Leading ACTor: Frank and Betty Wright Foundation
In the fall of 2020, the Frank and Betty Wright Foundation and ACT for Alexandria (ACT) partnered together to assemble a network of youth program providers to coordinate the urgent educational, enrichment and health needs of Alexandria’s low-income youth. This initial effort has expanded into a multi-year, multi-faceted initiative that will have a far-reaching impact on the educational, social and emotional and career-readiness outcomes for Alexandria’s children and youth.
The Frank and Betty Wright Foundation is an Alexandria-based foundation with a philanthropic focus on children’s literacy. The origins of the Foundation started in 1979 when Frank and Betty Wright created The Wright to Read Program through the Campagna Center to “give the gift of literacy” to Alexandria’s children. Wright to Read recruits, trains, and supports volunteer tutors and mentors who work with elementary school students on reading.
The Foundation’s connection with ACT for Alexandria began when Director Jim Epstein and Strategic Advisor Kara Blankner joined the Early Care and Education Workgroup (ECEW), a five-year initiative that created an early care and education system in Alexandria that coordinated, aligned and ultimately strengthened the network of nonprofits and government entities that help pre-school children (0-5) thrive. Their relationship with ACT deepened during the pandemic, when the Foundation supported the outreach efforts of the Alexandria Resilience Fund. Thanks to community support and federal CARES Act funds provided by the City, ACT granted more than $5.76M to 131 community organizations to address the emergency needs of our neighbors. Twenty thousand Alexandrians benefited from the programs and services fueled by these grants.
Kara Blankner shares, “We really wanted to get a sense for where the true needs were during the pandemic, because we were new. We had an opportunity to put money into the community, in response to COVID, and we wanted to make sure that we were doing it in the most informed and impactful way. We were already aware of ACT’s reputation in the region as an important philanthropic partner, and ACT has proven to be a real source of intelligence on the ground. ACT already had built an infrastructure to get funding out the door with the best balance between ease and efficiency for grantees while also ensuring the money was going to be spent with maximized impact. As a funder, we felt confident that this was a really great investment and that proper supports were in place for fiduciary and fiscal responsibility.”
Jim Epstein adds, “We realized we had a pretty extraordinary opportunity to have an influence beyond the specifics of our mission. ACT for Alexandria was the principal vehicle for providing financial support to all kinds of organizations across Alexandria in addressing the issues that arose because of the pandemic. This really cemented our relationship with ACT at a time when we were also identifying an organization to run the Youth Support Network.”
Jim Epstein is optimistic about the Foundation’s next funding priority with the Youth Support Network: “As we investigated available educational supports for youth in Alexandria, we found that different organizations are doing similar kinds of work. Alexandria has so many resources, but they are all operating – to some degree – in silos. There is a great need to coordinate their efforts. The vision really is to create an educational safety net so that every single child in the city of Alexandria can thrive by stitching together the big players like the Alexandria public school system, Parks and Recreation and the Campagna Center with the wide variety of smaller but still vital out-of-school time providers.”
Kara Blankner adds, “We saw firsthand how the investment of the Bruhn-Morris Family Foundation in the Early Care and Education Workgroup connected the dots between the many players to create an organic infrastructure and fluid network for early childhood education. We know that there are many players in the out-of-school time space that have been working to coordinate efforts, but have been lacking the funding to get the backbone support that really is critical to these kinds of networks getting off the ground. We want to establish trust and build rapport among this really effective group of stakeholders who have been operating in the space for a long time, doing really great things for children and their families. The Youth Support Network is critical so that every child can have meaningful, enriching experiences and safe places to go so parents can work and not have to be worried.”
The Frank and Betty Wright Foundation also has a goal of eventually bringing in additional funders to invest in youth-focused issues in Alexandria. The creation of this affinity funders group will be necessary to create a sustainable, effective and efficient ecosystem for youth support over the long term.
Jim Epstein concludes, “We are grateful for ACT’s active leadership and help in providing the oversight and infrastructure for all of this work. ACT brings an expertise of knowing where the needs really are and helps point us in the right directions for impactful ways to invest our grant dollars.”