security, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. At IIE, we design and grow high-impact programs and make our programs sustainable by fundraising and building endowments that are prudently invested and managed. This is the model under which our longstanding programs and the new Odyssey Scholarship operate. 

IIE and our international network of colleges and universities have been working to provide practical solutions to threatened students from all over the globe and secure their safety. Real solutions require long-term commitment and support. We cannot allow for a lost generation among the refugee community. The resilience and determination we are seeing from displaced students and scholars should encourage us all to find a way to help.

Headshot_Jason_Czyz_IIE_PhilanTopicJason Czyz is executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Institute of International Education.

'The world must not turn its back': A commentary by John Canady

September 30, 2021

Girls_school_Afghanistan_USAID_viaPixnio_ccThree ways funders can protect Afghan girls' rights and access to education:

In 2012, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she defended girls' rights to an education.

Malala Yousafzai's story shocked the world and became a catalyst for the international efforts to increase educational opportunities for girls in developing countries or living under oppressive regimes.

Nine years on, as the world has watched the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan with horror and despair, girls' education — one of the country's greatest successes over the last twenty years — is now in grave danger.

A recent announcement by the Taliban Education Ministry confirmed those fears when it effectively banned girls from secondary education by stating that "all male teachers and students should attend their education institutions," leaving the issue of female education unaddressed — and girls at home.

Global attention understandably has been focused on the plight of many Afghan nationals and U.S. citizens desperately trying to leave the country. The distressing images of helpless parents passing their babies over the perimeter of Kabul International Airport to beleaguered U.S. soldiers are heart-wrenching. But we must not forget the urgent needs of those left behind, especially women and girls....

Read the full commentary by John Canady, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust UK.

(Photo credit: USAID via Pixnio)

'Systems change work is intrinsic to creative youth development': A commentary by Daniel R. Lewis

August 09, 2021

Lewis_Prize_for_Music_awardeeSupporting creative youth development as systems change work

In her recent blog post announcing $2.7 billion in commitments to equity-oriented nonprofits across the country, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott writes: "Arts and cultural institutions can strengthen communities by transforming spaces, fostering empathy, reflecting community identity, advancing economic mobility, improving academic outcomes, lowering crime rates, and improving mental health."

[...] As a longtime arts philanthropist, reading Ms. Scott's post, I couldn't help but recognize the work she was describing as systems change — a vision my organization, the Lewis Prize for Music, has set for itself [...] While the pandemic magnified the already apparent need for young people to develop artistic and employable media arts skills, calls for racial justice showed the imperative for adults to provide movement-building support and guidance to young people. The CYD field has simultaneously addressed both of these needs.

Systems change work is intrinsic to CYD, and the holistic approach of CYD is itself systems change....

Read the full commentary by Daniel R. Lewis, founder and chair of the Lewis Prize for Music.

How nonprofits can evolve following a time of uncertainty

July 01, 2021

News_sheet_musicAs the country begins to reopen after more than a year of uncertainty and isolation, the need for a sense of community and belonging is greater than ever. There couldn't be a better time for nonprofit organizations to double down on their commitment to the communities they serve.

According to a recent study commissioned by Fidelity Charitable, 25 percent of current donors plan to increase their donations in the coming year and 54 percent intend to maintain their donation levels. What's more, most donors plan to support local charities. This trend presents a unique opportunity for local organizations committed to purpose-driven work to step up and lead.

For the Brooklyn Youth Music Project (BYMP), a small nonprofit dedicated to teaching and inspiring young musicians from diverse backgrounds, the inability to hold in-person rehearsals and performances caused us to think differently about our fundraising tactics — just as we were coming up on our tenth anniversary. We are certainly not alone in this situation; studies have shown that the pandemic has negatively impacted activities such as volunteering across all sectors around the world.

By changing our perspective on what's possible and staying focused on how to continue serving our community, BYMP was able to evolve and make this a record-breaking year right out of the gate. We did so by employing five principles that can help nonprofits ensure success and sustainability in even the most challenging times:

1. Re-commit. The three part-time employees who make up BYMP — with the support of a committed board of directors — stayed true to our mission despite the challenges we faced.

As an organization that is based on in-person rehearsals and performances, having to shift to a world gone virtual was a daunting task. By keeping our mission of serving the children and families in our community (many of whom had been with BYMP for years) in focus, we were able to find new ways of working and connecting with them. Re-committing to our mission meant doing whatever we could, and had to, to keep the kids connected through music. This also included being fully transparent with our community as to what was, and was not, possible.

2. Shake up the status quo. When faced with unprecedented circumstances, the sooner you acknowledge that old ways of operating need to be upended, the better. We did so by embracing technology that enabled us to leverage virtual events and showcase our students as well as broaden our reach beyond our local community. More on this in Principle 5.

3. Take chances. Unforeseen obstacles presented an opportunity for us to step out of our comfort zones and expand our horizons. We seized the opportunity to dial up our presence by scheduling five concerts over the course of the year — doing virtually something we never could have done in person, even in a milestone anniversary year, due to the resource and logistical needs of staging live events. Taking risks and stepping outside the collective comfort zone is the essential path to organizational growth.

4. Assess your results. Take a thorough inventory of your fundraising tactics and determine what worked and what could have had more impact. Our efforts resulted in record event attendance at virtual fundraisers and performances. Most importantly, donations from our first two fundraisers resulted in a 100 percent increase in donations over 2019. So we will look to incorporate virtual events into our program schedule moving forward, peppering them in with in-person events once pandemic protocols are lifted.

5. Learn new skills. Taking time to learn new skills and programs goes a long way in helping the professional development of your team and strengthening your organization's assets. A win-win for everyone. While it requires an initial investment in time, the long-term results can make for a strong return on investment. For example, the time our staff spent learning video and audio editing for online concerts was substantial, but the skills we gained will continue to pay off for years to come. In addition, by using existing free tools, we expanded our reach and made it easier for both new and existing supporters to donate. With YouTube Premiere, we increased views of a single video by more than 400 percent, and the text-to-mobile feature enabled by Pledge.com helped increase our donations during our concert watch parties.

The good news, as evidenced by the philanthropic community's uncharacteristically responsive, quick, and flexible support for COVID-19 relief efforts, is that individuals and corporations can approach local philanthropy with a sense of urgency. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, one of the keys to ushering in a new era of giving is for large-scale donors to invest in local charities as a way to test and learn and fine-tune their efforts, which in turn can help inform their corporate giving models in advance of supporting national or even global initiatives. So, the task at hand is to make this a long-term reality for nonprofits large and small and those charged with more evergreen, mission-driven programming. Let's keep local charities front and center by re-committing to our missions, shaking up the status quo, taking chances, assessing our results, and learning new skills. These actions will drive forward motion, keep the momentum going, and help develop new ways of connecting with potential donors. This way, smaller charities can become an integral part of ongoing high-impact giving rather than a stepping-stone to larger organizations. There is room for everyone, and the benefits of local giving can be immediately felt within one's own community, which is reason enough to step outside our comfort zones and push through with confidence and conviction.

Every challenge presents an opportunity. In the words of Thomas Edison, "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven't."

Pat Gunther_Brooklyn_Youth_Music_Project_PhilanTopicPat Gunther is managing director of Brooklyn Youth Music Project. She has more than twenty-five years of combined experience in nonprofit arts administration and project management.

5 Questions for...Frances Sykes, President and CEO, Pascale Sykes Foundation

April 27, 2021

For much of its existence, the New Jersey-based Pascale Sykes Foundation has worked to strengthen low-income working families in the New Jersey/New York region through what it calls the Whole Family Approach, a preventive (as opposed to crisis-driven) strategy that helps family members, both adults and children, support one another in achieving their long-term goals. With the understanding that financial stability, healthy relationships, and physical well-being are linked, families are matched with a coach who works alongside family members to identify and set their goals; ensure they have the resources and tools needed to achieve those goals; and connect them to a network of agencies able to deliver holistic, coordinated support. The approach has been applied in various settings and with immigrant families, foster youth, and families dealing with members who are re-entering society from the criminal justice system.

The foundation's work extends into other areas as well. After rural families in southern New Jersey identified transportation as a major challenge, the foundation supported an initiative known as Transportation Plus, which provides residents of the region with connections to NJ Transit. And through its Economic Initiative, a partnership with a community development financial institution, the foundation invests in a series of low-interest loan funds for small businesses and nonprofits in the region.

Frances P. Sykes has led the foundation since its founding in 1992. In 1995, Pascale Sykes trustees voted to sunset the foundation by 2022. PND spoke with Sykes about the foundation's Whole Family Approach, where things stand with the spend-down process, and her hopes for the field.

Headshot_frances_sykesPhilanthropy News Digest: You've said you created the Pascale Sykes Foundation with two intentions: to serve working low-income families that aren't eligible for many safety-net services, and to help reshape the way social services in the United States are delivered. How did you come to settle on those two objectives?

Frances Sykes: When I was teaching, I witnessed a working family struggle to get help for their eleven-year-old, who was in danger of going down the wrong path. The family made too much to qualify for free supportive services, and under a sliding scale they would have been asked to pay more than they could afford. They were stuck, whereas a middle-class family in the same situation more than likely would've been able to afford to pay out of pocket for counseling and other services for their child. It wasn't fair that the issue the child was experiencing wasn't severe enough, or that the family wasn't poor enough, to allow them to access the resources they needed. Far too many families are in that same position — living one step above the poverty line and lacking access to the kinds of support they need. I wanted my work to be a part of the solution to that challenge — to help build a bridge between what families need and the agencies that have the resources to empower them.

The Whole Family Approach evolved over ten years. By working alongside grantees, Pascale Sykes trustees, staff, and grantees could see what made a lasting difference in families' long-term well-being. And we also came to realize that families know what they want and are capable of achieving it if they are taught how to navigate the system. It's not complicated. Adults in charge. Financial stability, relationships, and physical/social/emotional health reinforcing each other. What happens to one person affects the entire family, and what happens to the family affects each individual within it. Root causes must be addressed or problems recur.

The approach turns traditional social work on its head. In our approach, social workers are no longer expected to fix problems or work with individuals in isolation or address isolated issues. Instead, coaches work to build trust and walk alongside every member of the family as they work to achieve their self-defined goals.

PND: A critical component of the Whole Family Approach is the requirement that two "dependable adult caregivers are actively engaged with the children in the family." Why is it important that two adults be involved?

FS: All families look different. But every adult needs someone to call or turn to in an emergency, or just to share good news with. The second adult not only supports the primary caregiver but is an additional support system for children in the family as well. And that's a win-win for everyone. The stronger the support system, the healthier the family and the more likely its members will reach their shared goals.

PND: A July 2020 report that examined the results achieved by eight collaboratives using the Whole Family Approach found that participating families were in a better position to handle the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis because of the stronger familial ties they had forged and the access they had to support networks, even though they still experienced anxiety and mental health issues in addition to the stressors they were facing pre-pandemic. Are you seeing any evidence that the field in general is shifting toward this type of strategy? And looking down the road five to ten years, where do you see challenges to more widespread adoption of the approach?

FS: The field has been shifting for a few years. You see variations of the Whole Family Approach promoted by larger funders like Kellogg, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and other high-profile organizations under names like "2Gen" or "Intergenerational Approach."

I really see no challenges to its adoption by others in the field — even if others give it another name and make it their own. It's a proven approach that we know works better for families. Our research has shown that adults have less financial stress, that ties between adults in a family are strengthened, that children's health and educational achievement improve, and that the academic aspirations of both adults and children are raised. In the time remaining before we officially sunset later this year, the foundation is on a mission to raise awareness of the approach and to get others to embrace it. We believe it can advance the field and put more of our working families on a path to stability.

PND: The foundation's approach emphasizes collaboration — among family members, nonprofits, and human services agencies, and between the foundation and its partners. In a 2019 post for our blog, you urged funders to shift their grantmaking so as to foster more collaboration and less competition among grantees. What are your thoughts about the state of collaboration in the social sector today?

FS: The competition for limited resources has resulted in a fragmented approach to service provision that undermines the value of those services for families in need. Too often, families are forced to start from scratch in their efforts to access services, filling out the same form multiple times for multiple agencies, then receiving a separate set of recommendations from each of those agencies. What's more, different agencies often will offer differing and/or conflicting advice. Families become overwhelmed. Parents become frustrated, unable to prioritize and plan their next steps. Children feel the lack of stability and bear the brunt of its effects. It's also difficult for busy family members to build solid, trusting relationships with representatives from multiple agencies.

We believe collaboration is key. That's what the Whole Family Approach is all about. To maximize their effectiveness, funders, nonprofits, and agencies that have bought into the approach capture and share information about their clients' goals, progress, and life changes in a centralized database, enabling partner agencies to see families as holistic entities with their own unique challenges, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Instead of operating individually, agencies begin to see other nonprofits in the collaboration not as competitors but as teammates they can lean on to organize priorities, share resources, and advance their mutual goals and objectives.

The more foundations see the benefits of the Whole Family Approach, the greater the chances we'll be able to change the system so that it is more efficient and effective in helping families thrive.

PND: In 1996, your board voted to sunset the foundation within thirty years, and in 2009 a non-trustee workgroup researched and set up plans for the spend-down process. How much of an impact has your status as a limited-life foundation had on your grantmaking strategies? And would you recommend the approach to others who may be thinking about establishing a private foundation?

FS: Being a limited-life foundation is necessary for any small foundation that wants to create real change. Change requires the flexibility to respond to unexpected situations. This can only happen if a funder is focused on making change, not preserving the corpus.

The decision to sunset was based on two key factors. First, the decision to make a large impact was critical, and distributing 5 percent to 6 percent of our investment income each year simply would not accomplish that goal. And second, when we started, the Whole Family Approach was not well known. Thirty years later, we're proud of the fact that more foundations and organizations are implementing a version of the approach, and that it is leading to greater impact. I have no doubt the approach will be accepted more broadly. And when it is, instead of shifting into a new focus area or something less relevant to us, we'll be able to say we accomplished our mission.

We look forward to more funders picking up the mantle and moving this work forward in their own way. And I highly recommend our grantmaking strategy and the Whole Family Approach as a way forward for others who want to make a big impact in a particular way.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Pete Gurt, president, Milton Hershey School and Catherine Hershey Schools

April 19, 2021

Unable to have children, chocolate magnate Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, established the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1909 as a boarding school for orphaned boys. A decade later, Hershey created a $60 million endowment for the school – an endowment which today has grown to more than $17 billion.

In the more than hundred years since it was established, the Hershey School has changed its admission policies to allow girls, students of color, and children whose parents are still living. This past fall, the school committed $350 million over six years to establish six learning centers in Pennsylvania that will serve disadvantaged and at-risk youth from birth to age five.

In March, MHS announced plans to open its first Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning (CHS) in 2023 and a second by 2024. Philanthropy News Digest spoke with MHS president Pete Gurt about the initiative and the organization’s goals in the area of early childhood education.

Headshot_Pete_Gurt_MHS_CHSPhilanthropy News Digest: You're investing a lot of money, $350 million, to create six Catherine Hershey centers in Pennsylvania over the next decade or so. How did you and the board arrive at the amount? And how will the centers build on and advance the mission of MHS?

Pete Gurt: The mission of MHS is to educate low-income children so they can lead fulfilling and productive lives and escape the cycle of poverty. MHS currently serves two thousand children in pre-K through twelfth grade. Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning represent a tremendous opportunity for us to further our mission and help disadvantaged and at-risk children who are younger — from birth to age five. We believe the program at CHS will give low-income children the foundation they need to become kindergarten-ready and ultimately reach their full potential. And just like at MHS, there will be no cost for children to attend.

PND: What exactly will that investment support and how many students will the centers serve?

PG: Over approximately six years, the $350 million investment will go toward the construction and operations of up to six centers in Pennsylvania. CHS is a privately funded project that does not draw from tax dollars or other public sources of income. The first center, scheduled to open in 2023 on the MHS campus in Hershey, will serve a hundred and fifty local-area children from low-income backgrounds.

CHS plans to have up to eighty employees and volunteers at the first school. Once all six centers are open, about nine hundred children will be supported by the initiative.

PND: What inspired your decision to do this now?

PG: The boards and management of MHS and the Hershey Trust Company underwent a comprehensive, multiyear study of potential ways to serve more low-income children. After careful consideration, our leadership recognized the extraordinary opportunity that CHS represents.

The centers will provide a quality educational program to some of the youngest and most vulnerable kids in Pennsylvania. And while the COVID-19 pandemic didn't directly inspire our decision to move forward with CHS, it’s made the challenges that children living in poverty face clearer than ever. The child poverty rate in the U.S. rose to nearly 20 percent during the worst months of the pandemic, underscoring just how many kids are in need. We believe CHS is the right initiative at the right time and are confident it will have a positive impact on children, their families, and our communities at a moment when that is what we need.

PND: The kids at MHS come from low-income backgrounds. What do you hope the new Catherine Hershey schools will be able to do to build stability for the kids they enroll?

PG: For more than a hundred and ten years, MHS has been serving children from economically disadvantaged and at-risk backgrounds by providing a quality education and home life experience. Those lessons will be applied to CHS, while also being age-appropriate for the children who attend them.

The CHS curriculum will focus on the child’s educational, social, emotional, and cognitive development — supporting the "whole child." Children also will be provided nutritious meals, transportation, and the supplies they need to succeed. Each center will have a dedicated staff member to connect parents to resources that will assist families in building and maintaining stability. Those resources will include parenting and educational information, housing services, healthcare referrals, and job training.

In developing the CHS program, we were guided by research from leading early childhood education experts. We hope the result will help more children escape the cycle of poverty. We encourage readers to visit www.chslearn.org to learn more.

PND: Do you think the model you've developed for CHS is replicable nationally?

PG: We certainly hope our whole-child education program will be replicated around the country. Part of our goal in creating the CHS initiative is to develop best practices that can be shared with other educators. Research shows participation in quality early childhood education programs can directly improve kids’ learning and development. Much of the school readiness gap between low- and high-income students is created — and can be prevented — before formal schooling begins through early childhood education.

We believe CHS is an important starting point for changing the trajectory of children from low-income families. This is critical work, and we want to set an example that would make our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey, proud.

Matt Sinclair

Jobs for America’s Graduates supports our nation’s most vulnerable students

March 29, 2021

Jobs for Americas GraduatesJobs for America's Graduates (JAG) was founded forty years ago to address the inequities experienced by too many young adults in America. Over those four decades, JAG participants have shown that a well-executed model can help those historically held back by discrimination, poverty, and other barriers achieve equal or greater success in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. As a national nonprofit with affiliates in 40 states operating across 1,450 communities, JAG reaches 76,000 of the most underserved youth in America each year, providing them with the essential skills they need for success.

As the country continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and renewed calls to address racial and social inequities, JAG continues to support young people who have been hardest hit — and are likely to be impacted the longest. JAG represents the diversity of America and serves people of color, those with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and other underserved populations with programs that help them achieve equality in outcomes and opportunities.

During the past year – and throughout its forty-year history — JAG has achieved remarkable outcomes. Consider the following:

  • JAG students achieved a 97 percent high school graduation rate in 2020, which is higher than the 84 percent national graduation rate. And JAG serves the lowest performing 20 percent to 40 percent of the high school population.
  • JAG graduates are 230 percent more likely to be employed full-time than their non-JAG peers, and for African-American participants the rate is nearly 290 percent.
  • JAG graduates are twice as likely to go on to postsecondary education as their non-JAG peers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 31, 2020, the highest unemployment rates in the nation were experienced by youth 18 to 19 years old (30+ percent). But for the JAG Class of 2019, the rate was less than 11 percent — a third that of the national average for all youth in that age group, not just the most vulnerable students served by JAG.

JAG achieves these kinds of outcomes thanks to a "village" of supporters, including governors, nineteen thousand employer partners, donors, legislators, school administrators, and other champions and advocates. Fourteen of the nation's acting governors serve on the JAG board of directors — the largest number of governors serving on any board in the country. The board is chaired by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), with support from vice chair Kim Reynolds (R-IA). Indeed, JAG has benefited from bipartisan support since its inception, while legislatures in twenty-four states have continued their support for the organization, recognizing that the most underserved populations need our services today more than ever.

Behind the scenes, JAG Specialists (teachers) are the key to student success, managing the day-to-day with their students, helping students master JAG’s 37 Employability Skills Competencies, and showing unwavering support for their kids.

Among other things, they:

  • Serve as a lifeline for their students. JAG Specialists often are the most consistently present adult in their students' lives, offering guidance that helps disadvantaged young people stay in school, graduate on time, and pursue postsecondary education and/or a career. In addition, because JAG is a trauma-informed organization, JAG Specialists have been able to help their students overcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation stemming from the COVID crisis.
  • Go above and beyond for their students. JAG students (and their families) have been disproportionally impacted by job losses during the pandemic, with many no longer able to depend on regular paychecks to cover their basic expenses. During the pandemic, JAG Specialists have delivered groceries to food-insecure families that might otherwise not eat, laundered students’ uniforms to ensure they have clean clothes to wear to work, and provided masks and cleaning supplies to students and families in need as well as learning materials where Internet access is not available.
  • Have worked tirelessly with school districts, our corporate partners, and other supporters to provide much-needed tech equipment and connectivity during the pandemic. The sudden, unplanned switch to remote and/or hybrid learning in many school districts spotlighted the homework gap: students without access to technology are at a distinct disadvantage. For vulnerable youth who already faced economic and academic challenges, this leads to a growing risk that they will wind up a lost generation. JAG has partnered with companies like T-Mobile and AT&T to provide computers and connectivity to JAG students so they can stay engaged and involved with school, jobs, and support systems.
  • Provide virtual job-readiness training. JAG Specialists have always trained their students in the organization's thirty-seven job-readiness skills (e.g., resume writing, interview prep, etc.). Now, they're doing it virtually, preparing students to enter one of the most daunting job markets in recent history.
  • Facilitate partnerships. JAG Specialists, working with JAG National, are securing employment and learning partnerships with companies like Adecco, McDonald’s, Honeywell, Synchrony, AT&T, and Entergy. These partners provide JAG students with real-world experience, mentoring, and — often — their first jobs.

While JAG has enjoyed overwhelming support during this difficult year from its partners, donors, legislators, administrators, and teachers, it’s also important to acknowledge the 76,000 JAG students who rose to the occasion, showing their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. They are the real heroes in this story.

Headshot_kenneth-m-smithKen Smith serves as president and CEO of Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG), the nation's largest dropout prevention and school-to-career transition program for young people of promise. He also serves as a trustee of the America's Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of more than three hundred corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children and young people.

What COVID-19 has taught us about investing in public health

March 12, 2021

2020_May_Ho Chi Minh City_screening_Operation_SmileCOVID-19 continues to pose novel challenges to health systems around the world. With the rapid depletion of stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and severe shortages of physical space in which to care for those affected by this perplexing and terrible disease, even well-resourced surgical health systems have been pushed to the brink of their capacity.

But in many low- and middle-income countries, the virus that emerged in late 2019 has exacerbated a problem that remains anything but novel in 2021. In places that lack the infrastructure, funding, and healthcare workforce able to cope with the pre-pandemic needs of its citizens, COVID-19 has further limited the ability of public health systems to provide essential surgical care to people who need it.

A study published in the British Journal of Surgery estimates that over a twelve-week period during the initial surge of COVID cases last spring, hospitals in low- and middle-income countries were forced to cancel more than 15.5 million surgical procedures as they prioritized patients infected with the virus. The ripple effect caused by these cancellations has had costly consequences in terms of avoidable human suffering. People who need surgery for trauma, cancer, burns, or congenital conditions such as cleft lip and cleft palate have been forced to wait and grapple with the debilitating effects of their conditions. Lives have been lost.

On a personal level, the coronavirus pandemic has brought back memories of my experience in Liberia leading Africare's response to the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic. During that emergency, all essential and emergency public health services were suspended as the healthcare system struggled to respond to the surge in Ebola cases. As a result of insufficient investment over many years, the country was ill prepared to address the highly infectious nature of the disease, and its response was further weakened by the dearth of critical medical equipment, testing and diagnostic capabilities, healthcare workers with the training needed to respond to the disease, and adequate PPE.

We see many of the same factors at work today, with predictable results, including an erosion of trust and confidence in health workers' capacity to provide adequate care and in patients' ability to receive care without risking their lives. As reported in a Journal of Public Health paper, patients in need of surgery are not seeking care for fear of contracting COVID while in hospital or a clinic. And this is in addition to preexisting structural, financial, and socioeconomic barriers that prevent tens of millions of people from accessing safe surgery.

We must and can do better.

If we are to care for the countless number of people in need of surgery while remaining responsive and resilient when faced with outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19, the global health and international development communities must step up their capacity-building investments in both surgical ecosystems and public health systems.

Early on in the pandemic, Operation Smile made the difficult decision to put all its medical programs on pause. We knew hospitals and frontline health workers would soon be overwhelmed by an influx of desperately sick patients and that we needed to protect the people who turn to us for help, their families, and our staff and volunteers by suspending international travel indefinitely.

These measures resulted in surgery and dental care being delayed for thousands of Operation Smile patients. At the same time, we decided to increase our investment in public health systems in the countries where we work, both in response to the virus and to improve the quality of locally available care after the pandemic was over. To that end, we leveraged our longstanding relationships with various ministries of health and NGO partners to procure and donate PPE, respiratory equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and food and hygiene supplies to hospitals and communities hard hit by the virus.

What has been especially impressive about the global surgery community's response to COVID-19, however, has been its unity. Despite all the challenges posed by international travel restrictions, NGOs have turned to one another for help in overcoming their logistics and implementation hurdles. We experienced this firsthand in our work with organizations like the World Children Initiative, African Medical and Research Foundation, Kids Operating Room, Lifebox, and Medical Aid International, all of which have been instrumental in helping us procure and distribute PPE and medical supplies and equipment across Africa.

And the response extends beyond physical donations. Academic institutions, surgical societies, NGOs, and corporations have also come together to provide virtual training and education opportunities to frontline healthcare providers in resource-constrained settings. Operation Smile today partners with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa, and ministries of health in a number of countries to help thousands of health workers upgrade their skills and address the unique challenges they face.

At the end of the day, investments in public health systems help build confidence among patients, who can see that they will receive care that is safe and effective, as well as health workers, who are empowered with the knowledge, supplies, and skills they need to deliver relevant care safely and in a timely fashion. Indeed, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently affirmed that the time for such investments is now: "Public health is more than medicine and science and it is bigger than any individual and there is hope that if we invest in health systems…we can bring this virus under control and go forward together to tackle other challenges of our times."

In the same essay, however, Tedros warned that the response to COVID-19 is not enough to "address the global under-investment in essential public health functions and resilient health systems, nor the urgent need for a 'One Health' approach that encompasses the health of humans, animals, and the planet we share. There is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, climate change or inequality."

At Operation Smile, we've learned that the time is always right to invest in systems with the aim of making them more resilient and responsive to the needs of the people they are intended to serve. But only a global response will yield the kind of impact we desperately need to stop COVID in its tracks and end the pandemic.

As the old saying goes, "to whom much is given much is required." Today, more than ever, global health stakeholders and international development actors must step up and provide the financial and human capital needed to build public health systems that can respond to emerging health needs efficiently and effectively. There's a not a moment to waste.

(Photo credit: Operation Smile)

Ernest Gaie_operation_smile_philantopicErnest Gaie serves as senior advisor for global business operations at Operation Smile.

Charter schools have contributed to education equality and saved lives

February 22, 2021

Kids_amber_chaarterFor African Americans, learning and knowledge has been — and continues to be — the drumline of survival and success.

Enslaved black families knew this. It's why they risked severe punishment by breaking laws that forbid them learning how to read and write. The opening of black colleges and universities after the Civil War signaled that those dark ages were over, but education equality was still little more than a dream.

But much progress has been made, albeit slowly and in stages. It has come thanks to a series of landmark U.S. court cases related to equality of opportunity in K-12 education as well as self-help movements like the citizenship schools of the 1950s, the freedom schools of the '60s, on through to charter schools today.

Surprised to see charter schools in that list? You shouldn't be. Though not exclusively African American, charter schools have been tremendously successful in helping minority students get a quality education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these schools enroll higher percentages of minority and low-income students than traditional schools. And they've been doing that for nearly three decades.

In 1992, City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, became the nation's first publicly funded, privately run charter school. Its founders set out to pioneer a new way of teaching students who encountered the harsh impact of drug abuse, jail, or even homelessness.

Out of desolation, the founders of City Academy created opportunities for their students. The small school's rigorous instruction and caring teachers have gone on to inspire education activists nationwide to follow its example. Today, there are 7,200 charter schools in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

These schools are not only giving kids an education. In many cases, they are literally saving lives. Education analyst Corey A. DeAngelis reports that winning a lottery to attend a charter school in New York City reduced the likelihood of incarceration for male students by 100 percent. The study also found that female charter school students were 59 percent less likely to experience teen pregnancy.

It's not that these schools are daily preaching "stay out of jail and avoid teen pregnancy." But those self-destructive behaviors don't seem to flourish in schools rooted in a vision of achieving excellence and writing a legacy of purpose.

Tyal Prince agrees. After leaving his district school disappointed and disillusioned, Prince attended Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. He went on to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, he is employed by DataBank and is responsible for multi-million dollar contracts in the areas of cloud computing and other technology services.

Prince has also become a community leader, working with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Most importantly, he celebrates life as a family man and a first-time dad.

Prince attributes his success to Lincoln Park. "Going to a charter school saved my life," he says. "That's why I'm trying to make sure that I can get my little brother into a charter school for high school as well."

But what Prince found at Lincoln Park is not available to millions of his African American brothers and sisters — especially those in our largest cities. Too often, they find themselves consigned to public schools mired in a defeatist vision of low-expectations, victimhood, and resignation.

Children, no matter where they live, should not be relegated to that kind of non-productive, non-learning environment. They deserve options — and charter schools have proven to be an attractive and productive option.

Just ask Lenny McAllister, a champion for education equality and civil rights, now serving as CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. The coalition encompasses well over a hundred brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools throughout the Keystone State. Of the 169,000 students enrolled in those schools this year, roughly 70 percent are students of color and approximately two-thirds are eligible for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program.

McAllister sees charter schools as "school choice within public education," and notes that parents of children enrolled in a charter school, regardless of their economic circumstances, are afforded "self-determination in education, the same self-determination that we celebrate each Fourth of July in our Declaration of Independence."

I couldn't agree more.

Headshot_Angela_SailorAngela Sailor is a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.

The Audacity of Joe Biden

February 01, 2021



Civic_cultureIn her victory speech on November 7, 2020, then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris spoke of Joe Biden’s audacity in selecting a woman — a Black and Asian-American woman, no less — as his running mate.

The turn of phrase brought to mind the title of former president Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, forming a bridge to the administration in which Biden served so successfully.

Using the word “audacity” to describe a politician with a reputation for “reaching across the aisle” was, in itself, a little audacious.

And it was perfect.

For me personally, Kamala Harris’s words reminded me of a brief conversation I once had with then-Senator Joe Biden.

In 2002, I attended a social gathering in Washington, D.C., at which two senior senators were present: John McCain of Arizona, a Republican, and Joe Biden of Delaware, a Democrat. I spoke briefly and cordially with both. My conversation with Sen. McCain focused on service-disabled veterans and the steps we could take as a nation to honor their sacrifices by creating more opportunities for them. During my conversation with Sen. Biden, I asked, “Am I shaking the hand of the next president of the United States?” His response took me by surprise. He smiled and gestured affectionately toward McCain. “No, that’s him.”

Even as a complete outsider, I could sense the deep and abiding respect between these men from different ends of the political spectrum. They were rivals, yes, but also friends and fellow statesmen engaged in the effort of maintaining and strengthening democracy.

My interaction with Joe Biden engraved forever on my heart the importance of friendship and decency in politics. It also cemented for me the integral role of courage in democracy.

John McCain had served in Vietnam, enduring years of torture as a prisoner of war. He became the symbol of a certain kind of courage.

Together with McCain, Joe Biden has been emblematic of another kind of courage: the courage to consider other viewpoints, to stay open to compromise and conciliation, to trust in the good faith of one’s adversaries based on a common set of values and traditions. Indeed, in his inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol, President Joe Biden spoke openly of the courage he expects of all Americans, of the need to “listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another.”

This kind of courage — civil courage — is truly what we need today. We need the courage to end systemic racism, to fight poverty, to address climate change, to ensure that every child has a loving home, to tackle unemployment, to unite our divided nation.

From the moment I arrived in the United States as a young man, I have cherished and admired the decency and generosity of “ordinary” Americans, from the Carolinas to the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, in small towns and big cities alike. Certainly, among these diverse multitudes you can find less charitable individuals and groups. But I’ve found that for every zealot espousing a close-minded ideology, there are tens of thousands of Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — whose open minds and open hearts provide a critical mass of kindness and understanding each and every day.

After decades of residing in the U.S. and participating in American life, I have come to value the courage that underlies all that kindness and understanding.

It is not unique to America, certainly.

It is a quality I recognize from my travels across six continents and in my conversations with dairy farmers in Kenya, schoolchildren in Bolivia, youth in Morocco, entrepreneurs in India, a restauranteur in South Sudan, community leaders in Ghana, a registered nurse (and SOS Children’s Villages alumna) in Jamaica.

That same courage was evident in my meetings with other, more celebrated individuals, from astronaut and U.S. senator John Glenn to Mother Teresa, from the Dalai Lama to President Bill Clinton.

After each of these interactions, I came away deeply impressed with the tremendous courage of individuals to make transformational change, regardless of the circumstances or the difficulty involved.

The United States is a country where this kind of courage is critical to our economic and social progress, our national security, and our global leadership.

In an open letter I wrote to President Biden and Vice President Harris, I urged them to focus on vulnerable children and youth in this country and ensure that they have the safety, care, and opportunities they need to thrive.

No other country has civic courage woven into its fiber the way America does. No other country needs it as much we do right now.

Headshot_Neil_GhoshNeil Ghosh (@neilghosh4 / ceo@sos-usa.org), chief executive officer of SOS Children's Villages USA and founder of the Global Youth Initiative, is an advocate of vulnerable children and youth; he focuses on advancing nimble and agile cross-sector collaboration systems to foster sustainable development.

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Amoretta Morris, Director, National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

December 10, 2020

Amoretta Morris joined The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013 as a senior associate responsible for overseeing the Family-Centered Community Change initiative. In 2016, she was named director of the foundation's national community strategies, in which role she leads its efforts to help local partners and community stakeholders strengthen their neighborhoods.

Morris's portfolio includes Evidence2Success, which supports partnerships aimed at engaging elected officials, public agencies, and community members in efforts to improve child well-being; community safety and trauma-response initiatives in several cities, including Atlanta; and nationwide efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

Before joining the foundation, she served as director of student attendance for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw activities ranging from chronic absence interventions and dropout prevention initiatives to services for homeless students. Before that, she was a youth and education policy advisor in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the founding director and lead organizer for the Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, an advocacy group that works to mobilize youth and adults in support of juvenile justice reform.

PND spoke with Morris about how philanthropy can help advance community health and safety during a pandemic.

Headshot_amoretta_morris_aecfPhilanthropy News Digest: How does family-centered community change differ from other types of change strategies, especially with respect to community health and safety?

Amoretta Morris: Unlike other efforts that focus on one specific element, such as education or health, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative took a multipronged approach to improving family well-being in three key areas: family economic stability; parent engagement and leadership; and early child care and education. The initiative was built around the belief that both parents and children will have significantly better outcomes if communities are able to strengthen and combine these services instead of relying on a single intervention.

PND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the foundation's efforts to promote access to education, affordable housing, and employment opportunities? What have you and your colleagues done to adapt existing projects and/or strategies to address the immediate and/or longer-term impacts of the pandemic?

AM: The pandemic has created — and in many cases, exacerbated — educational, employment, and social pressures for young people and families. Knowing this, the foundation reallocated some of our funding, repurposed existing resources, amended grant agreements, and increased general operating support to our grantees so that they had flexibility to address the challenges their communities are facing.

In response, our partners adapted their strategies in creative ways to support kids and families. These efforts have included things like connecting people to health care; helping families access food and other critical resources; providing financial assistance to help keep families in their homes, as well as housing individuals experiencing homelessness and advocating to halt evictions and protect renters; working to prevent violence and support those affected by it; supporting immigrant families, including those who do not qualify for state or federal benefits; and helping students secure computers and the reliable Internet access they need for distance learning.

We know that communities are battling multiple pandemics simultaneously — COVID-19, economic distress, racial injustice, and gun violence — and that most of them, including COVID-19, will not immediately disappear, even with a vaccine. So, we remain focused on our commitment to young people and their families and the structural change needed to help all kids thrive.

PND: In 2012, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative implemented a new approach to community partnerships called strategic co-investing. The approach calls for the awarding of flexible grant funding, "nesting" an issue within an existing community change effort, and a rethinking of the funder-grantee relationship in which the funder serves as more of a strategic thought partner to its grantees rather than as the "buyer" of certain outcomes and deliverables. What are some of the lessons you've learned from the initiative — both for funders and for community partners?

AM: The strategic co-investor role with Family-Centered Community Change was a new way of working for the foundation — one that enabled us to examine the ways we engage with grantees, residents, and other local funders. Among many lessons, FCCC emphasized the importance of both systemic solutions that address structural barriers and targeted interventions with families and their children. Local leaders cannot "service" their way out of poverty — we need comprehensive policy solutions that create more equitable pathways to opportunity, coupled with services and resources that help children and their families achieve stability and thrive.

The strategic co-investor role also confirmed for us the catalytic effect national funding can have. Investment from a national foundation is often seen as a vote of confidence and can help partners secure additional funding from federal and state government, local funders, or other national philanthropies. And I believe that for our community partners, the work highlighted the critical importance of listening to the families they serve, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and leveraging them as partners.

PND: Your program at the foundation is focused on driving community change by providing a holistic suite of services to families. What are some of the things philanthropy can do to better support community members in designing and implementing their own strategies for improving community health and safety? What about gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for young Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 and has been on the rise since the early days of the pandemic in many parts of the country?

AM: At the Casey Foundation, we want all young people to have the power and resources needed to thrive in communities that are strong and safe. The foundation advances strategies to ensure that youth and families of color have what they need to flourish — safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and access to resources that promote children's well-being and positive development. To realize that vision, we, as funders, must be willing to build and share power with communities. Providing tools, resources, and trainings is part of the solution. We must also commit to more authentically engaging with and building the capacity of youth and their families to meaningfully contribute their experience and knowledge in the problem-solving process.

With regard to gun violence, we focus on community safety and violence prevention as part of our national community strategies. That work is rooted in the understanding that violence is a health crisis that must be solved through comprehensive, community-led interventions. For example, in Atlanta, one of our "hometowns," we're partnering with grassroots organizations to equip city residents with the tools and skills they need to be peacemakers and provide pathways out of violence. Our nonprofit partner CHRIS 180 is leading the charge by implementing Cure Violence, a public-health approach to address shootings; it treats shootings like an epidemic that must be stopped before spreading. Under that model, credible messengers — people with strong community ties — act to intervene when violence or retaliation is likely to occur, while community-based organizations that run the programs partner with various local actors like hospital staff, nonprofits, and other organizations to prevent additional violence.

We also invest in national networks focused on promoting solutions in which violence is treated as an urgent public health matter. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, for example, supports hospital-based intervention programs where healthcare staff and community organizations provide bedside counseling to patients who have experienced violent injuries with the aim of steering them away from retaliation. And national advocacy partners like the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute have launched campaigns that promote community intervention strategies and demand accountability from elected officials for ending gun violence in their communities.

But we're not alone in this work. We also invest in these efforts alongside our peers as members of the Fund for a Safer Future, a funder collaborative that supports policy, research, and community-based interventions aimed at preventing gun violence.

PND: You've led a nonprofit coalition that advocates for juvenile justice reform, a municipal government's efforts to support underserved and homeless students, and now a national foundation's strategy to center community change in families. Based on your experience in different sectors, what is the one thing we can do to improve child well-being and flourishing, for all children?

AM: The throughline is equity. No matter where the starting place is, your approach should center the voices and experience of those most directly affected by the issue you are trying to solve. In juvenile justice reform, it was organizing alongside formerly incarcerated youth and their families. In DC Public Schools, it meant listening to homeless students, parents, and the school counselors who were making herculean efforts to support those students and parents. And in philanthropy, it is all about deeply listening to grantees, walking neighborhoods, and having community residents take the lead. When you start with the people closest to the pain of the problem, they will lead you to the solution.

Kyoko Uchida

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

Heckscher_homeIf there has ever been a time when we need to embrace bold solutions in education, especially to the challenges faced by the underserved, now is the time. And at this critical juncture, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and foundations should lead by doing what we do best. We need, as Michael Bloomberg wrote, to "embolden government" by investing in innovation and demonstrating what works, even if that means assuming more than a normal amount of risk.

At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we support programs and partnerships that transform specific inflection points into paths toward success. This year, we have distilled that approach into a focus on three critical areas: early childhood literacy, college access and success, and, in what has become a kind of pandemic throughline connecting kindergarten to college, remote learning.

Allow me to share some of the details:

1. Focus funding on early literacy, where learning loss is most critical. We focused on early literacy in 2020 because we know that kindergarten through second grade are among the most critical years in a child's formal education, years in which the prevention of learning loss is crucial. During a normal year, K-3 students from underserved communities lose three months of reading knowledge over the summer; COVID-19 has exacerbated those losses. Even though school is technically in session for many, look at what's happening in California. The California Department of Education recently reported an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among students in the elementary grades, with the highest increase in grades two through four and among Black and Hispanic students, reinforcing what we already knew: remote learning disproportionately hurts students of color. In New York City students who are completing an assignment or a check-in form for the day but who may not be attending classes are counted as present for full-day instruction.

To help address the problem, we are supporting multiple projects that address early literacy learning loss and are urging other funders to do the same. This fall, we developed a project that enlists Brooklyn College students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate early childhood literacy courses to serve as literacy tutors for students in the New York City public school system. Participants in the program are being trained in Reading Rescue, a one-on-one research and evidence-based intervention targeted to high-need first-grade students who are reading below grade level. The program ensures that students receive explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics using techniques determined to be most effective by experts in the field of reading science. We are also funding Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, all of which have been proven to work, and have provided a third year of funding for EarlyBird, a targeted solution to the current problematic state of dyslexia diagnosis.

We cannot allow our most vulnerable children to fall further behind in the fundamental area of literacy. With that in mind, education funders should pay special attention to proven early literacy programs, today and in the years to come.

2. Supporting teachers who do not have the skills needed to teach remotely. Remote learning does not work for poor kids, particularly poor kids in elementary school. In fact, remote instruction is far from ideal for any student, and most teachers lack the skills needed to teach remotely in an effective way. In a national survey of more than twelve hundred K-12 teachers conducted by ClassTag in March, more than half (56.7 percent) of the teachers who responded said they are "not prepared to facilitate remote learning," while a somewhat smaller percentage (42.8 percent) said they alone are responsible for deciding which remote/online tools they use. We know teachers are in need of support, yet not enough attention has been paid to helping them learn how to teach online.

Now, we have never been fans or successful funders of professional development for teachers, for any number of reasons, including difficulties in measuring its impact on student achievement, but desperate times demand desperate measures and have led us to re-examine our position and ask whether there is an opportunity here to support professional development with respect to the skills teachers need to teach online effectively. Many of these skills are basic and easily learned — how to engage students while conducting a Zoom session, how to use tools like Nearpod, how to manage breakout rooms — and all are crucial in keeping students engaged.

With our support, Doug Lemov and his team at Teach Like a Champion offered synchronous webinars for teachers and school leaders at our grantee schools and organizations. The webinars were predicated on the idea that to truly understand the content they were delivering online, educators needed to both absorb it and experience it as participants in synchronous sessions. They needed, as Lemov explained, to be “cold called,” to share short written responses with their peers, and to participate in online discussions. In short, they needed to be fully engaged in an online session for ninety minutes in order to understand how digital tools shape a learning culture. The results of the initiative have been impressive, and classes were oversubscribed as word of the value of the experience spread.

We’ve also provided funding for the Relay Graduate School of Education in support of a series of synchronous online professional development trainings for teachers, school leaders, and alumni of Teach for America. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Relay has run workshops for more than fifteen hundred school leaders and teachers across the country, including over thirty workshops delivered directly to schools and school networks.

The skills needed to teach effectively have changed over the past few months. It is incumbent on us as funders to help teachers learn the basic tech skills that allow them to do what they do best: connect with their students.

3. Increasing investments in college access and success programs — because the best leg up and out of poverty is a college degree. College access and success for underserved students is still the surest path out of poverty. This year, we focused on enabling inner-city high school students, regardless of their achievement level, to earn early college credits, even when their courses were remote. To that end, our staff came up with a way to broaden the appeal of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams by encouraging students to take courses and the exams via ModernStates.org. Underwritten by philanthropist Steve Klinsky, the site funds the production of online courses taught by college professors designed to prepare students for the exams; it also covers test fees so that students can earn up to a year of college credit without the added cost of tuition or textbooks. At a time when the cost of college is an ever-increasing burden to matriculation and persistence, we see this as an important lever to keep college-going students not just on track but ahead of the curve.

We also envisioned and funded a strategic partnership between two of the best college access and success programs for high-achieving youth Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet) — focused on building up the path from college to a career. While an impressive 90 percent of SEO Scholars earn a college degree, the organization identified a gap in its services: adequately preparing students for the transition from college to employment. Enter OppNet, which teaches career-readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students who have a similar profile to SEO Scholars. OppNet uses a train-the-trainer approach to improving student career competencies and outcomes, and the partnership ultimately enables both programs to better and more broadly serve underserved kids.

Last but not least, we doubled down on our college-success initiatives: we continued our support of intensive career development and leadership training for low-income, first-generation college students via America Needs You; we underwrote the development of a software solution (by Overgrad) that provides counselors and students, in New York, with a localized approach to the college access process; and we increased support for our own transfer credit initiative, resulting in the development of Transfer Explorer, a revolutionary tool for CUNY students. This free, searchable, user-friendly database offers information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions in the CUNY system — the first time such information has been made publicly available. Thanks to the database, CUNY students can avoid the loss of credits when they transfer between schools in the system, increasing the likelihood they will graduate. 

We are all struggling to find a way out of this mess. I don’t have a clue as to when it will end or how, but I often find myself returning to that old, old saying, “this too shall pass.” While we look forward to that day, let’s embrace our obligation now, today, to take bold action that helps level the playing field for underserved youth.

Headshot_peter_sloane_heckscher_foundation_philantopicPeter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, is deeply committed to enhancing educational opportunities for young people.

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