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Honoring nonprofits with a lot to teach us
By Chris Barnett / December 11, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

The Rhode Island Foundation has honored five nonprofit organizations with its 2018 Best Practice Awards.

The work that was recognized ranges from an advocacy campaign to head off budget cuts to a health care program for low-income Rhode Islanders to an initiative that brought together fishermen, environmentalists, scientists and others to protect the state’s fishing industry.

“Our recipients rose from a highly competitive process and an extraordinary group of nominees. There is something in each of their noteworthy accomplishments that can help nonprofits become even more productive,” said Jill Pfitzenmayer, who oversees the Foundation’s capacity-building programs for nonprofits.

Sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), the award program recognizes outstanding practices by Rhode Island nonprofit organizations in the areas of Advocacy and Communications, Board and Staff Leadership, Collaboration, Innovation and Volunteer Engagement.

“Supporting the best practice awards is a great fit for Blue Cross because we deeply value and recognize the critical impact that the charitable sector generates for our communities and for our state,” said BCBSRI Managing Director of Community Relations Carolyn Belisle. “We applaud all the award recipients for their efforts to strengthen the common good in various ways, and we admire their commitment to implement best-in-class practices to deliver their programs and services.”

“The best practice awards highlight the enormously important role played by Rhode Island’s nonprofit organizations in improving our lives and communities, and we’re grateful to join the Rhode Island Foundation in celebrating the outstanding work of winners and hope to inspire and encourage these outstanding practices among all within the sector,” she said.

The Advocacy and Communications Award was presented to the Economic Progress Institute in Providence for its “Medicaid Matters” campaign, which educated the public and policy makers about the importance of that health care coverage program to low-income Rhode Islanders.

The campaign used the personal stories of local Medicaid recipients and infographics to bring its standard advocacy tools to life.

“One in three Rhode Islanders rely on Medicaid for health care. Because its cost consumes a large part of the state budget, cuts are always a threat. The campaign helped the program survive the budget process intact,” said Rachel Flum, executive director.

The Board and Staff Leadership Award was presented to Providence Public Library (PPL) for a strategic planning process that defined its mission and vision, programs and services and facility.

PPL developed a three-stage approach. Stage one involved creating and implementing a new strategic plan and vision. Stage two involved supporting staff in meeting the plan’s goals and telling PPL’s new story to the public. Stage three involved the renovation and re-purposing of the 65-year-old building on Empire Street in downtown Providence.

“Collaboration and transparency are absolutely key to creating major change. The Board and staff worked together as true partners to create a culture of innovation, especially one that is immediately responsive to community needs and that prioritizes co-innovation with community members and partners,” said Jack Martin, executive director.

The Collaboration Award was presented to the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF) in South Kingstown for its work building a community of collaboration among fishermen, scientists, resource manager, and food professionals that promotes sound science, sustainable seafood and vibrant fishing communities.

Founded by and led by members of Rhode Island's fishing community, CFRF develops practical solutions to scientific and supply chain challenges, such as providing fishermen with specialized apps to collect data while at sea and developing digital maps of seafood access points in Rhode Island. The CFRF has engaged over 150 fishermen and over 300 scientists and seafood professionals in its work.

“Each of these communities speaks its own language, uses its own jargon and harbors assumptions about others involved in fisheries and seafood. We provided a venue for these groups to come together to find common ground and develop practical solutions to challenges facing fisheries resources, supply chains and coastal communities,” said Dr. Anna Mercer, CFRF’s executive director.

The Innovation Award was presented to Family Service of Rhode Island in Providence for its work addressing chronic absenteeism among Providence elementary school students through its Walking School Bus initiative.

“It’s critical to be strategic and visionary. One simple idea can be the catalyst for broadening our impact. We then can be more effective meeting the needs of people living in poverty, experiencing substance use disorder and other barriers to wellbeing,” said CEO Margaret Holland McDuff. “This work has had a transformative effect on us as an organization to address the social determinants of ‘life’ through new lenses such as social emotional learning, substance use intervention, sexual health and community engagement.”

The Volunteer Engagement Award was presented to New Urban Arts of Providence for Youth Mentorship in the Arts. The afterschool mentoring program connects groups of public high school students with local artists who volunteer their time.

Students participate in the mentor selection process, including in-person interviews. Volunteers participate in a yearlong intensive professional development program, consisting of a two-day orientation, monthly training sessions and a mid-year retreat.

“Effective, intensive volunteer programs create a leadership pipeline and serve as transitional experiences for alumni who are interested in employment. Many of our current staff—including those who are alumni—started as volunteer artist-mentors,” said Dan Schleifer, executive director.

All five award recipients received a $5,000 grant from the Foundation.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising, and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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