Grantor: Cross-Section of Corporate and Family Foundations
Grantee: Extra Mile Education Foundation
Amount: $17.7 million (since 1990)
How does an inner-city parish mantain its schools when the middle-class families it had served for generations flee the increasingly economically depressed area for the suburbs? Some parishes shutter buildings or put them up for sale. Others, like North Philadelphia’s Mars Hill Baptist Church, are forced to “mothball” entire floors of classrooms.
A similar predicament in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has a happier ending, thanks to a group of area grantmakers (box) who worked together to craft a plan to revive local schools. In 1990, three parochial K-8 schools, St. Benedict the Moor, St. Agnes, and Holy Rosary, were faced with closure, not because of a lack of demand, but because their parishes’ once-steady financial base had followed middle-class parishioners to the suburbs.
Yet despite the neighborhoods’ reversal of fortunes, the hard-up families that remained proved no less interested than their middle-class predecessors in having their children benefit from the strong education and morally-based programs that these schools had provided to generations of area children. And so it fell to Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Pittsburgh Diocese to figure out a way to keep the schools open despite the inability of most new families to pay the full $2,800 annual cost (itself already subsidized).
The bishop approached local corporate captains to ask for their assessment of the situation and recommendations. They, in turn, consulted with leaders of Pittsburgh-based charitable foundations on the advisability of keeping the schools open and whether private philanthropy should be the means by which to do so. The group returned a unanimous “yes” vote on both counts, and the Extra Mile Education Foundation was born. Follow-through does not appear to have been a problem: since its creation in 1990, Extra Mile has received $17.7 million from corporations, foundations, and individual donors (and provides roughly 60 percent of the three schools’ operating costs, against a 7 percent subsidy from the parish).
Seven years into the program, there is little doubt that the money has served a genuine need. The three schools have seen their enrollment climb from 599 in 1990 to an almost peak capacity of 731. Eligible families, mostly black and overwhelmingly non-Catholic, pay partial tuition to the schools. These partial amounts start at $1,000, with the balance made up from Extra Mile’s coffers. In return, parents are expected to attend parent-teacher conferences and participate in fundraising activities for the schools.
The schools enjoy a close relationship with the parents and the students, with parents remarking how much they appreciate the program’s personalized instruction and extracurricular activities (which include tutoring, after-school programs, and dinner for latchkey kids). Parent Carlene Parkinson says she has “been very impressed with [St. Benedict’s] discipline and the strong religious and moral curriculum.” Mary Morton, whose daughter graduated from St. Agnes, adds enthusiastically that the “absence of peer pressure, because of the school’s uniform code, forces the kids to focus on their studies. I wish the school went on until the 12th grade.”
Extra Mile has been careful to keep track of its alumni, and reports that 96 percent of the participating students have gone on to graduate from high school, and nearly 50 percent of these have entered college, trade schools, or the armed forces. Not bad for a bunch of kids who could just as easily have ended up on a street corner.
Grantor: Trickle Up Foundation
Grantee: Jeffrey Nelson, a.k.a. “The Puppet Man”
Sometimes small really is beautiful. Take Glen Leet and Mildred Robbins Leet. On a 1979 visit to the Caribbean island of Dominica, the Leets decided to donate $1,000 of their own money for seed grants to help ten groups of Dominicans found their own businesses. Nearly 20 years later, the Trickle Up Program has given a start to more than 60,000 fledgling enterprises—principally overseas entrepreneurs who have no recourse to traditional sources of capital. (The Leets hope to see that number soar to 100,000 by the year 2000.) And while grants were initially restricted to overseas groups of families, since 1994 single U.S. applicants have been considered as well. Recipients in the United States are awarded up to $700 (as compared to a maximum of $100 for overseas grants) due to the higher cost of living in the United States.
Jeffrey Nelson is one such recipient. Better known to New York City children as “the puppet man,” Nelson is a Harlem puppeteer who now makes his living as a designer and maker of puppets and marionettes. Not long after his arrival in New York in 1979, Nelson served as an apprentice to a puppeteer in Central Park. He was hired by the New York Parks Department and later by the Children’s Museum of New York to perform with their puppet shows, but was laid off due to staff cutbacks. After a stint with a temp agency, Nelson heard about the Trickle Up Program through the New York unemployment office.
Wanting to return to puppeteering, but lacking the necessary start-up capital or good credit for a loan, Nelson turned to Trickle Up for assistance. The program requires that applicants submit a business plan and follow up reports to the program coordinator in their region. They provided him an initial grant of $500, with an additional $200 following a grant review after the first four months. Nelson used the $700 to purchase materials for new puppets and to advertise. Without the grant, he says, it would have been much more difficult to see his financial dream unfold.
Nelson now functions as his own boss, diligently working to expand his business, without fear of being laid off. He specializes in puppet shows for park and cultural events, children’s birthday parties and school gatherings. He also sells his handmade creations to local individuals and shops. Now, almost a year after going into business for himself, Nelson has begun to offer handcrafted figurines that are smaller adaptations of his puppets, as well as educational workshops to those interested in how to create puppets and the history of puppetry. His business is now his sole source of income and he hopes to join the 78 percent of U.S.-based Trickle Up businesses that are still in operation after one year.