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Community Foundation launches $1.5 million grant fund to address opportunity disparity

Nonprofit leaders from throughout the Twin Ports huddled at Teatro Zuccone on Wednesday morning to learn about an ambitious effort to narrow a yawning opportunity gap among area children."What we're really talking about is our generational differ...

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Nonprofit leaders from throughout the Twin Ports huddled at Teatro Zuccone on Wednesday morning to learn about an ambitious effort to narrow a yawning opportunity gap among area children.
“What we’re really talking about is our generational differences, where 30 or 40 years ago there wasn’t much of a distinction on outcomes for low-income kids and kids living in higher-income families,” said Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.
However, that’s not the case today, she said.
“For kids in higher-income households, their outcomes have gotten better and better over the last 30 to 40 years. But for kids in low-income households, their outcomes are getting worse and worse over the last 30 to 40 years,” Sampson said.
The Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation aims to address that disparity with the launch of a $1.5 million Opportunity Gap Initiative Fund. That money, from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, will be used to offer grants to partner organizations working to help financially disadvantaged families find pathways to a brighter future.
Sampson noted that 23 percent of children in Duluth and 31 percent of children in Superior are living in poverty.
“We think those numbers aren’t OK,” she said.
Sampson contrasted the Twin Ports’ elevated local child poverty rates with statewide child poverty rates of 14 percent in Minnesota and 18 percent in Wisconsin.
In all, she said an estimated 5,500 children in the Twin Ports experience poverty on a daily basis.
Jim Zastrow, a retired banker who served as chairman of the foundation’s Opportunity Gap Convening Committee, said an assessment of the local scene revealed that people of color were disproportionately poor.
Henry Banks, a radio show host and community activist, called for at least one-quarter of the funds to go “directly to African-American and Native American communities that have organizations in Duluth that are run by members of our communities, because what we find is that typically those folks who say they’re representing us within organizations in Duluth don’t look like us. I don’t want to be a naysayer here, but I just want to make it very clear that our communities are struggling, and we need some of these dollars, too.”
Sampson thanked Banks for his comment and said: “We are deeply concerned about that, and it was clearly part of our findings.”
She went on to say the foundation plans to directly involve community members and assured Banks that successful grant applications will need to measure up.
“Are people of color and people who are living in poverty directly engaged in the design, the execution and the evaluation of these programs? That’s a very important piece,” Sampson said.
Zastrow said that through a series of listening sessions conducted over the past three months, he and other committee members reached out to the very communities they seek to serve.
“We listened to the children, the kids, and we also listened to the parents during these listening sessions out in the community. They didn’t come to us. We went to them to hear their stories, which were very powerful,” Zastrow said.
“Youth and families are experiencing significant trauma, which affects their opportunities for positive outcomes,” he said.
Zastrow identified several fronts where low-income families could use some help.
“Families lack resources and support systems, including transportation … child care, out-of-school programming, education, housing, health care, job training, financial stability and mental health services,” he said.
Lee Stuart, executive director of CHUM, praised the foundation for its efforts but advised that the initiative proceed with realistic expectations.
“The opportunity gap has taken generations to form, and $1.5 million is not going to close it,” she said.
Sampson agreed that poverty is a deep-seeded problem.
“This is very much a long-term effort,” she said. “We’re starting with a three-year initiative, but we want to secure additional resources to really work over a five- and 10-year period.”
Keri Cavitt, director of community philanthropy for the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, said most grants will likely be offered in the range of $100,000 to $300,000, but she said larger awards could perhaps be provided, depending on the scope and duration of a project, up to a maximum three-year commitment.
The foundation will host a workshop to provide more information on the grant program from 3-4:45 p.m. Monday at the Zeitgeist Arts Building, 222 E. Superior St., Duluth. Eligible grant applicants must be governmental entities or nonprofits registered as 501(c)3 or 170(c)1 organizations.
Applicants must submit a letter of intent by April 4. Those letters will be reviewed, and those rated best will be encouraged to submit a full grant application due by May 2. Sampson said the foundation hopes to release any approved grant money by July.
“So often as we think about ‘our kids;’ we think about our sons and our daughters. We really want to change that in this community,” Sampson said. “We want the community to feel a collective sense of responsibility for all the kids across our community.”

For more information, visit dsacommunityfoundation.com

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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