PITTSBURGH – When the Richard King Mellon Foundation issued a “Request for Ideas,” to solicit new initiatives to help spur Southwestern Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the pandemic, Foundation Director Sam Reiman anticipated a strong response.
But when the deadline for those ideas arrived, Reiman and the Richard King Mellon Foundation team were astounded: There were 235 submissions in the Foundation’s portal, representing 507 collaborating regional organizations.
“I should know better than to be surprised,” said Reiman. “This impressive response is yet another compelling demonstration of our region’s creativity and compassion.”
Just as compelling to Reiman and the Foundation program officers was the quality of the 235 submissions. “Submission after submission demonstrated all the approaches, we were seeking to address the profound human toll of job losses, and to jump-start our region’s economic recovery.”
From those riches came a daunting task – choosing the projects to fund. The Foundation had allocated approximately $5 million to this Economic Impact and Recovery initiative – about one third of its $15 million COVID-19 funding. But even with that historic investment, only so many projects could be funded at the levels necessary to bring ideas to life. “Choosing which projects to fund was the most difficult part,” Reiman said. “Each one was worthy of support.”
First the Foundation selected 80 finalists, inviting them to submit more detailed proposals. And from those finalist proposals, the Foundation today announced it is awarding $5.25 million in grants to fund 37 proposals representing more than 125 collaborating organizations.
“These projects will lead the way in showing all of us how to reverse the daunting economic impacts of this pandemic,” said Reiman. “They will accelerate our recovery – with special attention to the people and communities hardest hit by COVID-19’s economic impacts.”
The grants are focused in the five priority areas that were described in the original Request for Ideas. Here are the five focus areas, with an example of a grant for each:
Alleviating economic impacts on low- and moderate-income employees: A grant to the Hazelwood Initiative, to support Hazelwood small businesses and entrepreneurs; to provide Hazelwood job seekers with employment training; and to assist Hazelwood families with rent, mortgage and food.
Bolstering the social safety net: A grant to Neighborhood Allies, to support its COVID-19 Accelerated Relief Effort (CARE) to combat the impacts of the pandemic in neighborhoods experiencing high levels of concentrated poverty. Efforts include emergency grants, financial counseling and enhancing access to mental health services in the Black community.
Employment assistance: A grant to Partner4Work, to partner with UPMC to help train and prepare low-income and other job seekers to win open positions at UPMC. The training and preparatory work will give hard-to-reach and diverse job-seeking populations access to a direct pipeline to open jobs at UPMC.
Addressing academic impacts: A grant to Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science and its partners to create free wifi “bubbles” to bring internet service for remote learning to family homes and community spaces in Homewood and the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
Jump-starting regional economic activity: A grant to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, partnering with the Hotel Indigo East Liberty, Tana, Everday’s a Sunday & Café and the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce, to encourage commerce and jobs at local East Liberty establishments.
This Request for Ideas initiative and the resulting $5.25 million in grants is one of three components of the Foundation’s $15 million COVID-19 response package. The other categories are Emergency Operating Support grants for the Foundation’s nonprofit partners, and Health Innovation and Technology grants.
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Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Foundation’s 2019 endowment was $2.7 billion and its Trustees in 2019 awarded 172 grants totaling $129 million, focused on the Foundation’s strategic priorities: economic development, education, environmental conservation and human services.