Tom Cousins’ Efforts Inspire . . .
As one who grew up in two public housing projects in Hartford, Connecticut, I found “A Civic Hole-In-One,” in the September/October 2004 issue of Philanthropy an extraordinary story containing all the problems of inner-city life and how they were successfully addressed in a neighborhood of Atlanta by the bold and consistent leadership, and business experience, of philanthropist Tom Cousins. This amazing scenario involved a crime-ridden housing project and how it was torn down and replaced by the Villages of East Lake “under the control of a public charity.”
What’s quite unusual in this instance is that: a city-government agency, the Atlanta Housing Authority, was involved as well as a tenant association and made partners in the endeavor (and I dare say quite an unusual challenge for any foundation); that it confronted an intractable problem; that so many issues were addressed at one time; and everybody benefited at the end, especially the residents and children who now have a safe and flourishing neighborhood. Often, nonprofit charities will use mostly HUD or state/ city housing funds to put up nonprofit housing for the elderly. But this drama involved putting the crime-and-drug-ridden public housing project into private hands, revitalizing a deteriorating adjacent golf course, establishing a new charter school, emplacing a new YMCA family center, a new Publix food store, acting on strong research showing mixed-income housing dramatically reduces social and crime problems, and a revelation about using Section 9 housing which embodies work requirements instead of the traditional and well-known Section 8. It would be intriguing to learn how much of a role the “broken windows” theory played in the rebirth of this community.
It’s a remarkable story in a brave, new world of visionary philanthropy. This is a powerful case study that every student at centers of philanthropy across the country should review and discuss. It’s a mighty example of what can be done by private philanthropy thinking outside the box. Kudos to Philanthropy for discovering and telling this unusual story.
— Joseph S. Dolan
Achelis & Bodman Foundations
. . . And Challenge Philanthropy Readers
I am writing this letter anonymously because I am an executive at a nonprofit and I want to offer some blunt criticisms of philosophical friends and enemies alike. The story about the revitalization of the East Lake community in Atlanta is heartening. It was encouraging to read about someone rolling up his sleeves to really change a community. This story underscores the reality that there is no clean, hands-off solution that will remedy the social and familial train wrecks in our midst.
Unfortunately, philanthropists and do-gooders across the political spectrum persist in their faith in just such disconnected solutions. Leftists believe salvation lies in wealth redistribution at the hands of soulless government entities. Country-club Republicans think they are doing the Lord’s work by supporting socially acceptable nonprofit bureaucracies whose strong suits are marketing and hosting fundraising dinners. Many true conservatives, meanwhile, cling to the hollow notion that it’s economics alone that will change the world, as if tax cuts and deregulation are all that’s needed to breathe life into dying neighborhoods and homes.
I suspect they are all dreadfully wrong, and I suspect this accusation comes as a shock, because most of them studiously avoid contact with the people they claim to care and know so much about.
The hero of Davis’s article, Tom Cousins, said it best: “We’d given a lot of money to a lot of things, but we had not given ourselves.”
How true of most of us-myself, all too often, included. The reality is that poverty, crime, child neglect and abuse, fatherlessness, drug addiction, and other tragedies plaguing the distant targets of our charitable checks are only halted when human beings pour themselves out for others. Leftists and country-clubbers take notice: this is inherently not a programmatic, bureaucratic exercise. Economic conservatives pay attention as well: this is as much a work of the heart and soul as a matter of designing the right mix of tax breaks and inner-city entrepreneurship training.
We know this, most of us, but we behave as if we don’t. People with a heart for fixing the problems, meanwhile, quietly go about doing the work that transforms lives.
— Name withheld