There are 5 jobs available for every unemployed veteran

VETERANS | The Post continues its excellent series on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today with an in-depth look at veteran unemployment. Unemployment among 25-34 year old veterans remains a couple percentage points higher than the general population, despite a remarkable number of major commitments from corporations to hire veterans:

Add up all the pledges, and they total more than 1 million jobs for a population of unemployed post-Sept. 11-era veterans that is estimated most months by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 210,000.

The math is overwhelming: There are now about five pledged jobs for every unemployed service member who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It also raises some questions:

If there really are more than 1 million jobs out there, why isn’t every Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran employed? Is there a problem with what the companies are doing? Might it have something to do with the veterans themselves?

Related: Veterans often encounter unique challenges when they start their first civilian job. Last year WRAG members interested in more effectively supporting veterans in our region met with an HR expert in military transitions to learn about the issue, and ways philanthropy can promote better hiring and on-boarding policies to ease these transitions. (Daily, Sept. 2013)

- Mayor Gray released his 2015 budget proposal this morning, and there are lots of spending proposals of note, including a cost-of-living bump for TANF recipients, $2 million toward programs focused on helping families avoid homelessness, and another $4.7 million toward homeless veterans. (WaPo, 4/3)

- Gray Excludes Funds For College Scholarship Program From 2015 Budget (WAMU, 4/3)

COMMUNITY | The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has announced a $30 million gift from Boeing that will support educational activities and exhibitions, including a major renovation of its main hall. (DCist, 4/3)

Loudoun County chooses Eric Williams as new schools superintendent (WaPo, 4/2)

- Maybe paying for good grades is not so bad, says the Post‘s Jay Mathews after the number of students taking AP exams in area schools significantly increased when students and teachers were paid for high scores. (WaPo, 3/30)

WORKFORCE | Md. minimum-wage bill clears key Senate hurdle; implementation would take until 2018 (WaPo, 4/3)

Via Ghosts of DC, here’s a kind of odd promo video for Washington from the 1930s. It’s 6 minutes of back-to-back terrible jokes, but the footage is pretty cool.

The (Almost) Daily WRAG will be back to being almost daily on Tuesday. 

- Rebekah


Muriel Bowser wins primary election that most people didn’t vote in

DISTRICT | If you’re just waking up, or crawling out from under a rock with no cell service, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser won the Democratic mayoral primary last night. The Post has some interesting graphics breaking down the results based on race and income that show the city is still starkly divided. Unfortunately (depending on your faith in the democratic process), only a small fraction of the 370,000 eligible voters actually voted. (WaPo, 4/1)

ENVIRONMENT | Residents of Ivy City, a neighborhood in northeast D.C., argue that they have long experienced environmental injustice, as the city uses the area to house buses, causing a disproportionate amount of air pollution (WAMU, 3/28):

A coalition of researchers from the University of Maryland, George Washington, Howard and Trinity universities has studied air quality in this neighborhood, and says the main culprit is something called PM 2.5.

PM 2.5 stands for “particulate matter” smaller than 2.5 micrometers in size, small enough to penetrate the deepest parts of human lungs. PM 2.5 is also the main ingredient of smog, and exhaust from diesel vehicles — trucks and buses — is a major source of the pollutant.

Sacoby Wilson teaches at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. He says over the years Ivy City has seen more than its fair share of heavy duty traffic and industry.

“They share a disproportionate burden of these facilities right now. They share a disproportionate burden of diesel vehicles right now. So from an environmental justice perspective, you see that this community — many [residents] are low-income, many are people of color — they’re disproportionately burdened by these hazards,” Wilson says.

Maryland officials have decided to replace their “troubled” (I’ve noticed this seems to be the media’s adjective of choice) health insurance exchange with Connecticut’s system, which is not troubled. (WaPo, 4/1)

- More than 7 million have enrolled under Affordable Care Act, White House says​ (WaPo, 4/1)

- Virginia Lawmakers Still Stuck On Medicaid Expansion (WAMU, 4/2)

SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS | Last week, WRAG member CEOs convened to learn more about social impact bonds and the potential they offer for moving significant amounts of capital toward hard-to-address issues. Tamara explains the argument for funders getting involved with these new forms of social finance. (Daily, 4/2)

- The Purple Line will better connect commuters with jobs in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, but local jurisdictions will need to prioritize maintaining the affordability of housing and small businesses close to the transit corridor. (GGW, 4/2)

- Prince George’s County officials have announced their intention to promote transit-oriented development around 5 metro stations in the county. (WaPo, 3/31)

POVERTY | Women’s Wages Are Rising: Why Are So Many Families Getting Poorer? (Atlantic, 4/1)

As with throwing boiling water in the air during a polar vortex, just because reporters repeatedly bang a bottle of wine against the wall to drive Internet traffic to their site doesn’t mean you should try it too.

- Rebekah

Social Impact Bonds: Partnering with government to go beyond dollars

By Tamara Copeland, President

If you’ve been following WRAG for awhile, you know our mantra about effective philanthropy: it goes “beyond dollars.” That is, philanthropy lives up to its potential for impact when it leverages all of its resources. One way that funders do this is by taking risks. Another is by forging innovative cross-sector partnerships. Social impact bonds are a vehicle through which funders are embracing both of these roles to go beyond dollars with their philanthropy.

For the uninitiated, a bit of a primer: “Social impact bonds” aren’t bonds at all. They’re contracts between government, service providers, an intermediary, and one or more investors – such as philanthropy. The premise is that, in instances where a social problem is both deeply entrenched and expensive to address, the government can save taxpayer dollars by having an investor finance a social service that is typically paid for by the government. If the service is effectively rendered and the problem is remediated, the investor receives a financial return and the government saves the funds that would have otherwise been spent on the service.

According to Dave Abbott, executive director of the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland, social impact bonds present an opportunity for philanthropy to go beyond dollars. He was in D.C. last week to speak with WRAG CEOs about why the Gund Foundation is part of a major effort to provide services to homeless mothers and their children in Cuyahoga County, specifically mothers whose children are already in foster care or on the brink of going into county custody.

According to Abbott, philanthropy should take a leadership role with implementing social impact bonds because:

  • Philanthropy has the ability to take risks that government on its own cannot;
  • Philanthropy has a broad range of assets that can be invested beyond grants;
  • By showing their own commitment, foundations can leverage funds from new and different funders, including the business community. (For instance, when the Bloomberg Foundation invested in a partnership with New York City to prevent recidivism, Goldman Sachs invested too);
  • Philanthropy can help to improve government effectiveness through the heightened accountability inherent in the performance contract; and
  • Government-philanthropy partnerships have more potential for success thanks to their bipartisan political appeal.

The Gund Foundation has already invested $350,000 in the due diligence necessary for a project that started in 2011 and will launch in early 2015, an investment that Abbott is proud of. He feels that the anticipated $1 million - $10 million savings that might accrue to Cuyahoga County if the county isn’t housing these families in homeless shelters or providing foster care services for the children will be well worth the $5 million - $6 million foundation investment. And, as WRAG participant Terri Copeland of PNC Bank pointed out, the projected ROI doesn’t come close to capturing the financial and societal benefits of having intact families that have the supports necessary to have a real future.

Joining Dave Abbott was Eric Goulet, Budget Director for Mayor Gray. The District is actively considering the social impact bond model for addressing a number of issues, including, teen pregnancy prevention, early childhood health, felony re-entry, high school completion, aging in place, and chronic homelessness. To learn more about the District’s efforts, contact Jennifer Stoff, Special Advisor for Social Innovation, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Budget and Finance.

To learn more about social impact bonds, check out the publication, A New Tool for Scaling Impact: How Social Impact Bonds Can Mobilize Private Capital to Advance Social Good.

An effort to reduce pregnancies among Hispanic teens in Montgomery County

YOUTH | While the overall teen pregnancy rate has been declining, there remains a significant disparity between Hispanics and other groups, an issue that one local nonprofit has been working to address in Montgomery County (WaPo, 3/29):

Even as the Latino birthrate has fallen in Montgomery over the past two decades, it remains more than 2.5 times higher than the rate for the county’s black girls in that age group and more than three times the rate for white girls.


Since 1996, the earliest year in which Montgomery officials have published data, the great disparity between birthrates for Latino and white teenagers has hardly changed. Meanwhile, the gap between black teenagers and Latino teenagers has increased. This has perplexed local officials at a time when teen pregnancy rates in the nation are plummeting and the gaps between all races and ethnic groups continue to shrink.

For advocates, the disparity has come to symbolize the socioeconomic gulf between Latinos, largely a population of new immigrants, and more established populations in one of the country’s most affluent counties.

COMMUNITY | Today the Citi Foundation announced the launch of Pathways to Progress, a three-year, $50 million initiative in 10 cities, including D.C., to provide career training to 100,000 low-income youth. (Citi, 3/31). More information on the initiative is available here.

VETERANS | The Post commissioned a wide-ranging survey of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a must-read for those interested in issues affecting veterans and their families. The quick take-away from the intro: “More than half of the 2.6 million Americans dispatched to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service, feel disconnected from civilian life and believe the government is failing to meet the needs of this generation’s veterans.” (WaPo, 3/29)

Related: WRAG members have been convening regularly over the past year to look at ways philanthropy can better support veterans and their families in our region. Last year, they learned about challenges some veterans encounter when transitioning to the civilian workforce, and today (literally, right this minute) they are examining the potential of scaling up a successful program in Montgomery County for the entire region.

- Housing advocates see great potential for affordable housing options in Ward 8, particularly as developers begin to re-hab the area’s “abandominiums” – condos and apartments that have been left empty. (WAMU, 3/28)

- How your housing affects your health (WaPo, 3/26)

EDUCATION/WORKFORCE | In his latest column, Robert McCartney argues that recent changes to the GED exam, put in place to meet higher demands of employers, are making the exam far more difficult to pass during a time when unemployment for those without high school diplomas is so high. (WaPo, 3/29)

REGION | The population of the Greater Washington region continued to grow last year, due primarily to the availability of jobs. (WaPo, 3/28) As Stephen Fuller explains in the article, “very few people flock to D.C. to enjoy the weather.”

HEALTHCARE | Maryland gears up for health exchange redo (WaPo, 3/30)

ARTS/PHILANTHROPY | S&R Foundation provides Washington Ballet with live music, affects city’s music scene (WaPo, 3/28)

CSR | Breaking Down The Benefits Of In-Kind Giving — And The Regulations Around It (Forbes, 3/30)

Related: On Thursday and Friday last week, WRAG and Johns Hopkins University hosted the second session of the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility. Check out the speaker-line up and photos from the session. From the pictures, it looks like a fun and jammed-packed two days. We’ll begin taking applications for the 2015 class early this summer. More information here.

You know how in some circles the first thing people ask you is “what do you do?” That drives me crazy. Here’s a cool video that gives an overview of all of the obnoxious ways people form quick judgments about new acquaintances all over the country.

- Rebekah

Celebrating a special milestone at the Washington AIDS Partnership

This year marks Channing Wickham’s 20th anniversary with the Washington AIDS Partnership. It is always important to recognize such a milestone, but in this case it is especially important. Channing hasn’t just been doing this work for 20 years, he’s been making a difference. It is our pleasure to thank Channing for all that he has done and to showcase what others have to share about his impact.

Channing’s visionary and strategic leadership has changed the lives of thousands of people living with HIV and the nonprofits that serve them. By creating the HIV Report Card and the outstanding AmeriCorps program, and providing deep support to nonprofits as approaches to care have changed, he has made an enormous difference. Channing is the hero of this compelling collaboration, and as the Partnership’s founder, the Meyer Foundation and I are profoundly grateful!
- Julie L. Rogers, President and CEO, the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

DC Appleseed has been working closely with Channing since 2003, when he first approached us with the idea that we investigate why DC was leading the nation in the incidence of HIV/AIDS cases and recommend specific steps for addressing the crisis. This led to the issuance of DC Appleseed’s major report on the issue in August 2005, and also to our annual report cards on the subject – the eighth of which we issued last November. This work has helped transform and dramatically improve the city’s response to the epidemic. None of this would have happened without Channing’s leadership, commitment, and support. Not only was it his idea that we do this work, but the work could not have been accomplished without his continuous advice and guidance.
- Walter Smith, Executive Director, DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Inc.

One of the many memorable moments with Channing that stands out was the day I handed him a check for $5.8 million, the largest check I’ve ever held, to secure the AIDS Drug Assistance Pipeline, one of our most innovative collaborations between the Washington AIDS Partnership and the DC Department of Health. This project saved millions of dollars that would otherwise have been returned to the federal government and ensured that thousands of District residents living with HIV would continue to receive their medications. It would not have been possible without Channing’s vision and commitment. We’ve continued our partnership with the DC Female Condom Project, which received more than $1 million in foundation funding for women’s health and HIV prevention; Positive Pathways, a Social Innovation Fund national demonstration; and our continuing efforts to help community providers in the District build capacity and grow in the new health care landscape. I cannot imagine the progress we’ve made in the city on HIV without Channing. He has made and continues to make an invaluable and enduring contribution to the District’s response to HIV. On a personal note, I treasure his insight and inspiration, our idea brainstorming lunches, and our friendship. Congratulations, Channing, on 20 extraordinary years!
- Michael Kharfen, Senior Deputy Director, D.C. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD & TB Administration

Channing has been a partner to AIDS United for decades. From the early days of the National Community AIDS Partnership to the evolution to the National AIDS Fund to the merger that is now AIDS United, Channing has been a true partner in this work to this organization and our team. Whether it be through AmeriCorps, Access to Care, or Community Restructuring, partnering with WAP has been critical to our success. As new initiatives were developed and new alliances formed, the Washington AIDS Partnership has always been among the first we call for development and execution. This is, in no small part, due to Channing’s leadership. Channing has been a leader in the field and a friend to this organization for the past two decades. We’re in it to end it—and, with Channing as a leader and partner in this work, we will.
- Vignetta Charles, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, AIDS United

Thank YOU Channing for your long standing commitment to the issue of women and girls affected by HIV. You provided our very first real investment grant: it came at a time when we felt like no one was hearing our cries for support or even cared that we were part of this epidemic. Your love, support, and investment sent a clear message that someone cared and it opened the door for other funders to follow suit. Thank YOU.
- Pat Nalls, Founder/Executive Director, The Women’s Collective

In a city flooded with professional do-gooders, returned Peace Corps volunteers, AmeriCorps members, a record number of interns, and a general population of aware and concerned citizens, it’s not easy to feel like you are contributing to something legendary or one-of-a-kind. Those who work with Channing Wickham as part of the Washington AIDS Partnership AmeriCorps team have no choice but to hold their head high. For 18 years, Channing has led groups of 10+ young people in one of the most memorable years of service in their lives. Personally, I know that the mentorship I gained from Channing gave me the confidence to take my life across the country in pursuit of an advanced degree. Yet his own spirit, energy, support, compassion, consideration, friendship, and professionalism is what drew me back to DC and eventually work at one of the agencies where he places AmeriCorps members. I will do whatever it takes to stay within two degrees of Channing Wickham, as it’s pretty obvious that his “touch” goes a long way to making a program successful, fulfilling, and, often, possible.
- Brittany Walsh, Washington AIDS Partnership 2008-2009 AmeriCorps Team Alum

Over the years, I have seen how passionately Channing leads the work of the Washington AIDS Partnership. He is committed to addressing the problem in our region, to mentoring and inspiring the AmeriCorps volunteers, to forging critical partnerships and to working with local philanthropy to maximize impact. Congratulations, Channing on 20 meaningful years.
- Tamara Copeland, President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Channing Wickham is one of the most effective executives I know. It has been a pleasure and a huge learning experience for me to work with him over the past 20 years. The effort to overcome and eventually eliminate HIV has been long and sometimes discouraging. Yet Channing has stuck with it. His optimism, opportunism, and hard work have ensured that the Washington AIDS Partnership has remained in the forefront of the work, regionally and nationally. I look forward to seeing it through – with Channing at the helm.
- Wilton C. Corkern, Jr., Chair, Washington AIDS Partnership Steering Committee and a Trustee of the Corina Higginson Trust

The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Board of Directors, the Washington AIDS Partnership’s Steering Committee, and the WRAG and WAP staff congratulate Channing on his longstanding service and commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Thousands still trying to enroll in health insurance in Maryland

HEALTHCARE | Maryland health centers are thronged with people trying to enroll in health insurance before the March 31 deadline. Many people are being told to come back another day because the locations lack the capacity to meet demand (WaPo, 3/27):

Navigators at the center spend much of their time explaining the complicated basics of health insurance. Although the sign-up deadline is well publicized, there is confusion about nearly everything else. Several of those waiting for help Tuesday and Wednesday said they had no idea what sort of insurance they wanted, for example, or how much it might cost.

“We want them to make a very informed decision,” said [Lesly] Martinez, the program manager. “They’ve never had insurance before, so we have to explain: ‘What is a co-pay? What is a deductible?’ ”

The center sees a high number of immigrants, some of whom speak limited English. Although Maryland had hoped to launch a Spanish-language version of its exchange, that never happened.

WASHINGTON AIDS PARTNERSHIP | Today we’re celebrating Channing Wickham‘s 20th year leading the Washington AIDS Partnership. Twenty years is a major milestone, and a number of partners, supporters, and others who have been involved with the AIDS Partnership over the years shared their thoughts with us about Channing. (Daily, 3/27)

COMMUNITY | This morning WRAG member and partner organization, the Association of Small Foundations, pulled back the curtain on their new name and brand: Exponent Philanthropy. Congratulations!

Related: Foundation Group Expands to Reach More Donors (Chronicle, 3/27)

- Yesterday DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson and Donald Graham, trustee of the Philip L. Graham Fund, were on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” to discuss the progress DCPS has made over the last few years. (MSNBC, 3/26)

- The traditional public Alice Deal Middle School, where students have a plethora of extra-curricular activities to choose from, and the charter school DC Prep, which focuses singly on academics, offer two different models for successful middle schools. (WAMU, 3/27)

- Charter school advocates rank Maryland among the worst states in the country in terms of laws favorable for charter schools. (WaPo, 3/23)

HOMELESSNESS | Coucilmembers Urge Gray to Continue Sheltering Homeless Families As Temperatures Rise (CP, 3/26)

LOCAL | Consultants: Columbia Pike streetcar would bring more money, growth than bus transit (WaPo, 3/26)

Ever wondered what it would be like to skydive off of a skyscraper? (Well, I have, at least.)

The (Almost) Daily WRAG will be back on Monday. Have a great weekend!

- Rebekah

Montgomery County schools working to reduce racial disparities in suspensions

- While the rate of suspensions in Montgomery County schools is declining, African American and Hispanic students are still being suspended at higher rates than their white peers, an issue that officials are trying to address (Gazette, 3/26):

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said that as the school system addresses the issue of suspensions, it must support students and counter the effects of other institutions.

“It requires perhaps more than just an equity lens,” he said. “In some ways, it actually requires an anti-racist lens.”

Starr said reducing suspensions does not mean excusing behavior; turning away from suspensions might mean more work for school staff.

- To prevent teen pregnancy, provide opportunities for young people (Elevation DC, 3/25)

HEALTH | Data lovers: today is the equivalent of your gift-receiving-holiday of choice – the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released their 2014 County Health Rankings. The rankings provide county level data on a number of public health indicators, as well as data on social and economic determinants of health, like housing, transportation, access to exercise opportunities, and more. (RWJF, 3/26)

You can spend a lot of time looking at the stats on our region. Here’s are some interesting nuggets:

District of Columbia: Only 8% of the population is uninsured, placing the city in the top 90th percentile of jurisdictions nationwide.
Prince George’s County:  57% of workers commute in their car alone for over 30 minutes.
Montgomery County: Ranks first in overall health outcomes in the state of Maryland.
Arlington County: 14% of the population face “severe housing problems.”

COMMUNITY WEALTH BUILDING | The New York Times has a great write up on worker co-ops around the country – such as the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland –  which are widely viewed as an effective business model for ensuring economic equality. (NY Times, 3/25)

Related: This model is currently being examined by the Community Wealth Building Initiative, which is laying the groundwork to launch employee-owned businesses anchored in low-income communities in our region. One of the potential businesses would be focused on green stormwater management, which we recently wrote about. For more information about the initiative, check out these Frequently Asked Questions.

HOUSING/AGING | In an effort to prevent seniors from being priced out of their homes, Mayor Gray signed a bill exempting low- and middle-income residents over the age of 70 from paying property taxes, if they have owned their home for at least 20 years. (DCist, 3/25)

- The Obama administration is extending the deadline to enroll in a health care plan through the federal insurance marketplace for individuals who start the enrollment process before March 31. (WaPo, 3/26)

- Which is good news, since apparently: Most People Don’t Know The Health Insurance Deadline Looms (NPR, 3/26)

FOOD | Montgomery council, advocates push for healthy school foods (Gazette, 3/26)

BUDGET | New Ward 8 hospital will be floated in upcoming Vincent Gray budget proposal (WaPo, 3/24)

EVENT | Funders are invited to a special briefing on Venture Philanthropy Partners‘ Social Innovation Fund youthCONNECT initiative on May 12. More information is available here.

One important set of indicators that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation failed to include in their health rankings: relative preparedness for the zombie apocalypse. Be aware that things do not bode well for our region.

- Rebekah

You need to work 137 hours a week on minimum wage to afford rent in D.C.

HOUSING | Another day, another study that shows that housing in the Greater Washington region is really, really (really) not affordable. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

Renters in the District of Columbia need to work 137 hours per week at the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour to afford a Fair Market Rent of $1,469.

Renters in Maryland need to work 138 hours per week at a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to afford a Fair Market Rent of $1,297.

Renters in Virginia need to work 115 hours per week at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to afford a Fair Market Rent of $1,088.

On the bright side, when D.C.’s minimum wage rises to $11.50 an hour, workers will only need to work a leisurely 98 hours a week to pay their rent. (WAMU, 3/24)

- The Gray administration has been ordered by a D.C. Superior Court judge to immediately stop sheltering homeless families in rec centers on freezing nights. (WaPo, 3/24)

- There are over 4,000 homeless students attending D.C. schools – a number that has increased 60 percent over the last five years. (WAMU, 3/20)

Related: Late last year we published What Funders Need to Know: Educational Outcomes and the Relationship to Housing, which looked at the impact of housing affordability, or lack thereof, on educational achievement.

ARTS | WRAG member Ken Grossinger, chair of the CrossCurrents Foundation, recently penned an article for Grantmakers in the Arts’ Reader on an innovative public art project in Baltimore that used street art to draw attention to negligent landlords and pushed the city to raze dilapidated buildings that were blighting low-income neighborhoods. Today, we’ve re-published the article on the Daily. (Daily, 3/25)

Related for arts funders: The Arts & Humanities Working Group, which aims to increase awareness among philanthropy of our region’s vibrant nonprofit arts sector and how the arts can positively impact other issue areas – including social justice and community development – is meeting on April 24. More information is available here.

COMMUNITY | Get to know Nicky Goren, the next president of the Meyer Foundation. (WBJ, 3/20)

EDUCATION | As the expiration date of D.C.’s No Child Left Behind waiver approaches, the U.S. Department of Education has issued a new report criticizing the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for its lack of progress toward improving the city’s lowest-performing schools (WaPo, 3/24):

[OSSE] has faltered in pressing for improvements in the District’s lowest-performing schools, arguably the most important aim of the original No Child Left Behind law. Those schools were supposed to develop plans for improvement in seven key areas, from leadership and staffing to curriculum, family engagement and school culture. The OSSE promised to monitor those efforts and to report annually on the schools’ progress.

The OSSE has not done that, according to the federal report issued last week that outlined several other problems at the agency, including a failure to direct federal Title I funds to the appropriate schools and to include required data on school report cards.

FOOD | Yesterday, WRAG’s Lindsay Smith, consultant for the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership, testified before the D.C. Council on the need for more coordination of D.C.’s food policy. You can read her testimony here.

Related: Better coordination of food policy is especially important as there are many food-related initiatives happening around the region, as well as a growing number of funders who are investing in the area of food. To help educate local philanthropy on the food system, earlier this month we released What Funders Need to Know: The Food System.

VETERANS | Some Grant Makers Get Savvier About Aid to War Veterans (Chronicle, 3/23)

Related for WRAG members: Funders in our region are identifying ways to better serve veterans and military families locally. WRAG members are invited to join us for a brown bag lunch discussion next Monday on the topic. More information is available here.

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of one emotionally overwrought Saturday detention, when a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel, and a recluse talked a lot about their feelings in one of my favorite 80s movies.

- Rebekah

Street Art Gives Voice to the Community on Low-Income Housing

The following article was written by Ken Grossinger, chair of the CrossCurrents Foundation and a member of WRAG’s Arts & Humanities Working Group. The article was first published in the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, Vol 25. No 1, Winter 2014. Reprinted by permission.

We wanted to share the article with our readers because it demonstrates the power of the arts to effect social change.

WRAG members: The next meeting of the Arts & Humanities Working Group is April 24. More information here.

Wall Hunters — a public arts project — is playing a catalytic role in shaping the urban Baltimore landscape. Young muralists are creating popular street art with a message. Joined at the hip with a savvy housing organizer and a website that packs a wallop, the Wall Hunters Slumlord Project generated enough political heat in 2013 that it led to the demolition of dilapidated vacant homes in the city’s grittiest neighborhoods. This project may have helped speed up the city’s commitment to addressing some of the worst urban blight in America. Art is shaping urban design.

Street art has seen a resurgence of practitioners since Banksy became a household name. Banksy’s work won acclaim in the UK for its sharp social commentary. Originally vilified as a pariah and sought by the police (he remains elusive), Banksy gave popular expression to societal grievances. His street art caught fire throughout the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as most recently during a one-month residency in New York City. A meteoric breakout of public art followed on Banksy’s heels, including Shepard Fairey’s now well-known Obama poster that helped nurture activism for the president’s election in 2008. In 2011, gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, then director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, curated a show of street artists from around the world that drew record attendance to the museum. And when Trayvon Martin was killed, Nether, a street artist in Baltimore, stenciled onto the side of a run-down building the image of an empty hoodie with a Skittles packet, which became ubiquitous throughout the George Zimmerman trial. The blank black space where the face should have been evoked both the tragic loss of this young man and the unseeing eye of prejudice that sees blackness before it does the humanity of a person. It was in this context, at the intersection of art and social justice, that Nether’s next idea — using public art to draw attention to Baltimore’s vacant neighborhood buildings — took hold.

Baltimore is among the few East Coast cities where entire city blocks upon blocks of homes sit vacant and uninhabitable, often putting residents who live next to these structures at risk for serious public health and safety hazards. The official city count of blighted buildings puts the number at 16,000, although the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University put the number above 40,000. (The discrepancy may be explained by the method the city uses to count buildings: it relies on vacant building notices.)

Nether reached out to internationally known street artists, asking them if they would work with him to wheatpaste or paint murals on the walls of these vacant buildings — one in each of Baltimore’s fourteen city council districts — so that people would take notice. He wanted to draw attention to the vacant buildings and petition the city for a remedy. Fifteen street artists participated from as far away as Venezuela, although most artists came from a half-dozen cities across the United States.

The murals are strong and catch the eye instantly. On some of these desolate streets they are the only things that really stand out. But it is not just the imagery and colorful art that capture public attention. At the bottom of each mural Nether has pasted a QR (Quick Response) code that, when scanned, takes the reader to In turn, this website identifies the building owners by name, and provides their contact information along with the names of the elected officials in whose districts the buildings sit.

The research for the website was done by Carol Ott, a housing advocate who talked to neighborhood residents and scoured public records to identify the slumlords. The website contains no explicit message, but a call to action is implied. And the website has fast become well known. In its first two months it received 50,000 hits. The landlords began to roar, and the city and artists began responding.

Each of the murals depicts narratives about housing and slumlords, Baltimore and dreams, those of the artists and the community. The first mural to go up was of a large purple, black, and gold raven. The Raven is the Baltimore football’s team mascot, and perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the name of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, formerly a Baltimore resident.

In the mural the Raven is building a nest — wood slats gripped in its claws, caution tape hanging from its beak. It symbolizes a determination to rebuild from rubble. Nether tells the story of how he found the mural’s QR code ripped down several days after it went up. And after replacing the QR code, demolition signs quickly followed. Within two weeks the building was demolished!

The headline of a local blog’s story about the project read: “Art aimed to Shame”and an ABC 2 News headline read: “Illegal street art calls out owners of Baltimore’s vacant properties.”

Community residents who were interviewed for news stories about the demolition lamented that these properties needed to be torn down. They argued that the former homes could have been renovated had the landlords or city taken action years earlier, before or even shortly after the buildings were condemned. But their eventual deterioration left the structures too shaky to rehabilitate. Moreover, these “vacants” created problems related to the structural integrity of adjacent properties.

Political tension surrounding the Wall Hunters project heightened with the creation of a mural by a street artist known as Gaia. He described his mural as depicting the “crown of King Tut with the visage replaced by a cotton field. . . . A normal suburban home with eagle wings floats above the words Exodus in Hebrew and English. Rather than vilify an individual who could fairly be labeled a slumlord, this piece visualizes the connection between the Jewish and African American experience with migration.”

The Baltimore Sun, the city’s primary daily newspaper, then reported that the alleged landlord (as revealed through the QR code) of that building denied he owned it. Moreover, the landlord’s spokesman accused the street artist of using anti-Semitic images to perpetuate the idea that Jews were slumlords who oppress African Americans.

Gaia and the Slumlord Project immediately challenged the denial of ownership, and described the landlord’s attack as politically motivated — designed to detract attention from his responsibilities for the building. According to Wall Hunters, this particular landlord was well known, having been cited for maintaining 500 lead-paint-contaminated houses in their inventory.

Importantly, the weekly City Paper also challenged the landlord’s claim by running a comprehensive story detailing their own independent research that may put to rest any assertion by the landlord that the properties were not in his control.

The public press attention served Wall Hunters well. It compelled the city to respond, not to the details of the interaction between the rival papers but rather to the overarching housing problem and the city’s failure to deal with the thousands of uninhabitable buildings that line city blocks.

Combining art with old-fashioned shoe leather organizing, the Slumlord Project then distributed flyers asking residents to report on dangerous properties in their community. And with each new mural that went up, more press ensued.

Shortly after the dustup involving the artist Gaia, the community, the landlord, and the press, a new Baltimore Sun headline appeared: “City to raze hundreds of vacant houses in stepped-up plan.” The article reported that the city had increased its $2.5 million demolition budget to $22 million to “tear down 1,500 abandoned houses.”

This was just the beginning. In two months Wall Hunters had achieved much with their first project. Their work led directly to the demolition of two crumbling buildings, and it appeared to substantially influence the city’s decision to raze many more. They built alliances with community residents to identify homes in need of renovation that could become the basis for future collaboration. Indeed, one community resident, Shawnee, began to introduce the Wall Hunters to her neighbors and was mobilizing them to file complaints about their surrounding buildings.

Wall Hunters bridges a historic gap between community organizers working on an issue and artists working separately in the same space. These two groupings have more often than not worked on parallel tracks rather than together. There is nothing inherently wrong with that except in situations where one group could maximize its impact if it were joined with the other.

Bringing activists and artists together is no small feat. Visual artists in general tend to be less conventional in their approach to issue work. Organizations, on the other hand, are usually more hidebound and tied to tried-and-true methods. They are limited by tight IRS constraints on their activities and pay particular attention to conforming to a set of rules that govern their work. That has sometimes led to these organizations becoming frustrated with many artists who by their nature tend to be nonconformist. On the other hand, visual artists tend to be frustrated with organizations that rarely think outside the box.

Through their practice Wall Hunters is succeeding in bridging the art world with both the organizing community and with residents. These street artists work collaboratively with a housing advocate and their community partners to achieve their goals. It is particularly interesting to note that Nether, a twenty-something male, liberal street artist, and Carol Ott, a midforties Republican who created the Slumlord Watch website and does the research for it, are the driving forces behind this unique collaboration. Their unlikely alliance forged over their common interest has helped shape its work.

Social media are also proving to be effective ways for Wall Hunters to accomplish its goals. The QR code and website are critical tools for pressuring the city and landlords to take action. With more than 50,000 initial hits to the Slumlord Project website, Wall Hunters was able to deepen the engagement of a large number of people who otherwise would have seen the murals but would have had no other immediate mechanism to look further. Even this minimal amount of activity generated by the murals — scanning the QR Code — works because the pressure on slumlords and the city to address the issues associated with those properties grows greater with each person who sees the names of the building owners. And even without any organized campaign to lobby elected officials in those districts, these pols feel the heat by being associated with the targeted properties.

Nether recently incorporated Wall Hunters into a 501(c)(3) organization so that he can continue to bring together artists and activists working on social justice issues.

The next phase of the Wall Hunters project is a documentary that Tarek Turkey and Julia Pitch are producing about their work. The documentary brings viewers into direct dialogue with community residents in the neighborhoods where the artists made the murals. It features interviews with the artists, housing advocate Carol Ott, Wall Hunters founder Nether, academics, and public officials. This penetrating short film will enable viewers to see Baltimore’s neighborhoods through the eyes of the camera and by doing so virtually catapults them into the story. To see their trailer go to!film/c1l27.

Nicky Goren named next Meyer Foundation president and CEO

Major news for the region’s philanthropic and nonprofit community this morning. The Meyer Foundation announced that Nicky Goren, current president of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, has been appointed Meyer’s next president and CEO, effective July 1.

In a statement, Nicky said:

My time at Washington Area Women’s Foundation has helped me understand the significant challenges facing economically vulnerable families in our region and the organizations and systems that support them,” says Goren. “It has also convinced me of the vital role philanthropy can play in bringing together partners and collaborators across all sectors to create social change. I am honored to have been asked to lead an institution I have long admired, and am committed to maintaining Meyer’s leadership role in the community.

We at WRAG are thrilled by the appointment. Upon hearing the announcement, WRAG’s president Tamara Copeland said:

I was thrilled to learn that Nicky has been named to lead the Meyer Foundation. I have always been impressed by her commitment to the region and by her work on behalf of the economically disadvantaged. I look forward to continuing to work with Nicky as a member of the WRAG community.

Congratulations to Nicky and to the Meyer Foundation!

- Unemployment among veterans has trended higher than the rate among civilians. Among the reasons for this are widely-held stereotypes about post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the difficulty of translating military duties into marketable civilian skills (Marketplace, 3/20):

Companies love to hang yellow ribbons and run ads about supporting America’s veterans. But veterans say they aren’t always as quick to hire them because civilian managers don’t understand how to evaluate military experience.

“The hardest part for me when I first got out of the military was figuring out what to write on a resume,” says Marine veteran Michael Wersan, who served in Iraq as an infantry assaultman. “Nobody cares that I did 700 patrols in seven months. That doesn’t compute for a civilian.”

Related: Last year, WRAG members met with Emily King, an HR expert who focuses on military transitions. She talked about some of the challenges veterans face at new civilian jobs, and how philanthropy can best support returning veterans. (Daily, Sept. 2013)

- There seems to be a consensus that improving mental health services for veterans should be a major priority in Virginia, but there’s no agreement on how best to do that. (WAMU, 3/20)

- City Paper profiles several veterans attending college in D.C., whose military experiences set them apart from typical college freshmen. (CP, 3/20)

- Related for WRAG members: A group of funders have been meeting regularly at WRAG to look at issues facing veterans and military families in our region. The next meeting is coming up on March 31. More information is available here.

- A study commissioned by the Maryland State Arts Council found that arts districts throughout the state drove significant economic benefits to their communities, by creating about 5,100 jobs. (WTOP, 3/20)

- A Fairfax County high school has received a grant from the Grammy Foundation to support a music program for students with emotional disabilities. (WaPo, 3/20)

Related event for funders: The next Arts & Humanities Working Group meeting for arts funders is on April 24.  The meeting will focus on the challenges and opportunities facing local arts nonprofits. More information available here.

PHILANTHROPY | David Rubinstein’s $7.5 million gift to support repairs to the Washington Monument may be part of a trend among major philanthropists to step in when government funding isn’t available. (Marketplace, 3/19)

Related: During last year’s government shutdown, Tamara wrote about why philanthropy cannot replace government. (Daily, Oct. 2013)

- Review finds serious test-taking violations in four D.C. schools (WaPo, 3/20)

- Parents, students praise D.C. TAG in effort to shore up congressional support (WaPo, 3/20)

- Here are the things that testing data can’t tell you about student achievement. (GGE, 3/19)

How long can you stare at an anomalous motion illusion before you fall out of your chair?

The (Almost) Daily WRAG will be back on Tuesday, which, rumor has it, could be a snow(y) day. On that note, happy Spring!



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