Leaping The Clark Bar

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The slow-motion revamping of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (assets: $630 million) is finally gaining momentum.
The New York-based foundation, led by former Public/Private Ventures President Mike Bailin, is focusing its new grant making (of about $25 million per year) on building the organizational and service capacity of selected direct-service youth agencies in the eastern United States, and a few national groups as well.

Tapped in the first round to receive up to $5.75 million were agencies in New York City and the Boston area, including the Rheedlen Foundation (recently renamed the Harlem Children’s Zone) run by Jeff Canada, and Roca Inc., a Chelsea, Mass.-based multi-service agency directed by Molly Baldwin.

Originally, Clark’s search for direct-service agencies with what Communications Director Bruce Trachtenberg calls “a compelling product” was limited to cities stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C. Apparently, while many call (some 10 per week apply on line), few are chosen.

Now the search for candidates for Clark’s largess and obligatory technical assistance has stretched southward to Atlanta.

Two national groups have also received funding. One of them, Girls Inc., received a $250,000 grant for a five-year growth plan.

Known until 1990 as the Girls’ Clubs of America, this group has long-standing ties to the foundation and to the family of the donor. The 57-year-old New York-based organization is a perfect candidate for major outside assistance. It is steadily squeezed by another long-time Clark grantee, the Boys & Girls Club of America (B&GCA), which added “girls” to its name in 1990 – a change that drew a bitter infringement of trademark lawsuit from Girls’ Clubs, which was settled out of court for $750,000.

Girls Inc., directed by Joyce Roché, has shrunk to 74 member clubs that are called “Girls Inc.” and 53 separate youth development centers. Some of those centers are run by the YWCA and the Salvation Army, using Girls Inc.’s well-regarded programming through licensing agreements. With Clark’s help, Girls Inc. hopes to win, through licensing, a larger share of the growing after-school market.

The other national group, the Portland, Ore.-based Friends of the Children, won a $250,000 planning grant in September. Headed by Catherine Milton, the agency operates in 11 cities, including New York; Philadelphia; Washington; Chester, Pa.; and Wilmington, Del., which presumably qualifies it as an East Coast operation.

Another $250,000, eight-month planning grant went to Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay in Boston, run by John Pearson. The brothers are playing catch-up with the Big Sisters Association of Greater Boston, directed by Jeraldine Martinson, which has already landed a $2 million, four-year grant from Clark.

Two other Boston groups won grants. One is Citizens Schools, an after-school/civic engagement program with national ambitions, run by Eric Schwartz. Last year it received $2.75 million over four years. Earlier this year the B.E.L.L. Foundation Inc., based in Dorchester, headed by CEO Earl Martin Phelan, received $1.25 million over two years.

The latest Clark high-jumpers – with $250,000 planning grants – are the Food Project Inc. in suburban Lincoln, Mass. (run by Pat Gray), and D.C.’s Asian-American LEAD for Youth and Families, led by Vietnamese-American Sandy Dang, who arrived in the U.S. 20 years ago at the age of 13. The Food Project began in 1991 as part of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, but since 1994 has been a separate nonprofit promoting youth development by combining farming, the environment and social issues.

Most enterprising of all, though, is Jeffrey Bradach, a managing partner of The Bridgespan Group Advisors Inc., which received $1,567,000. Bridgespan is a Boston-based spin-off of Bain & Co., which coaches Clark’s youth development grantees over the high hurdles (which don’t seem too high for agencies to surmount when they’re on the track of a grant in the millions).

Finally, three well-established grant-eaters crossed the Clark finish line: Public/Private Ventures, with $425,000 for research; Child Trends, with $250,000 to synthesize data; and the AED Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, with $450,000 to bring to scale the Community Youth Mapping Project. Contact: Clark (212) 551-9100, www.emcf.org.