Seed Fund

Seeding Economic, Social and Environmental Change

December 18, 2014

Recently, a handful of RSF activities were highlighted on a new site that offers online tools and community resources for people looking to challenge the status quo of Philanthropy. The site, called Indie Philanthropy Initiative, features RSF’s Shared Gifting program, the RSF Seed Fund, and our Social Investment Fund amongst many other organizations that offer inspiring stories for creative grantmaking and collaborative funding models.

The below article about the RSF Seed Fund was originally published by the Indie Philanthropy Initiative and Kindle Project.

 

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How do you do your funding? Please describe your organization’s approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.

The RSF Seed Fund is a small grant making program which funds new initiatives that further the field of social finance, or address issues within our focus areas of Education & the Arts, Food & Agriculture, and Ecological Stewardship.The process we follow is similar to conventional philanthropy, in that we have grant guidelines and review proposals, but what is different is that we are looking for new and emerging ideas without requiring “proof of concept” or commitments to and reporting on metrics of success. We try to keep the grant process simple because we know grantees have to jump through a lot of hoops to get funding, and we want to leave them flexible to explore and experiment in their early stages of growth. Another aspect that sets this fund apart is our rotating staff review committee. Each year, we invite RSF staff to be a part of this decision making process by selecting three to four interested people from different departments to join the philanthropic services team in reviewing the grant proposals.

What made you realize this funding style would be important for what you were trying to achieve?

One of the reasons we have this small grantmaking program, with $250 to $5,000 sized grants, is that we don’t have any other unsolicited grant programs. We want to have an opening so that new ideas, organizations, or people can become visible to RSF.

How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?

Funding new ideas that need initial grant funding gives us the opportunity to support work at the beginning of its growth. It’s the beginning of a spectrum of funding we call ‘integrated capital,’ which is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital, including grants, direct investments, and loans, to support enterprises working to solve complex social and environmental problems. With these grant dollars we are willing to take risks with projects that may not have a demonstrated track record.

One of our 2009 Seed Fund grantees was People’s Grocery in Oakland. They then went on to participate in our first Shared Gifting circle and we have made an investment in their Direct Public Offering for People’s Community Market. It’s been incredible to see how we can support people and projects throughout the arc of their growth.

What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way? What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?

The nature of gifts and gifting is something we talk about a lot at RSF. We ask ourselves, “what are gifts best suited for? what can they make possible in the world?” Gifts are a different kind of transaction than say purchase or lending transactions. Our insight is that gift money is best suited for risks and for researching innovation.

My advice to other funders would be to understand the importance of funding new ideas. You have to be open to failure, and you have to be open to trust in the people and projects.

In addition, giving our staff members the experience of being a part of a grantmaking process is really powerful. As I said before, we invite new staff to participate in the Seed Fund process and it’s made a huge impact on people.

Finally, sometimes you need to let go of all the impact assessment and analysis to determine if grant funds are being effective. We talk about something called intuitive grantmaking. It is okay to trust your instincts about how the money can flow into the world.

Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?

This particular program fits under our Philanthropic Services purpose, which is to cultivate giving as the source of economic life. We want to transform gifts into being seen as an important part of the economic process. We understand gifts to be at the beginning of the economic process. Personally, that idea of intuitive grantmaking got me more interested in Indie Philanthropy. My experience with the RSF Seed Fund led me to explore the field and ultimately sparked the creation of our RSF Shared Gifting program, which exists to transform the power dynamic present in philanthropy. The RSF Seed Fund ignited that interest in me.

View the original article here

 

 About the Indie Philanthropy Initiative

Indie Philanthropy is a creative disruption to the status quo of funding that gives a common name to decentralized, daring alternatives poised to reshape the field of philanthropy. The Indie Philanthropy Initiative includes the launch of a suite of new online tools and offline community resources to help curious funders looking for dynamic grantmaking practices and allies. www.indiephilanthropy.org

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Green Meadow Waldorf School

December 16, 2014

gmws

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, 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.

gmws2Student Testimonial:

“To be honest, I was very skeptical about [Open Saturdays] because it was free of charge. I was reluctant to wake up early every Saturday, but I…brought my math folder, tests, and homework and expected the worst. At first I worked with a student named Sabine, and she really got me comfortable with the environment here. After a few more sessions, I started to work with Mr. Madsen. He was a great help and he definitely helped me increase my scores in math.” –Julian

Open Saturdays is a way for Green Meadow to reach out to students in this severely under-resourced school district. The program was designed and is coordinated by Green Meadow’s Diversity Committee, a standing group that includes representatives from diverse backgrounds from the faculty, staff, and parent body. The Committee contacted guidance counselors and administrators in local schools during the fall of 2013 to gauge needs and interest in a tutoring program, and based on this input from partners in the district, GMWS moved forward with a pilot program immediately. Open Saturdays, launched in January 2014, provides free tutoring in mathematics, science, and English to local public school students enrolled at Chestnut Ridge Middle School and other middle and high schools in the district. The tutors are GMWS middle and high school teachers, staff, parents, and high school students, who volunteer their time.

gmws3Student Testimonials:

“In the time that I have been coming here, I have had an amazing experience. I was tutored by several different people. My grades went up and my homework was completed more efficiently.” –Elijah

“With these Saturday sessions, I have gotten to understand my work better and meet incredible people. At the beginning, my grades were not where they should be, but with your [GMWS tutor] help my grades have improved dramatically.” –Alexis

 “When I first [started], I had a lot of trouble with the subject Math. I was at the point where I was failing bad. Then I met a teacher named Mr. Madsen. Once I worked with him, he made math a lot easier for me.” –Taron

The principal outcomes for the program are learning improvements by students, evidenced through increased competence with the material, as observed by tutors. 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. You can read more about the program in an interview with Vicki Larson, Green Meadow Waldorf School’s Director of Communication and Marketing in their March/April 2014 newsletter.

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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

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.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Catskill Mountainkeeper

May 15, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

Catskill Mountainkeeper_landscapeCatskill Mountainkeeper takes on the important and often difficult role of striving to be the best advocate for sustainable growth and resource preservation in the seven-county Catskill region of New York. Through innovative programs and partnerships, Catskill Mountainkeeper has mapped and made available all the trails of Sullivan County, facilitates the region’s movement towards renewable energy, and is growing the next generation of food entrepreneurs. In 2013, Catskill Mountainkeeper received a grant from the RSF Seed Fund to support the pilot launch of the Capital Access Loan Program, designed to help regional farmers expand their businesses and boost the local economy.

The Capital Access Loan Program grew out of two studies commissioned by Mountainkeeper, “A Western Catskill Region Foodshed Research & Analysis,” and “Ground Up,” which demonstrated an immense opportunity within the region to grow the local agricultural economy. Catskill Mountainkeeper:

The report found that agriculture has the lowest start-up infrastructure cost of any land use for economic growth and an average economic multiple of 2.5 (for every dollar earned by a farmer 2.5 dollars are pumped into the regional economy). Coupled with our region’s abundance of accessible clean water, the lowest land costs within 100 miles of New York City and access to the thriving New York metro market, the Catskills is a prime area for agriculture. The New York metro market with its population of over 20 million is currently experiencing a strong trend towards the purchase and consumption of food that is grown within 100 miles. The demand clearly exceeds the supply available and this trend will continue to grow.

Working with business consultants and a well-established bank co-founded by farmers, Catskill Mountainkeeper vets organizations that apply for business expansion loans from $15,000 to $40,000 at low interest rates, and seeks to provide long payback periods and grace periods when needed. (For more details on who qualifies: Capital Access Program Inquiry Form) With every loan comes help with business planning services, an important piece to the model’s efficacy and to the success of the farmer.

Catskill Mountainkeeper_group shot 2

The Seed Fund grant supported this business planning component specifically. “The Seed Fund provides small grants – but this one had a big impact,” says Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Development Director Jennifer Edwards. “Most of the funds we raised for this program are restricted to the capital loan.  It is more difficult to raise funding for the necessary staff and consultant time to implement the program. This grant allowed us to develop a highly conceptualized business plan and we expect to see long-term and far-reaching successful outcomes from this work.”

One lucky applicant to receive funding in the past year is Jonah Shaw of Catskill Food Company, a farm-based, artisanal handcrafted foods enterprise using ingredients farmed almost exclusively in New York. Shaw, who has made a career in many facets of the food industry with a mind for sustainability, creates his sausages from heritage pigs and all processing takes place within the state, featuring seasonal ingredients when available. Catskill Mountainkeeper chose Catskill Food Company as a great example of how a viable local food system can create jobs and meet the desire for local food in the region.

Catskill Mountainkeeper’s work is greatly influenced by their perspective that their region has come to a crossroads, and that what develops now will determine their future for many years to come. They have chosen to promote their natural resources, natural beauty, local talent pool and fortuitous location and hope to lead the region to a sustainable and profitable future.

Catskill Mountainkeeper_group shot

To learn more about the Seed Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.

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

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

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Sustainable Economies Law Center

February 25, 2014

by Alex Haber

Building the next economy will take work in many sectors. RSF focuses on work with investors, donors, and entrepreneurs to build the direct, transparent relationships necessary to make economic renewal a reality. But as all these groups move their money and conduct their business with deep values, ossified legal structures will have to adapt and become more flexible to meet the needs of new economic relationships.

Sustainable Economies Law Center 1RSF Seed Fund grantee, Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), works precisely at this intersection. SELC provides essential legal tools – education, research, advice, and advocacy – to support a transition to local, resilient economies. It focuses in many areas, including cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, co-housing, urban agriculture, barter, and local currencies.

Last year, SELC received a grant from the Seed Fund to support a new project that helps farmers interested in sustaining and growing their businesses through community-based or crowd-sourced financing methods. These methods allow local, small-scale investors to become financial stakeholders in an enterprise, and allow enterprises to seek capital from friends, family, and community members instead of high net-worth individuals or banks. With RSF’s funding, SELC was able to run an outreach campaign and application process for this new service to assess interest among farmers, and the response was very strong.

South Central Farmers 1One of the most promising candidates was the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative (SCF), a worker-owned farm in California’s Central Valley. The coop grew around South Central Farm, a former fourteen-acre urban farm in South Central Los Angeles. After ten years of cultivating the land and building the community around it, the farmers were evicted in 2004 when the plot was slated for development. This eviction led to significant protests and civil disobedience, as well as an Academy Award nominated documentary, The Garden.

Since then, the South Central Farmers have been cultivating land in the Central Valley, and are currently looking to expand and help start other worker-owned farms. In order to do this, and to avoid the threat of eviction, SCF is looking to form a non-profit organization that could purchase land it could lease to worker-owned agricultural cooperatives, and to finance these land purchases through a public offering, so small investors, potentially from all over the state, could invest in these farms.

South Central Farmers 3

SELC and SCF hope to continue working together on this project as it evolves, and SELC is looking for funding to continue the work and develop a how-to guide for other farms interested in community-based and crowd-sourced funding.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with the Seed Fund to support great organizations like Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Alex Haber is Program Manager of Philanthropic Services

More than Murals

February 10, 2014

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

by Megan Mendenhall

A decade and a half ago, four graduate students from the University of Texas started with a small idea: to use the arts to support youth development. From this inspiration, they created the Theater Action Project, an interactive violence prevention program that offered drama-based activities to help youth deal with social issues. In 2003, with the addition of now-Executive Director Karen LaShelle, a new team developed dozens of additional programs that incorporated more art forms and creative means—puppetry, parades, filmmaking, drumming, mural arts—and the organization was eventually reborn as Creative Action. Today, Creative Action is Central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment, and character education, serving 18,500 youth annually.

Since its founding, Creative Action has ignited and supported the academic, social, and emotional development of over 100,000 young people in Central Texas. By providing youth with hands-on programs that utilize art making, team building, and creative problem solving, Creative Action offers a fun and engaging way to equip children and teens with important life skills.

“In the wake of rising incidents of school violence and bullying in the late 1990’s, Creative Action was formed to help give young people opportunities to develop stronger social and emotional skills,” says LaShelle. “In order to succeed and thrive, students need an opportunity to develop what I call twenty-first century skills: empathy, creativity, appreciation of diversity, critical thinking, leadership, and job training.”

These skills help define what Creative Action calls “4C” students: creative artists, courageous allies, critical thinkers, and confident leaders. These transformative qualities are what drive the development of the organization’s programming as Creative Action continuously seeks ways to fully engage young people. Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director at Creative Action, explains, “For us, art is a pathway for personal development, and our mission to empower young people to become 4C students is what informs Color Squad’s impact on both individuals and communities.”

Creative Action sets itself apart by creating programs with a dual mission: to inspire youth to become 4C students while also transforming the world around them. This past summer, the organization initiated Color Squad, a project that provides aspiring young artists with opportunities to work with professional artists to install murals that renew public spaces. Youth, ages 14-20, deeply engage with the city and its history, and build important social and emotional skills as they remake neglected spaces into places of beauty, reflection, and inspiration.

“Color Squad is unique because of the way it uses the arts as a tool for both youth development and civic engagement,” notes Torres. “Not only does the program transform participants into 4C students, but it also transforms neighborhoods and communities. It shows how art can impact people and place.”

Creative Action’s teaching artists guide and mentor a team of 25 teens over the course of a semester to install murals that elevate and illuminate historically underserved neighborhoods. At the beginning of the project, teens conduct extensive research to identify neglected spaces that could benefit from beautification and place-making. Through interviews with key players in the community, as well as library and online research, the team investigates the space with an emphasis on history, community aspirations, and current challenges.

“For Color Squad, painting a mural isn’t just about creating a picture; it’s about community engagement, creating a shared space, discovering oneself and one’s city,” Torres explains. “We see in-depth research and connecting with the community as vital to the artistic process.”

Once the team has fully explored and understood the community, they design and construct a mural and a related public arts project. The project culminates with a public reception to celebrate the artwork, artists, and local community.

In May 2013, RSF Social Finance (RSF) gave a Seed Fund grant to Color Squad to provide 25 youth stipends for its first full year in operation. The intention of the Seed Fund is to support new initiatives with small, but catalytic grants. RSF received 160 applications for the 2013 cycle and Creative Action was one of eight organizations chosen to receive grant funding.

“Creative Action’s Color Squad stood out amongst other Education & the Arts applicants because of the community involvement component,” explains Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF.  “This project includes co-creation and celebration with the local neighborhood, which showed a high level of dedication and willingness to dig deeper into the true needs of their community.”

This past summer, Color Squad implemented their pilot program: creating signage for an East Austin food truck, Tony’s Jamaican Food. The Color Squad team partnered with neon artist and professional sign-maker Todd Sanders of Austin’s Roadhouse Relics. Sanders shared his professional expertise and taught the teens how to design and create their own signs. “The highly visible work has already been grabbing attention in the community,” says Torres, “and other business owners have been asking about our services.”

After the success of the pilot, Color Squad plans to implement two projects a year, engaging 30 youth each semester and providing guest lectures with 15 local artists, designers, and architects throughout the year. In the fall of 2013, they revitalized and restored the beloved “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural, an iconic landmark of South Austin. Color Squad again teamed up with Sanders, as well as the Bouldin Creek Community, to help return the mural to its original splendor.

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic 'Greetings From Austin' mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic ‘Greetings From Austin’ mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Next summer, Creative Action will get to work close to home. The non-profit will be relocating their headquarters to the Chestnut neighborhood of East Austin where an innovative redevelopment project is revitalizing this underserved region. This project is a collaborative partnership between a variety of organizations from both the for-profit and non-profit sector that have united to create a place rich with opportunities and resources.

To kick off their work in the neighborhood, Color Squad will be installing a community mural on Creative Action’s new building once complete. The mural will face the Metro rail so that it can be seen and enjoyed by commuters and visitors to the Chestnut neighborhood each day. Creative Action hopes to become a solid foundation for the community’s growth as a cohesive, innovative entity that welcomes and unites people of all ages and from all walks of life.

It’s clear that Creative Action’s Color Squad is making a mark on Austin’s art culture and local community. Their strategy of using the arts as a means for youth development and community engagement and revitalization offers a unique and innovative model for others.

“What is exciting about Color Squad is how the projects allow youth to create truly impactful art that actually changes public spaces,” voices Torres. “Through this process, we hope participating youth will be empowered as they discover how visual art can be bigger than just themselves, that their ideas and their work speaks to the whole community, and that they develop a greater sense of connection and purpose in their city.”

Megan Mendenhall is Communications Assistant at RSF Social Finance

Cultivating a Local Food System for Kansas City

January 17, 2014

by Meredith Storton

Kansas City, Kansas, like many urban areas in the United States, has its share of food deserts – low-income neighborhoods devoid of fresh, healthy foods; it also has its share of vacant land. Cultivate Kansas City, a local non-profit, is changing the landscape and engaging the entire community with a healthy, environmentally-sustainable venture: urban farming.

Founded in 2005, Cultivate Kansas City promotes urban farming as a way to build a healthy local food system. Along the way they have become advocates, educators, and activists supporting the production of organic, nutritious produce on the ground and in the policy space. One population that Cultivate is introducing to urban farming is the Kansas City refugee community. Responding to a demand for more community garden space for low-income refugee families, Cultivate partnered with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and three refugee organizations to begin the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and the New Roots for Refugees program. Since the program began in 2010, two gardens have been established: the Bhutanese Community Garden and the Somali Bantu Foundation garden. A third will be established in 2014.

cornFor each of these gardens, Cultivate provides the gardeners with training, basic seeds, and supplies. The gardeners receive their training at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, an eight-acre plot of land adjacent to a public housing site where many of the refugee families live, making the location both accessible and convenient. Once these gardens are fully developed, they will help up to 600 individuals living in poverty grow food for themselves and for sale at farmer’s markets. Further, these gardens allow refugees from Bhutan, Somalia, Burma, and elsewhere to grow vegetables from their home countries, like blue Burmese pumpkins, African corn, bitter melon, Hmong red cucumber, and more.

RSF was able to provide Cultivate Kansas City with a $3,000 grant through the Seed Fund to support their work establishing the second of these gardens for the Somali Bantu community. The Somali Bantu live in northeastern Kansas City where one grocery store serves a six-mile radius and one-third of the families earn less than $10,000 annually (ISED Solutions, Apr. 2010). In Somalia, the main occupation for Bantu people is farming, so urban farming seems to be an ideal way to help them assimilate into their new home while providing them with access to fresh, healthy produce.

The nearly one-acre plot of land that will be used for this garden was donated by the Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas, an organization dedicated to the resettlement and integration of Somali Bantu refugees. Upon first glance, the land did not appear ideal for farming; it was heavily sloped and filled with weeds and construction debris. Urban farmers make do with what’s available, though, and Cultivate Kansas City and Somali Bantu Foundation volunteers cleared the land, formed terraces, composted the soil, and planted cover crops. As a result of their efforts, a little over a half-acre is now ready for planting.

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Before the growing season begins, Cultivate Kansas City will help install two cisterns for the garden which will help them plan for water costs ahead of time (instead of connecting to the city water system directly). The plan is to plant the first vegetables in the spring, and the first harvest will be ready for enjoyment and sale at local farmers markets in the summer. To get their new gardeners ready, Cultivate Kansas City will offer workshops covering basic gardening, soil management, and planting for the region and season. They will also work with the gardeners to order seeds and supplies. The garden’s benefits will reach beyond the gardeners to their neighbors and families who will have access to fresh, healthy, culturally-appropriate, and affordable produce.

Cultivate Kansas City is doing some ground-breaking work –they’ve helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance to hundreds each year. But there’s still more to be done. As their Executive Director Katherine Kelly said, “there is food to be grown and money to be made and empty lots to be turned into assets rather than blight!” Cultivate Kansas City wants to grow a movement of people who know that they can reclaim the food system and their communities, and who know there is joy and power in the process. It seems they are off to a great start.

We’re now accepting applications for 2014 Seed Fund grantees! Learn more here

Meredith Storton is Client Development Associate at RSF Social Finance

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