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Knight Foundation grants to benefit Trees Charlotte, other groups

File photo: Trees Charlotte, created to help achieve a goal of having 50 percent of the city covered by tree canopy by 2050, has received a $2.3 million grant from the Knight Foundation to support its work. In 2014, the organization led a tree planting at Garinger High School. .
File photo: Trees Charlotte, created to help achieve a goal of having 50 percent of the city covered by tree canopy by 2050, has received a $2.3 million grant from the Knight Foundation to support its work. In 2014, the organization led a tree planting at Garinger High School. . jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The Knight Foundation will announce $4.3 million in grants to three Charlotte-area organizations Tuesday — including $2.24 million to Trees Charlotte.

The Carolina Theatre at Belk Place and the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte are also slated to receive $1.6 million and $500,000, respectively.

Susan Patterson, the Knight Foundation’s Charlotte program director, said each of the three organizations are working to expand their efforts.

“We are really interested in how to make Charlotte a more vibrant, connected place to live,” she said. “They all come at this in different ways.”

Trees Charlotte was created in 2012 to help the “The City of Trees” achieve its goal of having 50 percent of the city covered by tree canopy by 2050, and Executive Director Dave Cable said this gift will catapult the organization’s long-term efforts.

“The forest will be here forever,” he said. “We would like our organization to be well-equipped to have a life that corresponds to the long-term life of the urban forest.”

The Knight Foundation helped financially in Trees Charlotte’s early stages, Cable said, but the $2.24 million is by far the organization’s largest gift.

He said $240,000 of the $2.24 million will be used for education outreach in the community, and the remaining $2 million will be gifted in the form of an endowment.

But the $2 million endowment will be split, Patterson said, with $1 million put into an endowment fund for Trees Charlotte at the Miami Foundation and the second million withheld until Trees Charlotte matches it in donations.

She said the $240,000 grant is designed to help Trees Charlotte partner with the city in its efforts to plant more trees. She said the endowment will help support them over time.

Trees Charlotte has a program in schools currently called Tree Champions, Cable said, and some of the money will be used to further their efforts educating students about the values of trees in an urban environment and how to take care of them.

“By the end of the year we will have planted about 7,000 total trees on school campuses,” he said.

Shannon Bimms, founder and executive director of Sustain Charlotte, said a lot of cities have a natural resource — typically a body of water — with which to connect. For Charlotte, Bimms said that natural resource is trees.

“I think that’s a resource that really people here connect with and relate to and feel passionately about,” he said.

Eric Freedman, dean of the Knight School of Communication, said the funds the school receives will help establish labs and community space in its new location — the third floor of the former Walker Science Building — and creating a budget for their digital field technologies, which include teaching local communities essential community-building tools such as Facebook.

“Our goal is universal: raising the digital media literacy rate of the city and greater Charlotte area,” he said.

The Carolina Theatre will use its money for advanced technology to connect presenters and the audience, said Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas. He said audience members will be able to use their mobile devices to respond to questions in real time, which are then projected on the walls of the theater.

“We promised the community not only an arts theater but a civic theater, where special technology could enable large groups of people to communicate with each other ... and this technology allows that,” he said.

Fowler: 704-358-5169

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