What Funders Want to Know- The St. Louis Children’s Initiative

This past Monday, over 65 community leaders came together at Vashon High School in North St. Louis to get an update from the St. Louis Children’s Initiative planning team.  For those of you who don’t know, the St. Louis Children’s Initiative submitted an application to the US Department of Education for a Promise Neighborhood Grant and placed 26 of 339 applications.  While the application was not among the 21 awarded, the group continued to work and is now ready to produce a competitive application and obtain an implementation grant in the next round of funding.

At the meeting, the implementation team presented the program model and described the process for selecting partners to be included in the next federal Promise Neighborhoods application. The planning team gave a great presentation but left many funders in the room wondering about the role of funders in this project.  Rod Jones and  Vernice Hicks-Prophet, both of Grace Hill Settlement House, agreed to answer some questions from St. Louis area funders and their responses are below.

What Funders Want to Know

  1. We understand that $30 million in funding for a second round of Promise Neighborhoods grants will be available soon for planning and implementation grants and that the St. Louis Children’s Initiative plans to apply for some of this money.  Is the government requiring local funders to match the money received if St. Louis gets this award?  If so, do those matches need to be included in the initial application?
    Yes, there will be at least a 50% match and it has to be included in the initial application.  Last year, the successful applicants had upward of 150% of their request.  We are applying for $1,000,000 and would like to have $1,000,000 cash match.
  2. Assuming St. Louis does get the initial $500K planning grant, is there any guarantee that we will receive implementation grants down the road from the Department of Education?
    St Louis has the option to apply for a maximum of $500,000 for planning or $1,000,000 for implementation.  Given our intelligence, we believe that our project is substantially ahead of those that were funded.  Our intention is to apply for the $1,000,000 implementation grant if we meet the eligibility criteria.  To qualify we must have the business plan complete and the executed MOUs with provider agencies that assure we have the total cash and in-kind resources to support reaching the objectives.  However, upon seeing the federal regulation, it might be necessary for our team to apply for the $500,000 planning grant that would allow for piloting certain components of the program and phasing in other components as we move ahead.
  3. You presented a $4.8 million budget for the initiative that includes core funding and funding for the Promise Centers.  How much of that money could potentially come from the Department of Education and how much are you planning to raise from local/national funders?
    The most that could come from Department Of Education is $1,000,000. We are looking to raise the $1,000,000 in cash from the local community as evidence of community commitment and the balance from partner in-kind (services). It is our belief that many dollars already exist in the form of services, programs and other supports. Our hope is that, if we are awarded a federal Promise Neighborhoods planning or implementation grant, we will have the leverage to move some of these dollars. Until we get the responses from the RFP, we don’t know how many high quality providers are willing to commit themselves and their resources to this vital kind of systems realignment. Obviously the funding community plays a huge role in this process because they control many of the dollars that are supporting the service providers in St. Louis.  Beyond direct cash, funders can encourage agencies they fund to support the work in the targeted schools and realign how services are delivered, results are tracked, and decisions are made.  This will be critical.
  4. The Children’s Initiative has done a great job of getting local funders to your planning meetings and keeping them involved in the project at every step of the way. How do you plan to keep local funders engaged as the project moves forward and how do you plan to convert their interest in this initiative to dollars for this initiative?
    This is an excellent question. As Johanna stated in the meeting, we are moving into the next phase of the Promise Neighborhoods planning work. In the next phase, it will not just be Grace Hill, St. Louis Public Schools, and Urban Strategies at the table. Through the RFP process we will have a team of high quality service providers who will make up our pipeline of services and supports. This team will work together to keep the local funders engaged in our process. We will continue to meet with the funders and other stakeholders in the City on a regular basis and our meetings of the partner organizations will certainly be opened to any funder who has committed to funding some piece of this work. There are several opportunities for funders to participate in governance and to provide guidance at an operational level.  The best practice literature related to widespread community change produced by researchers like Chapin Hall suggests that the ongoing and on the ground partnerships between funders and lead organizations are critical to the success of this effort.
  5. If you could share one piece of information about this project with St. Louis area grant makers what would it be?
    This effort is an opportunity to strategically realign existing resources to the end of documentable long-term and enduring change that has implication for the ability of St Louis and the US to be competitive in the global marketplace.  The St. Louis Children’s Initiative Promise Neighborhoods is focused on three things:
      1. Creating high quality services and support for children ages 0-23
      2. In order to sustain high quality services and supports for children, we will focus on using existing resources to deliver resources in a more effective and efficient way like they are doing at the Harlem Children’s Zone and STRIVE and raising new funds to ensure that the pipeline is seamless and that all service provider have the resources necessary to reach the critical penetration rate.
      3. The St. Louis Children’s initiative will be open and transparent with its results.

About the Initiative
The St. Louis Children’s Initiative is a partnership between community organizations, schools and neighbors in North St. Louis dedicated to improving the quality of life for resident children and their families through a cradle-to-career pipeline Promise Neighborhood initiative.

The St. Louis Children’s Initiative was formed in 2009 by a group of non-profit providers, foundations, elected officials, government and quasi-government officials and organizations, and private citizens convened by the Incarnate Word Foundation. The group convened to discuss the possibility of developing a placed-based initiative modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone that would improve life options for children.

After selecting Grace Hill Settlement House as the lead agency and Urban Strategies as the technical assistance provider, The Children’s Initiative selected the 63106 and 63107 zip codes as the target geographic area because of existing leadership and community development momentum in the communities there. Although the main priority of the group was to develop a federally-funded Promise Neighborhoods Initiative in a targeted geographic area, the overall goals of the Children’s Initiative are broader.

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