Hearing the call

Hope inspires perseverance. The Rhode Islanders that I’ve spent time with over the past year – my first at the helm of our state’s community foundation – are filled with both a firm belief in the promise of the future, and the grit to get through each day, whatever it holds.

Recently, hundreds of those Rhode Islanders joined us at Together RI, a series of six community get-togethers across the state. Over family-style meals, people shared their thoughts on what matters most to them and their neighbors. They celebrated Rhode Island’s strengths: our small size and history of innovation, sense of community, diversity, and natural beauty. And, they had plenty to say about the changes they hope to see.

They were from all walks of life, and all corners of the state. Their experiences and circumstances are varied, but their message was very clear. Over and over, we heard the call to do more to address the state’s housing crisis, improve public education, foster economic opportunity, ensure access to quality, affordable healthcare, mitigate the persistent root causes of inequity, support climate action efforts, and help communities form stronger connections to civic life.

It’s a tall order. Our neighbors and friends, children and grandchildren, colleagues and companions are facing intersecting, seemingly insurmountable, challenges. You see it each day in the increased prices at the grocery store, and in the difficulty finding a safe, affordable home. In the falling numbers of public-school teachers, and in rising sea levels. In the difficulty finding a doctor, or a childcare provider, or a living wage job.

Over the past year at the Foundation, we’ve been reflecting on our role in the fabric of this community. Amid conversations with our partners, team and board members, our donors, input from Rhode Islanders like you, visits to organizations across that state that are funded with Foundation-directed and donor-directed grants, and after studying our peers across the country, we’ve come to this conclusion:

It is only through strong partnerships and connections, building on the work that’s come before, that we can create progress that lasts.

Solutions to the challenges we are all facing – at the supermarket, the local hospital, our neighborhood school, in our homes, and around the world – are fueled by generosity, innovation, and collaboration. Those solutions come to life when community organizations, led by people with lived experience, have the resources to innovate, the capacity to carry out their mission, and the energy to advocate for system change.

That’s where community foundations, like ours here in Rhode Island, come in. We are a bold, uniting presence – bringing diverse people and perspectives together to address the challenges we face, supporting community-led initiatives and transformative work, realizing our shared vision for a better future and initiating lasting and meaningful change. We inspire people to work together to collectively act on our biggest challenges.

As the community foundation for Rhode Island, a state known through time for its innovation and independence, we are called to act on a transformative vision for opportunity, equity, and improving the wellbeing of our state and its people. We’re constructing the way to that vision with the Rhode Islanders we serve, with our partners and donors, piece by piece.

This fall we’ll share details about the Foundation’s future focus and the action steps that will guide our collective work in the years ahead. In those action steps you will see points of intersection, and places where you yourself can step in to help. Visit to be among the first to receive more information.

There is one thing that has been reinforced for me over the last year, throughout my career, and that serves as inspiration at the Foundation – separately we can have impact, but only together, on a solid foundation, can we build the future we all hope for.

David N. Cicilline marked his first anniversary as President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation on June 1, 2024

This commentary piece was published in The Providence Journal on June 16, 2024.