Harvest preparing to take its story into community

February 24, 2013

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Harvest Foundation is preparing to take its story on the road.

It is the story of the first 10 years and $78 million it has invested in the health, education and vitality of Henry County and Martinsville. It is a story that Harvest President Allyson Rothrock wants people to hear — and then she wants to listen to their feedback.

“People assume we’re not going to talk to them,” she said in a recent interview. But “I’ve never not talked to anyone. We accept every invitation.”

Harvest is a private foundation that was created with more than $163 million in proceeds from the sale of Memorial Hospital in Martinsville in 2002. It invests those funds and uses the earnings from the investments to award grants to improve the community.

It is not funded with any taxpayer money, so its board meetings and funding decisions are closed to the public.

Rothrock said the foundation needs to be more proactive in talking to people about what it does and why.

To do that, Rothrock, the Harvest staff and board members will start speaking at churches, civic group meetings and other venues, probably in March, she said.

The presentations will include a Powerpoint presentation that is being developed now. Rothrock calls it a “photographic journey … lots of photographs tell the story of what has happened in the first 10 years.”

Rothrock told of speaking recently at Mount Sinai Apostle Church. Mostly, she said, she listened to the comments of the dozen or so people present.

“It was very informative. Then I go back and make connections with what is going on in the community,” she said. “From our standpoint, there are huge resources here. We don’t need to recreate (them). We need to connect people with what’s here.”

Improving communication is one of Rothrock’s two goals for 2013. The other is fine-tuning the outcomes and impacts of Harvest grants so residents and grant applicants “will understand what we’re looking for,” she said.

Rothrock expects that to be ready for the grantee summit Sept. 26.

In its 2010-11 annual report, Harvest had $185 million in assets, which allowed the foundation to spend $7 million to $10 million a year on grants, Rothrock said when that report came out last summer.

Wednesday, she said the foundation has awarded $78 million in grants since 2002.

While the grants cover health and community vitality, education is the common theme in its funding and mission. One key part of that is Harvest’s commitment to the New College Institute, which enables students to complete bachelor’s degrees and obtain some master’s degrees here through state universities.

Rothrock said efforts by NCI, Patrick Henry Community College, the public school systems and local industries are focusing on closing the skills gap between what employees are trained for and what employers need.

A model is being created to target what she said is a “fairly large group” of young people who are capable of pursuing higher education but it is not in their family culture, Rothrock said.

The model involves enrolling those young people in the Academy for Engineering and Technology at NCI at the same time they are dually enrolled at PHCC, taking classes geared to specific jobs in the area, she said. If they then get those jobs, they would continue to pursue higher education while working, she added.

“Industry may say (to employees), ‘If you continue and get a degree, there is an opportunity for higher pay,’” Rothrock said. “It is creating opportunities for people who otherwise might not have them.”

This is not just a school effort, she said. It involves getting parents on board so they will encourage their children to advance and talking with industries about their needs, she said.

“We bring everyone together for a common goal,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is communicating that. ... It doesn’t just happen” without students, parents, educators and industry buying in to the idea.

Rothrock believes this could be a national model.

“Everybody’s got the problem (skills gap). We’re creating something together no one has seen before,” she added.

She praised the local leaders in education — former Sen. William Wampler at NCI, PHCC President Angeline Godwin, Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton and Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath.

“In education, we’ve got a real opportunity to do things that are cutting edge. They’re doing this — they’re talking to industry, and industry is willing to talk to them,” she said. “It’s a new world.”

That is not Harvest’s only focus. Among its other areas of work now are:

• Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. “All hands on deck” are working to resolve the permitting impasse that is holding up grading at the industrial park, Rothrock said. The Army Corps of Engineers has refused to grant the permit because the park has no committed industry.

“We are in discussions with everyone in the political world, all the partners ... trying to move the project forward,” she added.

• Pick Up the Pace! (PUP) grants. Harvest has awarded six of its 10 planned PUP grants, and more are expected soon. The foundation will consider another round of the grants when the results of the first projects are in, probably this summer, Rothrock said.

These grants, up to $10,000 each, are for projects that can be done within 90 days and benefit the community.

The grants already have accomplished one of Harvest’s original goals with the program, Rothrock said. “It addresses those organizations which felt they didn’t have a voice or opportunity to speak to us about a project,” she said. “Many of the people applying are with organizations we’ve never heard from.”

Also, she said she thinks the grants will show that a project does not necessarily have to be big to have a significant impact.

• Health Connect. This initiative is up and running through the Martinsville Henry County Coalition on Health and Wellness. It is located at the West Piedmont Business Development Center and looking for a storefront location, Rothrock said.

It provides a one-stop shop for people needing health care services in the community, and can do referrals when needed, she said.

• Smith River Sports Complex. The complex, which Harvest paid to build and is helping fund now, is about 60 percent self-sufficient, Rothrock said. It has hired Lloyd Barber as a development director to raise funds, and is looking for activities that can be held there 12 months a year, she added.

In all, Rothrock said she sees the foundation’s work as a puzzle, one she lies awake at night trying to put together.

“There are lots of great things going on in isolation but it’s figuring out how to connect it all” to have a greater impact, she said.

To do that, Harvest’s role has evolved into a facilitator that brings people together, she said.

“What is everybody doing? What’s the plan? Where do we (Harvest) fall in this? ... Somebody has got to pull it together and I don’t know who would do it if not us,” Rothrock added.


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