Gephardt News

Philanthropy Lab Course Funds Five Local Nonprofits 

From what I understand, this course was commendable in the way it encouraged students to view philanthropy through an anti-racist, justice-focused lens. Students learned best practices for supporting both direct services and systemic change, for supporting general operating rather than niche ‘feel-good’ projects, and for developing a collaborative relationship with funded organizations. These practices could be transformative in the civic sphere if implemented on a broader level by both institutional funders and individuals.

-Jessica Mayo, MICA Project

Jessica Mayo, LW ’12, is the co-founder and co-director of the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project), a community justice organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice. In her remarks above, she makes a powerful case for systems-level learning and approaches to giving, and for giving grounded in partnership. According to Elizabeth George, a senior lecturer at Washington University, Philanthropy Lab mobilizes students to learn and do just that. “The goal,” she shared, “is for students to leave the class thinking about the choices that one makes when giving—supporting organizations that address root causes of an issue or supporting organizations that serve those impacted by that issue; the importance of endowment and long-term approaches to giving versus making a difference today.”

Philanthropy Lab is a new community engaged sociology course offered in partnership with the Gephardt Institute. Elizabeth instructed the course in fall 2019, using personal experience from her role as director of Community Investment at the St. Louis Community Foundation. Together, she and 21 undergraduate students explored the sociological and historical roots of philanthropy, its role in addressing social issues, and best practices through data- and equity-informed lenses. After determining shared grant-making interests, students formed groups with a focus on the following issues: racial equity, health, environmental law, immigration and advocacy, and children and education.

During each class session, students combined theoretical and practical learning to reflect on and prepare for their next step in the grant-making process. Each group identified local nonprofits working in their selected issue area and personally reached out with a request to complete an application for funding. Students designed their own application based on the Missouri Common Grant Application 2.0 and developed rubrics for the selection process. Through a grant from The Philanthropy Lab, the class had a combined $55,000 to allocate to organizations in the St. Louis region.

On December 9, students hosted a special ceremony to recognize the organizations selected to receive funding: ArchCity Defenders, Casa de Salud, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, the MICA Project, and Unleashing Potential. Elizabeth opened the evening by thanking the students for their work. Each group provided an overview of its decision and presented a check to its partner organization. The evening culminated with a reception, where, in addition to engaging with students, several grantees met for the first time and discussed opportunities for future collaboration.

While diverse in size and in the programs and services they offer, all five organizations are actively fighting injustice and working to meet the long-term needs and priorities of the communities they serve. Learn more about the organizations, the impact of funding received, and opportunities for involvement in our partner spotlight series below.

ArchCity Defenders

ArchCity Defenders (ACD) is a holistic legal advocacy organization that combats the criminalization of poverty and state violence, especially in communities of color. ACD’s foundation of civil and criminal legal representation, social services, impact litigation, policy and media advocacy, and community collaboration achieves and inspires justice and equitable outcomes for people throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.

Boo McLoughlin, Director of Development, and Mykael Ornbaun, Social Work Coordinator, MSW ’14, shared their thoughts:

Q: What is the impact of your work?

Boo: We are challenging unconstitutional practices and resolving clients’ legal issues, which allows them to rebuild their lives. We work in a number of spheres, and whether assisting an individual or engaging in litigation to challenge debtors’ prisons, cash bail, and other civil rights abuses, our services have a long-term, positive impact for our clients and communities.

Q: How will the grant money you received support your organization's mission?

Mykael: We received funding for our Close the Workhouse campaign [a grassroots movement with the goal of permanently closing St. Louis City’s Medium Security Institution and ensuring a new jail is not built in its place]. The grant will allow us to continue conversations, innovations, and interventions through the work of our community organizer. Having a trained organizer has exponentially grown our capacity to fight the campaign in a robust way and work toward our vision of a St. Louis liberated from unjust criminalization and incarceration.

Boo: Our clients and community partners inform all of our work, and our ability to devote more time to organizing and to have dedicated staff in community spaces directly serves our mission.

Q: How can students and other members of the WashU community best engage with and support your work moving forward?

Boo: We have a robust internship program with opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students. We provide interns with meaningful learning and exposure to racial justice issues in St. Louis City.

Casa de Salud

The mission of Casa de Salud is to facilitate and deliver high quality clinical and mental health services for uninsured and underinsured patients, focusing on new immigrants and refugees who encounter barriers to accessing other sources of care. Casa de Salud partners with volunteer professionals to provide basic primary care services to patients, connect patients with specialty services, and educate patients to become independent and proactive healthcare consumers.

Kate Koch, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, MSW ’08, shared her thoughts:

Q: How will the grant money you received support your organization's mission?

Kate: The organizations that can make a real impact are the ones able to offer services at a consistent and high quality level. Our clinic is core for delivering services to clients with little or no access to the healthcare system. The Philanthropy Lab funding will support front line jobs and help us maintain an open door for inclusive care every day of the week.

Q: What do you hope students learned from this experience?

Kate: It was a pleasure working with Philanthropy Lab students. Their questions and perspectives continue to help us learn. I hope they have learned more about the nuance of grant-making and the role foundations can play in improving systems and creating larger-scale solutions.

Q: How can students and other members of the WashU community best engage with and support your work moving forward?

Kate: While donations are always helpful, students, in particular, can support Casa by giving their time as an interpreter, scribe, or other volunteer role. I value the insights our interns and practicum students bring and the connections we can make between theory learned in the classroom and our work on the ground.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is Missouri’s first and only public interest law firm focused on the environment and public health. They provide free and reduced-fee legal services to individuals, organizations, and citizen groups who are seeking to protect the environment. Through the courts and administrative agencies, Great Rivers works to safeguard the environment and promote public health by enforcing environmental laws, especially air and water pollution laws, and laws intended to protect wetlands, floodplains, open space, and endangered species. Although Great Rivers has a dedicated Environmental Justice Program, it integrates environmental justice throughout its work.

Bruce A. Morrison, President and Attorney, LW ’88, shared his thoughts:

Q: How will the grant money you received support your organization's mission?

Bruce: Through our Environmental Justice Program, we protect disadvantaged populations from an unreasonable share of the environmental burdens of modern society. Our grant money will advance this work. The need for environmentaljustice in North St. Louis is pressing. Systematically, Great Rivers will evaluate permit applications (air, water, and waste) and pollution monitoring reports in three North St. Louis communities. We will take action to stop polluting facilities from operating under outdated, expired permits, and to stop them from operating under current, but inadequate, permits.

The funding will also allow us to continue to give technical and legal assistance to NAACP branches on environmental and climate justice issues; provide and coordinate state and local participation on EPA rule making; and educate community members on environmental and climate justice from a civil rights perspective.

Q: How can students and other members of the WashU community best engage with and support your work moving forward?

Bruce: On a substantive level, we value the input of students and other community members on environmental issues of importance to them. There are also opportunities to help the law center in a variety of administrative capacities, including helping us with our community outreach and education through social media.

The MICA Project

The Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project) is a community justice organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice. The MICA Project utilizes a combination of community outreach and legal services to promote the voice and dignity of immigrant communities. This combined approach addresses the surplus need for immigration legal services in immigrant communities by taking a proactive approach, providing immigrants with the information and resources they need before legal issues arise.

Jessica Mayo, Co-Founder, Co-Director, and Attorney, LW ’12, shared her thoughts:

Q: How will the grant money you received support your organization's mission?

Jessica: The grant will support MICA Project’s combined focus on both direct client representation and systemic advocacy efforts.

Q: What do you think students learned from this experience?

Jessica: The students in our group seemed to really develop an understanding of the local nonprofit landscape for their issue area. They also did a wonderful job with communication. They expressed a desire to fund in a collaborative manner, rather than in a top-down relationship, and that was evident in the way they interacted with us.

Q: How can students and other members of the WashU community best engage with and support your work moving forward?

Jessica: We have often had student groups and community members organize fundraisers, donate, and volunteer at community events. We also have in-office internships and volunteer positions for students.

Unleashing Potential

The mission of Unleashing Potential is to close the opportunity gap for children and youth by building on their strengths. Unleashing Potential’s programs include early childhood education and after school and summer enrichment programs. Annually, these educational and empowering experiences serve more than 1,400 high-need youth residing in St. Louis’s urban core and inner-ring suburbs.

Denise Carter, Director of Early Childhood Education, shared her thoughts:

Q: How will the grant money you received support your organization's mission?

Denise: Our Early Childhood Education Center at Caroline Mission provides affordable, state-licensed, and accredited services for approximately 90 children ages six weeks to five years of age. The majority of children’s families reside in and around the Gate District of the City of St. Louis; 63% earn less than $20,000 a year, and 84% are female-headed households. We also provide family support services to more than 165 of family members through needs assessments, one-to-one assistance, referrals to partner agencies, and twice-monthly family engagement meetings focused on child and parent development topics.

The Philanthropy Lab’s general operating grant will fund scholarships for families who cannot afford the full cost of childcare and parent engagement events, like the current five-week series of cooking and nutrition classes provided in partnership with Parents as Teachers.

Q: In your view, how does philanthropy relate to civic and community engagement?

Denise: It is important to get to know your community and the people involved in the organizations you support. I can tell you about all of our families – what they are going through, their challenges, and their successes. The relationship may begin with a donation, but we hope it will grow into an understanding of community needs, deepened involvement as a volunteer, and advocacy on behalf of issues facing our clients, which will lead to a more equitable community for all of us.  

Q: How can students and other members of the WashU community best engage with and support your work moving forward?

Denise: The WashU community can advance our work by providing cash and in-kind donations (wipes, toys during holidays, etc.), spreading the word about the work we are doing, volunteering, and linking us to others with community spirit and connections.