The mission of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton focuses on addressing the root causes of poverty. How does this mission – plus your location in Stark County – make you a good fit for the Fund for Our Economic Future? The Fund’s work is closely connected to the mission of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, which is to improve the quality of life for the poor and underserved. Our organization and others with similar missions have an important place at the Fund’s table. When it comes to improving the economy, we ensure the focus is on more than just jobs. We serve as the voice of the economically disadvantaged, keeping issues of diversity and inclusiveness in the forefront. Along with other member foundations with similar missions, we help set the Fund’s “moral compass.”
How long have you been at the Sisters of Charity Foundation? The foundation was formed 16 years ago. I became a program officer in 1997 and president in 2009.
What did you do previously? My background is in accounting and finance. Before coming to the foundation, I was business manager for Canton Country Day School, where I witnessed first-hand the transformative effects of education.
Why the switch to foundation work? One of the root causes of poverty is a lack of education. At the foundation, I’m able to address educational issues and make a real impact. One of the first initiatives I tackled involved early childhood education, which continues to be a major focus. I currently chair the Ohio Early Childhood Advisory Council and engage in early childhood work at the local, state, and national levels.
What are some examples of initiatives supported by the Foundation? Our main initiatives focus on early childhood and health care access. We developed a program that provides oral health care coordination and access, and collaborated with another organization to found a charitable pharmacy. We also established the Early Childhood Resource Center in Stark County, which serves families as well as early childhood teachers and providers.
In 2003, we collaborated with the W.W. Kellogg Foundation to develop the SPARK (SUPPORTING PARTNERSHIPS TO ASSURE READY KIDSTM) kindergarten readiness program. SPARK is unique in that it focuses on guiding parents to ensure they have the tools and supports they need to effectively prepare their children for school. SPARK has spread statewide under the auspices of the foundation. Through SPARK, we’ve developed strong metrics about what works in early childhood education. We know that children who begin school ready to learn have—and maintain—an advantage that will benefit them and their families for many years.
How does the Sisters of Charity Foundation work within the Canton community? We take a long-term view. While we do some shorter-term grantmaking, our primary emphasis is on collaborations and initiatives that strengthen systems and produce transformative change. For example, with a struggling economy in 2008-2009, area funders wanted to increase their support for basic needs within the community, such as food, rent, and utility assistance. We wanted to have a deeper impact. Local social services organizations were seeing huge increases in the number of clients seeking aid; many of these people had never before needed to access the social services safety net. We knew that that the technology these organizations used was antiquated and simply unable to handle the influx of clients. So we collaborated with other funders to provide funding for more assistance and worked together to support the creation of a web-based referral system, and helped the organizations develop the necessary infrastructure to use this system. As a result, they’ve been able to serve more people with fewer resources, and clients no longer have to complete mountains of paperwork multiple times in order to receive aid.
Is this kind of collaboration difficult to achieve? My colleagues in Stark County work very well together and have developed a level of understanding and trust over the years. We’ve learned to pool resources when it make sense. For instance, area foundations and community leaders formed the Stark Capital Campaigns Committee to evaluate requests from area nonprofits for capital funding and coordinate our support. The organizations seeking funding are able to present to the group and answer questions. The community representatives prioritize requests and make recommendations on capital projects based on the community’s most pressing needs. Working together saves us all time while eliminating duplication of effort.
My work style is naturally collaborative. Sometimes I’ll take the lead and other times I’ll follow. For instance, I collaborate often with Fund member Mark Samolczyk of the Stark County Community Foundation. Mark keeps me up to speed on the work of the Fund for Our Economic Future, and I do the same for him with the Stark County Homeless Continuum of Care committee.
What benefits does Fund membership bring to your organization? The Fund links us to regional efforts and helps us ensure that issues we care about are being addressed and supported. It’s important for Stark County to have a voice on regional issues of economic competitiveness. I appreciate the connections I’ve developed with Fund members and the access the Fund provides to both people and information. As a small organization, we use the Fund to outsource our grantmaking in certain areas, such as workforce development. I feel the Fund is well run, which enables me to be a relatively low-maintenance member. We give you the grant and let you go to it!