Community foundations engage residents to shape their future

The Mid South — Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — is home to 30 percent of the people living in poverty in the United States. Job losses, bankruptcy and lack of health insurance have helped erode the well being of many communities in the region and crippled their education and health systems.

“These challenges — if left unattended — will continue to grow and deny positive opportunities for today’s families and future generations,” said Ivye L. Allen, president and CEO of the Foundation for the Mid South.

Established more than 20 years ago to bring together public and private sectors and focus their resources on increasing social and economic opportunity, the Foundation for the Mid South is dedicated to “enabling communities to develop solutions to better conditions and improve lives.” Through its grantmaking in four priority areas — education, health and wellness, wealth building and community development — the Jackson, Mississippi-based community foundation also serves as a convener and partner in efforts to build residents’ self-sufficiency.

In 2013, the Foundation for the Mid South joined with seven community foundations from across the country — Amarillo (Texas), Baltimore, Boulder (Colo.), Buffalo (N.Y.), Denver, Fremont (Mich.) and Humboldt (Calif.) — to participate in the Resident Engagement Community Leadership Network, which is a year-long intensive project and part of a larger project called the Cultivating Community Engagement Project. Created by CFLeads, a national support organization for community foundations, the network aims to expand and improve the way community foundations involve residents in their work.

The recipient of $683,000 in grants from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation since 2007 for its community leadership work, CFLeads has been broadly charged with educating, equipping and inspiring community foundation professionals to adopt strategies and practices that help build vibrant, healthy places to live.

To date, about 300 community foundations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean have participated in CFLeads’ activities, which strengthen organizations through a variety of training and consulting activities including webinars, conference sessions, face-to-face meetings as well as online and print publications.

As a participant in CFLeads’ network, the Foundation for the Mid South has the opportunity to share what it has learned through partnerships with nonprofit organizations working in its service region, including the Daughters of Charities Services of Arkansas, said Deborah A. Ellwood, CFLeads’ executive director. Their partnership has resulted in the development of a rural health-care model that has implications for communities and community foundations across the U.S., she said.

To learn more about the power of philanthropic and nonproft partnerships in developing a creative solution to a serious and urgent community need link to CFLeads.

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