Thursday, January 28, 2010

RWJF Awards Grants to Ten Organizations to Promote Healthy

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ( ) has an- nounced three-year grants of up to $250,000 to ten organizations as part of a new $15 million initiative to plan and implement community-based strategies that build and sustain healthy neighborhoods.

A component of the foundation's efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the united states, the communities creating healthy environments initiative will help community-based organi- zations engage local residents in the policy-making process while they work to develop effective interventions that address root causes of childhood obesity in their communities. Selected for their strong track record on social, economic, and environmental justice issues, the first CCHE grantees include Inner City Strug- gle in Los Angeles; Padres Unidos in Denver; Safe Streets, Strong Communities in New Orleans; We Act for Environmental Justice in New York City; and Freedom, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin. Up to ten additional grantees will be announced later this year.

Recent research has demonstrated that when communities have access to fresh, affordable foods, residents eat more nutritiously, and when children have access to safe places to play, they are more active.

"CCHE builds on what we have learned from more than thirty years of community-based work," said project director Makani Themba- Nixon. "The answers are right in our own neighborhoods with our community leaders, with young organizers, and in our local orga- nizations. The work on the ground is truly amazing. It was extremely difficult to choose only ten groups."

Obama Proposes $1.35 Billion Expansion to Race to the Top

President Barack Obama has called for a $1.35 billion expansion of the school reform program known as Race to the Top as part of his fiscal 2011 budget, the Washington Post reports.

The funding would be in addition to the $4.35 billion that states already are competing for under the program, which is designed to encourage and support ideas that address the problems of a public education system which most people agree is failing too many stu- dents. To date, eleven states have implemented reforms mandated by the Department of Education in order to be eligible to receive funding and more than thirty states were expected to have applied for first-round funding by last week's deadline. Some of the eco- nomic stimulus money allocated to the schools program will be awarded in April, with states that do not receive funding eligible to re-apply in June.

Competition for funds from next year's federal budget will be opened to school districts, eliminating the tensions that emerged between local and state governments over stimulus money distribu- tion. The White House wants states to use Race to the Top funds to ease limits on charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement, and move toward a national, yet-to-be adopted set of academic standards.

The president said the program already has spurred changes, cit- ing a Wisconsin initiative to link teacher performance to student achievement, while other states have revamped their laws to allow for more charter schools and to create new incentives to attract better teachers. In addition, forty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have joined in an effort to develop a common core of rigor- ous educational standards to replace the current system in which states have wildly different benchmarks for what should be taught in school.

Haiti Update: Day 14

In the two weeks since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, the densely populated capital of Haiti, hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions have poured in from individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments around the globe for relief and recovery efforts, multiple news sources report.

Already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, the Caribbean nation, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, faces innumerable long-term challenges, including the cleaning up and rebuilding of its most populous city, the reconstitution of its crippled government, and the provision of food, shelter, and other basic needs to hundreds of thousands of individuals — many of them children — left homeless by the disaster. At the same time, medical care for the sick and injured remains in short supply, resulting in a death toll that continues to rise daily. Earlier this week, the Haitian government put the number of deaths from the disaster at 112,250, with an additional 194,000 people injured. Many aid workers suggest that the real toll may be higher, however, and the exact number may never be known.

As the extent of the damage caused by the January 12 quake became evident, international aid groups responded by issuing appeals for donations and sending workers to the disaster zone or mobilizing staff already in-country. And despite formidable logistical challenges that slowed the delivery of food and supplies to Port-au-Prince for more than a week, the American Red Cross, UN World Food Program, and other agencies were getting desperately needed supplies to the disaster zone and distributing food and clean water to hundreds of thousands of people a day by the end of week two.

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Mobile Giving Foundation, contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations to Haiti relief efforts had topped $517.5 million as of Tuesday — with at least $33 million of that raised via text-message campaigns. Friday's Hope for Haiti Now telethon further boosted individual contributions to aid agencies, bringing in more than $61 million via phone, Internet, and text message, as well as additional corporate donations and the proceeds from the sale of an iTunes recording of the star-studded event. A number of celebrities also have stepped up with major gifts, including $3 million from golfer Tiger Woods, $1.5 million from supermodel Gisele Bundchen, $1 million from actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and $1 million from a foundation launched by actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

The corporate response to the disaster was swift and robust. According to the Business Civic Leadership Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, within three days of the quake U.S.-based corporations had donated over $43 million to relief efforts — a number that had grown to more than $122 million by day fourteen. At the same time, several foundations announced large contributions to short- and long-term recovery efforts; they include the Open Society Institute ($4 million), the California Community Foundation ($2 million), the Carnegie Corporation of New York ($2 million), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.5 million), the Ford Foundation ($1 million), and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($500,000).

For their part, the world's governments have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to Haiti — including $500 million from the European Union, $135 million from Canada, and an initial $100 million from the United States. Commitments of $100 million also were made by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, many economists and development experts have called on the world's wealthiest nations to forgive Haiti's foreign debt, and a handful of countries have agreed to do so.

But while many Haitians are concerned that funds committed to long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts will be misappropriated by a government that ranks among the world's most corrupt and least effective, the international community has made it clear that it plans to be there for the hard-luck country over the long haul.

"It [is] not an exaggeration to say that at least ten years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti," said Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper at a conference of government representatives in Montreal this week. "We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible."

Thursday, January 21, 2010


NEW ORLEANS JAN 20--In an unprecedented show of unity, over 60 organizations contributed to or endorsed a platform of actions for the new mayor and council. They recommend such measures as a new city agency for the arts, cultural centers in neighborhoods, dedicated and expanded funding, and a focus on education, career development and work force training, all aimed to improve the earning ability of creative producers of all disciplines in the city, and to improve the city's overall economic prospects.

The Contemporary Arts Center today hosted various members of the gathering of cultural economy organizations, local artists along with key cultural leaders to present the platform which aims to expand and support the economic opportunities available to the visual and performing artists, designers and producers, architects, landscape and interior designers, apparel and jewelry designers, furniture makers, building and preservation arts professionals, and culinary artists who have created the cultural fabric of our city.

"We have made much progress in support of our culture bearers and producers in the last quarter of the 20th century, and in the first decade of the 21st. But we are still not "at the table" of policy makers in the public, non-profit and private sectors in a way that reflects the importance of our creative output to the city's economy, culture, and quality of life," said Rasheda Ferdinand of the Contemporary Visual Arts Association of New Orleans.

Cultural leaders and organizations representing all of the creative disciplines throughout the city came together to develop a united platform representing what they see as priorities for new administration in city hall, and the council so we can continue to stimulate cultural change through music, visual and media arts, and design.

"Arts are catalytic, it's the rising tide that lifts all boats," said Carol Bebelle Executive Director of the Ashe cultural center. After Ms. Bebelle and several other supporters of New Orleans' arts scene spoke the candidates for mayor and city council spoke of their experiences in the arts and how they intend to address the concerns of our citizens.

All the candidates in attendance endorsed the platform and also had some ideas of their own such as the creation of an agency to support the arts, dedication of city funding to the local cultural economy and placing a greater focus on the arts as an engine for economic development to benefit New Orleans. In attendance were Virginia Blanque, Rob Couhig, John Georges, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, Stacey Head, Denis Holden, Nadine Ramsey, Jackie Clarkson, Jerrelda Drummer-Sanders, Nolan Marshall and Joe Butler, representing Kristin Palmer.

Attached are key points of agreement, along with the organizations that are part of this endeavor. A more detailed version of the individual platforms and statements of our partners are available at, and

To facilitate an understanding of what candidates agree to support, we are asking all mayoral and council candidates to tell us which five to ten elements of the platform they will prioritize for implementation when they take office. Realistically we know that in these difficult times, not all elements can be implemented immediately. That is why we are interested to learn what candidates realistically feel they can achieve in the near term.

1. Create a City agency or Office to develop and coordinate cultural policy, planning, programming and budgeting. Create an advisory commission or committee to provide policy input.
2. Develop a dedicated funding source for cultural programming and cultural economic development.
3. Expand the marketing of the city's culture and cultural venues, and products on a national, citywide and neighborhood level.
4. Create an office within the city's economic development agency or the public, private partnership if developed to focus on the creative industries. Add a position on the partnership's board to represent the cultural producers and industries.
5. Expand cultural programming on the citywide and neighborhood levels, including public performances and exhibitions.
6. Develop neighborhood based cultural centers for presentation, education, business incubators, workforce training and retail sales.
7. Address health, housing needs and quality of life of the city's creative producers and cultural community.
8. Maintain the city's unique balance between preservation of our culture and encouragement of cultural innovation.
For additional information, please contact Jeanne Nathan at 917.232.4522.

More than 80 Volunteers join Operation REACH in Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a Day of Service

NEW ORLEANS, LA – To honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Operation REACH’s Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps (GYAC) led a day of service projects as part of the national MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 18, 2010. Through the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps, Operation REACH engages, empowers, and inspires community-focused youth leadership across the Gulf South.

More than 80 volunteers from Tulane, Xavier, and Loyola universities, Louisiana Green Corps, the U.S. Navy, and Hands On New Orleans joined Operation REACH’s staff, AmeriCorps VISTA members, and Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps (GYAC) in an effort to establish the Safe Haven Community Center as a beacon for education in the Tallow Tree community. The community center houses Home for Homework, Operation REACH’s after-school enrichment program for children in grades K-8. A number of much-needed projects in connection with the center, including painting, landscaping, community outreach, activity painting, and hanging of decorative tiles were accomplished by the many hard-working volunteers.

“The work that we are doing today, it’s not about working Monday through Friday and making that money, it’s about how our work actually pays off for the community around us.” said a volunteer from the Louisiana Green Corps. “[We] see immediate results. We’ve got fifteen bags of trash lined up. We’ve got four-plus offices already painted. We are getting some real good things done in one day.”

For additional information about volunteer opportunities such as this through Operation REACH, Inc., please contact