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Carter fellowships inspire innovation
By Chris Barnett / April 9, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

Eva Agudelo, Kate Lentz and Erminio Pinque are the 2018 recipients of the Rhode Island Foundation's Carter Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Innovation. They were chosen from nearly 200 applicants to receive $200,000 over four years to test and implement their proposals to dramatically improve life in Rhode Island. 

The fellowships are made possible through the vision and generosity of philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter.

“Every year we are reminded of the talent and inventiveness that thrives here in Rhode Island,” said Letitia Carter. “As these projects take shape, we look forward to seeing to the positive impact they will have on our state.”

Now in its seventh year, the fellowship initiative seeks to achieve community impact by investing in individual creativity and potential, and providing freedom to apply creative and fresh thinking to important challenges.

“We applaud the Carter family for their investment in Rhode Island’s potential. This year’s recipients offer impressive strategies for creating change and addressing the abundant opportunities that our state offers,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO. 

The applications were evaluated based on whether they offered a new, novel, or re-energized approach that had not been tried meaningfully in Rhode Island; the potential benefits to the state, and the degree to which the proposed outcome is achievable, among other factors.

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Agudelo, of Providence, will launch Hope’s Harvest RI. The initiative will recruit and mobilize volunteers to feed the hungry and prevent food waste by rescuing surplus fruits and vegetables from local farms.

“Collecting unharvested fruits and vegetables offers a straightforward and cost-effective solution to the twin challenges of wasted food and hungry people. It also addresses the environmental impacts of feeding underserved populations with commodity food shipped from thousands of miles away instead of what is readily available in our own backyard,” said Agudelo.

Based on reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Feeding America, Agudelo estimates wasted food from unharvested produce on local farms represents approximately $4.7 million in unearned revenue for Rhode Island farmers and between 2 - 3.5 million pounds of local produce per year that could flow into Rhode Island's 200 emergency food pantries and meal sites. 

“Gleaning in our communities can be an integral piece of transforming our local food systems into sustainable and equitable mechanisms for bringing about a better world. This will fill a serious gap in our local food system infrastructure,” she said.

Lentz, of Barrington, will launch Raising Readers in RI, which will focus on creating access to book ownership among kindergarten and first-, second- and third-grade, low-income students as a means to improve reading achievement.

“Studies show that children growing up in homes with at least 20 books get three years more schooling than children from homes without books. Providing elementary school students access to great books fostered by a passionate network of adult readers is a necessary, bold and reenergized approach to tackling literacy head on in Rhode Island,” she said.

Lentz will recruit a volunteer network of teachers, librarians and reading advocates to collect and distribute books and work with young readers in a variety of settings.

“The number-one indicator of high school graduation and future success is a child's ability to read on grade level by third grade. We can't move the literacy dial without giving children access to quality literature. Our economy can't afford for us to not care about this,” she said.

Pinque, of Providence, will re-purpose vacant storefronts as cultural-activity hubs that will inspire large-scale public events.

"There's a general concern about ‘brain drain’ and the lack of investment by young people as well as seasoned entrepreneurs in building upon the existing assets and unique character of downtown centers throughout Rhode Island. Tangible manifestations of creativity on city streets help to build community, inspire connectivity and serves the evolution of active and action-inspiring places," he said.

Working with municipal planners, community leaders, property owners and locally recruited creative professionals in select cities and towns, Pinque will arrange to have school and community groups participate in workshops to create costumes, props, wearable sculpture and other forms of performance-ready mobile visual constructs that are unique to the character of their communities.

"By creating a series of 'place transformation' centers, we'll take spaces that have great potential but lack a showcase for the local creative flavor that sets them apart and could attract visitors and engage their communities," he said.

The applications were reviewed by a panel of judges: Marie Langlois, retired managing director of Washington Trust Investors; Alan Litwin, KLR managing director; and Lou Mazzucchelli, coordinator of Bryant University’s Entrepreneurship Program. Judges will also meet with the Fellows every six months, throughout the four-year duration of their Fellowship, to measure progress and learning. 

Over the years, the innovation initiative has generated nearly 1,900 applications. Previous recipients are Amy Bernhardt, Donna Childs, David Dadekian, Ditra Edwards, Adrienne Gagnon, John Haley, Daniel Kamil and Emily Steffian, Soren Ryherd, Dr. Lynn Taylor, Allan Tear and Ray Two Hawks Watson.

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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