A plan to use museums to encourage Latino integration and a health outreach program for people living on the streets are among the citys least-known nonprofit causes.
Yet both recently got tens of thousands of dollars from a local fund that has earned a reputation for spotting high-impact, low-profile projects in need of help.
Its called the Womens Impact Fund and, over the past nine years, it has given nearly $3 million to programs both old and new, including some that owe their existence to the groups donations.
This month, the fund gave out $422,600 to a series of programs that underscore its willingness to take chances, including:
• $90,000 to the Levine Museum of the New South for The Latino New South, to create a national model for using museums to foster the integration of immigrants into the community.
• $80,000 to Legal Services of Southern Piedmont for the Legal Services for Veterans Project, providing lower-income veterans with help getting disability benefits.
• $52,600 to the Carolina Thread Trail for a new program that will recruit, train and manage volunteers to build and maintain trails within the regional network of greenways and trails that reaches 15 counties and 2.3 million people.
The members are keenly aware of the needs in the community, and they know a good idea thats worth funding when they see one, said Laura Meyer Wellman of Foundation for the Carolinas and a charter member of the fund.
They continually seek out opportunities in which their investments will really make a difference. In many cases, their grants are even catalytic, prompting others to give.
Thats exactly what Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont is hoping will happen with its veterans program, which still needs money for its July start-up. The program comes at a time when experts predict 4,000 service personnel will move to the state by December after leaving conflicts in the Middle East. About 20 percent of them are expected to live in the Charlotte area.
Kenneth Schorr of Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont calls the WIF forward-thinking for understanding the need for a new program.
They are serious about the word impact in their title, he said. They are very tough, too. Ive never been in front of a panel that asked so many hard, technical questions. It was so competitive; I was stunned we got the grant.
Created in 2003 with help from the Foundation for the Carolinas, the fund is made up of 400-plus women who have made five-year commitments to donate $1,200 per year. That money is pooled for the grants, which are given in five focus areas: arts and culture, education, environment, health and human services.
This year, the fund received 120 inquiries from nonprofits looking for money, which a grant committee narrowed down to five, said Jane Ratteree, who was head of the grant process.
Emily Zimmern of the Levine Museum of the New South said the WIF grant is accelerating a project that will help Charlotteans learn more about the growing Latino population. In the past 20 years, the regions Latino population has risen from 1 percent to 12 percent, she said.
For most of the 20th century, the South had the fewest people from outside the U.S., so this rapid growth is really something new for the South and for Charlotte, said Zimmern.
Many historians say the Latino influence on the American South and the Souths influence on them is the biggest event in Southern history since the Civil Rights movement .We want to document this hinge in history.
Thanks to the impact fund, she said, work can begin immediately.