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Building community

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hope Haven, a transitional residential program for adults and families recovering from dependence on alcohol or other drugs, is upgrading and expanding its commercial kitchen that prepares 400 meals a day for residents while training them for food-service and catering jobs.

Child Care Resources, a child-care resource and referral agency, is providing professional development for its staff and developing better ways to mine its data to improve its programs and policy work.

Both Charlotte nonprofits are financing those efforts with grants from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which last year selected two nonprofits in each of 30 of the bank’s markets for a new initiative to strengthen neighborhoods.

“This is about trying to address real critical issues in communities, and trying to give nonprofits tools to address that in the most effective way possible,” says Andrew Plepler, foundation president.

In addition to two-year grants of $200,000 to each nonprofit, to be used to support overall operations, the chief executive and an emerging leader at all 30 nonprofits attend leadership-development sessions.

After operating support, succession planning is one of the biggest challenges facing nonprofits, Plepler says.

In each market, the foundation also names five “local heroes,” each of whom can pick a nonprofit to receive $5,000 from the foundation, and selects five student leaders who all receive a bank mentorship and a summer internship.

This summer, all five Charlotte-area interns will work at Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte.

The foundation, which invested $13 million last year in its Neighborhood Excellence initiative, this year is adding eight markets and investing another $17 million.

The unrestricted-grants program aims to “overcome the traditional funder-supplicant relationship, where funders write the checks and nonprofits have to jump through hoops to get money,” Plepler says.

Alice Harrison, president and CEO of Hope Haven, says the grant will let the organization undertake an overhaul of the kitchen it otherwise could not afford, and gives her a rare chance to get leadership training and share ideas with other nonprofit executives throughout the United States.

“There are very few opportunities for me to go to something with my peers from other communities,” she says.

Janet Singerman, president of Child Care Resources, says the neighborhood initiative addresses critical challenges facing nonprofits.

In a tight economy, funds to develop a nonprofit’s own staff tend to get cut sooner than funds to deliver services, she says.

“That means organizations may not have the wherewithal to invest in the continuing professional development of their staff,” she says.

What’s more, she says, the neighborhood initiative “encourages all of us to look at community-building from broader horizons than our specific frame of reference, and to think about how one builds community across sectors.”

The initiative also represents “too rare an effort” strengthen the operations of nonprofits, says Singerman, who will serve on the committee helping the foundation select Charlotte nonprofits, local heroes and student leaders for 2005. The deadline for submitting applications is June 30.

“The initiative strives to identify those organizations that can help build strong communities across the country,” she says, “and help them be better organizations.”

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