By: Shona Carter, MBA

When people come together with shared purpose, the results are often beyond imagination. Give More 24! is a recent example of how collective efforts can work, but the Community Foundation has a long history of pooling gifts of all sizes to advance important causes. For example, the Community Giving Fund was established in 1986 to create a permanent endowment to address our region’s most pressing needs. This endowment has since grown into a $6 million source of local grantmaking thanks to people from all walks of life making generous contributions to benefit their community.

Each year, our advisory committee reviews grant proposals and recommends awards based on perceived need, demonstrated outcomes and organizational efficacy. In 2013, the Foundation chose to go one step further and direct 80 percent of its discretionary grants toward a single, pressing issue—interrupting intergenerational poverty. By applying larger Focus Grants to a single issue, we are better able to measure and define our impact in southwest Washington. We began this process by sketching out a rough framework to help shape our grantmaking around interrupting poverty. As we looked at the issue, we identified three major cause areas and eight specific strategies that provide the most social return on our charitable investments.



We have already been funding in alignment with this framework through a number of our discretionary grants, and we wanted to share some of the impacts we’re seeing below:

Time and again, our grants committee has seen the power of early learning investments. The cycle of poverty is much easier to overcome when a child enters school prepared to learn and grow. In 2014, our committee granted Evergreen Public Schools $27,000 to provide a 10-day “Jump Start” kindergarten readiness program at five schools with the highest poverty rates in the district. The program focused on familiarizing students with the classroom setting, socialization, routines, safe play and instruction. Approximately 100 children participated in the program and teachers noticed that these students showed less anxiety and more leadership when the bell rang on the first day of school. The hope is that this confidence translates to long-term academic success. Beyond teaching the basics, these programs also have a very personal impact on families, which we wrote about in our 2014 Annual Report.

Breaking the cycle of poverty requires motivating youth to attend post-secondary education. Unfortunately, children impacted by poverty are 18 to 40 percent less likely to pursue additional education than their middle to upper income peers. With a $19,000 grant, Bridgeview Housing began its Family College Focus Program to address this statistic. The program works in partnership with local colleges and organizations to address low-income barriers through a curriculum designed by and for the children and families that it serves. More than 400 high school juniors and seniors now have the opportunity to meet with a mentor and create an individualized plan for achieving college admission. It also encourages a smooth transition from high school to college through activities like FAFSA and college application workshops, SAT prep, career exploration and scholarships.

Stable housing is the foundation for healthy, productive citizens, so it’s essential that our community has a comprehensive toolset to ensure stable housing for all. This year, a $30,000 grant allowed the Council for the Homeless to establish another safeguard–the Housing Relief Fund. This fund helps vulnerable families quickly exit homelessness or avoid it all together by providing flexible, short term assistance when it’s needed most. The Council works with many residents to identify housing opportunities, remove barriers to renting and facilitate the moving process. Using community funding, the Council is able to provide immediate short-term funding that reduces the wait for public assistance and still offer best-fit housing solutions. Beyond stable housing, this fund has guaranteed stability for 21 households by providing $840 on average for transition expenses.

Low-income, first-generation students, are the most likely to drop out of college, nearly four times more likely than those who have neither of these risk factors. To overcome this challenge, Clark College received a grant to hire a full-time financial literacy coach who works with students one-on-one to set goals and draft financial plans that will improve their academic and financial lives. This year, the college is on track to serve more than 1,000 low-income students with presentations and workshops that teach skills like budgeting, balancing checkbooks, managing credit lines and repaying loans. The coach will also incorporate financial literacy into other courses. With a $30,000 grant, Clark College is now helping their most vulnerable students become more financially self-sufficiency. More importantly, this grant is supporting the educational and career goals of aspiring young men and women in our region.

Establishing savings and credit lines are important when it comes to moving up the economic ladder. REACH CDC understands this and applied for a grant that would allow staff to pilot its successful Resident Services programs in southwest Washington. A $10,000 grant allowed REACH to test three programs: Budget, Buy and Save; Youth Financial Program; and Support, Training and Assistance to Realize Tomorrow’s Success (STARTS). In just three months the programs engaged 30 adults and 45 youths, providing education and supports that create opportunities for asset building. Some of the offerings include matched-savings accounts, leadership skills, banking services, financial literacy courses and community service. Looking ahead, REACH will evaluate the outcomes from this year and expand its Clark County courses accordingly. The immediate plan is to offer ongoing youth classes at 2 properties, and seek out funding to expand its Budget Buy and Save adult program.

These programs, and the support of our discretionary grants, are vital elements in the design and construction of a more equitable and prosperous southwest Washington. As we move forward, our hope is to refine our framework and begin tracking a consistent set of outcomes. Both will be crucial to demonstrating our impact on the broad, often complex, issue of poverty. Adding a donation to the Community Giving Fund increases the discretionary dollars available for grants like these, which effect real change within Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania Counties’ most vulnerable communities.

Share this:

About The Author

Shona Carter, MBA

Shona served as the Community Foundation's first dedicated Program Officer before becoming Vice President of Community Engagement and Strategy. She currently works as the Director of Partner Engagement and Investment with the Black Future Co-Op Fund.