140 posts categorized "Community Improvement/Development"

Texas Border Families Fuel a Network to Build Power and Equity

October 11, 2019

Rio-grande-valleyIf you're familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and listen to the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., you know it has nothing to do with the reality lived by most families in the region.

Even as the national spotlight continues to cast its glare on the border, a collective yearning for human dignity, civil rights, and community progress is building in the valley, which is home to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, the aspirations of the people who live there — and the region's vibrancy — are easy to overlook.

What you won't learn from listening to the president and his supporters is that the region is home to a grassroots movement driven largely by Latinx families comprised of both U.S. citizens and immigrants that for years has been advocating for solutions to problems created by decades of structural poverty and a lack of equitable access to financial resources.

Families in the region know better than anyone how public policies create progress and economic opportunity — or fail to. Poverty and intolerance, they will tell you, are blocking human potential — and creating costs for all of us. At the same time, dignity and compassion continue to be core values of the region's residents as they organize for social change and better lives.

"This is a moment where people can see beyond themselves," says Martha Sanchez, organizing coordinator for farmworker and civil rights organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). "Hate is not healthy for anybody. We need to look more deeply."

A Philanthropic Network Amplifies the Voices of Families

Central to this movement-building work, community and family leaders say, is the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a multi-issue coalition of Marguerite Casey Foundation grantees and allies. It is among fifteen regional networks the foundation and its grantees started. (The foundation, which has invested more than $7 million in the Equal Voice Network model, also supports the Native Voice Network and a youth-led network).

 

The network is an incubator of sorts where low-income families can meet, voice ideas, and focus collectively on bottom-up, community-led policy solutions.

Grassroots leaders in the region will also tell you that the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has been investing in community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley since 2003, is one of the few philanthropic funders to issue sizable, multiyear general support grants to nonprofits in support of family-led movement building. Those dollars are used by grantees as they see fit in their efforts to alleviate poverty and promote equity in the valley. As we like to think, that support represents both philanthropic trust and movement building in action.

"We try to be a regular presence, to see how we can connect organizations with other ones. It's about being a bridge," says Christina Patiño Houle, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network weaver, a role akin to a coordinator or facilitator. "What we provide is convening space. The network provides the focus of pulling people in so they're in conversation."

The network is comprised of eight foundation grantees in the valley and approximately twenty allied nonprofit organizations, many of them also based in the region.

Because network members are in regular contact with Rio Grande Valley residents and the focus is on grassroots movement building, local, state and U.S. government officials — including elected ones — make it a point to stay in frequent communication with the organizations and their leaders.

"It's a testament to the network's ability to mobilize people," says Patiño Houle.

Network members meet regularly to discuss the well-being of families in the region, which boasts more than forty-five cities and hundreds of unincorporated neighborhoods known as colonias.

While the issue of immigration touches all network members in some way, families say there is more to life in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties than what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border: families are fighting to secure healthy, stable, and safe communities, quality education for their children, and peace and prosperity. So when network members meet in working groups, they also focus on jobs, housing, civic engagement, education, and health.

Out of that collective focus comes passion-inspired efforts aimed at creating positive social change. Families are at the vanguard of these efforts.

The work often starts at one nonprofit organization, which then spreads the word to other network members. Or it can emanate from weeks or months of brainstorming after a group of network members have heard from families about the steps needed to go forward. The network also amplifies the work of its partner organizations.

Families Honor Asylum Seekers — by Dancing

The morning before Mother's Day is muggy and overcast near Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city about twenty-five miles from the border. At Sunflower Memorial Park, in the flatlands off state Route 107, the inviting rhythm of Mexican-Caribbean music blares from loudspeakers.

Under a metal shelter, about ninety people — nearly all women — are wearing workout clothing, shuffling left then right, hips twisting freely and arms waving to the beat of cumbia and reggaeton. It looks like a normal exercise class at a local gym, but nearby are Maria Campos, her daughters, and about fifteen cardboard boxes full of goods.

Before participants start dancing, they hand Campos and her children toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, pasta, canned food, blankets and clothing.

The donated items will go to asylum seekers and others who were recently released from federal immigration facilities and are now waiting at shelters to be united with relatives or sponsors. The event is organized by LUPE, the grassroots nonprofit started by activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989. Campos and her daughters are LUPE members. They and the participants at the park are continuing the work of serving humanity.

"This is the closest that many community members will get to what's happening at the border," says John-Michael Torres, LUPE's communications coordinator, as the music continues in the background. "We want to lift up treating people the way we want to be treated."

Campos, who lives in a colonia near Edinburg, has visited shelters with other LUPE members — some of whom have read books to migrant children there — to offer support to asylum seekers released from U.S. detention facilities.

"I put my hand on their shoulder," she says in Spanish. "I tell them, 'You are not alone.'"

Families Lend a Hand to Asylum Seekers

Mother's Day, and the air is still thick and humid in Brownsville, which sits about sixty miles southeast of Edinburg. At the city's bus station — minutes from a U.S. Mexico-border crossing — Sergio Cordova has arrived with food and supplies for immigrants and asylum seekers following their release from U.S. detention.

He is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, a humanitarian organization that provides food and emergency supplies to asylum seekers and migrants on both sides of the border. The network supports Team Brownsville by amplifying its needs and supporting its communication efforts.

As asylum seekers have arrived at the border in recent months, nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, have dispatched staff members to talk with them about the conditions there and their treatment by U.S. authorities. U.S. border guards are stationed at the midpoint of the bridge that crosses the river to Brownsville, and these days they turn away asylum seekers looking to be processed at the border and instruct them to wait in Mexico. Advocates say the old protocol of allowing asylum seekers to start the process after they had crossed onto U.S. soil was safer and more compassionate for families fleeing strife, turmoil, and violence.

Inside the Brownsville bus station, passengers are waiting to board buses to distant points. At first, it's hard to determine who might have been released from federal immigration detention or how long a person or family might have been at the bus station. Some newly-released migrants spend days there, patiently waiting to be reunited with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.

Cordova, a local school district employee who grew up in an immigrant family, scans the room looking for people without shoelaces and belts. Immigrants and asylum seekers who were just released from federal detention aren't likely to have either, as U.S. authorities, citing safety reasons, require that they be turned over.

Cordova gives food to an immigrant family who hasn't eaten in days, and then an older woman approaches, saying in Spanish that people nearby need help. A younger woman quickly follows, keeping an eye on Cordova.

The younger woman, who appears to be in her twenties, looks distraught. Her brown hair is frazzled, and a small towel is draped over her shoulder. When she moves again, it's clear she's not alone. An infant, a girl, is sleeping on a metal bench in the waiting area. Cordova rips open a pack of diapers and hands the mother a stack along with a toothbrush. Soon, a bowl of cereal is placed next to the girl, who is covered by a blanket.

The mother pauses and smiles slightly. She tells Cordova she is from Honduras and that it's taken a month for her and her daughter to make their way to the border. Asylum seekers often make the journey by walking. It is Mother's Day.

"Any baby who comes through, we make sure they have formula," Cordova says. "All we give them is all that they'll have."

The stories that Team Brownsville volunteers and city staff hear at the bus station are harrowing and almost always involve tales of the instability, turmoil, and violence that people are fleeing, especially if they are from a Central American country. But people arrive from other countries, too, including Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Later in the day, Cordova and Team Brownsville volunteers walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with food and supplies for families and individuals waiting to apply for asylum. On the Mexican side of the border, as people eat the donated food, one man talks about the persecution he faced in Cuba because he is gay. He says he is looking forward to living in the United States.

Families Meet to Boost Education

Each week, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network gather at a different community-based organization to chart a path to progress in other areas, including housing, jobs, and health.

The day after Mother's Day, the network's education working group is meeting at ARISE Support Center, located in a yellow two-story house in the city of Alamo. The house, which serves as the nonprofit's headquarters, is now a place for community organizing. Rooms are filled with chatter in English and Spanish.

It's fitting the meeting is at ARISE. The organization works with many nearby colonia residents, especially mothers. After getting tired of the conditions in their colonias — bumpy, potholed roads, a lack of streetlights — they became grassroots community leaders with the goal of creating positive change for their families and neighbors.

In minutes, the seats around the table in ARISE's lime green meeting room have been filled. Parents and community leaders are there to discuss ways to improve communication between families and school district officials.

School district board meetings, network members say, are held only in English — but parents in this heavily Latinx region mostly speak Spanish. Many say an English-to-Spanish translation policy at school board meetings would help support all families in their pursuit of a quality education for their children.

Also on the working group's agenda for the day: a discussion of how Mexican-American studies can be introduced into the school curriculum. Butcher paper goes up on the walls. Participants write down and discuss ideas.

"It's democracy because we are not working only for the best of one person," says Ramona Casas, a community organizer who helped start ARISE in 1987. "We're looking out for the best of community members."

A $190 Million Policy Win to Address Flooding in Colonias

Rain has just swept through the Indian Hills colonia, near the city of Mercedes, leaving the unincorporated area moist and muggy.

Near the intersection of Apache Drive and Campacuas Drive stands a sprawling tree. When neighborhood families need to discuss community issues and concerns — say, better roads or water drainage or their kids' safety — this is where they gather.

Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer with Proyecto Azteca, which works on affordable housing in the region's colonias, is standing under the tree with a few mothers. She lives in this colonia.

The women are talking about a major victory scored by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network in November 2018: a $190 million bond measure to fund nearly forty drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias.

The county has hundreds of colonias — some community leaders put the number at between eight hundred and a thousand. Tens of thousands of families live in those colonias because they're affordable. But colonias are located on former agricultural land that was developed with an eye to retaining water for crops, says Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca.

When it rains here, homes and streets flood. Families talk of water rising as high as their waists. The water not only damages houses, including bedrooms and appliances such as washing machines, but can block streets leading into and out of colonias. Families are unable to leave their homes to buy groceries. Mothers talk of holding young children in their arms to keep them out of the water. Sometimes they slip and fall. Kids tell their parents that even the sound of rain frightens them. Sanitation systems fail during the flooding, contaminating neighborhoods.

In June 2018, the flooding reached worse-than-normal levels. Some have dubbed the event the "Great June Flood."

After that, families affiliated with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network pressed their calls for better drainage. They went door-to-door and talked with neighbors, documented cases of flooding, attended government meetings, and studied flood maps and data. They then succeeded in putting a November 2018 bond measure on the ballot and spoke with Rio Grande Valley residents, explaining that the slightly higher taxes would benefit everyone.

Responsibility for the bond measure passing is shared by many families and community organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, and Proyecto Azteca, which all work in various colonias — places where their own families members live.

Sarai Montelongo, a mother in the Indian Hills colonia who started an influential Facebook page, used her platform to call attention to bumpy roads and the safety of neighborhood children and raise awareness about the drainage bond.

"We used to be a colonia that people forgot," she says in Spanish, standing under the large sprawling tree and near streets that have been the site of community meetings with elected officials.

While $190 million will not solve all the drainage issues in Hidalgo County, community leaders say it is a policy step in the right direction and that they will continue to work for more improvements.

"It will be a big change," says Salinas.

Rio Grande Valley, USA

Motorists looking to head north from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio take State Route 281. The drive takes about four hours and can be monotonous, save for the scrubby flatland greenery and what looks like a large gas station in the middle of the highway.

It's actually a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Many people have questioned the need for these checkpoints so far from the border. According to the ACLU, however, the federal government can operate the checkpoints if they're within a hundred miles of the United States' "external boundary."

The ACLU also notes that U.S. border authorities are only permitted "a brief and limited inquiry into [the] residency status" of people who travel through the checkpoints. Cass of Proyecto Azteca says the federal checkpoints exist in every direction heading out of the Rio Grande Valley and are also found at airports.

A few days after Mother's Day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents dressed in olive green uniforms stand at a checkpoint lane and wait for motorists. One holds the leash of a K-9 dog.

As two visitors — a white American male and an Asian American male — pull up in an automobile, an agent wearing reflective sunglasses waves the vehicle through. No need to stop and answer a few questions; no need to show identification.

Beyond the checkpoint, however, a man with dark hair is standing in the grass just off the highway. In a matter of minutes, a U.S. Border Patrol van with flashing emergency lights arrives. Soon, two more government vans show up.

Weeks later, news breaks of crowded, unsanitary conditions at federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, of asylum seekers and migrants confined behind chain-link fencing, of migrant children remaining separated from their parents.

Sanchez, the LUPE organizing coordinator, says these types of stories and experiences underscore how important it is for communities to work together for human rights, equity, justice, and the alleviation of poverty.

"All of this reminds us of our humanity," she says. "We bring things in our heart to keep us human. For people here, it's not an option to give up."

Brad Wong is communications manager for the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

Memo to Foundation CEOs: Get a Youth Council

September 30, 2019

Calendow_presidents_youth_councilSeven years ago, we launched a President's Youth Council (PYC) at the California Endowment, and it seems like a good time to tell you that the young people who've served on the council over those seven years have significantly influenced our programming as a private foundation, been a source of reality-checking and ground-truthing on how our work "shows up" at the community level, and have substantially increased my own "woke-ness" as a foundation executive.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to briefly share why we decided we needed a President's Youth Council and how it works: In 2011, our foundation embarked on a ten-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities campaign that was designed to work in partnership with community leaders and advocates to improve wellness and health equity for young people in California. We had already been using a variation of a place-based approach in our work, and so we selected fourteen economically distressed communities to participate in the campaign — some urban, some rural, and all, taken together, representing the complex diversity of the state.

At the time, I was aware not only of the privileged position I occupied outside my organization, but also of how sheltered I was as a chief executive within my organization. More often than not, I received information about the effectiveness and impact of our work in the form of thoughtfully crafted memos from staff, PowerPoint presentations, and glossy evaluation reports filled with professionally designed charts and graphics. Even when feedback in the form of recommendations from consultants or comments from the community came my way, it was all carefully curated and edited. As I had learned — and this is especially true at large foundations — when members of the community get "face time" with the CEO, it is a carefully managed and considered process.

Being at least vaguely conscious of these issues early on in our Building Healthy Communities work, I wanted to ensure I would have some regularly calendared opportunities to meet face-to-face with young leaders from the communities we were serving. So, we solicited nominations from grantee-leaders in each of the fourteen program sites, and a President's Youth Council, featuring mostly young people of color between the ages of 17 and 21 and of varying sexual/gender orientations, was born.

Seven years later, here's what it looks like.

We meet three or four times a year (just like our board of directors), beginning with an informal dinner on Friday evening and continuing with breakfast and lunch conversations on Saturday. Then I excuse myself so that members of the council can have their own "executive session" and social time in the afternoon. They then de-brief each other over breakfast on Sunday before making their way home. The foundation pays their expenses and also provides them with a modest stipend — a welcome bonus, as many of these young people come from economically struggling families and communities. Between year three and six of their tenure, members rotate off and new young leaders are recruited to replace them. Two foundation staff members provide support with PYC meeting logistics and structure.

It's been a richly rewarding experience for me, and both I, as a foundation president and CEO, and the foundation — have learned a lot:

  • PYC members have pushed me and the foundation out of our strategic comfort zones. With respect to social justice, social media, youth-led and -shaped narrative change, youth empowerment, and governance, we are in many ways a different foundation than we were a decade ago. My young colleagues also have pushed me to be more courageous about using our foundation's brand and voice in the advocacy arena and to speak out more boldly.
  • Council members — and hundreds of their activist colleagues around the state — have helped us see how connecting young leaders across geographies can lead to policy change at the state and national level. Especially in the area of school discipline reform, the voices of young people engaged in "schools not prisons" and "health for all" campaigns have translated into meaningful impact.
  • I have learned a great deal about the intersection of childhood trauma and adversity in the battle for social and health justice. Our PYC leaders are exceptional — but they also carry an enormous burden of trauma and anxiety as a result of family and community stressors, economic distress, stigmatization in school settings, and adverse experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. One of our PYC leaders was murdered two years ago, others have been subjected to police violence, still others have had family members deported or have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. The trauma they experience is quite real, and over time we have learned to embrace the use of healing and spiritual supports when these young leaders gather and have built in "how are you doing" sessions on Saturday mornings.
  • We have learned — and are still learning — how to leverage PYC members specifically, and young people more generally, as thought leaders. At the moment, for example, I am asking them to give me their best thinking as we consider investments in grassroots leadership development in the years ahead.

We continue to think about how we engage with young people as authentic — and not "tokenized" — thought partners. For example, our board of directors has considered inviting a young leader or youth representative to sit on the board — although care must be taken when considering what it might be like for a young person (or two) to share his or her thoughts about complicated issues with fourteen or fifteen civic leaders in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We haven't ruled it out and will consider the possibility more thoroughly with members of the PYC in the year ahead.

We've also commissioned an evaluation of our PYC experiment by Professor Veronica Terriquez of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based on a survey, a focus group, and interviews with PYC members and PYC coordinators and foundation staff, the evaluation found that nearly four in five PYC members "strongly agree" (while the rest "agree") that they had further developed their leadership skills as a result of their involvement in the council. They also cited as a plus the various opportunities they have received, including participation in a support network, professional development and skills coaching, and an investment in healing and self-care.

So let me leave you with this: investing in activist, community-engaged young people has a triple-bottom-line impact: it generates positive benefits in terms of a young person's well-being; it generates positive benefits for his or her neighborhood; and it can result in positive policy and systems changes with respect to social justice and health equity.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about creating your own President's Youth Council.

Robert_K_Ross_2019_for_PhilanTopicRobert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Building the Community We'd Like to See

August 08, 2019

Logo_BCYFPresident Trump recently made disparaging remarks about Baltimore that made headlines across the country. His comments stoked anger and outrage. He tarred Baltimore with a broad and reckless brush without offering even a token gesture of support from his administration.

This president has learned it is easy to throw stones. He hasn't learned how to pick up stones and build. Instead of tearing us down, Baltimore needs leaders at the state and federal levels who are committed to building.

Like many American cities, Baltimore struggles with the long-term consequences of disinvestment and segregation: aging infrastructure, dwindling resources, and too few opportunities for young people.

And so our city celebrated the creation of the historic Baltimore Children and Youth Fund as a beacon of hope and possibility, and as a commitment to the city's most important resource for the future: our young people.

BCYF was launched in 2015 by Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who was then the president of the Baltimore City Council. The fund was approved by voters in November 2016 with more than 80 percent support. The non-lapsing fund is supported through an annual set aside of property tax revenue.

Baltimore is only the third city in the nation to create such a fund, and it is the only fund of its kind that has included a racial equity and community participatory lens in grant selections. You will not find this sort of program anywhere in the country.

Why does this matter?

Continue reading »

How Philanthropy Can Catalyze Private Investment in Opportunity Zones

March 13, 2019

Oppzones_792x800The U.S. Department of the Treasury expects Opportunity Zones to unlock well over $100 billion in private investment in low-wealth communities across the United States. The tax incentive, which became law as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, seeks to encourage patient capital investments in more than eighty-seven hundred designated census tracts across the country by permitting investors to reinvest capital gains in designated census tracts in exchange for tax benefits.

Opportunity Zones represent the first time federal tax policy has sought to tap unrealized capital gains to advance economic and community development. Proponents believe the incentive will help transform low-wealth communities, while skeptics have doubts that funds will flow to the people and places most in need — and, even if they do, that the ensuing transformation will have a positive impact on longtime residents and small businesses.

Against this backdrop, philanthropy should step up and help shape the Opportunity Zone landscape so that benefits of the legislation also accrue to longtime residents and businesses.

Here are six ways philanthropy can help:

1. Shape the rules of the game. Philanthropy can influence IRS guidelines for Opportunity Zones — and, if necessary, follow-on legislation — to ensure that the incentive is implemented in a manner that reflects the interests of communities and the intent of the program. For some foundations, this may include support for developing and tracking metrics, stakeholder interviews to uncover opportunities and issues, and/or deep-dive case studies of specific transactions. The data from these activities can then be used to generate valuable tweaks to the design of the program. As always, data-driven insights will be critical to making the case for modifying, fine-tuning, or extending the incentive.

2. Level the playing field. Foundations are well suited to ensure that communities are poised to attract investor interest and have a seat at the table as Opportunity Zone transactions are negotiated. Organizations such as Accelerator for America are already working with cities across the country to create investment prospectuses, while others such as the Governance Project are working with municipal leadership to develop business cases and strategies for priority projects in communities such as Louisville and San Jose. There is far more that can and should be done, however, and the unique features of rural Opportunity Zones must also be accounted for so that those communities are not left behind.

Continue reading »

Rooted Communities: Placemaking, Placekeeping

December 06, 2018

IRetail for rentn Seattle's Central District, or "CD," gentrification and rapid development are displacing the largest African-American community in the state, reducing opportunities for wealth creation and accumulation among thousands of lower- and middle-class people and threatening the black community's political representation in city government, as well as its social, cultural, and economic capital.

In just a single generation, the African-American share of the neighborhood's population has fallen from 70 percent to under 20 percent, creating a cultural "diaspora" from what had been a diverse, welcoming neighborhood for more than a hundred and thirty years. Shaped early on by racist housing policies that pushed families of color into the neighborhood and limited their access to economic opportunity, African-American members of the community responded by building powerful neighborhood businesses and institutions. Now, those businesses and institutions are being forced out by surging rents and taxes, eroding the sense of community in the district.

Nationally, African Americans have a homeownership rate of 42 percent, a rate virtually unchanged since 1968 and a third less than the 70 percent enjoyed by whites. In Seattle, the home ownership rate for African Americans is just 24 percent. Low rates of home ownership, in both Seattle and nationally, increase African Americans' vulnerability to gentrification, which inevitably leads to rent increases, reduces the stock of affordable housing, and decreases economic opportunity for long-time members of the community.

Continue reading »

Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

Continue reading »

Woods Fund Rejects Notion of Philanthropic Risk, Acknowledges Risk of Status Quo

December 03, 2018

Grantees of Woods Fund Chicago are working to move $25 million from Chicago's operating budget to support trauma-focused and mental health services for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable residents of the city. Without the investment, people in areas without city-run clinics may lose access to much-needed healthcare services. Winning the budget fight will save people's lives.

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineSouthside Together Organizing for Progress, better known as STOP, is one of the organizations working to secure the $25 million, and it knows what it takes to win. In 2016, the organization was part of the Trauma Care Coalition, a group of community-based organizations that mounted a campaign demanding that the University of Chicago open a Level 1 adult trauma center in its South Chicago neighborhood.

When one compares the value of an adult trauma center (not to mention a $25 million investment) for a community like the South Side with the $30,000 general operating support grants the Woods Fund has awarded to STOP annually since 2005, one quickly realizes that any risk for the funder is slight.

Yet many funders look at community organizing and advocacy as something too risky for them to support. Yes, strategies that seek to change systems and advance equity can create conflict and challenge powerful individuals and institutions, but they are also the drivers of the kinds of long-term solutions that philanthropy considers its raison d'être. Funders must always remember that the perceived risk of investing in systems change strategies led by marginalized people cannot compare to the actual physical, financial, and emotional risks of grassroots leaders.

The Woods Fund makes a habit of the kind of "risky" grantmaking so many other funders avoid. Its 2013 NCRP Impact Award acknowledged its support for grantees like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the SouthWest Organizing Project, which helped win policy changes allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

And the foundation not only shares its power and resources with marginalized leaders through its grantmaking but also in the way it goes about its work. For example:

Continue reading »

5 Questions for… David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

November 27, 2018

Established by the late owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills with more than a billion dollars in assets, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation plans to spend those assets down, with a focus on western New York state and southeastern Michigan, by 2035.

David Egner was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2015, having served prior to that as president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson Webber Foundation. A fixture in Michigan philanthropy for decades, first as an executive assistant to longtime W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby, then as director of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and executive director of the New Economy Initiative, Egner is using his extensive knowledge, experience, and connections to make the Detroit and Buffalo metro region better places to live and work.

PND recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Headshot_david_egnerPhilanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

Continue reading »

A Conversation With Dee Baecher-Brown, President, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

September 18, 2018

Scenes of catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Florence are a painful reminder of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, one of the deadliest and most destructive on record. After an earlier-than-usual start, the season took a turn for the worst in August when Harvey became the first major hurricane since 2005 to make landfall in the U.S., submerging large swaths of the Houston metro area and southeastern Texas. Then, in September, Irma became the first Category 5 hurricane to impact the northern Leeward Islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Barbuda, which was flattened, before making landfall in the Florida keys with sustained winds of 130 mph. A few weeks later, Maria became the first Category 5 hurricane on record to strike the island of Dominica, causing catastrophic damage there, before striking Puerto Rico and leaving that U.S. territory a shambles.

Recently, PND spoke with Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, about the progress made in the year since Irma and Maria pummeled the islands and what donors in a disaster situation can do to balance the urgency of immediate needs with longer-term recovery goals and objectives. A full accounting of the donors who stepped up to help the Virgin Islands in the wake of the hurricanes will be included in CFVI's year-end report.

Headshot_dee_beacher-brownPhilanthropy News Digest: It's been a year since Hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled the Virgin Islands. Now we’re watching as Florence, another powerful Atlantic hurricane, brings catastrophic flooding to the Carolinas. What are your thoughts as you watch footage of the destruction and displacement caused by Florence?

Dee Baecher-Brown: My first thought is concern. Many of our friends and family are in harm's way, and we're hoping for the best. We don't want anyone to have to experience what the Virgin Islands experienced with Irma and Maria. As the extent of the damage caused by the storm becomes clearer, we just want the folks in the Carolinas to know that we are there for them, because we know firsthand what a difference the outpouring of concern and support in the days immediately following those storms meant to us.

PND: Take us back to weeks just before Irma and Maria hit the Virgin Islands. Was your community as prepared as it could have been?

DBB: You know, that's something we've discussed many times over the course of the last twelve months. Obviously, two category 5 storms in a two-week period was unprecedented, and even though we got a little tired of that word, it does capture something people sometimes forget — namely, that it's hard to prepare for something that hasn't happened before. And the fact that we are small, fairly remote islands in the Caribbean didn't help matters.

That said, I felt CFVI was as prepared as we could have been. We had spent the last twenty-five years supporting the thoughtful, gradual growth of our community, and in terms of our own capacity we had arrived at a point where we had solid financial systems in place and were working with an amazing network of community organizations — organizations that, in my opinion, were key to our being able to help after the storms hit. In September, for example, just days after Maria hit, we were already making grants to our partners, and we were able to do that because we knew who was out there, we knew the kind of work they would be doing, and we knew they needed our support. So, yes, I felt we were as ready as we could be for something that had never happened before.

Continue reading »

Baltimore Children and Youth Fund: Community-Based Grantmaking Comes to Baltimore

August 08, 2018

BCYF-logoThe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Riots are the cry of the unheard." If that maxim is true, Baltimore children, youth, and young adults were crying out long before the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray, Jr. sparked demonstrations and unrest in the city.

Gray’s death was the tipping point, but it was not the cause of the unrest, which was driven by a decades-long pattern in Baltimore of divestment in education, affordable housing, employment, and recreational outlets for children and youth. Whether by intent or impact, young people were not being heard.

Fortunately, while a broad-based coalition of young people, youth-centered organizations, and community leaders had been working to address the vacuum in opportunities for children, youth, and young adults, Baltimore City Council president Bernard "Jack" Young, a longtime advocate for children and youth, was focused on increasing investments in future leaders. His vision eventually spawned the creation of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, which distributes grants ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 to persons and groups with a passion for, or a track record of, authentic engagement with young people.

BCYF was a long time coming. Young twice wrote legislation intended to create such a fund, and his dream was finally realized when voters approved a 2016 ballot referendum to create the fund. That it was established by referendum is key; politicians don't necessarily get what they want absent public support. And everything from the inception of the fund to its day-to-day management is a testament to end-user demand and public support. In this case, the support isn't just for getting resources to the community but doing so in the most inclusive and transparent way possible.

To achieve that goal, several individuals and groups have agreed to partner with BCYF. My organization, Associated Black Charities, is the fiscal agent charged with managing the fund. Frontline Solutions International and UPD Consultants are technical assistance partners, with the former covering everything from consultant collaboration to community engagement, and the latter charged with providing strategic thought-partnership throughout the design, planning, and proposal review and grantee administration processes. Kinetics is the strategic communications partner covering everything from social media engagement to online marketing to media relations.

Continue reading »

CBMA Turns 10: A Decade of Daring Work for Black Male Achievement

June 26, 2018

Campaign_for_black_male_achievementThis month, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) marks ten years of progress: catalyzing more than $200 million in investment in black male achievement while building a national movement to eliminate barriers to the success of African-American men and boys.

From the beginning, we committed to building beloved communities across America where black men and boys are healthy, thriving, and empowered to achieve their fullest potential — that is our core mission and rallying cry.

Leaders in philanthropy, government, and business were not always as focused on mobilizing the necessary investment to ensure that black men and boys — and boys and men of color more broadly — were recognized as assets to our communities and country. That's why in 2008, at the Open Society Foundations, we launched CBMA in response to the growing need we saw in cities and communities across the nation where outcomes for black men and boys lagged far behind those of their white counterparts in all areas, including education, health, safety, jobs, and criminal justice involvement.

Over the last decade, together with our partners, we have catalyzed multiple national initiatives, including the Executives' Alliance for Boys and Young Men of Color, the BMe Community, and Cities United. We played an instrumental role in helping former President Barack Obama launch My Brother's Keeper, an initiative developed in the wake of his speech in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin — asking ourselves, "How should philanthropy respond to Obama's speech on black men and boys?"

CBMA was spun off from OSF as an independent entity in 2015, and today our work resides at the intersection of movement and field building, bolstered by a membership network of more than five thousand leaders and three thousand organizational partners. Our network includes inspired individuals like Robert Holmes, who directs the Chicago Aviation Career Education Academy at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. In partnering with CBMA, Holmes has widened the reach of his efforts to create an educational pathway for young black men interested in becoming pilots, helping diversify a critical industry that has little to no black male representation.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Maurice Jones, President/CEO, Local Initiatives Support Corporation

June 05, 2018

Raised by his grandparents in rural Virginia, Maurice Jones knows from personal experience how challenging it can be to live in an underresourced community. Encouraged by his family and teachers, Jones was awarded a full merit scholarship to attend Hampden-Sydney College, a small liberal arts school in Virginia, and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, enabling him to earn a master’s degree in international relations at Oxford University.

Jones went on to earn a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law; worked in the private sector at a Richmond law firm;  became a Special Assistant to the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he helped manage the nascent Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund; and followed that with a stint at a private philanthropy that invested in community-based efforts focused on children in Washington, D.C. Subsequently, he spent time as the deputy chief of staff to Virginia governor Mark Warner, as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, and as general manager of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk (before becoming president and publisher of the paper's parent company). From 2012-2014, he served as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And, immediately prior to becoming president and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in 2016, he served as secretary of commerce and trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed thirteen state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state.

PND recently spoke with Jones about LISC's work in underresourced communities, the power imbalance inherent in such work, and his vision for unlocking the abundant talent and creativity that exists in those communities.

Headshot_maurice_jonesPhilanthropy News Digest: LISC works to equip underresourced communities with the resources — capital as well as knowledge and information — they need to thrive. In 2018, what is the one thing underresourced communities in America need more than anything else?

Maurice Jones: They need more investment in the talent that can be found in all these communities. And this investment needs to come in many forms.

We need to prepare people with the work skills and competencies they need for the work opportunities that already exist, as well as for the new opportunities that will be created over the coming years. This is true in every community we work in, whether it's urban or rural, large city or small municipality, town or county.

We also need to help people in these communities master the basics of finance — what people often refer to as "financial literacy," so they can break out of the cycle of debt and build wealth.

People also need to be better informed about the supports available to them. For example, a parent needs child care in order to devote hours to a job or to skills acquisition. That parent needs to know there are childcare funds they can take advantage of so that he or she can take the steps they need to achieve financial security and the kind of economic mobility so many of us take for granted.

We also need to develop more quality, available housing, and we need to find ways to attract more employers to more areas.

Everything I just mentioned is true in both the urban and rural areas in which we work, but there is one thing that is more acute in rural areas: a significant lack of development when it comes to broadband. In this day and age, if a community is going to grow in all the ways we want communities to grow, it's got to have this critical infrastructure. Broadband is like oxygen is to breathing. There are still significant swathes of rural America, however, which are inadequately supplied with high-speed broadband, and it's a problem. This underdevelopment of broadband is a huge barrier and challenge in terms of making both wealthy states and less wealthy states economically viable in the twenty-first century.

PND: What can we do to fix that?

MJ: We, as a country — the private sector, the public sector, states, localities, and companies — have to commit to getting broadband into rural areas. It's a commitment issue. And it will require significant investment. We all know that the market for broadband favors places that are densely populated. So, the economics of broadband are not favorable to rural areas. But we've simply got to figure out how to subsidize broadband in those markets and forge partnerships of providers schools, businesses, and other stakeholders to make the economics work and get that infrastructure laid. We just need the will to do it. If we commit to it, we can make it happen.

Continue reading »

A Conversation With Nicky Goren, President and CEO, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

March 06, 2018

Founded in 1944 by investment banker and Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer — who later served as head of the War Finance Corporation, chair of the Federal Reserve, and founding president of the World Bank — and his wife, Agnes, a journalist, author, literary translator, and activist (President Lyndon Johnson credited her for helping build public support for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965), the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C., has supported efforts over the years to address racial inequity, urban poverty, and government funding (or lack thereof) for critical needs.

Nicky Goren was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2014, succeeding Julie L. Rogers, who had served in that position for twenty-eight years. Before joining the foundation, Goren had served as president of the Washington Area Women's Foundation and acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 2015 the foundation unveiled a new strategic plan focused on achieving greater racial equity in housing, education, employment, and asset building.

PND recently spoke with Goren about the process the Meyer Foundation initiated in 2014 to develop and implement a racial equity agenda, the importance of doing that work "authentically," and some things foundations new to the space should keep in mind.

Headshot_nicky_gorenPhilanthropy News Digest: While the Meyer Foundation has long supported efforts to advance equality and break the cycle of poverty for individuals and families, the foundation's 2015 strategic plan zeroes in on the "structural and causal" link between poverty and race. How did the focus on poverty and race come about? Were those discussions already happening at the foundation when you were appointed president and CEO in 2014?

Nicky Goren: At the organizational level, the conversations about race, about racism and its connection to poverty, were not yet happening when I got here. I think individual program officers from time to time had incorporated that connection into their portfolios, but it was not an organizational priority at the leadership level.

I came to the foundation with the point of view that those of us who work in philanthropy really needed to move out of our silos, move beyond thinking about grantmaking as a largely transactional activity, and think differently about how we do our work. And in my initial listening sessions as the new CEO, I was trying to understand where the opportunities were for us to deepen our impact and partnerships in the community and what the big issues were. It became clear to me pretty quickly that the big issue at the meta level was wealth inequality, and that the drivers of inequality in the region were disparities in housing, education, workforce skills, and asset building, and that the through line in all those areas was the history and legacy of systemic racism. From those community conversations it was clear that people were eager to move beyond incremental change to real transformation, which meant looking at things at the population level, which meant looking at root causes, which meant embracing systems change — and confronting racism and its role in creating and perpetuating these disparities. There was no way around it: to do our work authentically, we would have to address systemic racism.

PND: You came to Meyer from the Washington Area Women's Foundation, which focuses on improving the economic security of women and girls in the D.C. region. Did your work there inform the things you are doing at Meyer to advance racial equity?

NG: Definitely. That was the first time I was part of an organization that was using any kind of an equity lens, in that case a gender equity lens. And I was energized by what I learned in terms of the barriers to equality that women face. But in this region, low-income women are most often women of color, and the question started coming up more and more, from both funders and the communities we were working in: "Do you look at the work of the Women's Foundation through an intersectional gender and racial equity lens?" Well, it got me thinking and really helped me ask the right questions when I got to Meyer.

As for the intersectionality of economic and racial equity, at Meyer we've come to understand that the main reason for the persistent economic disparities in our region — and in other urban areas across the country — is racism. And if we don't name it and tackle the systems that perpetuate it — the institutions, policies, practices, and norms around race that lead to these economic disparities — we'll never be able to really address the challenges that low-income communities of color are facing. Naming it and looking at those challenges through a racial lens forces you to ask different questions and come up with different solutions, solutions that are more focused on the long-term and persistent barriers faced by people of color. It's about understanding the role race has played in our region's history and in our country's history so that the solutions you put in place really do make a difference in terms of addressing those disparities.

Continue reading »

A Cooperative, Comprehensive Approach to Saving African Elephants

February 06, 2018

Elephant_cooperation_500I fell in love with wildlife as a child when I traveled to Africa with my father, who was a biologist. Back then, the beauty of the continent was difficult for me to put into words, and it stayed with me. But if I was in awe of all the different species I saw on that trip, I was overwhelmed by the elephants — so much so, that when I became a father myself, I wanted to share their beauty and majesty with my daughter. I had to wait a few years, but when she turned 15, we traveled together to the continent that had captured my imagination many years earlier.

It was not what I had expected, and my heart almost broke when I saw firsthand the devastation local elephant populations had suffered in the years since my last visit. I explained to my daughter that these magnificent creatures were being killed for their tusks — which would be smuggled out of country and turned into trinkets and bogus medical remedies to satisfy the growing consumer market in far-away countries such as China and Vietnam. What's more, at the rate they were being killed, African elephants might become extinct in my lifetime, and that her children — my grandchildren — might never have the chance to see one in the wild.

As a co-founder of a hundred-million-dollar company, I had long felt the need to give back, and when I got back to the U.S., I decided I would dedicate myself to saving the African elephant from extinction. It soon became apparent, however, that I would have to embrace unconventional strategies if I hoped to have the slightest chance of succeeding. As I returned to Africa several times over the next few years to learn about amazing organizations already working toward this goal, I realized I didn't need to start another NGO to bring a new approach or project to the table. Instead, I could create a nonprofit organization that would fund established projects and organizations already making a difference and use my connections and influence to bring those projects and organizations to the attention of donors and activists here in America.

Continue reading »

At What Cost 'Mission'?

January 15, 2018

Why_are_whereWhen an exempt nonprofit organization's single-minded pursuit of funding for its mission threatens to damage the broader common good, many in the larger community will question the tax advantages that enable that organization to thrive while others suffer. And so they should.

Recently, this tension was underscored by a situation in our nation's capital, where tax-exempt American University's activities as a commercial real estate developer have led to the loss of local businesses much valued in (and beyond) adjacent neighborhoods — and raised additional concerns about the sometimes-harmful practices of "charitable" entities. While local residents around the country have been doing what they can to maintain the increasingly fragile business mix that reflects the often-historic and unique character of their neighborhoods, too many exempt organizations ignore such concerns and go about their business with a blatant disregard for the consequences of their actions on others.

We've all become familiar with the egregious practices of commercial real estate owners who double, triple, or quadruple a small business owner's rent when a lease expires, forcing the business to vacate the space and leaving it empty for years in hopes that, at some point down the road, it can be combined with adjacent properties to create an attractive parcel for luxury development or perhaps a national chain tenant, even as the surrounding neighborhood retail ecosystem withers and dies.

And when ostensibly nonprofit organizations get into the game, it adds more than insult to injury. Indeed, in the recent case involving American University, which is taking steps to force out a popular family-owned garden center from one of the commercial properties it owns, it heightens the scrutiny on all exempt organizations.

Our current tax code allows exempt nonprofit organizations and institutions to maximize the revenue they generate by mimicking the often-rapacious behavior of commercial real estate developers. While some defenders of exempt organizations’ commercial real estate ventures believe that income from such activities are subject to Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), they are wrong.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Other Blogs

Tags