Funding helps Black organizations continue critical services they provide for the community
by Renee P. Aldrich
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Over the past seven months, businesses, schools, families and individuals have been going through great trials as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, needs have continued to be met. Churches, community centers, day care centers and other organizations with missions to empower, uplift, and support African American families have carried on.
MARK LEWIS is President and CEO of The POISE Foundation.
The POISE Foundation in April announced the creation of a fund that would provide support to those organizations. The fund, aptly called the Critical Community Needs Fund—allowed Black-led organizations to continue doing their work and meeting the needs of individuals and families.
As of Sept. 25, nearly 90 local organizations have received grants, from $5,000 to $25,000. In an exclusive conversation with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Karris Jackson, Chief Operating Officer at The POISE Foundation, shared: “We are first very grateful to all those who have contributed to the Critical Community Needs Fund. We are happy to be the vehicle for serving these Black-led agencies.
KARRIS JACKSON, Chief Operating Officer at The POISE Foundation.
What we know for sure is that the organizations and churches we are funding are the REAL heroes; they are on the ground and doing the real work serving our families and we are proud to partner with them.”
Jackson also shared that POISE was intentional in making sure the application process was designed so completing it would not pose a barrier for potential applicants. “We knew the reputation of many funding sources having a very complicated and involved application process. Our goal was to eliminate the complications, remove the intimidation and get the money to the people doing the work—it is them who are finding a way to continue to serve in this time of need, and we want to make that as feasible as possible.”
The Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op (BUGS), started in June 2015 by Raqueeb Bey, received a $25,000 grant. Bey, also the founder of Mamma Africa’s Green Scouts, is deeply involved in the urban agricultural culture in Pittsburgh and she founded BUGS after attending an urban agricultural meeting for the City of Pittsburgh. “They were making decisions/policy for our community; white-led organizations had no Black staff, so we were underrepresented—we had no voice at the table, and Black growers were being left out of grants. More than this, our communities were experiencing what we called ‘food apartheids.’ Since the inception, we’ve been able to hire a farm manager, get a large plot of land on Monticello Street, and so much more.”
Bey told the Courier that when the pandemic hit, they had to reorganize “how we farm. We lost our farm manager for 14 days because she was high risk and had to quarantine herself early on, and some of our volunteers had to drop off, creating a gap in our ability to work the farm.”
Bey said that because of the funds from POISE, “we’ve been able to expand our farm to produce more food, we have been able to identify new volunteers and offer them small stipends, provide PPE equipment to our staff and volunteers and create signage to keep everyone safe and about our protocol. Additionally, we were able to get more tools, and we now have an orchard. The pandemic has caused us to receive more calls for assistance because we are a ‘Teaching Farm’ and the grant has and will allow us to conduct more teaching events.”
BUGS now has a vehicle to transport food to the elderly and to others who are shut-in in Homewood through a produce program in partnership with the American Heart Association.
King Community Center is located in Garfield and emerged as a community outreach ministry of King of Kings Baptist Church, where Bishop L. C. Carter is the Overseer. With programming that began in 2015, they’ve been their own 501c3 since 2012. They are the recipients of $15,000 in grant money from POISE and will use it to continue their work empowering families and hosting health and wellness workshops.
In a conversation with the Courier, Cassandra Williams, executive director of the center, explained: “The POISE Foundation grant will allow us to increase our level of support to our families, along with strengthening our food distribution program which includes hosting hot meals and fresh produce—this we do in partnership with other agencies such as the Food Bank of Greater Pittsburgh and Eat Initiative. The hot foods distribution will take place up to three times a week, targeting certain families and seniors.”
Additionally, King Community Center is now able to expand its Health and Wellness Amid COVID-19 workshop series. Topics include Having a Health and Wellness Regime is Critical, and Survival Planning and Action in Unprecedented Times.
“These are just two of the workshops we provide,” Williams said. “We also have a workshop that focuses on gardening and specifically instructing our families (on) how they can grow their own food even if they don’t have yard space—container gardening. The grant funds have blessed us in our efforts to continue to be a blessing in the Garfield community.”
Pastors Nathaniel and Jessica Brown are co-founders of 5AELITE. It’s an organization dedicated to strengthening families and empowering children by reversing the impact of trauma by promoting holistic wellness. Brown shared with the Courier that their mission had them to be in the schools, reaching children in their learning environment.
“The $8,500 grant from the POISE Foundation will allow us to expand our thinking. Where there is limitation there is creativity,” Jessica Brown said. “Our critical response now is assisting students with embracing their new normal, assisting parents and families in optimizing their goals. We cannot reach them in schools, but we have been able to secure a space outside of school—The Community of Change in Chartiers, in the West End. In a few weeks we will be in this space—allowing us to provide parent power outside of school.”
5AELITE can support home-schooling, empowering parents to feel equipped to be their student’s primary educator by starting a home-school co-op which will consist of a trauma-informed philosophy. “Additionally,” Jessica Brown told the Courier, “we’ll be set up to create a Home-School Management System. The curriculum will be online where it can be accessed by students and parents alike.”
These are just three of the 87 agencies who applied and received Critical Needs Funds from POISE, as of Sept. 25, the Courier has learned exclusively. Some other agencies awarded grants include: Hill Dance Academy Theatre ($10,500); Melanin Mommies Pittsburgh ($5,000); Ozanam Inc. ($5,000); and Pittsburgh Black Nurses In Action ($15,000). The total of all the funds distributed as of Sept. 25 was $921,000.
RAQUEEB BEY, founder of The Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op. The organization received a $25,000 grant from The POISE Foundation due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Courier photographer Brian Cook Sr.)