In 2020, York County Community Foundation (YCCF) leaned into doing what we do best – inspire charitable giving, understand the most critical community needs and target grantmaking to ensure maximum impact. This is what YCCF does every day, to embrace the York County spirit of taking action in a crisis. Our community is at its best when we come together to solve community-wide social challenges.
In February 2020, we invited 40 community leaders for a trip to the Collective Impact Forum in Washington D.C. to learn how to mobilize and set common goals to achieve uncommon results. We learned the importance of emphasizing equity, using data for continuous learning, and authentically engaging community members. One participant shared, “It was an affirming experience. It was very fulfilling to be in the room with like-minded and not so like-minded individuals. I learned a lot from the different perspectives presented.” This learning experience was quickly put into practice when in a little more than a month after our trip, our community and our world faced the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.
YCCF partnered with the United Way and other local philanthropic foundations to develop a charitable response to the crisis. On March 27th, 2020, we launched the York County COVID-19 Response Fund with a lead gift from our Fund for York County of $100,000. Through a mix of gifts from foundations, individuals, and corporations, our community raised more than $1,195,000. A year later, the York County COVID-19 Response Fund has awarded more than $690,000 in grants to organizations that provided food and shelter to those most impacted by the pandemic. Collectively, these organizations served thousands of people, reaching even the most rural parts of the County.
Nearly 700 families were able to stay in their homes during the pandemic through rental assistance, and over 93,000 families were able to put food on their tables. The Fund focused on providing grants to nonprofits able to assist the most vulnerable residents of York County. YCCF applied collective impact principles to convene advisory committees with the United Way staff, York County’s Department of Health and Human Services and nonprofit representatives to identify the organizations with the ability to meet these needs quickly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on Kevin, a single father with sole custody of his 3-year-old son. Impacted by the current financial crisis, he was afraid of losing his home and potentially custody of his son, so he reached out to PA211 to find rent assistance. PA211 is a phone referral resource that links people to necessities such as food, health care, and rental assistance. The COVID-19 Response Fund awarded a grant to PA211 to build its capacity to meet the growing demand of calls for help. They assisted Kevin with completing the York Homeless Triage and connected him with Pathways to Home. Since his needs were the result of the pandemic, Kevin was eligible for help with his rent from the Community Progress Council, which also received a grant from the York County COVID-19 Response Fund to increase its capacity to process rental assistance applications.
PA 211 also connected Kevin with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s SNAP assistance hotline to help get him enrolled. This network of service providers taught Kevin about the eviction process and helped him pay his rent and gain access to food for his son and him. And it all started with one phone call to PA211. Kevin now has the tools he needs to stay safely in his home and retain custody of his son, while giving him the essentials to help them during the pandemic. Kevin’s story is just one of many examples of how the York County Covid-19 Response Fund served as a lifeline to York County residents during the pandemic.
Recognizing that the needs have evolved a year out from the start of the pandemic, YCCF has commissioned a report to help our advisory committees understand the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and identify where remaining grants would have the most impact. The COVID Response Fund team uses best practices in grantmaking and applies what we learned about collectively addressing community challenges. First, it focused on the immediate impact on families – food insecurity and housing instability. Second, it did not make decisions in a vacuum and instead, sought advice from those with expertise on the issues representing a broad cross-section of the County about Facing Challenges most critical needs. Third, it will stay on top of the evolving availability of public funding to ensure that COVID Fund grants fill the gaps.
Finally, it simplified the grant process and quickly disbursed grants to nonprofits so they could focus on carrying out their missions. We are incredibly proud of the generosity of our community, and the hard work of our nonprofits and volunteers. Because of your contributions, organizations were able to ease the suffering of hundreds of people in our community. We are forever grateful.
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the only challenge our community faced in 2020. Around the United States, racial injustice was front-page news and Yorkers joined in calls for equity. YCCF has long sought to create equitable academic and economic opportunities for marginalized members of our community.
We are also supporting efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in our community, but we know much more is needed. In 2020, we took a step forward with the creation of the Racial Equity Fund, a grant fund dedicated to supporting meaningful, positive action to advance racial equity in York County. “It’s not easy for organizations to look inward and find their shortcomings,” said Lisa Kennedy, chair of the Racial Equity Fund advisory committee. “But doing that creates change. It makes York a more thriving community. Our work here is just beginning.”
YCCF allocated $125,000 of its unrestricted dollars from the Fund for York County to establish both an immediate grant program and an endowed fund to ensure grants are available year after year. Many donors have added to the fund and YCCF seeks to grow the fund over time. Decisions for this fund are in the hands of a new advisory committee of volunteer community members. This new committee will determine the purpose, parameters, and process for grant selections and evaluate and select grant recipients.
YCCF recognizes that we must work in new ways to address the persistent racial disparities in York County. A May 2020 report by the Bridgespan Group called “Racial Equity in Philanthropy” reported that the two biggest factors that hold back philanthropy’s quest for social change are understanding the role of race in the problems philanthropists are trying to solve and the significance of race in how philanthropists identify leaders and find solutions.
We received the same feedback from local leaders when we held discussions in 2020 asking how YCCF can better support communities of color. They urged us to look for and eliminate bias in our work and to be intentional about incorporating equity into our grantmaking. They called on us to address the root causes of economic and educational disparities and to ensure those most impacted by racial disparities are seated at decision-making tables. Creating a dedicated grant fund is an important first step to creating real social change.
We understand that reversing the impacts of racial injustice will require persistent efforts and continued financial support for years to come. In 2021, YCCF is working with a consultant to help us understand how to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into all aspects of our work. We are committed to creating a vibrant York County. One with opportunities for everyone to thrive.