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Social Venture Partners growing

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Supporting teachers at East Mecklenburg High School is the focus of an initiative funded by a foundation the school created to raise funds to match a $500,000 challenge grant.

And identifying new strategies to address the community’s needs for affordable housing was the focus of a Feb. 22 forum at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Investing in both efforts, and playing a leading role in development of the housing forum, has been Social Venture Partners Charlotte, one of 24 affiliates of Seattle-based Social Venture Partners International that recruit donors to pool their money, time and know-how to support local causes.

Formed in late 2005, SVP Charlotte has recruited 24 couples, each agreeing to invest $5,000 a year for at least two years.

The group selects priority areas in which it wants to invest, and forms committees to study needs in each area and recommend initiatives to fund.

In its first year, SVP Charlotte selected public education and affordable housing as its priorities and, based on recommendations of its research committees, opted to invest in the teacher-support program at East Meck and the Housing Charlotte 2007 forum.

The teacher initiative grew out of the challenge grant to the school by Bob Silver, a 1973 alumnus and former Wall Street banker.

To secure the $500,000 it needed to meet the match, the school created the East Mecklenburg High School Foundation, which so far has raised $250,000.

Silver, along with Mark Nixon, the school’s principal, and Frank Reed, a SVP Charlotte partner and a retired real estate developer with Core Properties, developed the All Star Teacher Initiative, or ASTI, which hopes to get $200,000 a year over five years from the foundation.

SVP Charlotte decided to invest $25,000 to the foundation to support ASTI, and expects to invest another $25,000 in the next school year.

“Our goal is to help them create a how-to manual, and take that to other places and help other schools get this off the ground,” says Will Miller, executive director of SVP Charlotte.

Some SVP Charlotte partners are lending their time and expertise to ASTI, with Reed serving as board chair.

Joanne Beam, an SVP Charlotte partner and founding partner of Capstone Development Partners, is helping East Meck’s foundation form an alumni development effort, while SVP Charlotte partner Denise Pineno, a project manager with Topics Education, serves on ASTI’s grants committee.

SVP Charlotte decided to help develop the housing forum to “seed the clouds” for affordable-housing ideas, Miller says.

In addition to investing $10,000 in the forum, SVP Charlotte has found a public-private rental-assistance program in Toronto it hopes can serve as a model for a similar program in Charlotte.

SVP Charlotte, which aims this year to recruit 20 more couples, also has selected health care as a third priority, and its education and housing committees are looking for new projects in which to invest.

And this month, it hosted a conference that featured the top executives of SVP International and SVP Seattle, along with the newest affiliates to join the SVP network.

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