Boosting kids’ reading is focus of new effort

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Early in 2016, a coalition of 31 groups in Wake County staged its third annual book drive and collected 115,000 books.

Known as WAKE Up and Read, the coalition last spring hosted literacy nights for children and parents at 10 elementary schools with the highest percentage of low-income students receiving lunch for free or at a discounted price, and at 20 nearby child-care centers whose children go on to those schools, as well as nine community centers.

The focus of the literacy nights was the importance of helping kids continue to learn during the summer to improve their reading over the summer and avoid an erosion of academic progress they make during the previous school year.

The week after the literacy nights, all the children were able to select 10 books to keep, with their parents reading one book to the children each week over the summer.

“Children who are behind get more behind and so it’s very difficult to catch up,”  says Lisa Finaldi, community engagement leader at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation.

For the next three years, the Early Childhood Foundation will be working with WAKE Up and Read and separate coalitions in Chatham, Durham, Johnston and Orange counties that aim to help improve reading proficiency among targeted low-income children so they can read at grade level by the end of third grade.

In those five counties, less than 40 percent of economically disadvantaged students were reading at grade level by the end of third grade last year, compared to nearly 58 percent of all student.

The new effort is being funded over three years with an initial investment of $700,000, including $625,000 from Triangle Community Foundation and at least $25,000 from United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Triangle Community Foundation has agreed to give $50,000 a year to each coalition in Wake, Durham, Chatham and Orange counties, and $25,000 the first year to the Early Childhood Foundation.

United Way has pledged $25,000 the first year to the Early Childhood Foundation, and will fund the Johnston County initiative, although the amount has not been determined, Finaldi says.

WAKE Up and Read is the only coalition that already has a plan for using the money.

The coalitions in Durham, Chatham and Orange counties still are developing their plans, and the Johnston County coalition still is taking shape.

In addition to schools and child-care centers, coalition partners can range from pre-kindergarten programs to faith congregations and businesses.

In Wake County, corporate partners include PNC Bank, Fidelity and Eaton Corp., which provides free warehouse space for sorting donated books.

And as part of a local coalition in Dubuque, Iowa, Finaldi says, a barbershop gives free haircuts to kids who read a book while getting the haircut.

The Early Childhood Foundation is lead agency in North Carolina for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national effort to improve reading proficiency among low-income students by the end of third grade.

Research shows that, in addition to summer learning, improving reading proficiency depends on improving attendance at school and making sure children arrive at kindergarten with the social, emotional and developmental skills to learn, Finaldi says.

The two funders of the new Triangle initiative aim to raise more money to invest in local partnerships over the long term, she says.

“You have to have a coalition,” she says. “Schools or parents cannot solve this problem alone.”

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Kidznotes growing in Wake, considers expansion

[Note: This was written for The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Kidznotes, a Durham nonprofit that uses orchestral training to prepare underserved students to succeed in school and life, will continue its expansion into economically-distressed Southeast Raleigh and is considering future growth in other parts of the Triangle, thanks in part to a $25,000 grant from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham.

Formed in 2010, Kidznotes will serve 300 students in Durham and 150 in Wake County this school year, up from a total of 330 last year. It plans to add another 35 Raleigh students this year and grow to a total of 1,000 students in the Triangle by 2020.

And it is considering expanding to new areas in the 2017-18 school year.

Kidznotes was inspired by El Sistema, an effort that began in 1975 in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and now reaches millions of students throughout the world, including hundreds of thousands of students in Venezuela and 30,000 in 120 communities in the U.S.

The Durham nonprofit partners with public schools in which over 80 percent of students qualify for lunch that is free or at a reduced price.

“Our kids face significant stress at home, in school and in their communities as a result of poverty,” says Katie Wyatt, executive director and co-founder of Kidznotes. “Now, they are on track for good grades, good retention, low suspension rates and low detention rates, and will be at the top of school in high school and beyond.”

Mimi O’Brien, executive director of the Biddle Foundation, says Kidznotes “demonstrates the foundation’s long-held conviction that the arts can be a vehicle for social change. We are enthusiastic about making this empowering opportunity available to more children.” This grant is made as part of the foundation’s celebration of its 60th anniversary.

Making music

Co-founded by Durham philanthropist Lucia Powe, Kidznotes operates with an annual budget of $1 million, and a staff of 10 people working full-time and part-time, plus about 40 teaching artists.

In partnership with five elementary schools each in Durham and Raleigh, and a middle school in Durham, it immerses students in music instruction after school, and on Saturdays it assembles all the students in each community for orchestra or band rehearsals, along with choir rehearsals.

All Kidznotes students learn violin in kindergarten, with kindergarteners and first-graders spending a total of six hours a week after school and Saturdays on the program, and older students spending at least 10 hours a week.

Starting in first or second grade, students join either a band or orchestra, and all students also participate in a choir starting in kindergarten.

“Knowing how to sing makes the best musicians,” says Wyatt, a violist who played with the New World Symphony in Miami for two-and-a-half years, and served as director of education for the North Carolina Symphony. “You have to have an internal sense of pulse and pitch.”

Kidznotes provides instructors for all instruments, and each school provides a music teacher for team-teaching after school, and for orchestra or band instruction one Saturday a month.

Kidznotes also provides all instruments and the curriculum, while the participating schools pay for the music teacher and provide rent-free space, a snack, and a bus after school to take students from their schools to the Kidznotes home base, known as a “nucleo.”

Music to thrive

Students who participate in Kidznotes do better in school and are prepared to succeed in life and work, Wyatt says, because learning an instrument and performing in an orchestra stimulate brain development.

Those activities also lead to increased executive functioning skills; greater academic achievement and language comprehension; improved social skills; advanced character development; more nimble physical coordination; greater self-confidence; and the critical skills of problem-solving, self-discipline and teamwork.

“As you learn new skills and create new sounds and advance on your instrument, your brain improves in the way it works,” Wyatt says. “El Sistema uses the orchestra and assembling a mini-society to create a model of living and of human effort that is really about every single person mastering their part and blending it to create something of great beauty that is bigger than just yourself.”

Partners in music

In addition to public schools, key partners of Kidznotes are other schools, professional arts organizations and parents.

Serving as volunteer mentors to Kidznotes students, for example, are students and teachers from the North Carolina School of  Science and Math, Durham School of the Arts, Durham Academy, and East Chapel Hill High School, among others.

Guest artists from professional organizations like the North Carolina Symphony, North Carolina Opera and Duke Performances, among others, work with Kidznotes students, who also are invited to attend their performances for free.

And parents of Kidznotes students are encouraged to attend all performances. Kidznotes students perform at least six times a year, typically 10 to 12 times, and as many as 25 times for the most advanced students.

Last year, for example, they performed at the Raleigh Convention Center for the annual Spree of the Junior League of Raleigh; at a Sunday morning service at Christ Church in Raleigh; and in the Red Hat Amphitheater for the annual Band Together concert culminating a year-long partnership that raised $1 million, including $850,000 for Kidznotes.

Wyatt also is executive director of El Sistema USA, which in July announced a partnership in which Duke University will incubate an effort to provide professional development opportunities to program directors for organizations like Kidznotes that are members of the national organization.

Music impact

The schools Kidznotes partners with serve some of the Triangle’s most underserved communities. Unemployment in Southeast Raleigh totals 12.2 percent, eight percentage points higher than Wake County overall, for example, while the median income in the region totals $28,370, roughly $35,000 below the Wake County average.

“Children from the neighborhoods we serve confront unfortunate, poverty-based reality even before they arrive at the schoolhouse door,” Wyatt says. “The Kidznotes and El Sistema philosophy is designed systematically to build a wellspring of positivity, joy and healing, and drive, and also a lot of hard work in a highly creative environment to work hand-in-hand with families to overcome the deficits of poverty.”

Getting South Bronx kids in tune for success

[Note: This was written for The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.]

BRONX, N.Y. — Giving more at-risk children in the South Bronx hope and a better chance to succeed in school and life is the focus of a $25,000 grant to UpBeat NYC, a local nonprofit that provides free music training and orchestral instruction for kids in the Mott Haven neighborhood.

Founded in 2009 by a family of New York City musicians and operating in a public library and two churches, the nonprofit this year will serve 150 children, teens and young adults ages five to 21, as well as 10 to 15 parents and infants.

“A music program accessible to everyone in a community gives children and youth an opportunity to see the potential in their lives, shows them they have the ability to do whatever they set their minds to, and gives them a taste of creating beauty in a group through hard work,” says Liza Austria, executive director and co-founder of UpBeat NYC.

Mimi O’Brien, executive director of The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham, N.C., which awarded the grant, says learning to play an instrument and perform in an orchestra “can help children in economically distressed neighborhoods overcome the challenges of low expectations and build the skills, confidence and teamwork that will help them thrive.”

This grant is made as part of the foundation’s celebration of its 60th anniversary. “Mary Duke Biddle, my great-grandmother, lived part of her life in New York City. She wanted her foundation to support programs in that city, and the board takes great care to meet her expectation,” said Jon Zeljo, chair of the board of trustees.

Making music

UpBeat NYC was inspired by El Sistema, an effort that began in 1975 in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and now reaches millions of students throughout the world, including hundreds of thousands in Venezuela and 30,000 in 120 communities in the U.S.

Founded by Austria, a singer and dancer, and her husband, Richard Miller, a jazz saxophonist, UpBeat NYC operates with an annual budget of $200,000, and a paid staff of one person working full-time and one working part-time, as well as nine teachers who work on an hourly basis several times a week under contract, and seven volunteer instructors.

Children enroll on a first-come, first-served basis, with no auditions. Most students begin in a pre-orchestra class, learning basic music theory, not an instrument, and participating in a choir.

Next, students take classes that focus on a particular instrument like a violin or clarinet and how they work, followed by classes in which the students are part of a group receiving instruction on how to play a real instrument. Then, they become part of a string or wind orchestra. Eventually, they join an advanced orchestra that combines string, wind and percussion instruments.

Using some of the funds from the Biddle Foundation, UpBeat NYC will begin a new track for brass and woodwind instruments, and for percussion, beginning with pre-orchestra instrument instruction. The organization in the past has offered wind and percussion opportunities at the orchestra level only.

The new track will include a wind-instrument initiation class and then separate classes for clarinet, trumpet, trombone and percussion.

With 50 more students beginning to learn those instruments this year, UpBeat NYC  plans within the next year to form an intermediate orchestra, and then plans the following year to form a beginner orchestra.

This fall, UpBeat NYC also will begin a new class to initiate infants and parents into the world of music. The organization already offers a choir for parents.

It will use the remainder of the Biddle funds to buy new instruments and music supplies, and support its operations.

Music to thrive

For years, UpBeat NYC has taught classes for advanced wind and percussion players, who have shown significant musical and personal progress. They and their parents report that learning to play an instrument in a group with their peers heightens and improves students’ motivation, and helps build their confidence, self-awareness, capacity to focus, empathy, emotional stability and academic achievement.

“We believe that all children are innately musical,” Austria says.

Tapping that natural talent is critical in a community with failing schools, a scarcity of quality programs during periods when children are not in school, and a bleak outlook among families for the education, well-being and future of their children.

Looming over children in the community are ever-present dangers and negative influences. Local rates of teen pregnancy and juvenile criminality are high, and more than half the children live in poverty.

“All our activities are designed to address the root causes of the social exclusion and isolation of children in the South Bronx,” Austria says.

Those causes include the lack of positive social activities open to everyone, social acceptance of low achievement, and the absence of opportunities to pursue challenging, long-term endeavors that promote personal growth and change.

“Music can play a powerful role in preparing children to shape their own lives and become agents of improving their community,” Austria says. “Through long-term musical training and experience in performing, our students develop the patience and persistence required to excel as individuals and to learn to contribute as supporters and leaders in the context of collaborative music-making.”

El Sistema

UpBeat NYC has plugged into El Sistema and its network of programs in the U.S.

The organization collaborates on student workshops and shares best practices with four other El Sistema-inspired programs that serve Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, where UpBeat NYC initially was launched.

In the summer of 2015, it took 34 of its students to Caracas to take lessons and perform with their counterparts in El Sistema’s main orchestra there, while some of its teachers participated in teacher training.

Teaching artists from El Sistema in Venezuela have visited UpBeat NYC to work with its students and provide training for its teachers, some of whom plan another visit Venezuela to receiving more training.

And this summer, five of its students participated at Bard College in the National Take A Stand Festival of El Sistema USA.

Family affair

As struggling artists living and working in New York City, Austria and Miller saw a big gap between the cultural opportunities within their reach and the lack of options for children living in poverty. And her family helped her see the need to create opportunities for at-risk kids.

Austria’s mother, a long-time New York City public school teacher who taught her to play piano as a young child, had long been concerned about budget cuts for arts education and the growing emphasis on testing. Austria’s older brother Ruben Austria, also a musician, is executive director of Community Connections for Youth, a South Bronx nonprofit that provides alternatives to incarceration for youth.

So when her late father, classical bassist Jamie Suarez Austria, learned about El Sistema and its impact in helping children throughout the world lift themselves out of poverty, he inspired Austria and Miller to launch UpBeat NYC.

Austria works on a pro-bono basis. Miller is one of the organization’s two paid employees. Her younger brother John Austria, formerly a volunteer instructor, is a paid instructor. And her mother, Christine Austria, is a volunteer instructor.

While UpBeat NYC still is a small organization, the Biddle grant will allow it to continue to grow from its startup in a storefront in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“My father’s passion about El Sistema showed us a model for this kind of work,” Austria says. “For my family, after my father died in 2010 from lung cancer, we continued to do this work and grow it. We’re a little in awe sometimes by how far this has come.”

StudentU working to equip more Durham students to succeed

[Note: This was written for The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Preparing more kids in Durham to graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate, and then find ways to help other students succeed in school and life is the focus of a $25,000 grant to Durham nonprofit StudentU.

With the funds, from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham, StudentU aims to double — to 30 — the number of college students it employs who work with middle-school students in its summer and year-long programs.

It also plans to double — to 40 — the number of internships it provides for high school students who work with middle- and other high-school students and at local nonprofits.

“We want to see a Durham where all kids can succeed,” says Dan Kimberg, founder and advancement director of StudentU. “We believe the way to get there is for our students to actually be the leaders who change the system.”

Mimi O’Brien, executive director of the Biddle Foundation, says StudentU is preparing students to thrive.

“With support and encouragement,” she says, “students who face difficult odds in school and in life can believe in themselves, find a path to success, and give back by looking for ways to create greater opportunities for kids like themselves.”

The Foundation made the grant as part of the celebration of its 60th anniversary.

Preparing for college

Inspired by a summer job in New Orleans after his freshman year at Duke that paired college students with middle-school students, Kimberg founded StudentU after graduating from Duke in 2007.

Operating with an annual budget of $2.1 million, a staff of 18 people working full-time and up to 150 working part-time, StudentU is serving 450 students this year, a number that will grow to 500 in its new class that begins next March.

It works with students at all 18 middle schools and all 12 high schools in Durham, and partners mainly with students at Duke and North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

All public school students participating in StudentU begin in sixth grade, most qualify for school lunches that are free or at a reduced price, most are students of color, and most are the first in their families to go to college.

Among students who began StudentU in sixth grade, 110 currently are pursuing bachelors’ degrees, including a few who transferred after graduating from community college. In 2017 the first of those students will graduate from a four-year college.

School-year program

StudentU offers school-year and summer programs.

During the school year, 150 students in grades six, seven and eight participating in StudentU visit the W.G. Pearson Center five days a week after school for three hours a day. Learning specialists teach them literacy and math. Students also participate in dance, orchestra and arts clubs, and get help with homework.

About 190 students in grades nine through 12 participate in StudentU at their schools. StudentU hires and pays a stipend to teachers and guidance counselors already working at the schools who serve as advocates for the StudentU students in their schools.

Each advocate works with a group of four students who meet one-on-one with the advocate every week to make sure they are on track to graduate and enroll in college. And once a month, all the StudentU students and advocates in a school meet to talk about their progress and challenges they face.

During the school year, StudentU students visit about 15 colleges in North Carolina. Before applying to college, each StudentU student visits a total of about 35 colleges.

StudentU employs full-time college advisers who provide support through the application process to its high school juniors and seniors, along with their parents.

Summer program

During the summer, 150 middle-school students attend a six-week StudentU summer program at Durham Academy five days a week, eight hours a day, while 100 ninth-and-10th-graders attend a five-week summer academy and spend another week visiting six or seven out-of-state colleges with high rates of retention of students who are the first in their families to attend college.

And 90 11th-and-12th-graders hold StudentU internships, either at its campus, supporting the operations of its middle-school and high-school academies, or at local nonprofits.

Student support

StudentU employs a full-time social worker to help address the individual needs of students and families, and to manage health partnerships. The social worker works to make sure each student has a primary care doctor, helps arrange or directly provides psychological therapy for those who need it, and arranges for annual vision screening for each student, with those who need prescription eyeglasses getting a free pair.

StudentU also employs one full-time learning specialist who work directly with individual students with the greatest academic needs.

College students

StudentU employs college students to teach middle-school students. And it provides support for college students who began participating in StudentU in sixth grade.

Each semester, the full-time StudentU “college success coordinator” meets one-on-one on campus with each StudentU college student. And each August and winter break, StudentU students participate in a retreat that features experts who talk about key factors for college success, such as time management; getting the most from college advisers; racial identity at white institutions; and dealing with drugs, alcohol and sex on campus.

StudentU also makes gifts up to $500 per family to help keep their children from leaving college because of a financial emergency.

Parents’ role

The parent of every high-school student and middle-school student in StudentU receives a phone call at least every three weeks or two weeks, respectively, that focuses on the student’s progress and on what the organization can do to better support the family.

A parents council, known as Guardians for StudentU, works to support the StudentU staff, and the council head serves on StudentU’s board of directors.

Other communities

Twenty-three communities throughout the U.S. have asked StudentU to consider expanding to their communities. While it has declined because it wants to focus on Durham, it shares with them for free a 515-page document outlining how its programs work. This summer, based on that model, Gaston County in North Carolina launched a program starting with middle-school students.

Long-term goals

StudentU aims over the long-term to help students achieve educational success; gain the knowledge they need to achieve financial security as adults; make progress toward reaching their full personal potential; and become traditional and non-traditional leaders in Durham and other communities who are equipped to help make long-term systemic change happen.

Consider Casey Barr-Rios: She enrolled in StudentU as a sixth-grader and now is a junior at North Carolina Central University and the first person in her family to go to college. She also is the full-time executive assistant at StudentU, and a member of the board of directors of Made In Durham, a community partnership that aims to help Durham youth complete high school, get a post-secondary credential, and begin a rewarding career by age 25.

“As a result of structural racism and systemic inequalities, the odds are against students of color in the Durham Public Schools,” Kimberg says. “We want to see a Durham where all kids can succeed. We are helping students discover their best selves so they can change the system around them.”

Conn Elementary partners with volunteers

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — At 3:45 p.m. every weekday during the school year, nearly 100 students gather in the gym at Conn Elementary School in Raleigh, remaining there until 6 p.m. to do their homework, with breaks for recreational activities and recess outside.

Operating the after-school program is YMCA of the Triangle, which also provides free child care for monthly meetings of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

The partnership with the YMCA is part of a larger effort by Conn to generate voluntary and philanthropic support to supplement the public dollars it receives.

“As a school, we’re always looking for ways to expand what we do to support our teachers and students, and the community support we get helps us,” says Gary Duvall, Conn’s principal.

About 580 students are enrolled at Conn, and about half of them qualify for lunch that is free or provided at a reduced price. With such a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, the school receives federal dollars through the Title I program for schools serving low-income families.

To supplement the public dollars the school receives, Conn’s PTA last year increased to $35,000 from about $15,000 the funds it raised during its annual fall fundraising campaign.

Those dollars were used to pay for playground renovations, and to help fund 30 programs at the school, including mini-grants of up to $500 to teachers for special projects, such as buying books and materials for the school library to supplement what students learn in the classroom.

Conn also is developing partnerships with a growing number of organizations that provide volunteers for the school.

Starting this fall, three members of Lawyers 4 Literacy, a program of the North Carolina Bar Association, are visiting Conn once a week at lunchtime, each working with one or two students in second or third grade on their reading.

And once a week after school, about 10 volunteers visit Conn through a partnership with Cary nonprofit Read and Feed, which provides a meal for about 18 students in first through fifth grade. Each volunteer then works on reading with one or two students, who also receive two books each week to take home and keep.

And thanks to Amy Dameron, a literacy teacher at Conn and a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, volunteers from the congregation are scheduled to visit the school on October 15 for campus beautification and painting.

Another seven volunteers from the church also have applied to work on reading once a week with two students each.

And before the school year began, more than a dozen managers from Whole Foods on Wade Avenue visited the school for day of painting and beautification.

This fall, through two separate partnerships, 12 students in the College of Education at North Carolina State University will be visiting Conn once a week to mentor individual students in fourth and fifth grade on topics ranging from goal-setting and self-awareness to character development, while another 10 to 12 students from the College of Engineering at N.C. State will be visiting once a week to work one-on-one with students on science and math.

“We want to make sure all our students are succeeding,” Duvall says. “By having these small reading groups and small programs, we able to serve a broad range of student needs.”

Biddle Foundation grants celebrate 60 years of impact

[Note: This was written for The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — On September 14, 1956, when Mary Duke Biddle established her philanthropic foundation, inspiring the foundation’s mission were lessons she had learned growing up in a family that believed in supporting causes and communities it cared about.

So she decided her new philanthropy would focus on making modest gifts that could multiply over time, providing access to education, enriching lives and communities through music and the arts, lifting up impoverished people through churches and congregations, and providing critical aid to communities.

In its first 60 years, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation has awarded nearly $43 million to those causes in North Carolina, where Mrs. Biddle was born and raised, and in New York City, where she lived for 20 years as an adult before returning to Durham.

Now, to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Foundation has awarded five special grants totaling $125,000 to support efforts in North Carolina and New York City to boost the arts and arts education, to use orchestral training to equip more underserved kids to thrive, and to prepare more at-risk kids to succeed in school and life.

“The philanthropic legacy of Mary Duke Biddle continues to advance the arts and improve the lives of youth, particularly those who are less advantaged, in the communities she loved,” says Mimi O’Brien, executive director of the Foundation.

Making an impact

The five special grants — $25,000 each to the Durham Arts Council, Kidznotes and StudentU, all in Durham; the Asheville Art Museum; and UpBeat NYC in the South Bronx — are designed to have a bigger impact on individual organizations and the people they serve. These awards are made in addition to the Foundation’s regular annual giving, including approximately 40 grants of $5,000 each in response to requests from nonprofits in North Carolina and New York City.

“Arts and youth education remain critical, ongoing needs in our community,” O’Brien says. “These special grants represent an investment to help innovative nonprofits make an even bigger difference expanding the impact of the arts and creating opportunities for young people to succeed.”

With the help of the five grants:

* Durham Arts Council will develop an online arts directory and continue to invest in

career development for emerging artists, underscoring Durham’s growing reputation as a hub for the arts.

* Kidznotes will use orchestral training to equip more underserved students to succeed in school and life, continue its expansion into economically-distressed Southeast Raleigh, and consider expanding to other parts of the Triangle region.

* StudentU will prepare more kids in Durham to graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate, and then find ways to help their peers succeed in school and life.

* The Asheville Art Museum will provide access to arts education and activities to more underserved children in Asheville, Buncombe County and three rural counties in Western North Carolina.

* UpBeat NYC will provide free music training and orchestral instruction to more at- risk children in the South Bronx, along with hope for the future and a better chance to succeed in school and life.

Philanthropic legacy

Mary Duke Biddle, the daughter of Benjamin Newton Duke and granddaughter of Washington Duke, attended public schools in Durham, and in 1907 graduated from Trinity College, now Duke University.

Her father and uncle, James B. Duke, using wealth generated from tobacco, textile and electric power industries they developed in North Carolina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gave generously to their community and became known for their philanthropy. Both were benefactors of Durham’s Trinity College, and in 1924, through the newly chartered Duke Endowment, the college was named Duke University in honor of their father.

In establishing her own Foundation, Mary Duke Biddle designated that half the grant funding would go to Duke University, with the rest going to non-profit organizations that support a variety of causes in North Carolina and New York.

Mary Duke Biddle died in 1960 at age 73. For many years, the Foundation was led by her daughter, the late Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, and her husband, the late James H. Semans, M.D.

“The Biddle Foundation continues its legacy of making the communities we serve Jbetter places to live and work,” says Jon Zeljo, chair of the Foundation’s board of trustees and great-grandson of Mary Duke Biddle. “We invest in programs that expand opportunities for everyone, connect and inspire diverse populations, and give people in need tools and hope for the future.”

Model for future funding

Including grants to organizations such as Duke University that it has funded for many years through long-standing relationships, the Foundation typically makes nearly $1 million in grants a year.

With an endowment of about $30 million, the Foundation continues to focus its funding on the arts and youth education, particularly in collaborative efforts that serve less advantaged populations.

The Foundation is using its 60th anniversary to examine how its grantmaking practices and programs can be more impactful to the organizations and causes it supports.

In addition to support for Duke and to grants it makes in response to applications, organizations the Foundation funds through long-standing relationships include, among others, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; Durham Arts Council; American Dance Festival; Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle; and Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Students target support for schools

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — In the fall of 2014, as an 11th-grader at Hillside High School in Durham, Jalen McGee submitted a proposal to the Durham Public Schools for funding and resources to support independent research he wanted to conduct on prosthetic limbs.

When the schools administration replied it lacked funds to sponsor his project, McGee quickly “went to work to plan how I could make sure that every student who comes after me who desires to conduct independent research in high school could have the opportunity to do so.”

McGee and a handful of other students formed The iMpact Education Foundation, a nonprofit that is trying to raise $5,000 to secure tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and get started.

Now overseen by a board of seven Hillside graduates who all are rising college freshmen, the Foundation aims to raise $200,000 by September 30, 2017, and will focus on providing funds for scholarships, teachers and student projects, and college-readiness workshops.

The Foundation’s board members will spend the next year raising money and recruiting college and high school students to support the fundraising effort. Between them, they will enroll this fall at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The Foundation aims to enlist honor societies at 30 to 40 high schools, for example, to partner on events such as spelling bees and science fairs to raise a total of $70,000.

It hopes to raise another $90,000 through crowdfunding campaigns, by creating iMpact Education Foundation clubs on college campuses that would solicit corporate donations, and by seeking challenge grants from companies that would match other funds the Foundation raises.

And it will try to raise another $40,000 in government and foundation grants.

Efforts to enrich the experience of high school students, including the purchase of resources and materials for student projects, and offering college-readiness workshops, will account for the biggest program at the new Foundation, says McGee, who was inducted into the academic Hall of Fame at Hillside High School and has been awarded Coca Cola, Goodnight and Blacks at Microsoft scholarships totaling $118,000.

“We’ve all gone through North Carolina public schools all our lives,” he says of the Foundation’s seven board members. “We asked what could have made our experience better. We decided to put more project-based learning into schools.”

A big focus, particularly in the face of government cuts in spending for public schools, will be supporting student projects and research, says McGee, who is working this summer handling quality assurance for the website and mobile app for Spiffy, a mobile car-wash company in Durham. He plans to major in electrical and computer engineering, and hopes after college to work for the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency.

“What we remember from each school year were the projects we did,” he says. “They help you retain more information.”

The Foundation also hopes each year to award 10 scholarships of $4,000 each to seniors graduating from North Carolina high schools, and to give $200 each to 100 teachers nominated by their students.

Teachers, McGee says, “are the backbone of our education system.”