Capacity Building

Sharing best practices

Three nonprofits have been honored with Best Practice Awards from the Rhode Island Foundation for an initiative to support Latino-owned small businesses, collaborating to provide after-school services, and a gardening program that grows fresh produce for a local food pantry.

Three nonprofit organizations have been honored with Best Practice Awards from the Rhode Island Foundation. The work includes an initiative to support Latino-owned small businesses, doubling the number of school children receiving after-school services, and a community gardening program that grew one ton of fresh produce for a local food pantry.

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. “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.” said BCBSRI Managing Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Carolyn Belisle.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown is being honored for its “Good Gardens Program,” which promotes responsible land stewardship and food production as well as growing produce for the food pantry at Newport’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center (MLK Center). In 2021, over a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables was donated.

Best Practice Awards 2021
The Good Gardens at Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown

The Good Gardens were established in 2011 as a small space in which to promote food production, volunteerism, and connection with community. Volunteers from the URI Master Gardener program completely redesigned and rebuilt the Good Gardens in 2017, creating an engaging teaching garden that employs best practices in organic gardening. The 40’ x 60’ fenced garden is enhanced by a 15’ x 50’ Hoop House and a large compost area.

Best Practice Awards 2021
Hoop House at The Good Gardens at Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown

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

Best Practice Awards
MLK Center in Newport: produce from The Good Gardens at Norman Bird Sanctuary

“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 camp kids had educational visits to 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 Rhode Island Israel Collaborative was honored for its RI 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.

Best Practice Awards 2021
Rhode Island Israel Collaborative

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

“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,” said Avi Nevel, the Collaborative’s executive director, a textile engineer who was himself a successful business owner in Central Falls.

In partnership with the RI Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 31 Latino-owned businesses were paired with local college students to create websites using WIX, a cloud-based, global web development platform headquartered in Israel with 200 million users world-wide.

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

Best Practice Awards 2021
Rhode Island Israel Collaborative

“By matching each small business with a student, we were able to exponentially benefit the community. The businesses established a web presence which is helping 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,” said Nevel. “As the Chinese say, ‘don’t give me a fish, teach me to fish.’ In this way, we are helping small businesses and helping students.

“We measure our success by the collaborations we create. It’s not what we do—it’s what others do because of us," says Avi. As Avi and Hispanic Chamber CEO Oscar Mejias start planning the third session, their ultimate goal is to bring website design to all students in Rhode Island. “The mayor of Central Falls wants to have us help run a summer bootcamp on web design.”

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

Film and video at Riverzedge Arts

The collaboration has allowed the school department to streamline and codify each individual contract into an organization that has one fiscal sponsor and one narrative writer. The Woonsocket Afterschool Coalition presented a full menu of options: Here is what we do now, and here is what we can do in creating a community-wide approach.

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Science with CCF

“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, Riverzedge executive director.

The coalition aims to increase in 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 RI, the Community Care Alliance, Connecting for Children and Families, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, and the Woonsocket YMCA.

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Screenprinting at Riverzedge Arts

“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. "Woonsocket is a small city and somewhat geographically isolated, making it possible for us to accomplish something that may not be so easy for other communities and school districts. With this collaboration, we can literally provide and entire day of services for all K-12 students in Woonsocket, including busing to the appropriate after-school sites."

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After-school academic help from CCF at Villa Nova Middle School

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.”

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Painting at Riverzedge Arts

The three recipients will each receive $5,000 grants in recognition of their achievements. “These organizations emerged from a highly competitive process and an impressive group of nominees," said Jill Pfitzenmayer, vice president of capacity building. "There is something valuable in each of their remarkable examples that can help every nonprofit achieve more."