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.”

Working to prepare teens for parenting

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In 2005, while fostering her 10th and final child, Randi Rubenstein recognized the challenges of parenting could be overwhelming.

“I realized there were so many kids, I couldn’t take them all in,” she says. “I had just converted my dining room into a bedroom.”

Even more troubling, she says, was the widespread problem of child abuse and neglect.

“There are reports of child abuse and neglect every year throughout the United States on behalf of six million children up to age 18,” she says. “Those numbers have not changed significantly since they’ve been recorded over the last several decades.”

So Rubenstein, a public-health professional who was living in Orange County, Calif., started Education for Successful Parenting, or ESP.

The nonprofit worked with small groups of teenagers, mostly foster children, to prepare them to live independently as adults. Initially, it worked through state foster-care agencies, then taught classes in high schools.

Rubenstein, the group’s executive director, moved in 2011 to North Carolina, where it  focuses most of its effort on working directly with teens, partnering with schools, nonprofits and other agencies. It still works in California, where it serves fewer than 100 foster parents a year.

ESP teamed with Hope Center at Pullen in Raleigh, for example, to offer teens moving out of foster care a session on preparing to be a parent.

It provided training for staff at Haven House in Raleigh on motivating teens to postpone becoming parents.

And at an education program on child safety offered by the Raleigh Police Department for parents living in public housing, volunteers at the session included students taking a required “healthful living” class in high schools that include sessions on parenting led by ESP.

“We’re reaching teens before they have children, and focusing on helping them make healthy choices so they can start families from day one and be healthy so they can provide and protect their children,” Rubenstein says.

ESP serves over 1,000 students a year at Millbrook High School in Raleigh and Heritage High School in Wake Forest, providing three hours of instruction in a required one-semester health-education course.

In an evaluation of that instruction, 90 percent of students who have received it say that as a result they will be “better able to wait to conceive a child until they’re ready for the responsibility,” Rubinstein says.

The students also say they will be better able to provide, protect and nurture a child.

Operating with an annual budget of $40,000, four part-time employees and about 20 volunteers, ESP receives about 90 percent of its operating funds from private donations and the remainder through the sale of publications it creates on preparing for parenting.

The nonprofit now aims to increase its fundraising so it can expand its program this fall to two more Wake County high schools.

To help raise awareness about the need for better parenting education, and its work, the nonprofit will host a “Dream of Family” event on May 22 at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh.

Showcasing teen artwork, dance, music and poetry, and with support from a volunteer team from Leadership Raleigh, a leadership-development program of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, the event will be held in the “promo court” from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

By working with teenage girls and boys before they start families, ESP aims to help them prepare for the critical, lifelong job of being a parent, while also motivating them to stay in school and work harder to succeed, Rubinstein says.

Ultimately, she says, a key goal is to “prevent child abuse and neglect at its source — the decision-making of teens that ultimately affects the strength of a future family.”

Community colleges aim to spur better health

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.]

On a cold Friday afternoon in February, a group of students, faculty and staff members gathered in a warm teaching dining room on the campus of Nash Community College in Rocky Mount to break bread together — and learn how to bake it.

As part of the school’s effort to stimulate healthier living in the rural community, a culinary teaching chef showed the group how a few simple substitutions in ingredients could turn an ordinary loaf into something much healthier and tastier.

“People couldn’t believe all the nutritious goodness that was packed in,” says Trent Mohrbutter, vice president of instruction and chief academic officer at the school.

Sometimes, he says, it takes small steps — especially when shared by a group or community — for individuals to make big changes.

Inspiring people in rural communities to live healthier lives by providing them with better access to information about health and wellness, and to opportunities to visit a doctor, exercise and eat more nutritious food, is the focus of a 10-year, $100 million investment by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

Launched by the Trust in 2012, Healthy Places NC is investing up to $100 million to improve the health of residents in 10 to 12 of the state’s most rural and financially disadvantaged counties.

As part of that initiative, the Trust is providing support designed to help seven community colleges become resources and catalysts for healthier living on their campuses and in the counties they serve.

Working with MDC, a research and consulting nonprofit in Durham, the schools are undertaking a broad range of projects. For example, Beaufort County Community College is hosting health summits. Edgecombe Community College is creating a natural playscape on campus. Halifax Community College is establishing a clinic on campus. McDowell Technical Community College is serving the campus and community through telemedicine.  Rockingham Community College is creating an “edible” greenhouse. And Western Piedmont Community College is developing a campus-wide healthy lifestyle initiative.

“The goal of our initiative is institutionalizing the idea of influencing healthy behavior and improving health outcomes into the colleges,” says Dan Broun, senior program director at MDC. “If they’re successful, even when the funding ends, that will be part of the way business is done at the campus.”

Change agents

Community colleges in rural counties are naturally positioned to stimulate healthier living in their communities. The schools often rank among their counties’ larger employers, and their classes and cultural events during the day and in the evening attract a steady flow of students and visitors.

The schools train workers who can join the local health-sciences workforce. They offer programs and facilities such as physical education classes, gyms and walking trails that give students and employees opportunities for physical activity. Some offer direct health services for the community.

“Community colleges serve some of the most vulnerable populations in a community,” Broun says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to make lasting change in terms of the goals of the initiative, which is to dramatically improve health outcomes in these distressed counties.”

Providing access

Living in counties that rank among the lowest in the state on indicators that measure socio-economic status, residents of Eastern North Carolina typically have less access than people in more affluent counties to “healthier food options, and to some extent to health and wellness opportunities,” says Mohrbutter at Nash Community College.

Another hurdle to healthier living in the region is a limited local “knowledge base” about health and wellness. “Everybody knows donuts are not good for you,” he says, “but just saying that doesn’t necessarily provide knowledge to people.”

Thanks in part to its support from the Trust, the school is working to make it easier for local residents — including its students, faculty and staff — to find out how to eat better, stay fit and be healthy. And it is providing them with tools to practice what they learn.

A February seminar on baking healthy bread, for example, was held in an interactive classroom across the hall from a culinary teaching kitchen equipped for Nash Community College’s programs on restaurant management, and culinary and hospitality management.

Instead of flour and sugar, the culinary teaching chef leading the seminar used honey and “spent” grains, including those high in protein but low in carbohydrates — ingredients that produced a lower calorie count. Seminar participants watched him prepare and bake the bread, then sampled it. And they left with the recipe.

The seminar was one of six scheduled for the spring semester. The school also received a grant from the Trust to equip its weight room and cardiovascular room. With the new equipment, more employees and students are using the fitness rooms.

“Once you start doing something that has value,” Mohrbutter says, “the students and employees not only come to value it themselves, but they also come to expect it.”

To get the word out about its healthy-living efforts, the school launched a communications campaign that uses social media and features articles in an e-newsletter it distributes every Friday throughout the county.

“As we expose students and employees to the opportunities — anyone who comes into contact with the college — we will expand their knowledge and experiential base,” he says. “Then it becomes part of what they do, and that’s behavior change. Whether students, employees or community partners, they come, they learn about something, they try it, they experience it on their own, they come back again, and before you know it, their lifestyles have changed, hopefully for the positive.”

Learning together

Heathy Places NC has created a “learning network” among the schools. A newsletter keeps all participants up to date on projects at each campus, and on best practices.

Critical to securing future funding for campus health and wellness projects, says Broun of MDC, will be the ability to show the difference they make on indicators that reflect students’ health and are tied to public funding.

“What ultimately could be most valuable” in addition to healthier living, he says, “is if people see that investing in these initiatives has an impact on increasing measurable things like student retention and completion.”

[The Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative is currently working to improve health in the rural counties of Beaufort, Burke, Edgecombe, Halifax, McDowell, Nash and Rockingham.]

Public schools focus of foundation

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Each August, at a “Teacher Store” in partnership with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, new teachers, school social workers and roughly half the other teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools can pick up classroom supplies using a $75 voucher.

Teachers also are eligible to receive $1,000 a year for two to three years from 10 endowed chairs, and for recognitions and awards; scholarships to help cover the cost of applying for national certification; and professional-development grants. And first-year teachers receive $100 grants for classroom purposes.

Helping to provide all that support, as well as funding for schools and students, is the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, which hosts the Teacher Store in partnership with East Chapel Hill Rotary Club

Launched in 1984, the Foundation has raised and provided over $5.4 million for local public schools, including funds for 328 teachers who have received money from the endowed chairs, and received awards and also scholarships for certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

It also has provided nearly $532,000 for students and schools for college scholarships, summer enrichment and tutoring; over $230,000 in supplies and materials for classroom teachers; and nearly $850,000 for projects at schools.

In the face of declining teacher morale as a result of cuts or threatened cuts in state funding for schools and teacher salaries, the Foundation works to “make sure the teachers feel valued and they know they’re making a difference in children’s lives,” says Lynn Lehmann, the Foundation’s executive director.

The Foundation also focuses on “students with the most need, both financially and academically, to make sure every student is able to be on grade level,” she says.

Operating with an annual budget of $325,000, and a staff of one full-time employee and three part-time employees, the Foundation counts on 45 active volunteers, including the 27 members of its board of directors, plus other volunteers who support three major fundraising events.

Board members, for example, review grant requests and recommend funding; chair events; work with the Foundation’s auditor; prepare financial statements; create communications; and set up focus groups with teachers and principals to identify their needs.

“They work like this is their job,” says Lehmann, a former PTA president who served on the Foundation’s board for 10 years, including a term as president, before joining the staff in 2014 as program manager.

She became executive director last October, succeeding Kim Hoke, who co-founded the Foundation when she was assistant to the superintendent of the city schools.

Each year, the Foundation hosts three big fundraising events, including its Walk for Education, which last fall raised $185,000, including corporate sponsorships, with 85 percent of the funds going back to schools for projects.

It also hosts a 5K for Education each spring that generates about $10,000 and includes six weeks of fitness training for teachers for $25 each provided by Fleet Feet Sports. And it hosts a Teachers First Breakfast and Roses, which receives donated food from the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group — Spanky’s, 411 West, Mez, Page Road Grill and Squid’s — and discounted roses from Whole Foods, and last year raised $95,000, most of it for programs that support teachers.

The Foundation supports each of the school system’s 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools — plus the school at UNC Hospitals for young people being  treated there — in raising money for the Walk to fund a project each school chooses.

It also provides grants for out-of-school learning and enrichment for low-income or low-achieving students  and student scholarships for higher education.

The Foundation also receives support from individuals, including one who last year donated $55,000, and from the Stroud Roses Foundation and other philanthropies.

But generating funds through its annual appeal remains a challenge, Lehmann says, and the Foundation has hired Executive Service Corps of the Triangle to help it develop a strategic plan that could set the stage for fundraising or campaign to build its operating endowment, which now totals $108,000.  The Foundation also operates 32 endowments totaling $1.5 million that support endowed chairs and other programs.

“Teacher value and student success are the challenges of the district,” Lehmann says, “and the things we try to address with our enrichment grants.”

Junior Achievement to honor couple who care

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 1985, as secretary and treasurer of Mechanical Systems Inc. in Greensboro,  Jim Geiger was invited to contribute $400 to support a new program Junior Achievement of Central North Carolina was launching to place business executives in public-school classrooms — and to volunteer as a “classroom consultant” for the program in a ninth-grade class at Northeast Guilford High School.

“That first experience was so enlightening and positive for me,” says Geiger, who volunteered for Junior Achievement throughout the Guilford County schools for the next 20 years and served on the Junior Achievement board for 25 years, including two years as chair.

In 1986, Jeanne Geiger moved to Greensboro from Harnett County, where she had taught high-school English, and was looking for a teaching job when the executive director of Junior Achievement approached her about managing the new classroom-consultant program and training the volunteers.

She took the job. In 1988, she was named executive director, a position she held until 1999. During her tenure, Junior Achievement expanded beyond Greensboro to all of Guilford County and Rockingham, Alamance and Randolph counties, and also landed a gift of an historic home and land that now serve as its headquarters.

“Thousands and thousands of students have benefited from participating in Junior Achievement as a result of their collective efforts,” says Jaqueline McCracken Wall, president and CEO of the Central North Carolina chapter.

On January 26, at its Business Leaders Hall of Fame and 50th Anniversary Celebration, to be held at Grandover Resort and Conference Center in Greensboro, Junior Achievement will honor the Geigers — who met in 1985, were in 1990, and moved to Wilmington in 1998 — with its Lifetime of Service Award.

The year Jeanne Geiger joined the chapter to head its new classroom-consultants program, corporate volunteers from Junior Achievement served in about 50 classrooms in Greensboro.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, volunteers contributed over 58,000 hours of classroom time, serving nearly 11,000 students in six counties who completed 516 Junior Achievement programs.

Junior Achievement works to help students learn how the economy works by connecting them with business executives who can talk about their actual experience in the marketplace, the Geigers say.

“Jim always called it ‘seat-of-the-pants economics,'” Jeanne Geiger says. “It was the real stuff that experienced business people would bring and share with the kids. It’s this business experience you can’t put a price on that our business people in the community brought into the classroom and used to equip these students with life skills.”

Jim Geiger says that “nuts-and-bolts” perspective is indispensable to help students meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving world.

“If we do not address the educational needs of our young people, our future is in jeopardy,” he says. “Junior Achievement is unique in accomplishing this — taking people who have been there and putting them directly in the classroom as role models and as a resource and as examples for young people. If we don’t do it, this country is in trouble.”

On meeting him, students initially would “test me to see if I was sincere, and they were real good at that,” he says. “Then they started picking your brain for how could I make life better for them. It’s not just the nuts and bolts of economics but also a broader approach to how we treat and address the needs of our young people.”

Jeanne Geiger says the classroom-consultants program also helps students see “the importance of serving one’s community, and work, business and life ethics — a wonderful realm of experience that Junior Achievement is sharing with these kids.”