What has spurred your interest and investment in Central Appalachia?
I was born and grew up in West Virginia and I feel very strongly about my state, as most people do. West Virginia is the only state completely within Central Appalachia and much of the lack of progress and transition of economy has been attributed to our culture. I like to think that I can affect the transition using the skills I’ve learned from the people who taught me how to be an activist. I also feel like I need to give back, particularly to the women: they spent a lot of time mentoring me and I want to pay some of that back.
How has working with the Network impacted the work of your foundation?
I first got involved with Network when I attended the first gathering in 2010 and have been involved ever since. It has had a tremendous impact on our Foundation: it has allowed us to work with and learn from a whole variety of funders who care about this region, from national funders with a huge amount of resources and knowledge capital to smaller foundations who work on the ground. We have learned new techniques, had access to data, information and learning tools we would not have had. We have also taken on special projects. We are in the process of changing our contribution cycles based on the information we’ve gained from this network.
Based on your wealth of experience, what advice would you have for new funders entering this line of work?
If you haven’t been a funder before, the role that you play can often seem passive. I was an activist and didn’t see myself working in a foundation. You can be very active and create change, but you have to be a collaborative partner, working with the nonprofits and other funders. The work needs to be much more collaborative in order to be effective, more so than other roles in other areas. There is also a lot of support in the funders’ community: they are quick to help, which you don’t always get in other sectors.
What opportunities do you see for philanthropy to influence large-scale change?
The funders network is a prime example: the key is working together. If we can get the for-profit, government and nonprofit sector to work together, there is nothing we can’t change. We have the financial, political, intellectual skills to move communities and nation.
What are one or two exciting projects that your foundation is working on currently?
We are working on two things that I am excited about. We just had a meeting with the local hospital to work with them to use their economic impact to help transition our local economy. We are working on creating a value chain and a systems analysis of what the hospital has and what it can give. We are asking a few questions: how can we use what the hospital can give to the community and how we can supply the services and personnel that they need? How can we do all of that locally to support the community?
We are also looking at early childhood development. We serve 6 counties around Charleston and we are going out in teams of board members, doing an assessment in each county and identifying where there are gaps in programs. Wherever there are gaps, we will look at our potential to fund them or put out an RFP and see if we can create a nonprofit to take care of it. The plan is that we will do the assessment in the upcoming year, then identify benchmarks and begin funding in 2014. Recently, the Foundation was identifying needs of the community and we went back and forth between three things: homelessness, seniors and early childhood development. The board’s belief was to look at the long term future and it was clear that if you don’t take care of the young children, you miss a big opportunity. It is critical to provide what young people need from 0-5 years old. If you can help them develop (i.e. healthy eating habits, learning, etc...) then your future is guaranteed. These things affect having a healthy workforce, being able to deal with obesity, drug use and other concerns. The key is starting early. If we’re looking at a sincere transition, not just putting patches on, we have to start with the young people. We know that there will always be homelessness and we’ll help provide those services, but we want to decrease the number of people in line for those services.
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who has influenced your thinking about philanthropy, community development, and social change, who would it be? What would you talk about?"
Susan B. Anthony, former president of the League of Women Voters. The reason I chose her is because she touches on all three areas. She and other the women fought for 75 years for the right to vote. She was ostracized by her community, used her own resources for the cause and went to jail. She worked her whole life for this cause because she knew it was important; and she never actually got to vote! I would ask what motivated her, after all the attempts, after all the abuse for all those years, what kept her going? What kept that hope alive for her? If it were me, I might have said, “Oh shoot, I can’t keep holding this flame.” The purpose of philanthropy is to improve the quality of life and you need something to keep you going. The things we want to change may not change in our lifetime.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love hiking, biking, reading. I also like to do jigsaw puzzles. Around this time of year I will often clear off a table in the house and start a puzzle and I’ll spend a few minutes on it here and there.
I’ve been very blessed to work in this field, I hope at some point I’ve affected someone else because they have definitely affected me.