Tell us about your economic opportunity funding portfolio.
The mission of the Sisters of Charity Foundation is to address the needs of the poor and underserved statewide – in all 46 South Carolina counties – and to strategically use resources to reduce poverty through action, advocacy, and leadership. South Carolina has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, and grantmaking is one way we work to help South Carolinians live out of poverty. The Foundation was established 20 years ago as a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System, and since our inception we have funded over 2500 grants to 1900 organizations, totaling more than $60 million. We look at this work broadly. We fund in the areas of education, health, and social services, but economic opportunity intersects with almost every grant and initiative at the Foundation.
A good example of an economic opportunity grantee is Metanoia, a community development corporation in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood in North Charleston, a neighborhood that has struggled with high unemployment and limited opportunity. Metanoia is a community-based effort focused on building capacity. Housing, economic development, and leadership development initiatives have grown out of the goals identified by neighborhood residents. It’s a movement that is building and energizing a community through resources and assets that are rooted in and already exist in the community.
We also engage in a model of catalytic philanthropy, which leverages our dollars as well as our relationships and knowledge to lay the groundwork for systemic social change. We’ve worked in Greenville, for example, to provide ongoing funding for affordable housing initiatives and served in a convening role for multiple stakeholders, furthering cross-sector collaboration that led to shared solutions.
Why does your foundation support EITC-related work?
When you think about poverty in South Carolina, you have to take into account that there are many individuals who are unemployed as well underemployed or undertrained. We want to do our part through funding and advocacy to further more employment opportunities, higher wage opportunities, and to contribute to a higher skilled workforce. We are supporting efforts throughout the state, as are others, to support workforce development. We know that the income supplement of the EITC increases workforce participation and allows families to pay for transportation, childcare, and other basic expenses they need to be able to work.
In addition, we know that when you support parents, you are also supporting children. The EITC has been shown to mitigate the effect of intergenerational poverty. There is movement in South Carolina around early childhood strategies, which includes making sure that parents have what they need to take care of their families.
What type of EITC-related work does the Foundation support?
South Carolina does not currently have a state refundable EITC, but we are funding a grant in partnership with the United Way, The Children’s Trust and the Institute for Child Success to research ways a refundable state EITC would improve child outcomes and workforce development in our state.
We are also uniquely positioned as a statewide funder. Many other funders in South Carolina have limited geographic reach. As a statewide funder, we are able to develop and engage strong alliances with government agencies, legislators, statewide funding partners, nonprofit leaders and other important stakeholders. This enables us, in addition to our grantmaking, to lift up issues in public policy and be a voice on issues like this.
What other initiatives have grown out of the foundation’s work on economic opportunity?
In addition to investing in organizations that address poverty, the Foundation has started its own initiatives to tackle some of the largest visible challenges in the state. Most recently, in 2014, the Foundation launched the Immigrant Families Initiative. Our state ranked second in the nation in immigrant growth and immigrants have a huge economic impact on our state. Yet a large number of immigrants and their families live in poverty. The Initiative is dedicated to enhancing family well-being through funding the work of such organizations as PASOs, Student Action with Farmworkers, and Lutheran Services Carolinas, as well as developing strategic partnerships, and supporting efforts to build an inclusive, welcoming environment for immigrants and their children in our state.
Another initiative grew out of a grant awarded to Helping and Lending Outreach Support (HALOS) in 2007, which brought the Foundation’s attention to the unmet need of kinship families. In South Carolina, there are over 50,000 grandparents with primary responsibility for their grandchildren. Many of these caregivers live in poverty while also providing care. In 2012, we held a listening session with HALOS to learn from kin caregivers across the state. The stories of lacking sufficient financial and support services of kin caregivers across South Carolina led to the establishment of a Kinship Care Initiative in 2014. We are proactive on this issue through grantmaking and strategic partnerships with organizations that work to increase the stability and livelihood of kinship families.
Our longest running initiative was started in 1997 with a mission to reduce poverty through father engagement. Almost 20 years later, we are seeing a tremendous return on investment. The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families has grown into a stand-alone initiative with a presence in every county, either through direct service or referral. Ongoing investment and strategic partnerships have allowed this program to grow and meet the needs of thousands of families by helping to improve the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of fathers and subsequently that of their children.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
There are opportunities for other funders to embrace the work of bringing a state refundable tax credit to South Carolina. Many funders are geographically constrained but given the chance to learn more about this statewide policy and the value add of the credits, South Carolina funders could be engaged on this issue that is linked to not only economic security, but health, education, and child wellbeing.