There’s no question Flint has undergone rapid change in the past few years. Through it all, the Ruth Mott Foundation has remained committed to our hometown and to working with community — and most importantly to follow the lead of the residents of Flint as we respond to this community’s priorities.
As I reflect on 2015–16, I think of our Foundation’s shift to focusing on north Flint, to our commitment to addressing our city’s water crisis, and to our celebration of Applewood’s storied past. All of these activities were enhanced by the feedback, insights, and expertise of community members.
On the advice of Flint residents, we opened Applewood in 2016 to the community more than ever before, celebrated Applewood’s 100th anniversary with vibrant community events, new tours of the home, and regular visitor hours. The veil of mystery over the historic residence was lifted, allowing visitors to feel more connected to the family, to Flint and to our shared rich heritage. With the community’s guidance, the Foundation continues to make great strides toward transforming Applewood into the public resource that my mother envisioned.
In February 2016 our Board of Trustees pledged $1 million toward the Flint water crisis. Knowing that the elevated levels of lead in the water system jeopardized the health and vitality of every Flint resident, we directed the funding with input from the on-the-ground coordinators living with the crisis every day. Programs included access to nutritious foods that mitigate the effects of lead exposure, door-to-door delivery of water and resources, and mobile mental health services in neighborhoods. We made this pledge to support Flint residents as the state of Michigan and other governmental entities work to address the harm that was caused.
Perhaps our deepest and most impactful discourse with Flint residents came about during our strategic planning forums that started in November 2015, when over 500 community members helped shape the new north Flint strategy that we officially adopted in 2016. As noted in our strategy, true engagement means the Foundation has to build relationships based on mutual trust; listen and respond; confront internal and external assumptions; and make the decision to genuinely share control. We are doing just that, and we have inspiring stories to share. From an iconic neighborhood center brought back to life, to a youth gardening program that gives kids a job and critical life lessons, these are the north Flint people and programs on which the Ruth Mott Foundation is focused.
To all of you who have helped us shape this new strategy: Thank you. We will continue to follow your lead.
In the philanthropic world, grantmaking is perhaps the most renowned tool at the disposal of any foundation, but we recognize that it is only one tool of many that can be used to bring about meaningful and sustainable change for the betterment of community.
As the Ruth Mott Foundation shifted to focusing on north Flint, we pledged to go beyond grantmaking, to work closely with the organizations and institutions who are highly invested in north Flint, and, above all, to keep the people who live in north Flint at the center of our work. In other words, this pledge is about relationships — the kind of authentic, meaningful relationships that can only be formed through true community engagement.
In the work reflected in this report, you’ll read about how north Flint residents shaped our new strategy, created our new priority areas, and inspire us to continue this work into the future. In just one example of the importance of these relationships, you’ll see a video story featuring Pastor R. Sherman McCathern, a relentless advocate for the Flint families who weren’t getting the information or resources they needed amid the water crisis. With his assistance, a collaboration of community partners ensured hundreds of residents received safe water, filters, and trustworthy information.
Emboldened by the endurance and resilience of north Flint community members like Pastor McCathern, the Ruth Mott Foundation is advancing its goal of helping north Flint residents create and sustain opportunities to contribute and thrive.
And, as always, we will continue our commitment to working for community, with community.
Handy L. Lindsey, Jr.