Grants & Scholarships

To help a city it takes a village

While the Foundation has three strategic initiatives—economic security, educational success, and healthy lives—none of those exist in a vacuum. They are all interwoven, with progress (or decline) in any one of them affecting the others.

The following story illustrates how nonprofit organizations from different fields in Newport are working together to improve the lives of their residents. We are proud to support their efforts.

Ellen Pinnock
Ellen Pinnock

As an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Newport Working Cities Collaborative, Ellen Pinnock worked in three Newport public schools. One advantage she had was her ability to connect with the students who were dealing with many of the same challenges she had faced while growing up.

The daughter of a Native American and Irish mother and an African American father, Ellen was raised by a single mother in public housing in what then was Tonomy Hill in Newport’s North End. Her mother had five children by the time she was nineteen, and health issues prevented her from working.

“I never really knew how poor we were and how much we were struggling,” Ellen recounts. She remembers the landlord dropping off clothes and how, when the family sat down for a meal, her mother wouldn’t always eat. She understands now that there wasn’t enough food for everyone.

“The housing (Tonomy Hill) looked a lot like old military barracks. There was a lot of drug activity, and we weren’t allowed to go outside by ourselves,” Ellen says.

She continues, “School was great, and I had very good teachers who sort of took me in. They knew more about my background than I did.” But when she moved to another, now-closed elementary school in Newport, she notes, “I didn’t do well. I was the only brown kid at the school. I spent a lot of time by myself. The Boys & Girls Club became like a haven to me. I learned about things like cooking and sewing that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.”

Ellen’s family lived briefly in South Carolina, returning to Newport when Ellen should have entered tenth grade. Instead, she worked two jobs and earned a GED. She later attended Bristol Community College followed by the Community College of Rhode Island, where she earned a degree in general studies.

“Seeing what my mother went through made me want to do better and reach higher. I’m one of those people who, when someone needs something, I want to be there to help,” Ellen explains. Ellen is there not only for her daughter, Dorothy, a tenth grader at Rogers High School, but also for other Newporters who need a helping hand. She currently is coordinator for the Newport Check & Connect program which,—under the direction of FabNewport,—works in the Newport Public Schools to reduce absenteeism and truancy. She also volunteers at the Women’s Resource Center and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center (MLK Center).

Executive directors at these—and other—Newport nonprofits agree with Ellen’s “it takes a village” approach to making their city a better place for all its residents.

“We’re all trying to help support families in Newport and Newport County. We don’t all do the same work, but we know who does other work and does it well."

- Heather Hole Strout, executive director, Martin Luther King Center

Colleen Jermain, EdD, superintendent of Newport Public Schools, illustrates the point with a story. A school officer visited the home of a child who had been absent, and he found there was no food in the house. He helped the family get assistance from the MLK Center, the largest volume food pantry in Newport County. “If you don’t have food, you can’t learn,” Colleen explains.

Teaching a young child

Many Newporters rely on the island’s nonprofits to help them with basic needs that are critical to their day-to-day lives. At the same time, nonprofit leaders are addressing disparities and the need for systemic change that will provide greater —and longer lasting —benefits for these residents.

“We need to acknowledge that racism exists across every system in America,” stresses Kate Cantwell, strategic initiative director for the Newport Working Cities Collaborative, which works “to lift families out of poverty through...an integrated and efficient workforce development system.”

“Changing that (racism) requires a change in culture and climate,” explains Rhonda Mitchell, executive director, Newport Housing Authority, noting recent racial equity trainings coordinated through the Newport Health Equity Zone (HEZ). “We had uncomfortable conversations, but our commitment was unwavering. It (racial diversity) is not a threat, it’s an asset. That’s the beauty of this community.”

Such change, the leaders agree, requires not only their working together, but also authentic engagement from residents. “Trust is a really big part of this,” says Chris Gross, chief empathy officer at FabNewport.

"We’re working to lift residents’ voices and to help them get more engaged. More North End and Broadway residents are speaking out.”

- Jazmine Wray, HEZ strategy manager, Women’s Resource Center

A significant issue facing Newporters is that nearly half of the city’s jobs are in the hospitality industry and 30% of all jobs in the city pay less than $30,000 per year, explains Ashley Medeiros, director of Connect Greater Newport, stating “People are working, yet they can’t afford to live here. This affects children and families...and the future of Newport.”

It’s “the future of Newport” that drives these community members and requires them to address intertwined social issues, improving city residents' opportunities for excellent health, education, and economic security.

Health, education and economic security are connected in every way.

  • Children with parents who have steady employment are more likely to have access to health care.
  • Children with working parents are more engaged academically and less likely to repeat a grade or be suspended or expelled from school than children with non-working parents.
  • Rhode Islanders who have achieved a Bachelor's degree or higher have nearly double the wage compared to residents who have only completed high school.
  • Between 2013 and 2017 in Rhode Island, adults with high school diplomas were three times more likely to be unemployed as those with Bachelor's degrees or higher.

2019 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook