Media release

Honoring nonprofits with Best Practice Awards

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island sponsors annual program that has an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion

The Rhode Island Foundation is honoring three nonprofit organizations with its annual Best Practice Awards. The work that is being honored includes an initiative to support Latino-owned small businesses and a community gardening program that grew one ton of fresh produce for a local food pantry.

“These organizations emerged from a highly competitive process and an impressive group of nominees. There is something valuable in each of their remarkable examples that can help every nonprofit achieve more,” said Jill Pfitzenmayer, the Foundation’s vice president of capacity building.

Sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the award program recognizes outstanding practices by Rhode Island nonprofit organizations in the area of collaboration, with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island proudly supports the best practice awards honoring the critical work of community organizations statewide,” said BCBSRI Managing Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Carolyn Belisle. “We applaud this year’s award recipients for all they do to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders and create more equity in our state. We continue to learn from their example.”

The three recipients will each receive $5,000 grants in recognition of their achievements.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown is being honored for its “Good Gardens Program,” which focuses on growing produce for the food pantry at Newport’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. In 2021, over a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables was donated.

“We are very proud to donate the produce grown in our gardens to the MLK Center. In doing so, we are helping to address the food insecurity of Aquidneck Island residents,” said Kaity Ryan, Norman Bird Sanctuary’s executive director.

The initiative is a collaboration with the MLK Center and the URI Master Gardeners. It includes a summer program that introduces kids to gardening.

“The gardens are a powerful teaching tool for children to learn about plants, pollinators, decomposers, nutrient cycling, food webs and much more. In 2021, 429 summer campers took part in educational programming in the gardens,” said Ryan.

“This collaboration benefits Newport County residents beyond those who visit our property. The knowledge that children gain while working in our gardens is taken back to their homes and shared with their families. The food grown and donated helps to address the food insecurities of residents all over the island,” she said.

The Woonsocket Afterschool Coalition is being honored for doubling the number of school children receiving services. The Riverzedge Arts Project is one of six nonprofit organizations that comprise the coalition.

“After-school and out-of-school time programs can and do mitigate learning loss, supplement existing school-based curricula, increase school attendance, improve standardized test scores and graduation rates, and help divert youth away from the criminal justice system,” said Kristen Williams, executive director of Riverzedge Arts, which nominated the Coalition for the award.

The Coalition aims to increase the number of students receiving services by an additional 4,000 in the next three years. The other partners are the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northern R.I., the Community Care Alliance, Connecting for Children and Families, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and the Woonsocket YMCA.

“This is a collaborative partnership of community-based organizations working together to provide wrap-around services to support youth and families in Woonsocket,” said Williams.

The services available include academic support and credit remediation, co-curricular academic enrichment opportunities, work-based education and training, mental and physical health and wellness programs, and social-emotional and critical-thinking skills development.

“This shows that we can change lives by forging a strong alliance between the Woonsocket Education Department and community-based organizations offering high-quality resources and programming to youth and families,” said Williams. “We meet monthly to ensure that each partner organization is fully engaged and up-to-date as we work toward accomplishing our goals within an ever-evolving academic and professional landscape for young people.”

The Rhode Island Israel Collaborative in Providence was honored for its R.I. Latino Biz Web Design Project, which matched skilled local students with Latino-owned businesses in Rhode Island to create websites in order to keep up with the move to e-commerce during COVID-19.

“During the pandemic, businesses had to quickly move online and it became apparent certain communities were disproportionately affected due to a gap in the skills needed to make this transition especially microbusinesses in the Hispanic community,” said Avi Nevel, the Collaborative’s founder, president and CEO.

In partnership with the R.I. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 31 Latino-owned businesses were paired with students from Providence College and other local colleges to create websites using Israeli WIX, a cloud-based, web development platform located in Israel. The Israel General Consulate to the New England and other donors helped fund the project.

“Through this collaboration, the Collaborative, in collaboration with their partners, helped students learn about marketing and website development and businesses gain a critical tool at no cost,” said Nevel.

The Collaborative’s mission is to strengthen trade, business, academic exchange and research between Rhode Island and Israel to benefit the economy of both communities.

“By matching each small business with a student, we were able to exponentially benefit the community. The businesses established a web presence that helped them thrive and remain open during the pandemic, while the students learned valuable skills and gained experience, they can use to pursue job opportunities and to help other businesses. Especially important was the fact that multiple organizations and volunteers worked together as a team to better the community,” said Nevel.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $98 million and awarded $76 million in grants last year. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.