The Robinson Center for Civic Leadership is the flagship program of Foundation For The Carolinas. Our collective alliance with generous donors and committed partners makes a transformative impact on our community.
Some of our current and past programs, initiatives and investments are highlighted below:
Arts and Culture
With local arts and culture nonprofits devastated by $50 million in lost revenues due to the effects of the pandemic, Foundation For The Carolinas was asked to lead a campaign to raise $18 million from the private sector to support Charlotte’s cultural community.
Thanks to generous private-sector donors, FFTC not only met the goal but exceeded it, raising $23 million in total. The City of Charlotte matched the original $18 million fundraising goal for a total of $41 million over three years.
Together, this pool of public and private dollars - called the Infusion Fund - will help revive and sustain local arts, science and history organizations.
To distribute these resources, a citizen-led grantmaking board was created with a mix of appointees by the City of Charlotte and the private-sector.
In 2013, the Charlotte City Council entrusted us with ownership of the 36,000-square-foot historic Carolina Theatre. We are renovating the long-vacant theatre into a unique civic gathering space that will serve as a venue for lectures, town hall meetings and other forms of community engagement.
To oversee the project, FFTC has formed an advisory committee, chaired by former Crescent Communities CEO Todd Mansfield. Construction is currently underway.
Past initiative: When a major social capital survey ranked Charlotte 39th out of 40 communities in the nation in levels of interracial trust, we engaged the community in a large-scale initiative to improve access, equity and inclusion in the region. Crossroads Charlotte, launched in 2004, was a collaborative civic project to remove barriers of mistrust and shape a positive future for tomorrow.
Crossroads Charlotte engaged corporate and civic leaders to examine four plausible scenarios of our city’s future, and craft deliberate steps that would steer the community toward better outcomes. In 2007, 15 participating organizations introduced specific civic projects to advance inclusion and equality.
We partnered with the City of Charlotte to make Charlotte a more entrepreneur-friendly city. In 2013, we underwrote a groundbreaking study to map the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region and develop recommendations to make the community more risk-tolerant and attractive to entrepreneurs. Our partnership continues with the City, which has established a $500,000 fund to advance entrepreneurship in Charlotte.
The plan is a joint initiative sponsored by the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and us to enhance our quality of life by improving how residents live, work and play. The International City/County Management Association serves as the lead consultant for the project, which began in late 2013.
Citizen working groups were formed to provide input on specific areas, such as the community atmosphere, healthy living, the economy and community life. We have played a direct role in the Livable Communities Oversight Committee, which has provided guidance to the consultants in developing a draft plan that incorporates community input. The final plan was presented to elected officials and the community in 2015.
We joined with Charlotte Center City Partners and more than 20 stakeholder groups in a public-private partnership to lead development of the North Tryon Vision Plan, which established a cohesive strategy to catalyze and guide revitalization of the North Tryon area of Uptown Charlotte. The plan aims to sustain growth and development of this prime location by attracting innovative businesses, drawing creative crowds, and offering education and diverse housing opportunities. The plan was formally adopted by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners in 2016.
Recent studies pinpoint low economic mobility for children in our region. The causes are highly complex but correlate strongly to racial and economic segregation in the community, family structure, social capital and K-12 school quality.
FFTC, the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County launched the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force to address the issues around economic opportunity in our region.
The Task Force developed a set of recommendations to broaden access to economic opportunity for all residents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which it released in March of 2017. We will continue to support the critically important work of the Task Force, now known as Leading on Opportunity.
In parallel, we will use economic opportunity as a lens through which we evaluate community needs in our competitive grantmaking programs.
Past initiative: We convened a Citizens’ Task Force in March 2005 to develop a strategy to improve the educational experience in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system and to address rapid growth expected over a 10-year period. The Task Force brought together civic and corporate leaders to make recommendations regarding management and governance structures for CMS. In December 2005, the Task Force released a report containing 21 specific recommendations, many of which were subsequently implemented.
In 2006, the Task Force completed its initial work and established an ongoing civic commission to support the continual improvement of CMS. MeckEd continues to serves as an advocate and a catalyst for quality and accountability in public school education.
Past initiative: We partnered with government, corporate and nonprofit partners to study root causes for underperformance in some of Charlotte’s most impoverished public schools. The result of that research, Project L.I.F.T., is focused on West Charlotte High School and its feeder schools, setting a goal of increasing the West Charlotte graduation rate from 56% to 90% over five years. The graduation rate had risen to 86% by 2016.
Project L.I.F.T. leveraged more than $55 million in private investments to close the digital divide, provide substantial investments toward in-school and out-of- school time learning, to attract and retain the most talented teachers, and to intervene on other destabilizing issues that adversely impacted attendance and performance.
Grade-level reading proficiency is a key indicator of academic success, with correlated long-term impacts in many other areas of critical importance. Children who are not reading at an age- appropriate level by third-grade also underperform in other academic areas and are four times more likely to ultimately drop out of school than their peers (six times more likely for poor children).
Read Charlotte is a collaborative, community-wide movement to double the percentage of third-grade students reading at grade level from the current 40% to 80% in 2025. It brings together local schools, the city, the county, corporate donors and individuals committed to addressing the root causes from birth forward, working together and investing only in programs that work.
Read Charlotte supports programs that develop language-rich and literature-rich environments that provide high-quality pre-school and kindergarten instruction to prepare students to succeed in school.
Through Read Charlotte, we are unequivocally committed to addressing the issue of child literacy and its acute impacts on both individuals and the community at large. This type of persistent problem, which crosses socio-economic and cultural boundaries, is the type of program where our convening influence has most impact.
A regional trail network that reaches 15 counties and more than 2.3 million people, the Carolina Thread Trail currently has more than 250 miles of trails and 100 miles of blueway open to the public. The Thread Trail emerged from a 2005 study to identify the region’s most pressing environmental requirements. More than $3 million in grants have been awarded to date, with 76 local governments collaborating. The trail strengthens the region and promotes economic development, education, better health and land conservation by connecting people, businesses and communities of diverse backgrounds and interests.
Past Initiative: TreesCharlotte seeks to increase the tree canopy coverage ratio in Charlotte to 50% by 2050. Achieving this goal calls for planting 500,000 trees over the coming decades. More than 19,500 trees have been planted and more than 9,000 residents and volunteers participated.
This program is expanding the Charlotte tree canopy, one tree and one community at a time. Trees provide many benefits to a city – delivering oxygen and removing greenhouse gases, cooling streets and the city, conserving energy, reducing runoff and soil erosion, and adding beauty to the city. They create spaces where diverse groups of people gather, and provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife.
This $20 million endowment is a public-private initiative addressing family homelessness in our community. Rather than investing the funds into brick and mortar, A Way Home provides much-needed housing subsidies and supportive services for homeless and at-risk families.
Through a competitive process, AWH selects agencies to work with families for up to two years. The program uses a scattered-site approach to place families in areas where affordable housing is more limited. This will also build social networks to increase the probability of long-term economic independence within 24 months – a key objective of the endowment.
The City of Charlotte committed $10 million toward the endowment, and the Foundation raised $16 million from the private sector. While the AWH endowment ramps up to housing 100 new families every year, FFTC joined with several faith-based partners and created a pilot to house 114 families with successful results.
Affordable housing is a critical component for fostering upward mobility and creating vibrant communities. Yet, Mecklenburg County currently faces a deficit of 34,000 affordable housing units, and nearly half of its residents are cost-burdened, which means housing costs exceed 30 percent of income.
In response to this housing crisis, the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund was created and seeded with a $5 million program-related investment from FFTC’s governing board. The fund is managed by Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
The privately financed mechanism to help build more affordable housing works in tandem with the City of Charlotte’s Housing Trust Fund, which is publicly financed.
A 2014 study ranked Charlotte last in economic mobility among America’s 50 largest cities. In response, the 2017 Leading On Opportunity Report was released as a roadmap to increased economic opportunity. It detailed determinants for mobility and made specific recommendations for addressing the issue. A key recommendation in the report was increased access to affordable housing.
According to U.S. Census Data, Charlotte’s 65 and older population is projected to almost double to 250,000 by 2030. As a result, we convened a diverse group of stakeholders from the city, county, nonprofit and private sectors to discuss the issue, and also partnered with Aldersgate to underwrite a study on improving quality of life for the aging population in the Shamrock Drive Corridor. The study found the areas of greatest need include caregiving services to aging parents, navigating the health care system, and food access and insecurity.
The study provides an opportunity to look at one area of Mecklenburg County as a potential “age hub” that could be scaled up elsewhere to move Charlotte toward becoming a World Health Organization Age-Friendly City/County. The goal is to change the conversation around aging and what Charlotte-Mecklenburg could look like as a community that values and supports the diverse needs and interests of older adults.
Billions of dollars in state and federal benefits go unclaimed, adversely impacting both the individual beneficiaries and the communities in which they live. Disadvantaged people in our community are often entitled to a wide range of federal or state benefits.
The Benefit Bank removes obstacles, enabling low and moderate-income individuals and families to access stabilizing benefits, bringing people closer to self- sufficiency. It simplifies and centralizes the process of applying for many state and federal benefits, providing expertise and screening free of charge to candidates. We partnered with the Benefit Bank of North Carolina to expand services in our region. The Benefit Bank has helped secure more than $48 million in benefits to date.
Past initiative: To address COVID-19’s impact on the community, the Foundation and United Way of Central Carolinas launched the COVID-19 Response Fund during the early days of the 2020 pandemic. This grantmaking program was designed to assist local nonprofits in aiding those affected by the pandemic and raised more than $20 million from corporations, foundations, individuals and local government. The fund distributed grants to more than 200 nonprofits, helping them deliver basic needs such as childcare, education, housing, food, emergency financial assistance, legal advocacy, health and mental health, workforce development and more. In addition to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg COVID-19 Response Fund, several of the Foundation’s regional affiliates created similar funds in their communities, distributing more than $1.5 million collectively in Cabarrus, Iredell, Union and York Counties.
Past initiative: As the nation entered economic recession in 2008, we reacted to growing need in the community by establishing the Critical Need Response Fund. From its inception in the midst of the crisis, the fund raised and distributed nearly $4 million to shelter, feed, clothe and keep warm our neighbors in need. Donations ranged from a $1 million challenge grant from our partners at The Leon Levine Foundation, to generous gifts from major area corporations, to gifts as small as $1 from individuals. A task force of community leaders helped raise and distribute the funds to 34 local nonprofit service providers that experienced dramatically increased demand during the economic crisis.
Every day, on average, three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner. In the United States, one in three women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in her life.
FFTC partnered with the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage to help fund grants that bring the most effective and innovative domestic violence prevention programs to our communities.
When the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force released its findings earlier this year, mental health issues were cited as a major barrier to opportunity.
Recognizing the challenges, particularly for children, we joined with Mitchell’s Fund and the FFTC-managed Children’s Medical Fund to sponsor a study to identify the key players, programs, funding and support available to address mental and behavioral health needs for Mecklenburg County children and youth. The project was driven by a growing concern among early educators, physicians, service providers, parents and others about the state of mental healthcare for Charlotte-Mecklenburg children.
The resulting report identifies major gaps in services and barriers to treatment, such as high insurance deductibles, long waiting lists, denied services and lack of trauma-certified clinicians and child psychologists.
To address these issues and more, the report recommends three strategies that include 16 implementation tactics:
- Prevention, including raising awareness about the importance of early brain development and providing more trauma training
- Increasing access to mental health services and support, including expanding school-based mental health and developing a provider clearinghouse; and
- Improving the quality of services and support, including creating a data warehouse and adopting a common assessment.
Next steps include convening key stakeholders to discuss the findings and recommendations, and to collaboratively create an implementation strategy.
Past initiative: In 2004, we partnered with the Lee Institute to convene government, corporate and nonprofit partners to establish service priorities for children in Mecklenburg County in three areas: health, safety and education.
The initial task force ordered 14 priorities that helped focus and guide grantmaking by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation (an affiliate of FFTC) for a number of years. The program also served as a springboard for other related programs serving children and youth.
Past initiative: The Workforce in Transition program evolved from a 2003 major plant closing in which more than 4,300 local employees in a dozen towns in Cabarrus and Rowan counties lost their jobs. In response to the sudden displacement of workers, we created a fund to assist nonprofits in providing humanitarian assistance. We also formed collaborative relationships between government, corporate and nonprofit sectors. The program eventually evolved to more broadly address employment challenges in our dynamic economy.
Established in 2011, Veterans Bridge Home helps returning veterans and their families successfully transition from the military to the civilian sector in Charlotte- Mecklenburg in response to a rapidly growing veteran population. We provided strategic planning assistance and resources to help launch VBH and to build a community network of support for veterans.
While Veterans Bridge Home provides a full array of direct or referral services, one of its top priorities is to improve employment opportunities for veterans. Its Alliance for Veterans Employment has attracted more than 75 businesses as members, who pledge to recruit and hire veterans and share tools and best practices to increase veteran employment opportunities.
Senior Vice President, Robinson Center for Civic Leadership