Human Services, Health Organizations and Transit Receive a Majority of Kresge's Nearly $73 Million in First Quarter Grants
TROY, Mich., April 9, 2209 — Signaling the importance of affirming and strengthening philanthropic support for nonprofits in times of crisis, the trustees of The Kresge Foundation awarded nearly $73 million in grants in the first quarter of 2009. The awards represent the largest quarterly commitment in the 85-year-old foundation's history. It also reflects the foundation's continuing effort to build-out its longer-term strategies to fortify the essential components of healthy, vibrant communities while identifying ways to help improve the life circumstances of low-income citizens in the here-and-now.
"As a large, private foundation, our time to lead is now," says Elaine D. Rosen, chair of the board of trustees. "It is tempting to look at a reduction in our assets and fall back into a cautious, defensive posture. But we have decided that we must instead step forward, investing where we can to strengthen the social safety net without sacrificing our long-term objectives."
The metropolitan Detroit-based foundation focuses its grantmaking in six fields of interest: health, the environment, community development, arts and culture, education and human services. Seventy-five awards were made in 28 states and the District of Columbia; two grants were awarded to higher education institutions in South Africa.
Human Services: Nimbleness at a time of great need
Kresge awarded $10.6 million in grants to 19 human service organizations around the country that provide food service and distribution, shelter to homeless individuals and families, affordable housing for the poor, and legal aid to residents of North Carolina's Appalachian Region.
The largest single human service award - $1.45 million - went to Mid-Ohio Foodbank. As the state's largest food bank, it distributes more than 29 million pounds of food to 20 counties through a network of 530 food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, homeless shelters and after-school programs.
Another food provider, Open Arms of Minnesota, received an $800,000 award. Located in Minneapolis, it is the state's only agency that prepares and delivers free meals to low-income individuals living with chronic and progressive diseases, including HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.
The Salvation Army USA, provides food, shelter, clothing, utility assistance, after-school programs and other neighborhood-related needs. To coordinate these efforts, it has divided the nation into four territories: East, West, South and Central. Kresge has awarded the Central Territory (headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois) and the Southern Territory (headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia) each a $1 million grant for construction of needed facilities in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Memphis, Tennessee.
A $500,000 award went to Pisgah Legal Services of Ashville, North Carolina. The office has been coordinating a network of 300 volunteer attorneys who provide free civil legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable people for 30 years, including disadvantaged children, seniors on fixed incomes, the abused, homeless and disabled.
"We are trying to help strong organizations do more of what they do best - work on the front lines of human suffering to meet the basic human needs of adults and children," says Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation. "For these organizations and so many others, the economic crisis means that their clientele is increasing while their charitable support is decreasing. Philanthropy can't provide any silver bullets, but we can try to provide some ballast where it is most needed and can best be used."
Health: Cleaner air, better outcomes
Approximately $6.7 million was awarded to organizations that advance Kresge's twin health priorities: fostering good health by addressing harmful environmental and social factors and increasing access to high-quality health care for low-income adults and children.
Improving air quality was the focus of two grants: a $950,000 award to the University of Southern California for its Trade, Health and Environment Impact Project, and a $450,000 award to the Oakland, California-based Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment and its Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative. Both grants support cutting-edge work to reduce diesel-related air pollution in the port vicinities of Los Angeles, Long Beach and the Bay Area.
"There is an intimate link between human health and the quality of one's environment," Rapson explains. "Air quality is, for example, an environmental health issue. The number-one predictor of high school drop-out rates is a child's attendance. Children with asthma miss a great deal of school. Improving air quality reduces the incidents of asthma, which can, in turn, be a factor in increasing graduation rates."
Detroit: A catalytic investment for today and tomorrow
The over-arching purpose of Kresge's community development work in its hometown is strengthening the City of Detroit's economic, social and cultural fabric. The trustees broke new ground by approving a $35 million investment in the Lower Woodward Light Rail Project (M-1 RAIL), a $120-million transit line that will run along Woodward Avenue from the Detroit River to the New Center area.
"There is no more important investment this region can make in its future health and vitality than a regional mass transit system," says Rapson. "The Woodward line will signal metropolitan Detroit's willingness to jump-start our region's aspiration to create such a system. It will connect inner-city residents with job opportunities. It will give rise to more intensive, sensible land-use, tying neighborhood residents to new community development opportunities. It will draw together a variety of private, philanthropic, public, and nonprofit activities now in place to promote the retention and attraction of talent in the heart of the city."
The light rail investment advances multiple strategic objectives on the part of Kresge. Its 13 planned stations will spur commercial and residential revitalization while linking the city's major arts and cultural institutions and athletic arenas. Because light rail is a clean transportation source and should reduce the number of cars on area roads, the system is expected to reduce carbon emissions, helping to protect the region's air quality and its substantial natural resources.
As with past grants of similar magnitude, the trustees conditioned payments - which will be made over four years - on meeting a series of project benchmarks. "We have every expectation that these benchmarks will be met in a timely way, leading to the beginning of construction this year and the line's completion in late-2010," adds Rapson.
The trustees approved ten other grants and one program-related investment to Detroit-area nonprofit organizations. The total, including the light rail investment, was $40.1 million.
In other fields of interest, awards were made to community colleges and early childhood education organizations, arts and culture organizations, and environmental organizations working to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy.
"No community is immune to the effects of the economic maelstrom we are experiencing," concludes Rapson. "Our hope is that we can help improve the day-to-day quality of life of our most disadvantaged citizens while increasing their long-term prospects for opportunity and self-sufficiency."