Tag Archives: Community Grants

Thank You to the Doers

Friday, April 8, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Yesterday was a road day. I spent more time in my car than I did actually visiting the program that prompted my journey. It was rainy and I was tired. Not my favorite kind of road day.

When I got where I was going I had to circle the block a couple of times to find parking. I noticed two women about my age talking on the sidewalk in front of a promising lot. Each had a heavy-looking tote bag over her shoulder, and one a big stack of paperwork in her arms. Neither had an umbrella.

While I waited to make the left turn into the lot, an oncoming car started honking its horn. The women turned and we all watched the car pass between us, windows down, middle fingers flying, jeers hurled.

It took me a second to catch my brain up to what I’d seen. It all happened fast, and at first I thought perhaps the car was honking at me. But the young occupants weren’t looking or shouting or middle-fingering in my direction. They were aiming at the two women, loaded down with work, standing and talking in the rain.

I watched the women pass quickly through startle, confusion, grimace and sigh. By the time I’d parked, gathered my own stack of folders and walked – umbrella in hand – to where they were standing, I was ready to share a moment of upset with them. I expected to find them commiserating over such a hurtful, hateful moment.

But when I drew into earshot, that’s not what I found. At least not that I could tell. They seemed engaged as they originally had been, sorting through some professional matter, and apparently moved on from the insult.

So I walked past. Without catching either’s eye. Without acknowledging my witness to the ugly thing just perpetrated at them.

Down the block I entered a bustling elementary school as it progressed through its busy end-of-day. The halls were still full of young bodies, loud young voices, and developing minds. This was where the two women had obviously spent their day. Their evenings would be busy with papers, new lesson plans, and building that next inspiring learning moment.

I don’t know who was in that car or what decided them on their insults. I’m sure there’s a story.  What I do know is it left me feeling bad.  And not saying something left me feeling bad.

So I’ll say something to them now, and to all of those like them:

To those women, thank you. Thank you for standing in front of a child every day and teaching them the world.

Thank you to the afterschool volunteers I was there to visit yesterday who give crucial extra support when and where it’s needed most. Thank you to the business owner I’ll see next week who, in her non-existent spare time, built a program for people isolated by difference and disability. Thank you to the retiree who came by recently who volunteers full-time fighting a far-away wrong.

Thank you to all the doers.

Your doing is important. Your doing is powerful. Your doing is so very much more powerful than middle fingers in the rain.


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

 

 

 

#AdvanceVT

Friday, March 4, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Last week right around now I was sitting in the big room at the Capitol Plaza listening to panelists talk about the importance of – and barriers to – postsecondary education in Vermont. Jessica was a late addition to the panel. Her work schedule, like those of many of her peers, made it difficult for her to carve out the time. She’s a recent grad juggling multiple jobs and other responsibilities.

Plus there was a late concert the night before. Oh to be 25 again!

Jessica delivered an important message about what it really takes for a young person with limited financial resources and no family tradition of postsecondary attainment to persist through higher ed. She made many good points about the long and difficult journey, points all too effectively backed up by the numbers:

  • Only 60% of VT’s high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education – lowest in New England.
  • Low-income students here fare by far the worst – just 37% persist beyond high school.
  • Fully ¼ of Vermont’s Class of 2012 high school graduates aspired to go to college but never made it.

And at what cost?

National estimates suggest that in just the next few years 2/3 of all jobs will require some amount of postsecondary education or training. In Vermont, if current trends continue, our failure to meet that demand is expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and increased Medicaid and corrections spending. I hesitate to imagine the impact on the non-profit and human services safety nets – already dramatically over-stressed and under-funded.

People in Vermont and elsewhere across the country have decided bold action is required. The Lumina Foundation, one of our nation’s largest education funders, is underwriting state-level teams undertaking important goal setting and strategy development work to that end.

The folks gathered at the Capitol Plaza last week were there as part of an exciting new phase in that effort. We witnessed the launch of the appropriately-named Advance Vermont initiative, calling for a shared commitment to ensure that by 2025, 70% of working-age Vermonters have a quality postsecondary credential.

Meeting this goal will require effectively doubling the number of Vermonters earning diplomas and certificates each year. It will mean re-engaging the nearly 60,000 Vermonters who now have some postsecondary education but no degree. It will also mean significantly upping our postsecondary preparation game, by strengthening PK-12 pathways, investing in supportive community-based programs, and helping families envision and pay for higher education with their kids.

Crucially, it will also mean we beat New Hampshire’s goal by 5%.

[I’m allowed to pick on New Hampshire. I grew up there and recognize Vermont’s superiority in all things. Except grandmothers. I do think NH claims the best of those. Hi mom!]

This brings me back to one of the things Jessica talked about in her remarks last week. After describing the kinds of barriers she faced on her journey in education, and the kinds of challenges she continues to deal with even now on the far side of her degree, she cautioned the room not to see postsecondary enrollment as any kind of finish line.

“Just because someone makes it to college and gets a degree doesn’t mean factors [related to being low-income] disappear.” She articulately described the ongoing struggle, and argued that low-income students, wherever they are on the educational continuum, need support.

They need support.

So let’s give it to them. In all kinds of forms from all kinds of people and at all the different waypoints along the road.

The Tarrant Foundation is committed to supporting youth resilience and aspiration, and employment training for working-age adults in partnership with some great non-profit organizations all around the state. We’re also committed to keeping kids engaged during the pivotal middle school years through our partnership with the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM.

What’s your commitment?

Together we can meet this challenge. We must, and we can.

Note: All citations are from Advance Vermont’s recent publication, “A call to action.” Contact me at lcurry@tarrantfoundation.org if you’d like a copy or more information on a specific reference.


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

 

Critical Lens

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

In philanthropy, sad stories are the coin of the realm.  They create awareness, inflame passions, awaken responsibilities, and pull people together.  They demand action and draw money.  They are the human (or animal or environmental …) face on the problem statements at the heart of each of our missions.

They can also sometimes distract from the business at hand.  The desperateness of the story can obscure mediocrity in a response, and doing something get in the way of doing something effective.

One of Rich’s mantras is “we leave our hearts at the door” any time we walk into the boardroom.  We are careful to respect and learn from stories, but base our decisions on a rubric grounded in strong leadership, fiscal responsibility, effective interventions, and meaningful outcomes.  It’s how we exercise due diligence in the expenditure of our resources.

That said, I’ve spent some time recently reading, watching, and thinking about sad stories.

The first real gut-wrencher was in a great New Yorker postmortem on Mark Zuckerberg’s failed $100M investment to reform the Newark School System.  Students in one school were prompted to write a poem using the word “hope”.  They responded in the context of surviving the violence and poverty that claims so many lives around them.  One student wrote:

My mother has hope that I won’t fall victim to the streets.

I hope that hope finds me.

Next up for me was a screening of the Sundance-winning documentary Rich Hill last monthIt’s a beautiful and awful portrayal of three boys growing up poor in Missouri.  It gets at complicated themes of mental health, juvenile justice, incarcerated parents, unstable housing, and temporary employment.  It’s real power for me, though, is where it lingers on the steady, quiet love binding families together.  And again, where we hear young voices with few prospects talking about hope:

I praise god.  I worship him. I pray every night.  Nothing’s came, but that ain’t gonna stop me.  This is what goes through my mind.  God has to be busy with everyone else.  Eventually he will come into my life.  I hope it happens.  It’s gonna break my heart if it don’t.  

Finally I went to an event that bridged my work with my personal efforts helping run a local food shelf.  We watched A Place at the Table, a high-powered documentary on food insecurity in the US featuring celebrities, politicians, and a handful of average Americans struggling to make ends meet.

The film tells lots of tough stories. There’s a young girl with big dreams whose empty stomach keeps her from concentrating at school.  There’s a veteran police officer who relies on a local food pantry to get his family through the month.  And there’s a young mother trying to meet her children’s needs through unemployment and low-wage jobs.  When that young mother gets her turn at the microphone at a DC press conference, her comments are pointed:

If we switched lives for a week could you handle the stress? If we switched salaries for a month will you be able to live and still keep your pride? Are you aware of my hope and my determination? Are you aware of my dreams and my struggle? Are you aware of my ambition and motivation? Are you aware that I exist? My name is Barbara Izquierdo and I do exist.

Hope.  There’s that word again.

These sad stories inspire all the things they are supposed to inspire – donations, legislative action, and renewed commitment to change.  In me, they inspire hope.

I will continue to push hard at work for the effective and efficient solutions.  I will do that in part by leaving my heart at the door.  In my own community I will keep my shoulder to the wheel, building local resources and looking out for neighbors.  I will work.

There’s much to be done.  And hope is a very good thing.

                                                                                                                                               

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

A Great Day

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Most days in this job are pretty great. Today was extra great.

This morning I watched as Rich and Deb Tarrant announced a second $5 million investment in Vermont kids. The funds will go to the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont to support up to 60 new partnerships with middle schools statewide over the next five years. The Institute works with schools and teachers to create learning that is technology-rich, personalized, relevant and – most of all – engaging for today’s youth.

As a professional, that’s a pretty exciting moment. It’s as a parent, though, that I find myself most grateful for this extraordinary investment.

More than 9 years ago I sat down for a conversation with Rich and Deb Tarrant. I was meeting them for the first time, and was interviewing for a position with their new foundation. I was also 8 ½ months pregnant with my first child.

Rich asked me during that conversation what I thought of an idea he had to use technology to modernize education and improve learning opportunities for kids. Our discussion was exciting and, while I confess to focusing a bit much on the challenges involved, Rich’s passion and determination were compelling.

Not long after, I had a job offer … and a baby. And the Foundation had a new partner: Dr. Penny Bishop and her remarkable team at UVM’s College of Education and Social Services.

In 2006, after a long hot summer spent huddled around desks with a gifted group of teachers from Milton Middle School, we piloted our first student cohort. In 2009, with both Edmunds and Manchester Middle Schools on board, we formally launched the Tarrant Institute.

The Foundation’s gift to create the Institute was the largest in our history – by a lot. It marked a major turning point for us as an organization. Today marks an even bigger one. Rich told the audience gathered at the press conference this morning that we are “doubling down”, investing a further $5 million in a strategy that works.

Which brings me back to my perspective as a parent.

That beautiful baby boy born those many summers ago is now a 4th grader. He is smart, creative, and sometimes a handful in class. He thrives on technology. He is one of many kids who I think would chafe in a traditional middle level classroom. And he – along with every kid – deserves to learn in a setting that values his individuality, challenges his intellect, puts relevant tools in his hands, and positions him for success in his life ahead.

I am grateful that my son’s school and so many other middle schools in Vermont now have the opportunity to draw on the expertise, resources, and supportive partnership of the Tarrant Institute. Thank you Rich and Deb.  Thank you Penny.  Thank you to all of the wonderful, committed educators who bring this work to life.  As Rich said, “writing the check is the easy part … without these people we would be nowhere.”

You can listen to the complete press conference here, including remarks from a remarkable young 7th grader at People’s Academy in Morrisville. Educators can learn more about partnership with the Tarrant Institute at joinus.tarrantinstitute.org.

                                                                                                                                               

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

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.