To respond safely during the pandemic, Gleaners offers drive-through service at its warehouse on Indianapolis’ far-southwest side.

At a time when every bit helps, Lumina and other foundations are reaching out to local groups hit by the one-two punch of a public health crisis and economic implosion.

Under our community grants program, we’ve supported projects in our hometown of Indianapolis that would normally not align exactly with our national priorities. The urgency of need during the pandemic required more, however, so we’ve channeled $100,000 grants to:

  • United Way of Central Indiana for its Community Economic Relief Fund.
  • Central Indiana Community Foundation for its response funds for local communities.
  • Gleaners Food Bank to feed families served by the Indianapolis Public School district.
  • The Indianapolis E-Learning Fund to help families, teachers, and administrators implement remote learning.

We’re also directing a $25,000 grant to the Indiana Retired Teachers Association to support a tutoring call center staffed by retired teachers.

Local support matters

We created the community grants portfolio to honor what local organizations were doing, without holding them to the scale requirements reflected in our larger strategic projects. This reflects our determination to show local support in addition to the national efforts that make up the bulk of our work.

Lumina is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all, with a critical emphasis on racial justice and equity. We’re the largest private foundation in the country focused exclusively on higher education, and our goal has been to ensure that 60 percent of adults will have a college degree, certificate, industry certification, or other credential of value by 2025.

We’ve given a lot of thought about how best to support local organizations while retaining our primary focus on projects that can make the largest contribution possible. Foundation employees, for example, can amplify their charitable giving by a 3-times company match that directs substantial support locally.

Seeing for ourselves what works

The development of community grants not only created a path to fund the work of local organizations, but provided us with valuable insights—a lens, if you will, into the direct benefit of our mission.

For example, we recently awarded funds to RecycleForce, an Indianapolis company that provides classroom and on-the-job training to formerly incarcerated individuals. As part of Lumina’s exploratory process in awarding grants, several of us visited the company and observed their operations. This was helpful because education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people has become a strategic priority for us and we’re still learning about it. RecycleForce gave us a direct service view into a mechanism to get people credentials that we had not considered before.

So, we see the benefit not only to others but ourselves in this effort. As foundations move to make large systemic changes, we need to make sure that we stay connected at a direct level with the work. Then we can step back and say, this is what we think institutionally – and here is how it plays in people’s lives.

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