Education & Arts

RSF Makes a Loan to Liberty Source

November 20, 2014

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RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to Liberty Source, a public benefit corporation and subsidiary of Digital Divide Data (DDD) that employs members of the military spouse community to provide U.S.-based business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions. Although the business was founded this summer, it already employs over 90 people at Fort Monroe in Virginia. RSF has provided working capital to support DDD in the implementation of this new domestic venture in impact sourcing.

An existing RSF borrower, Digital Divide Data is an internationally-acclaimed social enterprise that pioneered “Impact Sourcing,” a model that creates jobs in the BPO industry and builds talent in the developing world. Impact Sourcing empowers people to become technologically literate participants in the global economy while encouraging first-world clients to consider the entire value chain for their business, just as fair trade has done for the food and agriculture sector. DDD’s international offices are located in Laos, Cambodia, and Kenya.

Although dozens of other firms around the world now engage in Impact Sourcing, DDD’s approach is unique in that it incorporates a comprehensive program of employment and higher education, creating an enduring, life-changing environment for young men and women who otherwise face limited employment options. Liberty Source addresses a growing market need for a competitively priced and flexible U.S.-based BPO solution by employing military spouses and other members of the military community, providing them with the training and practical experience necessary to get them on the first rung of the professional career ladder.

“DDD has a thirteen year track record of growing social impact and strengthening the earning power of its staff,” says RSF’s Senior Director of Lending, Ted Levinson. “We’re glad to help by bringing the DDD model – that has accomplished so much in Asia and Africa – to the U.S. Our military families make tremendous sacrifice; it is gratifying to work with social enterprises supporting this community.”

Liberty Source staff young woman stockThere are over 700,000 military spouses in the United States, with 80% of them having post high school education. Although this is significantly higher than the general U.S. population, these dedicated spouses are four times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed because of the limited number of job opportunities near military bases and the frequency at which military families move from base to base. Liberty Source brings these highly motivated, educated members of the military community together with DDD’s proven employee development program, providing them with the means to enter, or return to, the workforce, while also offering the opportunity to augment their family income. Additionally, Liberty Source provides an alternative to outsourcing abroad, keeping jobs onshore and helping improve the U.S. economy.

“Without support from RSF, we would not have been able to get Liberty Source off the ground,” said Deborah Kops, Board Chair, Liberty Source and Board Member, DDD. “The RSF loan provided us the seed money to hire staff and buy equipment. Only a mission-aligned lender understands both the social impact and the imperative to operate a commercially viable company.”

About Liberty Source

Headquartered in Hampton Roads, Virginia on the decommissioned Fort Monroe military base, Liberty Source is a business process outsourcer (BPO) delivering corporate processes such as finance and accounting, human resources and customer care to clients seeking a flexible, onshore and cost-efficient solution. The company, the first viable onshore alternative to the traditional offshore BPO model, has a compelling, socially conscious mission; tap into the dedicated, under-employed pool of highly skilled military spouses by providing educational and career opportunities. By harnessing the power of this domestic workforce, and creating strong alliances with leaders in the education, consulting and technology sectors, Liberty Source is able to rapidly implement powerful solutions that meet the changing needs of its clients. A Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) owned by Digital Divide Data, Liberty Source is for-profit, yet designed as responsible and sustainable enterprise, managed for the benefit of its clients, its shareholders and the broader public interest.  For more information please visit http://www.liberty-source.com.

Refugee and Immigrant Fund: Growing New Roots in a Safer Land

November 14, 2014

RIF 1

by Ellie Lanphier

On two of the world’s largest rooftops the Refugee and Immigrant Fund, in collaboration with Brooklyn Grange, runs the Urban Farm Recovery Project. Their Urban Agriculture Training program for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants to New York City teaches job readiness skills for the US job market through individualized weekly workshops on the farm and at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Employment Center. In May, RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to help the Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF) grow the Urban Farm Recovery Project from a therapeutic intervention tool to a comprehensive immigrant integration program.

RIF 2The Urban Farm Recovery Project provides professional and social network development through collaboration with a diverse group of staff, volunteers, interns, and visitors from the U.S. and throughout the world. Participants get hands-on training applicable to green job opportunities within the emerging green economy through workshops facilitated by experts in the field. English-language immersion experiences emerge through weekly on-the-farm English conversations while participants experience psychological healing from working in a soothing, productive and collaborative outdoor environment. RIF staff help participants complete and/or update resumes with individualized support from a recruitment expert and provide ongoing support after completion of training, including invitation to events and access to resources. Additionally, the Urban Farm Recovery Project provides a weekly stipend.

The farms are located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (Brooklyn) and Long Island City (Queens). Rooftop-farming provides many benefits to the community it inhabits, such as shortening the supply chain, reducing carbon footprints, and providing natural cooling during the summer months by absorbing solar energy. The two rooftops combined absorb millions of gallons of storm water per season, and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged this service to the city by awarding the Brooklyn Grange a $592,000 grant.

Since its founding in 2007, RIF has provided legal and psychosocial assistance to over 600 refugees, including legal consultations and referrals to pro bono attorneys and medical specialists. While their success stories are many, they recently featured an Urban Agricultural Training program graduate on their blog. Here’s an excerpt:

zakyatZakyat left her native Togo in West Africa three years ago to join her father in the United States. Upon her arrival in New York she began attending the English Language Learners International School in the Bronx, excelling particularly in her math and science courses. She graduated in June of 2014 after three years of hard work and hopes to go to college someday to study biology.

Zakyat joined RIF’s Urban Farm Recovery Project in March of 2014, balancing her school work with her internship at the farm. She enjoys learning about all the different vegetables and says that the program has improved her confidence to use English. Her friendships at the farm have also led to a job! Brooklyn Grange farm intern Allie directed Zakyat to Tribeca Pediatrics, where she will begin training as a medical assistant. This wonderful opportunity is the first step towards Zakyat’s dream of becoming a family doctor, and she’s thankful for the friendships and connections that made it possible.

“I wouldn’t have gotten this job if it wasn’t for RIF,” she says. “I’m learning a lot here, and I still have more to learn.”

 

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

RSF Makes a Loan to the Charlottesville Waldorf School

October 23, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to the Charlottesville Waldorf School (CWS). RSF financing will help the school refinance existing debt, build reserves, and develop more classroom space.

The Charlottesville Waldorf School, located in Albemarle County, Virginia, offers Waldorf education to approximately 160 students in early childhood through eighth grade. Originally named Crossroads Waldorf School, CWS opened in 1982 with a class of 12 Kindergarteners. The school experienced steady growth in enrollment and programs throughout the 1980s and 1990s, adding classes in handwork, foreign language, stringed instruments, recorder and music, and physical education.

cwvDm9asA3Lw9bN3Afl5esWDJpoThe Waldorf curriculum stems from the belief that true learning is a process of discovery that engages the whole human being. Instead of passively receiving information, Waldorf students are involved in a dynamic process of exploration, both of the world and of themselves. Charlottesville Waldorf School seeks to provide the child with the physical environment and stimulation of the imagination needed at each stage of growth, in order to awaken the new capacities required to reach his or her full adult potential.

“Tremendous dedication by its teachers, staff, and parent volunteers over many years has built up the Charlottesville Waldorf School from an idea that was first hatched around a grandparent’s kitchen table, to a beautiful, accredited preschool-8th grade school on its own partly-wooded, hilltop Charlottesville campus,” says the school’s Administrative Chair Michelle Schlesinger.

Throughout its history, which has involved several moves, Charlottesville Waldorf School has sought to find and fund a permanent location. That goal was attained in the spring of 2002, when a group of parents, grandparents, and friends of the school purchased a property for the school’s permanent home. Since 2002 the school has built up an extensive campus, which includes a newly-built, eco-friendly assembly hall, music room, and library. The students also enjoy ample outdoor space, including several open play areas and a large wood with trails and creeks, which are used at all levels of the program.

SONY DSC“The strong support of the entire community is ever present at the Charlottesville Waldorf School,” says Reed Mayfield, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “It has been wonderful to work with the school community thus far and we are incredibly excited to support their long-term stability and growth.”

Since opening its doors over thirty years ago, Charlottesville Waldorf School has built a solid reputation in the community. The school hosts a number of social and artistic events on campus that are open to the wider community, including eurythmy workshops and a regional high school fair. The campus is also the site of several summer camps and year-round classes in Irish music and dance, which are run by outside organizations. The involvement of new parents in the school in recent years has brought energy and motivation, and the current atmosphere is one of satisfaction and excitement amongst students, parents, teachers, and administration.

“This loan from RSF provides us for the very first time with a single comprehensive financing structure that is aligned with our mission and allows us to focus more on achieving our long-term strategic objectives,” says Michelle. “It has been an incredible experience working with a lender that shares our commitment to improving the well-being of society and the environment, and that completely ‘gets’ the value of a Waldorf education that cultivates not only students’ intellectual curiosity and imagination but also their social responsibility and passion for a better world.”

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About Charlottesville Waldorf School

The Charlottesville Waldorf School is an independent private school located in Albemarle County, Virginia, just outside the historic town of Charlottesville. Founded in 1982 by a group of parents and grandparents determined to bring a Waldorf education to Central Virginia, the school moved into its permanent, Charlottesville campus and LEED-certified grade school in September 2007. The Charlottesville Waldorf School offers a curriculum rich in academic, artistic, practical, and physical activities in an inclusive and diverse environment. The educational philosophy, based on Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of child development, cultivates the imagination, intellectual curiosity and social responsibility of the students. http://www.cwaldorf.org/

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Malama Kaua’i’s Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program

October 16, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

In May, the first Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program was launched at Malama Kaua’i, a community-based organization that focuses on advocating, educating, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i. Funded in part by an RSF Seed Fund grant, the program provides free job literacy training for Kauai’s young adults interested in green careers. Malama Kaua’i hopes to serve their community by creating economic opportunity for graduates, promoting environmental stewardship within the community, and enhancing the growth and success of Kauai’s green organizations and businesses.

Malama Kaua'i

The 10-week Green Careers Training program includes 60 classroom hours focusing on environmental and career development education, combined with a 100-hour internship with one of Kauai’s green or sustainability-focused organizations and businesses. Students gain environmental literacy, academic skills, leadership abilities, career development knowledge, and practical hands-on training. The course covers environmental topics such as water, waste, transportation, energy, green building, health, and food and agriculture, as well as community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Career development topics include self-assessment and career planning, resume writing, interview preparation, networking, and portfolio development. The 2014 class enjoyed guest speakers such as Dr. Carl Berg from the Surfrider Foundation and M?lama Hul?‘ia, and Ben Sullivan, Energy Coordinator for the County of Kauai Office of Economic Development.

Malama Kauai’s Director of Operations, Megan Fox, reported gladly that in their launch year they actually had more internship site invitations than students to fill the internships! Fox sees this as a promising sign for the demand for entry level talent in green industries. This year, students completed 100 hour internships at Anuenue Farms, Eddie Jo Organics, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Waipa Foundation, Kauai Community Recycling, Nani Moon Meadery, Kauai Nature School, ReStore Kauai, Kauai Juice Co., Malama Hule‘ia, and D.A. Solar.

An additional requirement of the program is completion of a business or community project which students are required to pitch to a panel of community leaders. Fox reports that some students took it a step further and actually launched their businesses:

H2O PonoH20 Pono

Nadia Kaley, 28, of Kapaa launched H20 Pono, a water conservation and water catchment business that provides both education and installation services. During the program, Nadia and fellow classmate Stormy Soza received WET Teachers Certificates from the Department of Water for water conservation education. They also gained hands-on conservation experience interning at National Tropical Botanical Garden. They will be launching their first community workshop soon.

Ho'okahe WailanaHo’okahe Wailana

Kaui Fu, 28, of Kilauea, and Shawna Blackford, 20, of Lihue, won the Green Pitch Night competition with their river stewardship community project, a partnership with Hawaiian Civic Club and Hanalei Canoe Club. Their project focuses on trimming and clearing the Hanalei River of excessive hau overgrowth, planting native gardens, and educating young canoe club members about native plants and ecology. They are currently fundraising for this nonprofit.

Kauai GardensKauai Gardens

Carey Tinsley, 24, of Kilauea began Kauai Gardens, a permaculture and pono landscaping company, with the ambitious goal of expanding into a full nonprofit venture focused on sustainable agriculture and healthy living. You can see Carey’s promotional video on You Tube.

RootlessYardcare & Small Engine Repair

Kanoa Nabeshima-Costa, 25, of Waimea, has launched his business that provides sustainable landscaping services focused on native plants, integrated pest management strategies, and small engine repair services.

Kauai Music ServicesKauai Music Services

Ryo Shintani, 26, of Lihue, won the “Judge’s Choice” award for his sustainable music therapy service aimed at providing services to developmentally disabled youth and seniors with cognitive disorders. This has been a long-time dream of Ryo’s since returning from Berklee College of Music after studying music therapy for two years and working as a behavioral paraprofessional on Kaua’i. Ryo performed at the groups’ graduation celebration.

Graduates will receive ongoing career services support as they create their future and shape the future of Kaua`i. The Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program is offered free of charge to participating students by organizations and individuals who have invested in the future of Kaua`i’s economic and environmental sustainability. If you are interested in participating, you may contact Megan@MalamaKauai.org for more information.

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

 

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Announcing the 2014 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 29, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors, and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible!

2014 RSF Seed Fund Grantees:

Malama Kaua’i, founded in 2006, focuses on advocating, education, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i. Their core programs include Kaua`i School Garden Network, Community Garden, and Food Forest agroforestry project (which hosts the largest collection of banana species in the state). New programs this year include SNAP/EBT processing at farmers’ markets, Island-wide Organic Gardening Training, Native Hawaiian Charter School Food Program, and the Roots of Kaua`i Green Careers Certificate training. The Seed Fund grant of $2,500 will support the Roots of Kaua`i Green Careers Certificate Program, a free 10-week training program focused on delivering environmental, career development, and soft skills education to Kaua`i at-risk youth, aged 18 to 30, during summer 2014.

Malama Kauai

 

Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, located in Lane County, Oregon, was founded in 2000 to support the development of a secure and sustainable regional food system. The organization promotes locally grown and raised foods, educates consumers, and connects households, businesses, and institutions directly to Lane County farms. The Seed Fund grant of $2,500 will support a website redesign for Eugene Local Foods, a year-round online farmers’ market that makes shopping from local farms convenient for consumers and farmers alike.

Eugene Local Foods

 

Veterans to FarmersVeterans to Farmers (VTF) was started in 2011 by US Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams to ensure that veterans are able to establish new careers in greenhouse farming, while engaging the residential community in creating a healthier, local food system in Denver, Colorado. The clean, healthy food grown at the Training Center Greenhouse will be sold directly to the community within a 3-mile radius, currently considered a food desert. VTF will accept SNAP benefits and sell a percentage of the food on a sliding scale to ensure access, regardless of income. The $1,500 Seed Fund grant supports outreach to the surrounding Denver community, advertising SNAP benefit use to purchase VTF produce and educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local.

The produce is grown using aeroponic, vertical growing towers, which use 90% less water and land than traditional agriculture, while growing 10 times the yield. Each 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse will grow roughly 150,000 pounds of produce each year that will be accessible year-round.

 

REDCOREDCO, the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, is a non-profit, tribally chartered entity of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) working to improve the lives of the tribe’s 32,000 members by promoting economic development and self-sufficiency on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. REDCO’s recently launched Keya Wakpala Food Sovereignty Project aims to increase tribal access to healthy, fresh, and locally grown food. They received a $2,500 Seed Fund grant to support the establishment of the Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market, a weekly seasonal farmers’ market where locally grown organic produce will be planted, tended, harvested, and sold by tribal members. The market will open in July 2014 and will operate through the end of September or October; it will accept SNAP benefits from inception.

 

Indian Land Tenure Foundation, based in Little Canada, Minnesota, was formed to address the crisis of reservation land loss. The non-profit supports the return of the buffalo to the lands, culture, diets, and economies of Native American communities through their work with the Tanka Fund and in collaboration with Native American Natural Foods (NANF). NANF created the Tanka Bar, the first nationally distributed food product from an Indigenous community. The Tanka Bar is made from an ancient Native recipe of preserving bison with fruit and is sold in more than 5,000 stores nation-wide. NANF would like to buy all the buffalo meat it needs from Native American buffalo producers, but there aren’t enough Native buffalo ranchers to make this possible. Project goals over the next 10 years include converting one million acres of land to buffalo production, expanding retail markets, and building awareness. The $2,500 Seed Fund grant will support the creation of educational materials on the health, environmental, and economic benefits of buffalo restoration.

Indian Land Tenure Foundation

 

Dane County TimebankDane County Timebank was established in 2005 to build self-sufficiency and interdependence through timebanking. The organization received a $2,500 grant to support the design and communications for Mutual Aid Networks, a new form of cooperative where members collectively manage timebanking, community savings and investment pools (of the dominant currency, plus goods and in-kind resources), and other forms of community sharing and exchange. These are applied to this mission: to create means for everyone to discover and succeed in the work they want to do, supported by their community. Measurable goals include having three Mutual Aid Networks established, incorporated and functioning by end of 2014, with communication tools, training materials, and template agreements for new Mutual Aid Networks to adopt.

 

Green Meadow Waldorf School (GMWS)received a $1,000 Seed Fund grant to support Open Saturdays, a free tutoring program brought by GMWS faculty, staff, parents and students to children in struggling local public schools during the 2014-15 school year. GMWS is located in Chestnut Ridge, New York in the East Ramapo School District where more than 48 percent of students are eligible for free school lunches, and an additional 14 percent are eligible for reduced price meals. The district has faced significant budget deficits in recent years, exceeding $7 million in the 2012-13 school year and resulting in extensive cuts to programming. Last spring, more than 80 district teachers and staff members were laid off, including arts faculty, librarians, and security personnel, and full-day kindergarten has been eliminated district-wide, as has music and art, athletics, and AP and ESL coursework.

Open Saturdays is a way for Green Meadow to reach out to students in this severely under-resourced school district. The principal outcomes are learning improvements by students, but GMWS also hopes that the program will promote a culture of service in their community and support an overarching goal to build bridges between their school and the larger community while providing tangible, meaningful services to their neighbors.

Green Meadow Waldorf School

 

Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF) of Queens, New York, was established in 2007 to provide a safe space and opportunities for refugees to rebuild new lives in the United States. RIF has served over 600 refugees through legal and psychosocial assistance. They received a Seed Fund grant of $2,500 to support the growth of the Urban Farm Project through expanded reach and stronger, more comprehensive program development, implementation, and evaluation. The Urban Farm Project began as an additional therapeutic tool to help refugees recover from trauma. While providing a soothing natural environment for psychological recovery, the project also offers several benefits, including job readiness skills development, English language immersion, immigrant integration, and green job training. RIF made the strategic decision to fully focus its resources on the Urban Farm Recovery Project from 2014 on, expanding it from a therapeutic intervention to a comprehensive immigrant integration program using urban agriculture training as a catalyst for integrating newcomers in New York.

Refugee and Immigrant Fund

 

Cooperative FermentationCooperative Fermentation seeks to democratize our food system through the creation of cooperatives in food and farming in Maine and beyond by incubating new co-ops, providing popular education and presentations, producing food, facilitating community meetings, and supporting cooperative transition of existing food and farm businesses. The $2,500 Seed Fund grant will support cooperative consulting, co-op economic development workshops, and research and implementation of new economic models including: barter, sliding scale, alternative currency, hour exchanges, community investment, and multi-stakeholder co-ops. Cooperative Fermentation hopes to reach a variety of people through these programs, while maintaining a focus on younger farmers and food producers in Southern, Central, and Midcoast Maine.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services.

Clients in Conversation: Building on a Shared Vision, Part II

April 17, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer transformed a struggling school into the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation. Laura Summer runs a successful year-long arts education program that is completely tuition-free. Both women have experience with the challenges of starting new initiatives that defy others notions of normal. In each case, strong communities played a vital role in their success.

Click here for Part I

Mark: Laura, I’m interested in this model that you have created for sustaining support for your work in a gift economy. Can you talk about how it’s working?

Laura: Free Columbia runs completely on contributions from many individuals, including our students. Sometimes, I do wonder if it’s going to be working next month or next year, but so far, it is.

As a teacher, that gives me this amazing feeling of freedom. I can give the very best that I have to my students and it isn’t tied to what I owe someone for paying me a lot of money. You actually get to teach out of what you know is right for your students in the moment. It’s such a strong feeling that I have given up teaching in any other model.

I’ve also stopped selling paintings for money. We started two years ago having what we call an art dispersal, where we hang up lots of paintings and make them available to the community. Community members can become stewards of the art, which means they can take the art and keep it for as long as they want. They can pass it onto somebody else or give it back to the artist whenever they choose to.

photo courtesy of Free Columbia

photo courtesy of Free Columbia

It was an amazing experience when we first did it. People just came and took the paintings off the walls and took them home. They emailed us about where they were hanging them and sent us pictures. It was as if, until then, the paintings had been out of work and unemployed.

This has also become part of our financial model because people can contribute money to the endeavor and to support the artists.

Mark: Allegra, you’ve been cultivating this really practical and deep approach to educating. What have been some of the highlights or transformative moments for you?

Allegra: I’m actually inspired by some of the parallels that I’m hearing in what Laura has said. I’m reminded of a story about my students. They have a main lesson block in health and nutrition. In one activity, they harvest chard and kale from our garden and prepare it with eggs from our chickens. Students told us that they went home and cooked it all week long for their families—the most green vegetable they could remember eating.

It’s like the artwork going out into the communities, it’s this learning that the students realize, “Here’s something I grew in my own garden at school. We planted it, we harvested, and now, I can take it home and nourish my family.” When that happens, you have families that are being supported by what’s going on in the classroom.

The art of our education is leaving the school campus with these kids and going into their homes—it’s bringing health, nutrition, and love of learning home.

In the first year of the school, I would go into classrooms to visit. The classrooms were chaotic. There was little respect for the teachers, for the learning environment, for the physical space. I walked into one classroom and greeted the teacher in the class. And one girl looked at me and said, “Why are you always smiling?” I thought, “Uh-oh, this is a really hard question to answer, because she thinks I’m happy.” I was actually sad. I wasn’t sure that this experiment of bringing Waldorf methods into the public sector was going to work. I had to think long and hard before I could answer truthfully. I replied, “Well, I love teenagers. I’ve always worked in high schools; it’s the place in education I love. And that’s why I’m here.” And I literally felt like the earth shifted. The kids realized I was serious. They believed that they were in a new kind of environment where learning could be interesting and fun, and where adults would listen respectfully to them. This experience taught me about the incredible potency of Waldorf education. The potency is held in the relationships, the intentions, and the vision that we share which is transforming our communities.

Mark: To wrap up, is there anything that you’ve heard from one another that has really resonated with you?

Allegra: I really like hearing Laura talk about the movement of art in the community. I’ve heard John Bloom speak about the healthy movement of money. And I think it’s true for art and other things. In my world, it might look like trying things, experimenting, not holding fast to certain protocols about education or what it’s supposed to be, but rather exploring through relationship and a safe environment. This picture of movement and flow in an educational setting is really resonating for me.

Laura: Throughout this conversation I’m hearing surety that this deep level of intention does work. It isn’t just that it works in a small, limited, cloistered place where everybody has the same values or the same financial background. It can work for diverse groups of people. And when it does work, it can transform people and allow them to see things that they couldn’t see before.

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer is the principal of George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation.  She is a graduate of Sacramento Waldorf School and a founder and teacher of San Francisco Waldorf High School. Allegra earned her doctorate at UC Davis as part of her mission to bring Waldorf education to a wide variety of educational institutions.  Sacramento City Unified School District serves 45,000 students and is the only school district in the US to support three public Waldorf-inspired schools educating over 1000 school children.

Laura Summer is co-founder with Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, an arts initiative that includes a year-long program based on the fundamentals of painting as they come to life through spiritual science. She has been working with questions of color and contemporary art for 25 years and her approach is influenced by Beppe Assenza, Rudolf Steiner, and by Goethe’s color theory. Her work, to be found in private collections in the US and Europe, has been exhibited at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in New York City and at the Sekem Community in Egypt.

Clients in Conversation: Building on a Shared Vision, Part I

April 15, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer transformed a struggling school into the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation. Laura Summer runs a successful year-long arts education program that is completely tuition-free. Both women have experience with the challenges of starting new initiatives that defy others notions of normal. In each case, strong communities played a vital role in their success.

Mark: Laura what are some of the successful practices you have used in building your community at Free Columbia?

Laura: Well, it depends on what you mean by community. We have a small community made up of our students and teachers. Then, there’s our supporting community—the people that care about us. These people provide funding and participate in whatever way they can.

Building community in the two circles is different. In the smaller circle, we take between eight and ten full-time painting students and five to seven puppetry interns for a full-time program, all day long, four days a week. In that community, we’re really working closely together. We do biography work. We do group observations of the artistic work. We have a meal together at least once a week. We sing together. We do eurythmy together. All of these things really help to build this core group and a feeling of community.

Our larger circle extends quite broadly. There’s a circle of local people who are interested in the work. They send us donations. Sometimes, they come to a short course. But a lot of them just want this mission to work. And then there are people all across the country, and even in Europe, who are watching out for us. We also have larger public events including an end-of-the-year arts show, and puppet shows in all the public schools in our town. We hold these events to build our visibility and to give something back to our community.

Mark: Allegra, how have you been able to successfully build community at Washington Carver High School?

Allegra: It starts with having a successful practice. Having a clear vision and mission that is shared by people is what creates a community.

I stepped into a community where some of the leaders had grassroots experience and a shared idea of building a public Waldorf-inspired high school. My work began with clarifying what this high school would look like.

One of the communities I work with is the teachers. We meet weekly to do activities like singing, eurythmy, and storytelling so that we can practice elements of Waldorf education together and learn from and about each other. Building a strong working relationship as a faculty was essential so that we could communicate this vision to the larger community.

And more than half of our students and families aren’t necessarily familiar with Waldorf methods. They are involved because Carver is small and safe, and they share the part of our vision that values relationships and human development.

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

We’ve done a lot of work in these last six years to build our community of parents and students by celebrating together. A common practice is getting together regularly for events where students perform so that families can live some of the educational experience that their students have had.

Mark: What are some of the challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced in building these communities?

Laura: Free Columbia is still a small initiative. It’s interesting that people often come to the full-time program, and they don’t really understand what this year’s worth of artistic process is about. Some of them have no relationship with Rudolf Steiner’s work at all, but they are searching for something, and that draws them here.

So it means that we have to be extremely specific about the expectations we have for the students. We don’t have any set tuitions, we’re not accredited, and we have this donation-based financial model—people think it’s pretty crazy. But once they get involved, it becomes clear. It’s just reaching that level of understanding within our community that is really challenging.

Allegra: One of the biggest obstacles that we had was inheriting a failing school. It was a huge challenge because we had kids and teachers who were frustrated, angry, and marginalized. I had to learn how to absorb that and build our own community with them. We did that by fostering relationships. We treated people with kindness and respect. And people repeatedly said, “Are you for real? We’ve never been treated like this in a public school before.”

I liked what Laura said regarding being really clear about the program. Within my district, our sister schools ridiculed us because we weren’t understood. As we clarified who we were by building a community, by showing growth, both academically and in enrollment, it became clear to our peers that this was working in the public sector, it wasn’t just a private school model.

Another layer of challenges was in meeting district, state, and federal guidelines and requirements. In America, Waldorf schools have grown up and matured in total freedom as private schools. There was a lot of concern about these government regulations removing that freedom.

By demonstrating the education, the curriculum, teacher expectations, student expectations, and outcomes, we have made it clear to the public education system and our private school peers that the public Waldorf-inspired schools are valid, valuable, and thriving educational environments.

Laura: It’s so interesting because what you have created is the strongest answer to objections that a Waldorf school can’t exist within the public sector.

People told me that my students wouldn’t appreciate something unless they paid for it. Until we tried it, I didn’t have a great response to that. But once we established this new model and it worked, then that was the best response to our critics. The living example is so powerful.

Click here for Part II

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer is the principal of George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation.  She is a graduate of Sacramento Waldorf School and a founder and teacher of San Francisco Waldorf High School. Allegra earned her doctorate at UC Davis as part of her mission to bring Waldorf education to a wide variety of educational institutions.  Sacramento City Unified School District serves 45,000 students and is the only school district in the US to support three public Waldorf-inspired schools educating over 1000 school children.

Laura Summer is co-founder with Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, an arts initiative that includes a year-long program based on the fundamentals of painting as they come to life through spiritual science. She has been working with questions of color and contemporary art for 25 years and her approach is influenced by Beppe Assenza, Rudolf Steiner, and by Goethe’s color theory. Her work, to be found in private collections in the US and Europe, has been exhibited at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in New York City and at the Sekem Community in Egypt.

RSF Funds Development of Sebastopol Charter School’s New Campus

March 27, 2014

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce a new loan to The Charter Foundation, the fundraising organization that supports the K-8 Waldorf-inspired Sebastopol Charter School. RSF was selected by the Foundation as their lender of choice to finance the acquisition of a 20-acre property and the construction of a permanent, unified campus for the entire school population on the new site

charter_ribbonsSebastopol Charter School was founded by Greg Haynes and Ursula Kroettinger, two former Waldorf school administrators who wished to bring Waldorf education to their community without the financial barriers of private school tuition. Waldorf education, developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, is an arts-rich approach to education that focuses on teaching the whole child – head, hands, and heart. Waldorf schools have traditionally been private and more readily accessible to middle and upper class families. However, a shift is occurring: according to the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, the number of Waldorf-inspired public schools has risen quickly, from around a dozen in 2000 to over fifty in 2014, making this education model available to far more children regardless of family income.

“RSF is inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and we believe in the importance of supporting creativity and human spirit,” says Ted Levinson, Director of Lending at RSF. “We have a long history of supporting Waldorf education in private schools and seeing these values transferred to the public education system is an important step in developing the next generation of inspired leaders.”

As one of the first Waldorf-inspired charter schools in the nation, Sebastopol Charter opened its doors in 1995 to its pioneering kindergarten class. Each subsequent year another grade was added as the previous class advanced, until the first 8th grade class graduated in 2005. With the school’s rapid expansion, The Charter Foundation was founded with the mission of establishing and supporting a permanent, Waldorf-inspired charter school.

charter_music1“Since the school’s founding nearly two decades ago we’ve searched for a permanent campus site that would provide our students the spaciousness to move with freedom and to explore and learn through their natural environment,” says Chris Topham, Executive Director of Sebastopol Charter. “Since that time, RSF has been a key partner in helping us realize that dream, first providing the backing needed to develop our current urban campus, and now supporting our efforts to take our school to the next level at our new, unified campus.”

RSF initially provided a loan to the Foundation in 2000 to help build the school’s downtown campus, housing the third through eighth grades, while the K-2 program is housed on a separate site leased from the chartering district. The downtown facility, now owned free and clear by the Foundation, has served its purpose as a temporary home and investment property while the school searched for the ideal site for its new home. This new RSF loan has been used to acquire a 20-acre parcel of land, and will support the development of the first phase of the new campus which will finally unify the entire school.

Sebastopol Charter School has been successful in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, providing a full and rich Waldorf curriculum including strings, handwork, woodwork, Spanish, games, social inclusion and eurythmy, and attracting a dedicated and informed parent body. As a result, Sebastopol Charter is now widely regarded as one of the leaders in public Waldorf education nationwide. Its success has encouraged scores of other public schools to offer a Waldorf-inspired education to any child, regardless of the ability to pay.

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About The Charter Foundation

The Charter Foundation is the fundraising organization for Sebastopol Charter School, a public charter school in Sebastopol, California. Established by the school’s founders in 1998, the Foundation is charged with the mission of supporting Sebastopol Charter School in providing both a full Waldorf program and in establishing a permanent, unified, and spacious campus. www.thecharterfoundation.org

RSF Makes a New Loan to 18th Street Arts Center

March 17, 2014

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce a new loan to 18th Street Arts Center (18SAC), a non-profit artist residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making. This loan will allow 18SAC to refinance their existing mortgage and provide funds for reserves. As 18SAC celebrates their 25th anniversary this year, RSF also looks forward to growing with the organization in the coming years as they build out the facilities to expand their programing – and gear up for another successful 25 years.

283585_10150737152565454_1365260_nArtist residency programs exist around the world, in both urban and rural settings, serving anywhere from one artist to over 50 artists. The residency programs can appear in art museums, retreat centers, schools, universities, independent non-profits, or community centers and their focus can be multidisciplinary or focused on specific areas, such as visual arts, dance, theater, technology arts, writing, and more. According to The Alliance of Artist Communities, a leading association of artist residency programs, there are more than 500 programs in the US and thousands more across the world serving more than 10,000 artists domestically and 20,000 more worldwide. Most are multidisciplinary, like 18SAC, and are considered research and development labs for creative work.

Founded in 1988, 18th Street Arts Center has fostered and supported the work of many of Los Angeles’ most engaging and diverse artists, and has built bridges to artists communities around the globe. The organization values art-making as an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society.

“18th Street Arts Center is a deeply committed social enterprise which plays an important role in the arts landscape both in Southern California and internationally,” explains Reed Mayfield, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “By providing affordable live/work studios and a creative space conducive to an artist’s professional development, 18SAC facilitates inter-cultural collaboration and community engagement in the arts.”

18SAC provides a hub for contemporary art through two program areas that reflect its mission: 1) A three-tiered Residency Program that fosters inter-cultural collaboration and dialogue and 2) A Public Events and Exhibition Program that focuses on engaging with the public and revealing the art-making process through exhibitions, events, talks, publications and other opportunities.

The Residency Program has three strategies to support artists. The first is a long-term residency for mentoring artists and ‘anchor’ organizations, which have helped to define the character and scope of the organization. The second is a mid-term residency, which is a three-year program for California artists to advance their careers. Lastly, they have a short-term residency for national or international visiting artists and curators who reside at 18SAC for one to three months.

The Public Events and Exhibition Program includes 18SAC’s signature Artist Labs series, the new Curator in Residence Program, presentations of emerging artists, and a lecture series featuring artists, curators, and scholars whose presentations relate to exhibition content and themes explored in residencies.

Housed in five buildings on its 1.25-acre site in Santa Monica, California, 18SAC provides a physical center that promotes collaboration and dialogue for contemporary art in a region characterized by its de-centralization. 18SAC is the largest arts organization in the City of Santa Monica, and is the largest artist residency program in Southern California.

“18th Street Arts Center is privileged to own this exceptional community resource and we are thrilled to have RSF as a new finance partner supporting the work we do for artists as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary,” says Jan Williamson, Executive Director at 18SAC. “RSF’s loan is helping us make plans for the next 25 years.”

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About 18th Street Arts Center

Founded in 1988, 18th Street Arts Center (18SAC) is an artists’ residency program in Santa Monica, CA that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making. The organization values art-making as an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society. Through artist residencies, 18SAC fosters inter-cultural collaboration and dialogue. 18SAC residencies, exhibitions, public events, talks, and publications encourage, showcase, and support the creation of contemporary art. 18SAC is a non-profit organization generously supported by its Board of Directors, individuals and corporate donors, private and corporate foundations, and government agencies. A corpus of over 50 dedicated volunteers support 18SAC’s visitor services, programs, and administrative functions. www.18thstreet.org

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Raphael Academy

March 14, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

For its second academic year of operation, Raphael Academy a Camphill-inspired private school initiative serving students in grades six through twelve and young adults 18+ with intellectual and developmental disabilities, received a RSF Seed Fund grant of $1,000 to support and expand its vocational class offerings.

photo 1Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion for who they are and what they endure; and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in community.

Specialty classes such as music, woodwork, handwork (weaving, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery), movement, gardening, ceramics, and painting cultivate a student’s motor skills in addition to enhancing sensory and visual perception skills. These classes complement Raphael Academy’s academic schedule, where students are immersed in an area of study, such as math, literature and science, for several weeks at a time, a method found to bring greater understanding of the material and to form a deeper relationship to the subject.

Raphael Academy promotes the practice of life skills as essential in order for their students to live the most independent life possible. Its vocational exercises focus on developing meaningful abilities to enable students to become proficient at completing everyday tasks and to develop employable skills, so that they may work towards a greater degree of self-reliance.  An article by USA Today published in 2012 claims that one in three autistic young adults have no paid job experience, college, or technical school nearly seven years after high school graduation, a problem that Raphael Academy is working to remedy within its New Orleans community.

In addition to working with students daily throughout the school year, Raphael Academy strives to serve as a resource for parents and organizations in search of alternative and continuing education for youth and young adults with special needs. Their Young Adult Program, for students aged 18+, is designed to build social skills while teaching artistic vocational skills and independent and small group living skills. Topics include how to keep a budget and shop for food and other necessities, how to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle with weekly exercises and meal plans, and how to use public transportation and basic business skills critical to running Raphael Academy’s community café.

Jacqueline Case of Raphael Academy kindly provided an update on what the RSF Seed Fund grant made possible:

photo 2“So far we have put the money to good use by purchasing a mixer for the Young Adult Program, thread for our loom [which they used to produce 2 rugs!], and clay and glazes for student ceramic projects.  Our Young Adults bake muffins weekly and then host a coffee and muffin sale on Friday mornings to both Raphael and the Waldorf School of New Orleans’ greater school community.  So far the café has raised over $600 this school year.  The YAP café also made a small donation to the Boulder, Colorado Kindergarten that was flooded this past September as New Orleans is no stranger to catastrophe!”

Thank you for your donations to the RSF Seed Fund, which make supporting organizations like Raphael Academy possible. To learn more about the Seed Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.

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Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

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