Category Archives: Deborah L. Tarrant

Crunching Numbers

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

 

I love data.

More accurately, I love stories.  And to me, data tell some of the most compelling and important stories out there.

For instance:

These and other statistics about poverty, education, aging, and strong communities have informed our grantmaking over the past ten years.  In that time, we’ve engaged with partner organizations all over the state, working to turn around the bad statistics and build on the good ones … one grant at a time.

We’ve also tried to be good neighbors.  Knowing that we are one on a very short list of Vermont foundations, and recognizing the many, many people out there working hard on behalf of causes they believe in, we’ve made an effort to keep our doors wide open.  We’ve awarded grants to all kinds of different organizations supporting all kinds of different programs, all lumped under the large umbrella of improving the quality of life for people in Vermont.

Very large umbrella.  Perhaps overly large.

Since 2006, we’ve made grants to more than 350 different organizations.  In the last five years alone, we’ve issued upwards of 370 separate grant checks.  That’s a lot for a foundation our size.  Maybe too many.

We all know how the saying goes.  You can’t be all things to all people.  Much as we might like to try to be, no one is well served by that approach in the end.

Data stories matter.  And our data story tells us it’s time for a change.  It’s time to narrow our focus, and put more money into the grants that have proven to make the greatest difference in the work we most care about.

You can read more about our new strategy in the Community Grants section of our website.  In short, from here forward our Community Grants will focus on the following distinct populations and goals:

  • Youth: Resilience and Aspiration
  • Working-Age Adults: Employment and Financial Independence
  • Seniors: Comfort and Dignity in Aging
  • Communities: Local Resources and Investments

Under each of these headings, you will find that we have identified specific strategies as the focus for our investments.  We have done so based on our interests, and your data stories … on what our non-profit partners have taught us over the years are the most meaningful and cost-effective interventions.  We will concentrate our funds in these areas, and as ever will make grants with minimal restrictions to give organizations the flexibility and control they need to run the very best and most efficient programs.

The tradeoff here, of course, is that we’ve made some cuts.  Extremely valuable work is being done in areas that did not make our list, and we are grateful to other foundations, businesses and individuals that continue to invest in those areas.  We are committed, though, to funding programs that best fit our values and theory of change, and that demonstrate the kind of impact and cost efficiency we seek.

We have heard many times over the years that we “don’t act like a typical foundation”.  It has always been meant as a compliment, and frankly, we’ll take it.  We – and many of our peer foundations serving this state – approach this work with a deep sense of gratitude, a keen interest in true partnership, and a binding commitment to make the greatest impact we possibly can with the dollars we have.

While I understand not everyone out there will be happy with these changes, I trust that those who know us will see the thought, care, and discipline that went into them.

I’m thinking as I write about Deb’s belief that our Foundation can make a difference, and Rich’s powerful statement on being good stewards.  With these changes, I think we are doing just that.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Kicking Off

Monday, September 30, 2013

Contributed by Deborah L. Tarrant

The Tarrant Institute at the University of Vermont and Mater Christi School are embarking on an exciting journey.  The kick-off for this endeavor was held in the Mater Christi library, and two things struck me as Rich and I were participating in this event.  First, the excitement in the room was palpable, and second, as much as I love books, traditional school libraries now feel like a setting from another era.

The teachers at Mater Christi School in the middle grades will soon begin professional development through the Tarrant Institute.  Through the Institute, they’ll learn new methods of teaching that involve one-to-one technology for the students and a completely different set of parameters for the teachers themselves.  The days of having an instructor lecturing from the front of the room hour after hour, while students sit passively absorbing information are a thing of the past.  Mater Christi is modeling a new paradigm for middle school students that involves interactive learning between students and teachers and also between students and their peers.  Students will gather information from multiple sources (available on their electronic devices) and apply the information they glean to relevant situations and assignments in creative ways (animation, pod casts, videos, and skills I’m not even aware of) to showcase their proficiency with both the information and the tools at their disposal.

Along with the excitement in the room at this kick-off, where the Mater Christi participants included the Principal, the Assistant Principal, the IT Specialist, and several teachers, there was also a nervous energy.  This is a big undertaking when you consider that parents and teachers will be ceding, to a degree, their role as the ultimate purveyors of knowledge. Young people have innate expertise with technology that often surpasses that of adults.  But in a way, that’s the point.  There’s a whole new world out there in terms of information and the way it gets accessed.  Portable electronic devices offer students their own personal libraries wherever they go.  It only makes sense to incorporate these devices into their learning experience.

The Tarrant Institute has had tremendous success to date with their middle school partners, and the parents of these middle-school students often share their thoughts with us.  Across the board, the kids are more engaged with their school assignments and look forward to being in the classroom situation.  Anecdotally, I’d like to share a message we received recently.  The father of a sixth-grader at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville wrote:

“This year, the 6th graders received iPads, and I just wanted you to know how incredibly excited the kids are and how jazzed they are to use the technology in their education environment. ……  On Sunday, we had a family meeting to discuss what was working well for the family and what wasn’t.  My son says ‘let me set up an online survey so that we can collect the data in digital form.’  He set it up and sent it to my wife and I at our email accounts.  Pretty cool stuff.”

Pretty cool stuff indeed!

                                                                                                                                                                

Deborah L. Tarrant is the Vice President of the Tarrant Foundation.  She serves as board liaison for the Foundation’s new Catholic Schools Initiative, which will invest $850,000 to support technology integration in area Catholic schools over the next four years.