Forty Years of Dreamers and Doers

Cleveland, as a city, was picking itself up and dusting itself off when Foundation Center Midwest opened its doors in 1977. Now, 40 years later, Foundation Center Midwest and its supporters paused to take a moment to acknowledge the power of the region and Foundation Center’s part in bringing the philanthropic community together by serving as a trusted source of data, a convener, and a capacity builder throughout 13 states.

Community members, nonprofit leaders, and foundation executives joined Foundation Center Midwest in Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes Auditorium to commemorate Foundation Center Midwest’s 40th anniversary. On hand to help mark the celebration was Floyd Mills, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Council on Foundations.

“An investment in Foundation Center is an investment in the public good,” reflected Teleangé Thomas, director of Foundation Center Midwest, as she opened the festivities.

Before guest presenters took the stage, the audience was gifted with a performance from youth who are part of Cleveland Classical Guitar Society, an example of Cleveland’s thriving arts education community fueled by philanthropy.

The featured keynote was a discussion between Teleangé and Floyd who reflected on the anniversary theme, Doing Good Better through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The duo explored the challenges and opportunities the philanthropic community faces today, tomorrow and over the next forty years.

Floyd observed that while the public sector is managing to navigate diversity, equity, and inclusion externally, there is a “struggle with diversifying the talent pool” internally. This can be seen in the lack of women in C-suite positions, for example. For people of color, there are training opportunities, but hiring practices do not reinforce the pathways. On the subject of inclusion, audience members were asked to think about whether or not they are able to bring their whole selves to the spaces in which they operate. Floyd remarked that ultimately, diversity, equity, and inclusion work requires a level of courage on the part of the sector. Moreover, a dialogue is started by asking the tough questions.

After the interactive panel, three storytellers shared how Foundation Center Midwest has made an impact in their lives. The first was Sally Freaney from the Youngstown Public Library. She said, “I consider myself one of the luckiest librarians in the system because of the resources Foundation Center provides.”

Following Sally was Nicole McGee who told an energetic accounting of how Foundation Center’s workshops helped her develop her organization, Upcycle Parts Shop. She described the Foundation Center’s workshops as “perfect for my learning style.”

Closing out the storytelling was Robert Jaquay from The George Gund Foundation. Bob’s eloquent story about being a young law student and community organizer in Euclid in the 1970s helped to illustrate Foundation Center Midwest’s deep roots. With the support of Foundation Center, Bob and a group of engaged residents founded Euclid Community Concerns, whose principles of citizen involvement and justice are alive and well today. In front of a rapt audience, Bob stated that the work of the Foundation Center “touches the future of communities.”

Deb Hoover, President and CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation and Foundation Center board member, gave closing remarks that recounted her experience with Foundation Center in D.C. as a young law student, and its global reach when she founded a community foundation in Melbourne, Australia. “Foundation Center helps dreamers and doers,” she proudly stated.

The 40th anniversary commemoration was a time for the sector to reflect on past successes, think critically about our challenges, and look ahead to the next era of opportunities and generations of dreamers and doers. Foundation Center is proud to be at the center of it all.

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