Bigger grants will attack inherited poverty in county

Gates gift inspires new focus on early education and "wraparound" services

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Poverty that drags families down generation after generation is the target of a new round of expanded grants offered to Clark County nonprofits by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

"Kids are born into poverty, they grow up in poverty, they are adults in poverty and they have children in poverty. The cycle just continues," said foundation executive director Rich Melching.

Last year, grants awarded through the powerful local foundation's Community Giving Fund averaged just under $12,000 and addressed a variety of local needs and requests. This year, they'll average $25,000, and are available only to public agencies and nonprofits that clearly demonstrate breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties "in a meaningful and measurable way," according to a foundation statement.

"The intent is that your organization thinks broadly and creatively about this issue," says the foundation.

Underlying this new focus is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which this year announced a grant of $700,000 that the Community Foundation could "re-grant" to local organizations and nonprofits fighting intergenerational poverty, Melching said. It was one of nine similar grants, worth a total of $5 million, Gates made to Pacific Northwest organizations working on this issue.

It's expected that the Gates money will go largely to early childhood education efforts, Melching said, after being evaluated by a new panel of local poverty experts. He noted that the $700,000 Gates grant seems huge -- until you factor in that it's a four-year grant meant to be shared by many nonprofit agencies.

"On one hand, it's a lot of money. But when you look at Southwest Washington and how many people live here, and spread the money over four years, obviously we're not going to end intergenerational poverty with this grant," Melching said. "We're simply trying to find a way to determine if the things we do … have promise for the future."

Meanwhile, 80 percent of the Community Giving Fund will go in 2013 for "wraparound," or supportive, services and needs -- like health, housing, transportation, domestic violence sheltering and prevention, career development for parents, and basic needs (clothing, food) for children.

"If all we do is provide funding for early childhood education without being aware of other support services to buttress that, we may not be as successful," Melching said.

Overall, 80 percent of the foundation's Community Giving Fund will attack intergenerational poverty through these large grants, called Focus Grants. The Community Foundation also will continue what are called General Grants, awarded to local organizations addressing other issues in Clark and Skamania counties. Those grants will be worth $1,000 to $5,000, representing 20 percent of the Community Giving Fund.

Municipalities and tax-exempt nonprofit agencies must apply via a letter of inquiry by Jan. 15, 2013. An advisory committee will review the letters in February and let all applicants know if they've been rejected or invited to proceed with a full grant application, which will be due March 4. Grants will be awarded in May and June.

Visit http://cfsww.org to learn more about the Community Foundation and its programs, and to download grant application guidelines and forms. Call Anne Digenis, 360-694-2550, with specific questions.

According to a statement from the Community Foundation, poverty among Clark County women with children is growing faster than the population. Intergenerational poverty -- defined as two or more generations of the same family born directly into poverty -- puts growing children at risk for poor health, cognitive development and achievement in school.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://twitter.com/col_nonprofits;scott.hewitt@columbian.com.