Woonsocket, NRI communities won $2.5 million in grants from RI Foundation last year
Connecting for Children and Families, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and New Beginnings are among the local nonprofits that received funding
WOONSOCKET, RI – Woonsocket alone received $1.4 million of the $2.5 million in grants the Rhode Island Foundation made to Blackstone Valley nonprofits in 2022, helping push the organization to the second-best year of grant-making in its 107-year history.
The Foundation announced awarding nearly $84 million statewide last year, which trailed only the $87 million awarded in 2020. The Foundation also raised more than $75 million in gifts in 2022.
"In addition to our focus on core initiatives, our aid brought relief to people who are coping with hunger, surging housing prices and the behavioral health crisis as they struggle to recover from the pandemic," said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “We are grateful for our passionate and committed donors and the nonprofit organizations that deliver a wide range of services to our diverse community.”
The local groups that won grants include Connecting for Children and Families, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and New Beginnings in Woonsocket; the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry in Cumberland, the Milagros Project in Manville the Burrillville Land Trust and the Austin T. Levy School Parent and Teachers Association in Burrillville.
The Woonsocket Health Equity Zone received $250,000 to launch the “Child Friendly Woonsocket” initiative. The work is led by the Health Equity Zone Steering Committee, which is comprised of residents and dozens of local organizations, including Thundermist Health, the Woonsocket Head Start Child Development Association and the WATCH (Woonsocket Alliance to Champion Hope) Coalition.
“We’re talking about creating and nurturing places where trusting relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect, where cultural sensitivity and humility exist between residents of all ages, where children and youth live in safe, nurturing homes within families and communities that support healthy development,” said Susan Jacobsen, senior director of health equity initiatives for Thundermist Health.
The Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry used its grant to purchase food and supplies. The all-volunteer organization helps about 1,500 people a month through twice-monthly, drive-through food distribution events in the parking lot of its facility on Angell Road.
"Our numbers have increased so dramatically over the past two years that we've gone to two distributions a month. The need is so great. Many of our guests come to us twice a month," said Bob Chaput, co-executive director. "The funding comes at crucial time. We're concerned that the first jump in heat and electric bills will push more people over the edge. It would not surprise me if our numbers grow."
Many of the grants that the Foundation awarded in 2022 aligned with its three strategic priorities: educational success, healthy lives and economic security. Nonprofits doing work in a wide variety of sectors, such as arts and culture, basic human needs, the environment and housing also received funding.
“Working with committed nonprofit partners and key community stakeholders, including elected officials and state officials, our support and leadership help reduce achievement gaps in education, address health disparities across all populations and promote real opportunity for economic security for all Rhode Islanders,” said Steinberg.
At the end of 2022, the Foundation had total assets of approximately $1.3 billion, which ranks the organization among the nation’s 20 largest community foundations. In a year when the S&P was down 18.1 percent, the Foundation’s endowment return was only down 10.6 percent, which ranked in the top quartile of foundations and endowments nationwide. The Foundation’s long-term returns are often in the top decile, with a 20-year annualized return of 8.1 percent.
The Foundation also continued its grant-making in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including partnering with the state to distribute a total allocation of $20 million in federal America Rescue Plan Act funding with $13.9 million having been committed through February.
The Foundation launched its second very successful Equity Leadership Initiative class. The leadership development program is designed to build a pipeline of future leaders of color for positions of influence throughout the state. In addition, the Foundation offered $2 million in grants to address structural racism through its new Racial Equity and Social Justice Program.
“Correcting the root causes of inequity and addressing disparities are two of our foundational principles, and for years have been central to our work. They are values that are at the core of our decisions about how to allocate discretionary funding and civic leadership resources across all our work,” said Steinberg.
In addition to grant-making and fundraising, community leadership is central to the Foundation’s work. In 2022, the Foundation raised $854,761 for its Civic Leadership Fund. This annual fund enables the Foundation to go beyond traditional grant-making to meet emerging opportunities and challenges, and to engage Rhode Islanders in civic and civil dialogue.
“Our Civic Leadership initiatives recognize that progress requires flexibility, innovation and the capacity to respond to key issues of the day. It enables us to take on challenges like addressing the housing shortage, supporting the growth of small businesses in communities of color and jump-starting the life sciences sector,” said Steinberg.
The announcement comes as Steinberg is about to complete his 15-year tenure at the helm of the Foundation. The Foundation’s board of directors selected David N. Cicilline to succeed him as president and CEO after a thorough national search that included significant community input and generated an impressive pool of diverse candidates. Cicilline will begin his service to the Foundation on June 1.