Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in baseball, understood that his life reached beyond just himself. He knew he had the power to change the world for others. In fact, he believed he had the responsibility.
“A life is not important,” he said, “except in the impact it has on other lives.”
This spirit is alive and well in three organizations that constitute The Winston-Salem Foundation’s strategic initiatives. The three initiatives, established in 2005, 2006, and 2007, bring the Foundation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion to life by having diverse communities within the city own efforts to create real and lasting social change.
While these initiatives were part of an intentional effort to extend the Foundation’s reach to new audiences in the community, the three initiatives started in different ways. Each organically grew out of a need and an overwhelming passion in the community to meet that need.
Youth Grantmakers in Action (YGA), established in 2005, was the result of a $25,000 gift to the Foundation that the community member wanted used for youth philanthropy. The Foundation wanted to tap into expertise about what young people in the county needed, so they developed a program that was entirely youth-led. The leaders, all students ages 15 to 18 who live or attend school in Forsyth County, solicit grant proposals from programs and projects that address the needs of the young, with the twist that all proposals must come from programs and projects that are led by young people.
YGA accepts grant proposals between November and January of each school year and announces the recipients in April. Among the grantees for the 2018-2019 school year: funds for food-packing programs, an alternative prom, a spring literacy camp, and diversity day to combat stereotypes. All of these programs were established and carried out by young people in Forsyth County.
“I have learned what it means to be a philanthropist through this organization, applying my time, treasure, and experience and skills to help better the greater community of Forsyth County,” says Shi Belcher, a senior at Walkertown High School and member of YGA. “This initiative is very important because it not only breaks down the racial barriers present, but it also ignites a light for groups in the area to lead the change amongst themselves and others to promote prosperity.”
The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem, founded in 2006, takes a decidedly egalitarian approach to making a difference for women and girls in our community. They focus their grants on grassroots and community organizations that are impacting the lives of women and girls in a positive way to promote social change.
Grantmaking for the Women’s Fund is member-focused. The grants committee reads through applications to see which ones fulfill the group’s mission of reducing concentrated poverty while strengthening economic security for women and girls in Forsyth County. The committee recommends grants for funding and the members — 700 community members throughout Forsyth County — vote, giving all members a voice.
Grants are awarded based on criteria established by the organization’s 2015 research report, “A Second Look – Through a Gender Lens: The Economic Security of Women and Girls in Forsyth County.” The report highlights four areas that significantly impact poverty and economic security: financial stability, jobs and career development, education, and family impact.
“The structure of the Women’s Fund encourages personal engagement,” says Gwenn Clements, board vice chair of the Women’s Fund. “It gives a framework for approaching philanthropy. All of the work done beyond what the Foundation provides is done by volunteers. We make sure we are giving women the chance to invest their time, treasure, and talent.”
The final organization to join the Foundation’s strategic initiatives was the Black Philanthropy Initiative (BPI), launched in 2007. The Foundation wanted to engage with the black community in a new way and partnered with black leaders in the community to provide the needed insight and vision. Committed volunteers and board members are welcomed and imperative for the functionality of this initiative.
Dr. Mae Rodney, former library director at Winston-Salem State University and member of the BPI Board, also sees the power of strong collaborations between BPI and other parts of the community.
“Partnerships, multiple hands, and minds that include representation from all groups and communities are imperative to identify residents’ needs,” she says. “Those needs must be addressed to move Winston-Salem to the next level and transform it into a rewarding place for everyone to reside.”
BPI’s most recent work is based on the organization’s 2018 report, “Rethinking Philanthropy: An Exploration of Black Communities in Forsyth County.” This report draws attention to black history in Forsyth County and how that history has led to systemic issues and inequities that still haunt the community. BPI recently made five grants that support efforts to advance equity in education based on the findings in the report.
So what role does The Winston-Salem Foundation play in these initiatives? As from its earliest days, the Foundation sees its role as enabling philanthropy that rises from the community itself.
“The Foundation’s board doesn’t make the grant decisions; their members do,” says Andrea Hulighan, director of strategic initiatives for the Foundation. “Two staff members at the Foundation serve as a connection between the board and the organizations.”
Clements of the Women’s Fund notes that the Foundation provides the needed structure that enables their work.
“Support from the Foundation gives us a framework for approaching philanthropy,” she says. “All the work done beyond what the Foundation provides is done by volunteers, so having that starting point is truly valuable.”
And as all three initiatives are into their second decades, leaders are looking for ways that they can support one another.
“We’re trying to grow relationships among the three initiatives,” Clements says. “We’re tying our focus areas together and strengthening our connections to produce programs together that will benefit the whole community.”
An opportunity to engage
Because these three initiatives are of the community, there is ample opportunity to be a part of their work.
“Inclusivity is at the core of what we’re doing,” Hulighan says.
Anyone can join the Women’s Fund at any time by going to the website and signing up to be a member, but residents can also make donations and follow the organization’s activities. They can attend the group’s annual luncheon on Nov. 13, follow the Women’s Fund on Facebook, and sign up for the e-newsletter.
Those interested in supporting the work of BPI can sign up for their e-newsletter and follow the group on social media. The group’s annual fundraiser is at the Anderson Center at Winston-Salem State University on Oct. 10, and the board is looking to add new members for the upcoming year.
There are two ways to get involved with YGA. Young people can join the group as new members each spring, and individuals and youth-led groups with great ideas for engaging the youth community can apply for grants.
“There is a lot of potential,” Hulighan says. “The goal is always, ‘How do we include more people in the work of making Winston-Salem a city where everyone can thrive?’ These three initiatives give us an exciting path forward as we enter our second century.”