At its core, Three Rivers Community Foundation is a grantmaking organization. That’s what we were created to do – to find out what organizations in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region were doing grassroots, social change work, and fund them. Since our founding in 1989, we have given away over $1 million in grants, to almost 300 different groups. That’s quite a track record to have.
This past December, I had the privilege to attend an event in Washington County, at the Common Ground Teen Center. It was an art show, featuring visual arts and mini-performances of spoken word, essays, poetry, etc. Had TRCF funded the Center? No. We had, however, funded a group of teens based at the Center – the Real Talk Performers. These teens write, produce, and direct performances about various issues of social justice, and what injustices they have seen in their lives. Not all of the artists in the show were members of RTP. However, I felt that I needed to attend, as a way to show that TRCF supports them.
The works of these teens were inspirational, and some also made you stop and think about what pain the artist must have experienced to produce her/his work. I was particularly captivated by one pen-and-ink series that evoked memories of a friend lost to suicide back when I was in high school. I had spoken to him not half an hour before he shot himself. This series brought back the raw shock that hit when I heard of his death. I have no idea if the artist meant for that to be the message, or if she/he had experienced something similar to what I had all those years ago. But that teen should know that their work touched this 30-something at a deep, visceral level. I am glad that the artist has a place like the Center to go to, to be able to express themselves however they need to, in such a safe, welcoming environment.
The teens in attendance – the artists and friends – certainly enjoyed showing off their talents to everyone who was there. However, while none of the teens said it, it was clear that they wished more adults had shown up. Adults who weren’t just friends and family. They craved an audience who would hear them – not just their words, but the messages behind the art. To not be dismissed as “just kids,” but to have their opinions and thoughts respected in the community.
Every year, when we announce our grantees, I send a group email to them all, introducing myself, introducing them to each other, and stating that TRCF remains here for them if they ever need help or advice, or if they have an idea and want to bounce it off of someone, even if it is not related to the project being funded. I try to mean it on a personal, and not just professional level. When grantees send us their event notices, if it’s possible, I try to attend. Working for a nonprofit means that I have to have a second job, however, so my schedule can be hectic at the best of times. But it is important to me to show up when I can. To show them that TRCF is there. That yes, we’re a source of funding, but that we’re also available as a resource. We can help promote events – through our blog, social media, and e-newsletter. That we can connect groups working on similar issues. That if I can’t answer a question, chances are I know someone who can. Bottom line, that we CARE about social justice, and those who are doing the work to promote it.
Being one of the only non-friends/family members in the room at the art show, I hope it sent a message back to the teens, as much as their art spoke to me: TRCF doesn’t just support one of your programs. TRCF supports you. We listen. We hear you, and we’ll do what we can to help if you need it. And that goes for all of our grantees. We’re here. We’ll listen. How can we help you?
Anne E. Lynch is the Manager of Operations at TRCF. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teen artist Katey Brock with her piece. Photo credit Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski