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Celebrating together
By Neil Steinberg / May 29, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

Hundreds of community and business leaders, donors, grant recipients, and other partners gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center on May 24 for our 2018 Annual Meeting. Here are highlights of what our President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg told them.

This evening, we acknowledge, celebrate, and thank you for our work Together. Henry Ford said, “Coming Together is a beginning, keeping it Together is progress, working Together is success.” With our generous donors, our hardworking nonprofit partners, and government and business leaders, and all of our stakeholders; Together we make a real, positive difference in Rhode Island.

2017 was a very good year at the Rhode Island Foundation; you heard the results. $38 million from donors, $43 million in grants, a 17.3 percent investment return, assets now at over $950 million. These figures translate into impactful results throughout all of Rhode Island for all Rhode Islanders.

2017 was also a year when we looked back and forward to assess and reaffirm our strategies to fulfill our mission: To be a proactive community and philanthropic leader dedicated to meeting the needs of the people of Rhode Island. We accomplish this Together with all of you.

Our key initiatives to address important issues of the day continue to focus on Healthy Lives, Educational Success, and Economic Security. We also established a new, broader responsive grant program which includes the arts, environment, housing, and human services, and beyond.

We concluded that if we raise more money, we can do more good. If you give well, we can do more good…..Together.

And importantly, we embraced the following values so important to building community:

  • We are Rhode Island Focused- of, for, and by Rhode Island.
  • Stewardship is important as it embodies our commitment to building philanthropic capital
          for the state.
  • We are solutions-oriented committed to addressing long-term challenges
  • We champion innovation to seek and test new ideas
  • We promote equity to embrace a diverse and inclusive community and provide
          opportunities for all
  • Building networks is key to leveraging resources and partnerships
  • We balance many roles and responsibilities to enhance life in Rhode Island
  • And we have a commitment to quality with high standards to achieve impactful results.

And I want to reinforce that we have a strong leadership team to accomplish all of this. Vice President Jen Reid is our Chief Financial Officer. Executive Vice President, Jessica David, leads Strategy and Community Investments, setting our direction and implementing and evaluating our commitments to and in the community.

Senior Vice President Jim Sanzi leads our fundraising work to make our donor’s dreams come true, while meeting the needs of the community.

Vice President Jenny Pereira leads our grantmaking, focused on providing support and resources to the nonprofit sector. Vice President Arianne Corrente leads our enhanced communications and marketing efforts, Vice President Kathleen Malin leads our technology and operations to provide the best customer service, and Vice President Frank Cerilli directs our human resources functions to ensure we have the best people to work for the best state. Once again, Providence Business News named us one of Rhode Island’s “Best Places to Work.”

In 2017, we partnered with so many to improve life in Rhode Island. Started and sponsored initially as part of our Centennial, we wrapped up the Campaign for Roger Williams Park, having raised over $9 million – half of that to make capital investments and half to fund an endowment for the new Roger Williams Park Conservancy. We hosted and sponsored the RWP Pops Concert, attended by over 7,000 people last summer. We invite you again on August 10 this summer to hear the Philharmonic at the Temple to Music at the Park – free and open to the public.

In 2017, we continued to look at improving equitable student learning experiences and achievements in the K-12 education sector. In healthcare, we continued to focus on promoting system reform to provide accessibility and achieve better patient experience, population health, and reduced costs. And we led and supported inclusive workforce development and expanded resources to building the ecosystem for small businesses which are the cornerstones of our economy.

This past year, we stepped up and took on several short-term challenges and responsibilities to support, lead, and fund in critical areas of need. This included efforts to address the opioid crisis, the immigration situation, acute hunger, the shortage of foster care, and barriers to an accurate census count. Our work also helps sustain a vibrant arts and culture community, resiliency to preserve our natural resources, and meeting the needs of those requiring basic human services.

We provided scholarship and medical research funding. We helped start and joined the Partnership for Rhode Island – a group of CEOs from our largest companies committed to engaging more in and for Rhode Island. And it is very exciting that we started our Impact Investing Program to leverage our assets to invest directly in Rhode Island projects and entities that do good and can provide a modest financial return for our investments – our first two are a loan to Rhode Island Public Radio and an equity investment in Urban Greens.

While we rely on the contributions of many, we single out three of our partners for special recognition: Delta Dental of Rhode Island with our Carter Inspiring Partner Award, the Care Transformation Collaborative with our Community Leadership Award, and Renée A.R. Evangelista of Howland Evangelista Kohlenberg Burnett with our Harold B. Soloveitzik Professional Leadership Award.

We now look forward. We will continue to embrace our role to lead, transform, and inspire with enthusiasm and humility. It is clear and imperative that Rhode Island needs a vision and long-term, 10-year plan for both health care and K-12 education. Former New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.” We should build plans that get solid, unwavering support to stay the course over the long-term, with corrections along the way. We have started these discussions and the Rhode Island Foundation will push this effort along to insure that it is a collaborative effort with an eye toward prioritizing top factors and goals and leading to implementation.

And we will roll out shortly a robust online resource for all small businesses to access a full array of services provided to this key sector and economic driver in the Rhode Island economy.

We will also explore ways to support the capacity of the nonprofit community to insure long-term sustainability in a comprehensive new way.

Now bridging the present and the future, we recently awarded our highly competitive Carter Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Innovation – $200,000 over 4 years – to Eva Agudelo, Kate Lentz, and Erminio Pinque. And the recipients of our Carter Roger Williams Scholarship are Taiwo Demola, Coura Fall, Sherenté Harris, Latifat Odetunde, Dorbor Tarley, Hannah Ung, and Taliq Tillman.

We learn from the past, act in the present, and plan for the future. Together, we can invest in a Rhode Island to improve life now and to sow seeds for the future. We continue to work with donors, comprised of individuals, families, organization, and companies to inspire support for the many great community organizations in Rhode Island. And we continue to engage and support the boots on the ground nonprofit community that is committed every day to Rhode Island issues and people. We want to build our Civic Leadership Fund and Fund for Rhode Island to support current and long-term needs and opportunities.

I assure you that we will continue to be a positive and optimistic voice. A voice for all, including those not always heard. I believe we have made progress and are heading in the right direction, albeit still with a long way to go.

  • We have an improving economy, new companies, and new job creation and the highest poverty rate in New England.
  • We have seen an increase in median income and lower unemployment and the highest level of food insecurity in 10 years.
  • We have cranes in the sky in Providence and new construction and a growing affordable housing challenge.

We have made incremental changes and expanded opportunities in education and we have the highest achievement gap in the U.S. for our Latino students, and math scores near the bottom of the country.

There is much to celebrate and much left to do!

We must embrace that economic security means economic development that is much more inclusive; as the recovery is still leaving too many people behind. Improved education and health care means for all Rhode Islanders, not determined by their zip code.

There is uncertainty at the federal level. Whether the impact of tax law changes or reduced funding. Opportunity is really at the local level. Together we need to be more focused, creative, and impactful on key issues. Focus is important – Together we can do anything, but not everything.

Economic and social will need to overcome political will to get where we need to go. I urge you to be bold and think big to raise the bar in Rhode Island.

Last year, our theme was community and you have seen that this year it is Together. That is a natural combination, together we invest in, support, build community. And this Rhode Island community has a great history and legacy and wonderful possibilities and opportunities.

Together as a community with leadership and commitment, we can go forward enthusiastically and optimistically, and with hope.

And we embrace the changing demographics, including a growing Latino population and aging baby boomers.

We are your community foundation working together with all of you to enhance life in Rhode Island for everyone.

We have accomplished a great deal……….Together.

And we have a great deal more to do……Together.

If we focus on what holds us together and not what keeps us apart, we may not have it all together, but together we will have it all. Thanks for all you do. And now on to our awards.

Consider the following quote: “The truth is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet her or him.”

In other words - although people may be more connected than ever, the disconnect between us is great – and needs to be overcome. So, late last year we asked ourselves – what can the Rhode Island Foundation do to reconnect members of our community?

The answer was – Together RI.

As your community foundation we are uniquely equipped to convene throughout the State. With Together RI, we reached beyond traditional Foundation audiences and convened neighbors, strangers, and friends – as a way of addressing polarization and providing a forum for Rhode Islanders to be heard.  We also hoped to promote civic and civil dialogue, and to encourage people talking with each other and listening to each other.

From March 22 through May 5 - from Woonsocket to Westerly and Warren to Warwick, we hosted 20 Together RI sessions around the state. At schools, community centers, and senior centers we offered people the opportunity to meet face-to-face over a family-style meal – RI favorite of pasta, meatballs, chicken, and salad – at no cost and completely open to the public. 

Nearly 1300 people – the youngest who was 3 ½ months old and the oldest who was a 92-year old Holocaust survivor – shared ideas about Rhode Island’s biggest strengths, the state’s biggest opportunities, and the challenges they and their communities are facing.

Was this effort successful? We believe yes. The sessions were fun, informative, inclusive, and helped participants, our team members, our facilitators, and even the catering team build community - Together.

Here are some quotes from participants:

  • Dawn from Woonsocket said, “We came here to figure out how we could make our community better.”
  • Tony from Pawtucket said, “You have to get out and speak to be heard.”
  • Susan from Newport said, “I feel like I’m doing something, little ole’ me. Someone is listening and someone is willing to help.”
  • Claudia from Pawtucket, who brought her children, said, “Diversity is such a privilege and an asset... Now my children are growing up in that same cultural capacity.”
  • Ayanna from Westerly said, “It is positive and important for people to get together and talk to each other.”
  • Bill from Coventry said, “We are new to the state, and this is great and we have never seen this in other parts of the country.”
  • And, Mary from Providence said, “It was a fun and inspiring evening. I was impressed with the ease of conversation and active participation.”

We are working with the University of Rhode Island Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy to compile the results of these sessions including surveys completed by 76 percent of all participants. Because we completed this initiative a few weeks ago, we only have preliminary results to share tonight, but our intent is to share a detailed report later this summer. 

For tonight – here are the exciting results we are pleased to share:

We consumed 1,721 pounds of baked ziti, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 2,304 meatballs, 426 pounds of salad, and 47 gallons of marinara sauce!

Now to the more pertinent findings from the nearly 1,000 participants who completed surveys:

  • 60 percent rated the tone of the conversation at their table as “friendly,” and 40 percent as “thoughtful.”
  • Just under 20 percent were age 45 or younger; about 35 percent were 65 or older.
  • Nearly 64 percent were women and nearly 35 percent were men.
  • Almost 100 percent met new people.
  • More than 73 percent said that after these conversations, they better understood issues facing their communities.
  • Very significantly, 75 percent said that as a result of the conversation, they would be more likely to get involved in conversations and/or activities related to community issues; that is civic engagement!

Regarding the topics we heard over and over across the state:

  • Education: The importance and improvement needed in our K-12 schools were big issues. Higher education/colleges and universities are a real strength and an opportunity to leverage more.
  • Size of the state: This is a strength that allows connections for all populations and should be manageable. We have the opportunity to leverage the small geography and our diversity. The challenge is limited resources.
  • Natural Resources and Open Spaces: Our oceans, beaches, recreational spaces are all opportunities to capitalize on and a real strength. The challenges include open space vs green energy and pollution.
  • Housing: The opportunity and challenge is to develop more critically needed affordable housing. High prices are a strength for some and a barrier for others.
  • Public Transportation: This is a real challenge across the state and within some communities. There is an opportunity to better help people get around the state economically.
  • Diversity: In all forms and definitions, this is a strength; an opportunity, and a challenge to embrace and leverage, for example cultural diversity.

As we continue to review and analyze these results: and the more detailed results we’ll share later this summer – we are also determining what to do next. At each Together RI session we promised to make the results known publicly and broadly – to state leaders and to the media, and to all who joined us. And, we will encourage participants and others across the state to spread the word and embrace the community spirit of Together RI by following up on what they heard. In fact, we have gotten feedback already from Together RI participants that some of that has already begun. And, we will explore other ways to continue to promote civic and civil dialogue, face-to-face communication, and a positive, constructive, can-do approach to meeting the needs of the people of Rhode Island.

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