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The Transportation Committee of The Winston-Salem Foundation is working to address transportation needs in Forsyth County through a series of grants.

As The Winston-Salem Foundation celebrates its 100th birthday on Oct. 14, it’s natural to look back with pride on a rich history. Founded in 1919 with a $1,000 donation, it was the first foundation in the state, and one of the first community foundations in the country. The Winston-Salem Foundation has spent a century learning and growing, transforming to meet the changing needs of the city, and drawing on the knowledge and experience of others to refine its mission and vision.

But the Foundation’s leaders are also motivated and inspired by what the next century will bring. Focusing on four main service areas — community leadership, philanthropic services, Community Grants and student aid — the Foundation and its partners are ready to apply resources to meet neighbors where they are, and establish programs that will truly offer opportunity for everyone.

Refining focus

In order to make that vision come true, the Foundation took the time to look at the community through a new lens. It was important to truly understand what was preventing people and communities in Forsyth County from finding and taking advantage of economic and educational opportunities.

The result of this research was the announcement in 2017 of two new focus areas for a portion of the Foundation’s community investment: Building an Inclusive Economy and Advancing Equity in Education.

In each of those areas, three priorities were established. These priorities guide funding programs and build on the Foundation’s commitment to advancing racial equity for the good of the entire community. The first two priorities to be tackled with responsive grant funding include reducing the racial wealth gap and addressing access to efficient and affordable transportation.

“There is still a lot of segregation in Forsyth County in terms of where we live, work, and go to school,” says Scott Wierman, president of The Winston-Salem Foundation. “Our challenge is to integrate our diverse populations and enhance inclusion.”

Transportation grants

In June 2019, the Foundation announced seven grants totaling $189,000 to address transportation needs in Forsyth County. These grants were awarded by a committee of individuals, most of whom lived in the community and personally struggled with lack of access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation.

“We wanted to learn from the experts, those who deal with transportation issues,” says Wierman. “We removed our staff from the process and gave total responsibility to the group. As they thought about how to invest, we learned that we needed real, immediate solutions, not just studies. There is room for strategy, but we wanted to ensure that agencies could provide direct services.”

As a result, only one grant went to a study — $25,000 to Forsyth Technical Community College to identify how the misalignment of transit and school schedules creates barriers for low-income students. The rest went to practical programs that make an immediate impact, like a $35,000 grant to the Winston-Salem Urban League to purchase a minibus to transport those who work outside of Winston-Salem Transit Authority bus routes.

“I can’t overstate how important this investment is,” says James Perry, president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League. “The Urban League seeks to overcome historic disenfranchisement of poor, black, and Latino communities by connecting them with careers that pay a living wage. I estimate that as many as 200 job-seeking clients per year miss out on excellent job opportunities simply because they cannot get to and from work. This partnership has the potential to move as many as 200 families from under employment or unemployment into middle class income status.”

Flexible funding for the next century

The Winston-Salem Foundation has been able to robustly address needs like these over the past century due to one important ingredient: generous donors. The Foundation manages more than 1,500 individual charitable funds established by donors over the years. Those funds have been established for a variety of purposes to meet specific needs over time. And while more targeted funds do good and enhance life in the community — for example, the funds that established dog parks and beautified neighborhoods — the Foundation is encouraging the establishment of unrestricted or more broadly focused funds for the next century.

“Our focus for the Centennial is increasing impact by encouraging funds with flexibility,” says Annette Lynch, vice president of advancement for the Foundation. “More focused endowments are good, but they can keep us from moving forward on some key initiatives. With broadly focused funds, we can pull together money from several funds to address challenges and amplify the impact.”

One example is the fund established by Dr. Ted Blount, who served the Winston-Salem community as a pediatrician for more than 30 years. This forward-looking donor created two flexible funds — one providing need-based scholarships, and one focused on high-risk youth who would benefit from life skills improvement. His whole life was dedicated to children and education, and his funds provide opportunities for young people to thrive and succeed. And into the future, the Foundation can make grants that address changes he could not have anticipated.

These unrestricted or broadly focused community funds offer the Foundation real flexibility, as does the Foundation’s Next Century Fund.

“People can set up unrestricted funds, but there is a minimum investment required for those funds,” says Lynch. “Anyone can give to the Next Century Fund.”

The Next Century Fund is a vehicle for all community members to give to the well-being of the community. Donors can even give in honor or memory of a loved one or a person who inspired them. And to further enable the strength of flexible giving, an anonymous donor offered to match unrestricted endowments or gifts to the Next Century Fund up to a half million dollars, through the end of December. Donors have risen to the challenge and almost all of the matching funds have been used. This is the first time the Foundation has had a matching funds program, but they hope it won’t be the last.

The people of Winston-Salem have proven time and again that they are the heart of all the Foundation has done and will do in the community. And their impact has large ripples in the community foundation movement. At the end of 2018, The Winston-Salem Foundation was the nation’s 39th largest community foundation out of nearly 800 in the country. Further emphasizing the city’s generosity, the Foundation is 22nd in the nation in per capita giving.

“None of this happens until people choose to be charitable,” says Wierman “Without these donors we wouldn’t have a story to tell. It’s people investing in their own community.”

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