Harvest shifts grant focus

July 1, 2007

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

The nearly $2 million in grants announced last week by The Harvest Foundation represents a shift in the focus of the organization's grant-making process, said Executive Director Rich Killingsworth.

Instead of funding grants "in isolation," Harvest is trying to fund organizations and projects that together will make Henry County and Martinsville a better place to live, Killingsworth said.

"That's the challenge in philanthropy," he said. "You begin building a portfolio of grants that achieves a vision."

For Killingsworth and Harvest's board of directors, that vision is one of a thriving area that meets the needs of residents of all ages.

"We want to be in a setting that allows us to live here, work here, be educated here, because all the services are provided here," he said. "Now, as you know, we have to leave to do a lot of our stuff outside of the county. I don't see why we should have to do that."

As economic development officials have noted in the past, one of the area's challenges is a so-called "brain drain": Because they don't see jobs and things to do in the area, many young people move elsewhere to go to college and start their careers.

Killingsworth wants to change that. He believes that for the local economy to thrive, Henry County and Martinsville must become a place where people want to live and work. And many of those "people" are young.

With its recent round of grants, Harvest is working to fund projects that "address this generational gap and serve the needs of our youth" as well as older residents, he said.

Entertainment and culture are large parts of those needs, and grants such as those given last week to Piedmont Arts Association ($263,000) and the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association ($89,250) will support events and programs designed to be fun and culturally enriching, Killingsworth said.

"I think it's critical to point out that what we're trying to build is a nucleus of activity that brings people into a very special place. ... I think (uptown) should be able to respond to the needs of the entire the county if we have the programming in place to complement that."

Health, welfare and education also are important needs, and the grants to the Fieldale Community Center ($28,000) and last week's largest grant, a $1.56 million initiative designed to stimulate bicycling, walking and a transportation infrastructure that is built around people rather than automobiles, are designed to begin addressing those needs, he said.

Of last week's grants, the initiative probably goes the furthest toward representing Harvest's new vision. Rather than a single program or organization, the initiative will involve multiple groups working together to change the way people think about what the community should be.

"We're now educating about the values of things: art, entertainment, the value of our built environment (roads, buildings, etc.)," Killingsworth said. " ... It's a powerful statement that we're making."

Old ways of looking at transportation infrastructure and the architecture of community centers tended to focus on a single use, such as driving from point A to point B, he said. Today, the thinking is that structures should serve multiple purposes.

A bike trail, for example, is transportation, recreation and fun, all wrapped into one. It can affect a person's health and well being, not just how he or she gets from one place to another.

"We can no longer look at a road as just a road or a building as just a building," Killingsworth said. "We need to look at how it serves the place that it is in."

The initiative will bring together comprehensive road and street planning, with a focus on bicycle and pedestrian friendly areas. It will encourage students to walk to school and will teach safe bicycle skills to children and adults.

It also will include evaluation by two organizations — the University of North Carolina and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to assess the initiative's strengths and weaknesses and determine how it might be emulated by other communities.

Evaluation will not be limited to the initiative, Killingsworth said. Going forward, all of Harvest's grantees will complete surveys, participate in follow-up interviews and make their experiences, good and bad, more open to the community.

Some of their stories will be told on Harvest's Web site and in its annual report, which is expected this fall.

Harvest, which is committed to making Henry County and Martinsville a "community of choice," makes grants designed to improve the health, welfare and education of the area's residents. It manages $200 million in assets from the 2002 sale of Memorial Health Systems in Martinsville.


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