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.”

Arts groups aim to increase access

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Art of Cool Project, a Durham nonprofit formed in 2011 to provide jazz and build an audience for it, wants a physical home and a way to expand its audience, build its donor base and find corporate sponsors.

American Dance Festival, which also is in Durham and is celebrating its 82nd season this summer, wants to establish a year-long presence and know more about its audience.

Artsplosure, a Raleigh nonprofit that for nearly four decades has produced big arts festivals each year and worked to promote the arts, also wants to know more about its audience, and to host first-time events and performances.

And 14-year-old Deep Dish Theater Company, which stages four shows a year in a storefront at University Mall in Chapel Hill that seats 70 people, wants new space that can handle constantly-changing programs and will attract a steady flow of visitors.

Key to making the arts and culture more accessible in the Triangle, representatives of all four groups told the Triangle Donors Forum on April 14, are capacity-building and technical support for small and mid-sized arts organizations, as well as collaboration among them.

Economic driver

The arts are big business and big contributors to the economy and the health of local communities, Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation and moderator of the panel, told several dozen guests at the Donors Forum, which was hosted Foundation and held at the Carolina Theater in Durham.

Sixty percent of employees in North Carolina work in the arts or creative industries, which generated $22 billion in revenue for the state in 2014, O’Keefe said.

“This is real work for our region and for our state, with real people working real jobs in the arts, and the majority of those jobs are in the nonprofit sector,” she said.

Arts offerings contribute to the health of downtowns and communities, and can have a big impact on the way children learn, O’Keefe said.

“Immersion in art has such a ripple effect on how a child can be set up for success later in life,” she said.

Arts and culture represent an important focus of grantmaking at the foundation, which last year granted nearly $2 million to organizations that support arts and culture in the region and beyond, O’Keefe said.

Providing leadership in building the cultural identity of the Triangle also is a focus — along with building the capacity of groups that address youth literacy and community development, and supporting environmental conservation programs — of a “People and Places” program the Foundation launched last year.

Yet while larger arts institutions in the region may seem to find it easier to sustain themselves, O’Keefe said, smaller arts organizations faces challenges, including a lack of “ready-made venues,” lack of knowledge about how to use technology to attract audiences, and a business model that will sustain them.

Providing access

Adequate and appropriate space to perform and show art, and the accessibility of that space to a regional audience, are big challenges for smaller arts groups, members of the panel told the Donors Forum.

The Triangle, for example, lacks a “home” for jazz, a single space to house jazz performance, teaching, rehearsing and related activities, said Cicely Mitchell, president and co-founder of Art of Cool Project.

The idea that led to the founding of Art of Cool was to “provide space where we could help expand the audience for jazz,” she said. “It’s all about accessibility.”

Paul Frellick, artistic director of Deep Dish Theater Company, said that while ticket sales generate only about half of the funds it needs to operate, its capacity of only 70 seats makes it tough to attract corporate advertisers for its printed programs or corporate sponsors.

After operating in two locations at University Mall, he said, the troupe aims to find new space and move over the course of its next season.

Maintaining momentum

Arts groups like Artsplosure, Art of Cool and American Dance Festival that concentrate many of their activities into a few events or times during the year face the challenge of maintaining a presence or momentum throughout the year, panelists said.

Multiplying that challenge for an arts group can be a lack of data about its audience, a hurdle that many arts groups face.

Michael Lowder, executive director of Artsplosure, said venues in themselves can carry a brand that can “trump whoever the presenter is.”

The Artsplosure festival this year was moving to Fayetteville Street from Moore Square, he said.

Yet because Fayetteville Street has attracted both “great events and not-so-great events” and has only a “so-so brand,” he said, the move carried some risk.

“Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd,” he said.

To help promote and market itself throughout the year, he said, Artsplosure has made aggressive use of social media such as Instagram and Facebook.

“We really try to maintain a relationship with our audience,” he said. Yet at Artsplosure, he said, “we really don’t know our audience.”

While 30,000 to 50,000 people attend the organization’s First Night activities, and 60,000 to 80,000 attend Artsplosure, less than one thousand attending those festivals actually fill out surveys about who they are, he said.

Artsplosure tries to communicate with the arts community through arts agencies, and through roughly 25 media outlets.

Still, Lowder said, maintaining a year-long presence and momentum “with who you perceive your audience to be” can be challenging.

Sarah Kondu, director of communications and marketing at American Dance Festival, said it performs at venues such as Durham Arts Center yet, because of a policy by intermediaries that sell tickets online, it can not get information on the people who buy tickets to its performances.

So knowing and communicating with its audiences is a “real struggle for us,” she said.

Mitchell, who suggested that venues do not share information on ticket buyers to protect their privacy, said that while Art of Cool has built an email list of people who attend its events, its marketing budget is small and so it relies on social media to reach its audience.

Showing value

O’Keefe, who worked as a fundraiser and arts administrator at performing arts institutions in California and New York City before joining Triangle Community Foundation in 2005, asked the panelists whether the new residents who have swelled the Triangle’s population recognize the value the arts add to the region’s quality of life and are “opening their pockets and engaging in ways other than just buying tickets.”

Mitchell said Art of Cool launched its festival last year entirely through a Kickstarter social-media campaign.

Tondu said modern dance is a “hard sell, even in larger cities,” and that American Dance Festival is “still trying to educate, to get people to give it a try.”

Frellick said that because tickets sales generate only about half the income Deep Dish Theater needs to operate, and because its limited seating capacity has made it tough to attract corporate sponsors, the company depends on individual donors and patrons to sustain it.

On the other hand, he said, when corporate giving fell after the economy crashed in 2008, Deep Dish was not as hard hit as some other organizations because it already lacked corporate support.

Lowder said Artsplosure six years ago saw a 60 percent spike in ticket sales for First Night, and asked a statistician to try to find out why.

The only correlation the statistician could find after looking at a broad range of indicators was that “the more we spend on art, the more tickets we sold,” Lowder said.

“We want to be perceived as an entry point, the gateway, to what others are doing,” he said. “It’s about the art we’re presenting, and presenting in an accessible way to encourage people to learn more and get involved.”

Making the arts accessible is important, he said, because of the “influx of people from all over the country with expectations about what sorts of art they’re going to find here.”

Capacity and collaboration

A big challenge for smaller and mid-sized arts groups is building their organizational “capacity,” panelists said.

Mitchell at Art of Cool said finding corporate support has been tough.

The group participated in a training program at the Durham Chamber of Commerce to learn how to ask companies for money, and was the only nonprofit in the program, she said.

“A lot of younger organizations would jump over the opportunity to have mentorship and camaraderie,” she said.

O’Keefe said a “big push” in the nonprofit sector is for greater collaboration, and “the arts tend to be on the forefront of this, using statistics, data, having a revenue producing model.”

Through tickets and products, “the arts have always had,” she said. “The arts, particularly in the Triangle, are constantly thinking about ways to work together to raise each other up.”

Food trailer aims to give ex-prisoners second chance

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — When Drew Doll managed Just a Clean House, a transitional home in Durham for men getting out of prison, he found that just over half the residents returned to prison, and those who were able to land “under-the-table” work as day laborers had a tough time getting stable employment.

And as an accountant for the Durham Economic Resource Center, an agency that provides job training and development for people who face high barriers to employment, he saw that employment agencies typically focus on filling jobs, not on “how to get jobs for people who are hard to employ.”

So he started thinking about how to “create an organization designed to employ people where a criminal conviction is what you have to have coming in the door.”

His solution is Second Helpings, an initiative developed by three partner groups to provide jobs and support services for men and women after they leave prison.

The effort is modeled on Homeboy Industries, a Los Angles nonprofit that a Jesuit priest founded in 1984 to provide jobs and education as an alternative for gang members.

According to a study at UCLA, 70 percent of Homeboy Industries clients who complete an 18-month employment program stay out of prison and find jobs, compared to the 70 percent of the men and women exiting the California prison system who return.

In Durham, in comparison, among the estimated 600 to 700 men and women who return from prison every year, 80 percent of them lack education credentials and practical work experience and, after a  year, 60 percent still do not have jobs.

Partners in Second Helpings include the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, a volunteer-based group that provides 12 “faith teams” that each partners one-on-one for at least a year with an individual getting out of prison; the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, a county agency that provides case managers and support services for former prisoners; and Core Catering, a catering company that provides lunch for the Religious Coalition’s monthly meetings and its biweekly dinners for families of victims of violence, and uses its excess food to package and freeze meals that volunteers deliver each week to people in need, including families of victims of violent crimes.

Second Helpings needs $25,000 to buy and equip a food trailer and cover its first two to three months of operating costs. It is seeking startup support from foundations and companies, particularly in the food-service industry, and expects to be self-sustaining after three months.

As one of five semifinalists in a competition sponsored by Triangle Community Foundation that attracted over 50 collaborative proposals for innovative solutions to community needs, Second Helpings was awarded a $7,000 grant.

The goal, Doll says, is to provide jobs, training and support to help prepare former prisoners for permanent employment.

Each person Second Helpings employs will be less likely to return to prison, will save the state the $30,000 annual cost of maintaining a person in prison, and will add to the pool of prospective employees for local food-service jobs, Doll says.

“Businesses in food services and hospitality tend to have high employee turnover, largely because many of the people they hire don’t know how to keep a job,” he says.

Marcia Owen, executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, says the key to the collaborative effort will be linking ex-prisoners with resources and support.

“Research shows the greatest risk to recidivism is not having connections,” she says. “It is the relationships of equality and respect and dignity that keep us safe.”

Patricia Jenkins Eder, owner of Core Catering, says Second Helpings can be “a launching pad for people re-entering the workforce, giving them the opportunity to maintain a stable position in a company that then can lead them to other opportunities.”

Collaboration, flexibility seen key to change

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sustaining the Triangle’s growth and making it a better place will depend on how well individuals and organizations can adapt to sweeping, rapid change and work together to fix the region’s most pressing social problems.

That message was the focus of What Matters, an event hosted by Triangle Community Foundation on April 1 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Struggling in prosperity

The Triangle is home to stark contrasts, leaders of Triangle Community Foundation told the 450 civic and business leaders from throughout the Triangle at the event.

“In the midst of prosperity, many among us struggle daily to survive and thrive,” said Lacy Presnell III, chair of the Foundation’s board of directors and a lawyer at Raleigh firm Burns, Day & Presnell.

Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, said the Triangle is the fastest-growing region in the U.S. and ranks fourth in economic growth. Raleigh is the sixth-most-affordable city to live in, Durham is among the 10 most-educated cities, and the region’s quality of life ranks highest in the U.S., she said.

Yet four in 10 public-school students in the region are enrolled in a program for lunch that is free or at a reduced price, one in five children live in poverty, and nearly half of all home renters spend 30 percent or more of their incomes on housing costs, she said. And nearly one in five public school students who enter ninth grade do not graduate in four years, she said, while people of color earn $7 less an hour than whites.

“As proud as we are of this region,” she said, “we must not lose sight of the real challenges we face as we continue to grow.”

Framework for change

Making change happen requires “crystal clear direction about where we’re headed,” motivation for the emotional side of the brain, and the need to “shape the path,” make it easy to “get to from point A to point B, remove the obstacles, create a culture conducive to change,” author Dan Heath, senior fellow at the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, said in his keynote speech at the event.

He cited a Stanford University study of a food drive in a single dormitory there. Testing the hypothesis that “there are nice people and they give, and there are jerks and they don’t,” the study canvassed the dorm to rank all students from the most to least kind.

Then it tested two versions of a letter promoting the food drive, with one version providing only basic instructions, and the other suggesting that, if students could not figure out what or how to donate, they should bring a can of beans and pick a time to drop off the can.

The second version provided a map showing where to drop off the donation. Among students who received the basic instructions, eight percent of the those identified as “saints” in the canvas and none identified as “jerks” donated food.

Among those who received the detailed instructions, 42 percent of the “saints” and 25 percent of the “jerks” made a donation.

Those findings suggest the food drive was “three times better off betting on a jerk with a map than a saint without one,” Heath said.

In times of change, he said, people are quick to put people “in buckets,” treating them as “saints and jerks,” he said.

“A crucial lesson for leaders of change,” he said, is that “when the path around us changes, people change, so we’ve got to be thoughtful about shaping the path.”

Shaping the path

A key to finding effective solutions to change is to “get better at meeting people where they are, shaping the path for them, not shaping the path” preferred by many advocates of change, Heath said.

He described a challenge faced at the airport in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where the men’s room had a problem with “spillage” that was “caused by poor aim.”

After considering a range of solutions, the committee decided to hire an artist who etched the likeness of a black housefly into every urinal in the men’s room.

Suggesting that the male psyche tended to see a target around the etching, which served as the bull’s eye, Heath said spillage in the men’s room immediately fell by 90 percent.

“We’ve got to shape the path to make change a little easier,” he said.

Bright spots

The social sector often gets so bogged down focusing on its ideal goal that it sometimes fails to see what is real and can lead to an effective solution, Heath said.

In the 1970s, he said, Jerry Sternin, director of Save the Children in Vietnam, wanted to fight child nutrition. Rather than address the problem’s root causes by trying to reform the education system, cure poverty and provide access to clean water, Heath said, Sternin focused on how families in a single village actually were feeding their children.

First, he identified which children in the village were well-nourished for their age, then watched how their parents prepared meals.

Most families in the village served their children two bowls of white rice a day, but the “bright-spot” mothers divided the same amount of rice into more meals during the day, making it easier for their children to digest more rice at each meal.

Sternin invited the “bright-spot” mothers to share the way they were preparing meals with other mothers in the village. Six months later, two-thirds of children in the village were better nourished. And after word of the success spread, leaders of other villages traveled to learn how the mothers in the village were preparing food.

Eventually, the more effective approach reached over 2.2 million Vietnamese in 265 villages, Heath said.

Sternin “did not cure child malnutrition in Vietnam,” Heath said. “But he put an enormous dent in the problem with a meager budget, and never solved any of the problems allegedly responsible for child malnutrition. That’s the power of looking at bright spots.”

So rather than “spending all your time obsessing about problems,” he said, community leaders should “steal some time to think about successes.”

Working together

The problems communities are trying to tackle, Heath said, are “daunting, long-standing, will not yield to easy solutions.”

And while it may not be apparent from day to day, he said, big changes do take place over time.

“Nothing great is ever accomplished easily,” he said. “But together, we’ll make it possible.”

Competition spurs collaborative ideas to fix local problems

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

RALEIGH, N.C. –At stake was a $25,000 grant from Triangle Community Foundation.

Competing for the funds were five groups of partners, selected from more than 50 partnerships that had submitted proposals in response to a request for ideas for innovative, collaborative solutions to community problems.

Each group had 10 minutes to pitch its proposal to a panel of five judges, and another five minutes to answer questions from the panel.

The groups said they would use the grant dollars to develop:

* A storefront in downtown Siler City to serve as “Idea Centro” and engage residents, particularly Hispanics, develop them as leaders, and produce new thinking and economic growth.

* A pre-K class for four-year-olds at a year-round center for children and youth in an impoverished Raleigh neighborhood, combined with services for their parents, to help families break the cycle of poverty.

* A center to process and distribute food at a new food hub in Durham that aims to provide a market for local farmers and a source of food for agencies that serve people in need.

* A 200-square-foot home to serve as a model dwelling for people with mental-health challenges living at a Chatham County farm that aims to help them become self-sufficient.

* A food trailer to employ men and women in Durham who get out of prison, and help them develop the skills they need to survive in the workplace.

The competition marked the fourth year Triangle Community Foundation had hosted its Innovation Award, an effort to stimulate new ideas and collaborations to address community problems.

The award aims “to seed an innovative idea and gives nonprofits involved an opportunity to think outside the box, to move the needle on a community issue,” Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told several dozen guests who attended the event.

The five finalists, she said, all were winners that “think innovatively and collaboratively.”

Claiming victory at the close of the event was the Bull City Cool Food Hub Collaboration. And thanks to donors to the Foundation, each of the other semifinalists received $7,000.

The competition

The Innovation Award event was held March 20 at HQ Raleigh, a shared workspace in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh designed to boost entrepreneurialism.

With competitors waiting and watching from adjacent space, each finalist group had five minutes to set up any visual presentation it had prepared.

Then, standing in front of the five judges and the audience of guests, each group made its pitch.

To prepare for the competition, the finalists had participated in a “pitch workshop” in February led by BC/DC Ideas, a Raleigh consulting firm that works with nonprofits.

Judges at the final event included its chair, Easter Maynard, director of community investment for Investors Management Corporation and a member of the Foundation’s board of directors; Scott Crawford, chef and co-owner of Standard Foods; David Dodson, president of MDC, a Durham think-tank; Aaron Houghton, co-founder and CEO of BoostSuite, a website firm in Durham; Donovan Moxey, CEO of Interactive Multimedia Solutions and IBS International; and Steven Pearson, manager of corporate citizens and corporate affairs at IBM.

Boosting growth in Siler City

The Latino community in Siler City has grown to nearly half the rural county’s population of 8,100 residents from less than one percent in 1980.

Yet despite the loss of 1,700 jobs between 2007 and 2012 with the closing of furniture, textile and food-processing plants, Hispanics have stayed in Siler City.

Now, a collaboration known as Siler City Unidos is working to transform a storefront in downtown Siler City into “pop-up community center” known as “Idea Centro” that will engage partner agencies, foster civic participation and leadership among all residents, particularly, Hispanic, and generate ideas for developing the downtown area.

The collaboration includes Chatham Economic Development Corporation, Siler City Development Organization, Communities in Schools of Chatham County, the town of Siler City, and other groups.

The group told the judges at the competition that the challenges facing Siler City “have led to a willingness to try things that haven’t been tried before.”

Breaking poverty cycle in Raleigh

In Raleigh, where the number of residents living in poverty nearly doubled from 2000 to 2012, the poverty rate is 16 percent. In the 27610 zip-code area in southeast Raleigh, the poverty rate is 22.7 percent, nearly one in three households with children under age 18 lives in poverty, and the number of children living in poverty has grown 46 percent since 2008.

To find a way to help break the local cycle of poverty between generations, the executive directors of seven nonprofits have been meeting for the past year.

Known as the Wake Collaborative, the partners include Community Partnerships, Council for Entrepreneurial Development, The Daniel Center for Math and Science, SouthLight Healthcare, StepUp Ministries, Triangle Family Services, and Wake County SmartStart.

Their solution is to create a class for 18 four-year-olds at The Daniel Center, an after-school and summer program for children and teens, and to provide support services for their parents.

The pilot program, which would include an outdoor area for play and fitness, would remove a big barrier for parents to find jobs, while also creating jobs at the Center, the group told the panel of judges.

The pilot class would be expanded over time to eventually provide support for a broad “pipeline” of constituents, from pregnant mothers to children and teens, along with families.

The goal is provide support for the same children and their families as the children move into young adulthood.

Linking local farmers, hungry people

One in four children in North Carolina is at risk of hunger, yet small and mid-sized farmers in the state lack access to local markets.

In North Carolina, which lacks big food-processing facilities, bigger farms typically ship their produce to industrial food processors outside the state, but smaller farms in the state often must sell unprocessed produce directly to consumers.

The missing piece for small farms is to add a food-processing center to a food hub that houses businesses that buy food from small farmers and sell it to agencies that serve people in need.

Known as the Bull City Cool Food Hub Collaboration, partners include Farmer Foodshare, Reinvestment Partners, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Durham County County Soil and Conservation.

The food hub, which buys produce from small and mid-sized farms, will process and store food, and distribute it to agencies that serve hungry people.

The Collaboration already has secured $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was seeking $25,000 from Triangle Community Foundation so it could develop the processing center at the hub.

The processing center would have a “multiplier” effect on the Foundation’s investment by generating more income for farmers, more food for people in need, and an economic boost for the area of downtown Durham that is home to the hub, the group told the judges.

Housing people with mental illness

In the U.S., 2.2 million people with mental illness get no treatment. And in North Carolina, 40 percent of homeless people have chronic mental illness.

Providing treatment and a place to live for people facing mental-health challenges is the focus of a partnership that includes The Farm at Penny Lane, a farm in Chatham County that grows and produces food for people living with mental illness; Habitat for Humanity of Chatham County; XDS, a nonprofit that works with people with mental illness and owns the property the farm operates on; and the Center for Excellence in Community Health in the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Known as the Tiny Home Pilot, the partnership wants to build a 200-square-foot home on the farm that would serve as a kind of model home for mentally-ill individuals.

Based on stays of a week or two to get feedback from temporary occupants, the partnership then would work with Habitat Chatham to build an initial cluster of three tiny homes for individuals in Chatham County, including some who also could receive support from the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health at UNC.

The occupants would apply for no-interest loans from Habitat and would own the homes.

The effort, which could grow to include additional clusters of three tiny homes each and eventually become a small community on the farm, aims to help people with mental illness avoid homelessness, become more self-sufficient, and improve the quality of their lives, the group told the judges.

Jobs for ex-prisoners

Eighty percent of men and women who return home to Durham from prison have no education credentials and no real work experience, and 60 percent still are unemployed after a year.

A partnership of three Durham groups aims to create a food trailer to provide people getting out of prison with jobs and support services to equip them to make the transition to civilian life.

Known as Second Helpings, the partnership includes the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Core Catering Company, and Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, a county agency.

The idea, modeled on nonprofit Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, will employ ex-prisoners and provide them with case management and “wraparound” support services.

The skills that inmates must master in prison are not the skills they need to master to survive in the workplace after they leave prison, the group told the judges.

At Second Helpings, they said, a criminal conviction will not be a barrier to employment but a requirement.

When fully operating, the food trailer aims to employ eight people each working 20 hours a week.

Innovation matters

Key to the winning proposal was the “crucial nature of the collaboration between the organizations, and the innovative way they were going to have a multiple impact,” says Maynard, who chaired the panel of judges.

“They would not be able to achieve their goal if they were not working in collaboration,” she says. “We were looking for authentic collaboration.”

The winning proposal will provide a market for farmers, and food for agencies that serve hungry people while giving an economic boost to the neighborhood, she says.

Overall, the Innovation Award competition “was a real awakening to the Foundation about the quality of thought leadership in the nonprofit sector, and clear evidence of the innovative activity that’s happening out there all the time,” Maynard says.

“It also gives us an opportunity, through just one award, to celebrate several organizations and help build skills and not just write a check,” she says.

In addition to a grant to the winning proposal, all finalists received training in pitching their proposals, and then got an opportunity to make their pitches before judges and an audience, and to connect with one another, she says.

“The public nature of it,” she says, “fostered a lot more conversation and dialogue and interest.”

Rooted in community

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Community service is built into Jim Stewart’s DNA.

His mother’s uncle, C.C. Spaulding, was an early executive of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, which became the largest black-owned business in the U.S. and, with Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and Mutual Savings and Loan, served as the core of the Parrish Street section of Durham that was known as “Black Wall Street.”

His father, John S. “Shag” Stewart, was president of Mutual Savings and Loan, and served on the Durham City Council from 1954 to 1971, and as mayor pro-tem in 1970-71, during critical years of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I think it’s a moral duty of everyone to try to help improve the lives of everyone, particularly those who have less than we do,” says Stewart, owner of Stewart Commercial Real Estate, board chair of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and incoming board chair for Triangle Community Foundation.

Early lessons

Stewart’s father and mother were deeply involved in business, entrepreneurship and real estate, and “those were the skills that we learned,” he says.

“He and my mother always preached, ‘Save your money, savings is the basis of anybody’s life,'” says Stewart. “As you grow in business, their concern was always that everyone had decent housing, access to health care, and education. The more successful you are, the more you need to give back and spend time, money and effort helping the community.”

His parents taught him about the importance of education, about business and about giving back.

His mother, Otelia Spaulding Stewart, a graduate of North Carolina College — now North Carolina Central University — was a pianist who encouraged him to take piano lessons when he attended C.C. Spaulding Elementary School, which was named for his great uncle.

“I quit early and wish I had stuck with it,” he says, although he did play alto saxophone in the band and marching band at Whitted Junior High School before attending Hillside High School.

As a child, he sometimes accompanied his father to work. And at age 11, he started cutting grass at his father’s housing projects for $1 an hour.

Years later, when his father was the volunteer chief fundraiser for Lincoln Community Health Center — a primary care facility that was built on the site of the former Lincoln Hospital, the hospital for African Americans where Jim Stewart was born — “he asked me for money,” Stewart says.

He also remembers a key role his father played in the startup of Triangle Community Foundation.

Shag Stewart introduced Shannon St. John, founding executive director of Triangle Community Foundation, to potential donors, “trying to raise money to get the foundation started,” Stewart says. “I knew how passionate he was about it. It’s in my genes.”

College and career

Stewart, 66, wanted to be a helicopter pilot when he grew up.

“I didn’t know about war and Vietnam,” he says. “I just liked mechanical things.”

He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he also completed the ROTC program, then got a job as a junior engineer at IBM in Research Triangle Park before entering the U.S. Army.

He spent a year at Fort Eustis in Virginia, teaching data processing, then spent three years in Heidelberg, Germany, working as a plans officer, handling budgeting, correspondence and acquisition of supplies. He completed his four-year tour in 1975 as a first lieutenant.

After mustering out of the Army, Stewart returned to IBM, and in 1982 moved to the marketing division as a systems engineer working to help install and maintain software systems for big customers like banks and insurance companies.

He left IBM in 1997, when he was a senior market support representative providing support for a network management tool, to found Stewart Commercial Real Estate, which works as a brokerage and consultant for commercial real estate, mainly in Durham.

Stewart, who received an MBA from N.C. State in 2009, also runs two other family businesses. They include Clearview Housing Corp., a commercial real estate holding company his father founded in 1951 to provide housing to low-income people, and Majaja Inc., a real estate holding company founded in the 1970s that takes its name from the first two letters of the first names of Stewart and his sisters Jan and Marie, who died in 2011.

Life in the Triangle

Growing up and spending most of his life in Durham has enriched Stewart’s life with longstanding relationships he values, and with the heritage of a city built on leading institutions and industries in diverse fields, including higher education, financial services, tobacco and health care, he says.

Like other communities in the Triangle, he says, Durham has experienced significant growth powered by the region’s strong mix of universities, business and research.

But growth and the affluence it has helped fuel also have generated big challenges like traffic and have masked nagging problems tied to poverty, Stewart says.

“One of the challenges we have is to plan this out,” he says. “We’re talking about light rail, which I think would help avoid some of the problems that [other] large areas already are seeing.”

While “sometimes politically it’s difficult to channel resources where they can do the most good,” he says, the Triangle needs to continue to develop its infrastructure to keep pace with its growth.

Family

Stewart says he learned the importance of hard work, giving back and community service from his parents.

His father ran for the seat on the Durham City Council that represented the black community because “the community needed a business leader to take over that seat after R.N. Harris stepped down,” he says.

And while he admired and learned from his father’s “outgoing style and his ability to work with people,” particularly his effort to work with whites to find peaceful solutions to integrate society during the turbulent era of the early 1960s, he says, he never has wanted to pursue politics himself.

“I keep up with it,” he says. “I contribute to it. I get involved. But I’ve never had the itch to run for anything.”

Stewart is married to Frances Dyer, a retired lawyer who worked mainly in the area of estates and real estate. Their son, Justin, is a biomedical engineer who lives in Tampa, Fla., with his wife and two children, ages 18 and 16.

Stewart, who enjoys spending summers and holidays at a home his family owns at North Topsail Beach, says he has little spare time for hobbies.

“What I do for fun is when I take time out and create,” he says. “When I go to the beach, I’m working on something.”

He says he does take time for sports — he is a big N.C. State Wolfpack fan — and as he and his wife “get to the fourth quarter of our lives, we’re starting to travel more.”

A big part of his life is his role as board chair at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, which was a cornerstone of Black Wall Street and has been in existence for 108 years.

“We continue to grow and thrive,” he says.

A member of White Rock Baptist Church, Stewart says what inspires him most is his faith.

Giving back

A member of the board of visitors at N.C. State and its Chancellor’s African American Advisory Council, Stewart created the James A. Stewart Scholarship Endowment Fund at the university to support “kids who are in need and are from underserved populations.”

Higher education is critical because it is “a ticket to success,” he says, but he also has learned about the importance of early education from his work on the board of the John Avery Boys & Girls Club in Durham.

“The kids we serve don’t have a lot of opportunity,” he says. “We help to support them in their education, helping with homework and tutoring — priority one after they get there after school and get a hot meal. It’s important. They may not get it otherwise.”

The Club also gives kids experiences, such as field trips to museums and college campuses, that they otherwise might not have, he says.

At Triangle Community Foundation, Stewart and his wife created the James A. Stewart and Frances Dyer Fund, a donor advised fund that has supported scholarships, the Foundation’s Send a Kid to Camp program, and religious institutions, among other causes.

“What inspires me,” he says, “is going to events and hearing stories about where people have been helped so much by philanthropy and what we do with the Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club.”

Giving with a big heart

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — As a child growing up in Houston, Tex., Bob Johnston learned the importance of going beyond one’s means to help people in need. His father, a firefighter and then a long-time employee of the U.S. Post Office, and his mother, a bookkeeper, were devout Southern Baptists who took seriously the Biblical prescription for tithing and never failed to give 10 percent of their income to charity.

“They did that even when they definitely needed the money,” Johnston says. “That came off the top for them. As I grew older and realized the sacrifices they made to help people who were less well off than themselves, I asked, ‘How does a person who’s financially secure shows their kids this principle without the example of sacrificing?'”

As a teenager, Johnston promised himself that if he ever had children, he would create a pool of funds and involve his children in deciding which charities to support with that money.

Then, in the late 1990s, after co-founding AlphaVax, a vaccine-maker in Durham, and serving as its CEO and chairman, Johnston talked to Triangle Community Foundation and learned he could create a donor advised fund that would make it “possible for people of ordinary means” to create the type of family philanthropy he envisioned.

So he created the Howard Allen Johnston Fund, named for his brother who was killed at age 20 in an automobile accident.

Johnston and his four daughters, ages 22 to 46, have focused their giving from the fund on agencies in the Triangle that serve homeless people, and on local food banks.

“Food, shelter and clothing,” says Johnston, who is founder and executive director of Global Vaccines, a nonprofit in Morrisville. “They’re pretty basic. There are many people in our society who lack one or more of those.”

How things work

Johnston hails from four or five generations of Texans. His parents attended the same Houston high school where Lyndon B. Johnson, the future U.S. president, was teaching, although they were not in any of his classes. And while neither of Johnston’s parents went to college, they both taught him a lot about life and how to live it, he says.

“My mother had a pretty tough life growing up,” he says. “She was a very smart and very tough woman.”

His father was “a little more easy going, more athletic type, with a great sense of humor,” he says. “Hardly a day goes by I don’t quote him.”

From an early age, Johnston says, he was curious about “what made things work,” a fascination that led him to major in biology at Rice University and get a Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Texas.

Having been raised in a religious home, he says, “I learned that giving to other people, doing something for other people, was about the highest calling you could have.”

So from the time he was a teenager, he “always hoped that at some point I could do something in biology that would help the world or some small part of it.”

Academia and research

In 1976, Ph.D. in hand, Johnston got a job as an assistant professor of microbiology at North Carolina State University, where he rose through the ranks to became a professor and also an adjunct professor at what is now the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State. And in 1989, he moved to the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill as a professor of microbiology and immunology.

Then, in 1997, he co-founded AlphaVax, which initially worked on a vaccine for HIV but later switched its focus to making vaccines for viruses related to herpes — a shift Johnston did not favor.

“The biotech road is littered with with companies that tried to make vaccines for herpes-type viruses,” he says.

Vaccines for poor countries

In 2002, Johnston founded Global Vaccines “to harness new technologies to make vaccines for diseases in developing countries,” he says.

The nonprofit aims to address a gap in the market for vaccines, Johnston says.

For-profit vaccine companies typically license new technologies from universities that develop them, but then have no profit incentive to apply those technologies to diseases for which there often is little or no market, “so diseases that affect billions never benefit,” he says.

“We want to intercept those technologies, apply them to poor countries for these diseases, and see if we could make a difference in the world,” he says.

Global Vaccines has licensed two technologies from UNC-Chapel Hill, including one invented in his lab there that it continues to work on. It has developed an “adjuvant,” or agent, to increase the immune response of vaccines, including one for dengue fever.

Known as “break-bone fever,” the mosquito-transmitted disease is “absolutely rampant in poor countries,” with 400 million cases a year and 2.5 billion people at risk for infection, Johnston says.

Global Vaccines, which employs half-a-dozen people working full-time and part-time, has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

And while it has not yet brought a vaccine to market, Johnston says, “we’ve got a mighty big heart.”

Making life better

A big heart also could be a metaphor for Johnston’s approach to giving.

Philanthropy is “helping people who don’t have as much as you do, or who haven’t had the opportunities or for that matter the luck that you have had,” he says. “By that definition, everybody can be a philanthropist. The amount doesn’t matter; it’s the act.”

What inspires him, he says, are “ordinary people doing extraordinary things relative to their capacity, ordinary people going beyond themselves to do something extraordinary.”

Life in the Triangle

In addition to the Triangle’s “weather and livability,” what Johnston likes about the region is that it is “intellectually dynamic,” he says. “So many people have good ideas and they put them into practice here. It’s just intellectually a stimulating place.”

The region also faces big challenges. To deal with the traffic its growth has created, the Triangle has opted for the traditional strategy of simply building more roads, he says.

“That’s a big error,” he says. “We need a light rail system and we need it about a decade ago. If we don’t get on that right now, we’re going to have just the same traffic mess as Houston and L.A. and just about every city. We shouldn’t worry about where existing rail lines are. We need to build mass transit.”

He also believes the region need more affordable child care and pre-kindergarten education.

In his own childhood, “my mom was home,” he says. “My grandfather and grandmother were right across the road. My aunt was home. We just had a wonderful childhood. A lot of that was the contributions of our mothers and grandmothers. In today’s world, mom and grandmom are at work. They have to be. So what happens with the kids? You see the result of that.”

Impossible dreams

Johnston says he retired from UNC so he could devote himself to his work at Global Vaccines. And while he keeps a small sailboat on Albermarle Sound, he rarely finds time to actually sail it.

“My hobby is thinking about going down there,” he says.

But he holds onto the dream.

When he was a teenager, he says, he once visited some friends who lived west of Houston on a ranch with a lake, where he tried to learn how to waterski. When he had placed his feet in the skis and adjusted the tow-rope, the pilot of the boat threw the throttle wide open, and nearly jerked the rope out of Johnston’s hands. He initially stood up and skied for about 10 feet, then fell under water but held on for another 30 feet before he let go.

“I think sometimes I hold onto things too long, even as an adult,” he says. “I don’t know when to quit. There’s a lot of Don Quixote in me.”

But Johnston says impossible dreams are what keep him going.

His late wife, Jane Johnston, a nurse in the neonatal unit at WakeMed in Raleigh who died of breast cancer, devoted her life to saving the lives of children born prematurely.

“We both had the same goals,” he says. “But she had the reward of seeing positive results right away. What I’m doing is something now that might help people in 15 or 20 years or after I die.”