News & Event
CINCINNATI (May 4, 2016) — Partnering with donors fuels our mission and ability to build a more prosperous and vibrant region where all can thrive. And helping you invest your charitable dollars in the areas about which you care most is the engine of our work.
Last spring, we introduced co-investment as an opportunity for you and The Greater Cincinnati Foundation to make grants together that fully align with your charitable interests. Many donors have joined us in this effort, combining their grantmaking with ours, and the results are meaningful investments in our community.
One way in which we worked together to address a regional challenge: In the wake of last fall’s abrupt closing of Senior Services of Northern Kentucky, GCF and a donor family responded with a combined grant for the Northern Kentucky Area Development District (NKADD), which had been quick to step in and provide some of the urgent services for seniors. Because of this GCF/donor partnership, the NKADD received critical funding for an important and unforeseen situation.
In 2017, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, together with its generous donors, made the single largest investment in its history: $1.8 million to partner with the Greenlight Fund to bring the Family Independence Initiative (FII) to Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The commitment is a reflection of GCF’s new focus on building a more equitable community and connecting people with purpose. GCF believes in the innovative FII model because it trusts and empowers families to determine their goals to move themselves out of poverty, individually and collectively through cohort groups. Cincinnati is the eighth U.S. city to participate in the FII program. Its two-year, data-driven process, backed by technology that tracks results, produces significant — even life-changing — outcomes.
A year after FII’s launching here, GCF’s deep, concentrated stake is paying powerful financial and social dividends. To date, more than 179 families — from Middletown to Alexandria, and Northgate to Bethel — have enrolled in FII, exceeding the program’s first-year goal.
FII - Cincinnati families are reporting that during the first six months of engagement, on average:
In addition to financial progress, the cohort groups harness the value of social capital exchanges — help they give to and receive from friends, family and neighbors through such activities as child care, preparing meals and providing transportation. To date, Cincinnati-FII families have exchanged an estimated $34,000 in such social capital exchanges; that figure increases as their community engagement and relationship building grow.
Marcia Worsham and Carla Belcher, two single mothers enrolled in FII here, have made tremendous strides. “The fire inside of me has been reignited since I have been setting my goals in my monthly journal,” said Marcia. Completing those goals — including paying off debt, building emergency savings, enrolling her two children in gymnastics and obtaining a life insurance policy — has been empowering. “That just makes you want to move on to the next goal and continue to chip away at the things that seemed like mountains before.”
Carla, an artist, was inspired by her participation at the PolicyLink Equity Summit in Chicago, especially its Mobilizing Arts and Culture in the Equity Movement workshop. “I had always wanted to start my own business, not just to sell my work but to spark social change in North College Hill,” she said. “Bouncing ideas off of other workshop attendees taught me that equity can begin with subtle changes. I was inspired to go home and make my dream a reality.”
GCF’s initial investment accelerated the original commitment from 200 to 500 families. FII Cincinnati's new goal, thanks to GCF's substantial commitment along with its generous donors, is to partner with 1,000 families over four years.
Here are ways to join GCF in advancing the transformative success of FII-Cincinnati:
Harold Brown, Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Vice President, Community Strategies, lives in Springdale with his adorable wife Gwendolyn (supervisor at Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio), son Christopher (sophomore at St. Xavier High School) and Bentley (goldendoodle). He also has three adult stepchildren and five granddaughters, who affectionately call him “Pa-Pa.”
Harold is a graduate of Harvard University, and brings to his role at GCF nearly three decades of experience working primarily on education reform issues at influential nonprofit organizations.
I experienced two almost completely separate life tracks as a child. I was born in Hamilton but grew up on “the mean streets of Oxford” (chuckle, chuckle). The fifth of six children in a working-class family, my dad was a laborer who died when I was 14, and my mother was a laborer until she became too ill (multiple sclerosis) to work. We were one of probably a couple of hundred black families in town back then, a good number of which were my relatives, and so my life outside of school was dominated by church activities, family get-togethers and hanging out on those “mean streets” (chuckle, chuckle) with a handful of other black kids.
However, my school-based life was very different. Despite almost always being the only black student in every class (I think there were seven of us in my eventual high school graduating class), I was a standout student from the get-go. Consequently, my friends were almost exclusively college professors’ kids, who lived in a different part of town, and I had very little interaction with them outside of school activities.
Something like 65 percent of all college-going kids from Oxford Talawanda High School attend college at Miami University primarily because their parents work there and tuition is free. For different reasons, I was pretty sure I would attend Miami, too. My mom’s health was declining, my younger sister was still at home and we didn’t have much money, so I figured I could even live at home to save some money. But a strange thing happened on the way to Miami . . .
Somehow, I had become very good friends with a Jewish kid named Ken, whose dad was a Miami professor and whose sister — two years older than us — was a Harvard student. One day while at my house, Ken, who ultimately graduated from Syracuse, saw all of those the college admission packets I had received and said I needed to think bigger than Miami. After some serious arm twisting, I agreed — practically on a dare — to apply to Harvard.
It’s important to note that I was a 3.9 GPA student, senior class president and a star athlete, but when I told my guidance counselor about my intention to apply to Harvard, he said, “Don’t even bother. You probably can’t get in. And even if you did get in, you probably can’t afford it. Just go to Miami or Central State.” I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
Well, that following April, a letter from Harvard arrived in the mail. Not only was I offered admission, but also scholarships and grants covering all but about $2,000 of the then dirt-cheap cost of around $17,000! My Mom didn’t know much about colleges, but she knew the Harvard name and said, “You’re going!”
I give great credit to Ken for urging me to apply to Harvard. He and his family lived in California for many years, then returned to this area and we rekindled our friendship. In a fascinating twist, we later discovered another connection. When we were kids, before we even knew each other, Ken’s dad was director of the campus Hillel Center. He actually hired my dad (and me, in effect!) to clean that center a couple of nights a week over many years! I have not-so-fond memories of sweeping, mopping, operating a buffer machine, etc., in that center when I was about 9 or 10 years old!
After graduating from Harvard and following a three-year stint at WGBH-TV in Boston, I moved back to Cincinnati in 1992 to be closer to my mom, who by then was struggling to live alone in her own home. My first full-time job back home was Chief of Staff to the Vice President of Student Affairs at Miami — Dr. Myrtis Powell, the first African-American Vice President in the University’s history. Eventually, I also became director of multicultural student enrollment and retention. I was responsible for attracting and enrolling increasing numbers of multicultural students, a formidable task. We were able to spike those numbers up to an all-time high of 10 percent minority students in a couple of years. My time at Miami cultivated a passion for education that continues to this day.
I carried that passion forward in 2000 when I joined KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a then new organization committed to fostering equitable education for all students. Early in my tenure there, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation chose KnowledgeWorks to be their intermediary for major high school reform work in Ohio. So, with about $50 million from the Gateses and millions more from other grants, I became the director of our school improvement work and ultimately a vice president. After the grant money ran out, we decided to continue the work on a fee-for-service basis, and I founded EDWorks as a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. Eventually we focused on “early-college high schools,” helping set up high schools on college campuses where students could take college and high school classes at the same time. It has become a national movement — very powerful work because it targets average or below average students and exposes them to college success while still in high school. All of my education work was focused on equity goals, a focus I continue to embrace here at GCF.
Over the past nearly 20 years, I’ve been very active in the community, serving or having served on advisory or governing boards for the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC), Cincinnati Police Chief, GreenLight Cincinnati, Leadership Cincinnati, AchievePoint Career Academies, and St. Xavier High School’s Mission and Promotion Committee. In addition, my wife and I have served and worshipped in the same large inner-city church, Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship, for about 25 years. I have also been on the national stage with a lot of my college access education work, including leadership roles with the National College Access Network.
As I mentioned earlier, my father died when I was 14. Cuthbert (Bert) Grimes, a longtime AK Steel worker, was introduced to my mother by an uncle a few years after my father died. She never wanted to remarry but she and Bert became life partners and he became like a second father to me.
Bert had been in the Coast Guard and attended Columbia University. He was a phenomenal man, he took wonderful care of my mother and he was really a model for how to treat everybody with dignity, family or not. He was the most unselfish man I’ve ever known. He’s always been my inspiration, and helped shape my commitment to family and our entire community, which is reflected every day in my work at GCF.
I just love the people. From day one I’ve been made to feel welcome and wanted, and everybody’s been cooperative and helpful. That’s really the hallmark of any great organization, the quality of the people, the care and concern they have for one another. I’ve always been fortunate to work for mission-driven organizations. That’s really important to me and this place exemplifies that. We are committed to the mission and to each other. I can hardly wait until Community Strategies is fully staffed — we'll really soar!
DeMountez, a sophomore at Elder High School, shares that he lives on the “worst street” in Price Hill. He says attending a Catholic school with a small African-American population has cost him friends. This doesn’t deter him from the right choices for himself - making honor roll, playing football, being on student council and looking forward to college. He credits much of his success to a mentor.
Demarco, an honor roll student and freshman at Riverview East Academy echoes the sentiment. Without a mentor, he’s certain he would be in trouble and unable to deal with his anger issues stemming from the fact that he doesn’t know his mother or his father. (He lives with his grandparents.)
Both boys have been mentored for more than 10 years through the LifePoint Solutions Positive Future Youth Program. Children are paired with a paid mentor from first through twelfth grades. These are children who live in decaying neighborhoods and often go home to families where family members have experienced early pregnancy, been involved with the criminal justice system, and are abusing drugs and alcohol. Mentors work with the children on social and academic issues and prepare them for life after high school.
In January 2010, the program became a victim of the recession and lost most of its funding. The five full-time mentors were let go and the program struggled to survive. It was a tough adjustment for the kids who lost someone they depended on.
“I felt lost when my mentor left,” said Demarco. “But as time went on I got used to my new mentor. (Cliff Green) Mr. Green helps me with my problems at home and school. He’s always there for me and I know he always will be. I’m thankful for the program; it’s been a life-changing journey.”
Today, just two part-time mentors run the program that is making a huge difference in lives.
“Mr. Green talks to me about making choices,” DeMountez said. “I have a scholarship to Elder and he made me realize it’s my obligation to hold up my end of the bargain for the people paying my scholarship.”
Alexis, a sophomore at Schroder Paideia High School follows her mentor’s advice and shares it with her friends.
“I tell them what Kristy (Barrows) tells me, ‘you can take my advice or not, it’s up to you.’”
“I want to break the cycle and show everyone it doesn’t matter who you are and where you come from you can do well,” adds Demarco.
The Positive Future Youth Program received a Weathering the Economic Storm fund grant in 2010. Funds were used to cover a portion of expenses such as staff salaries and program activities.
Volunteers are needed to help with programming on teen night. Help teens with life skills: how to open a checking account, prepare for a job interview, prepare for the college application process or search for college scholarships. Call 513-354-5619.