To maximize our positive impact on the region, the Community Foundation develops and implements large-scale, multi-year regional initiatives on a regular basis. Working with donors, nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, local and national experts, and members of the greater Birmingham community, we identify key concerns and develop initiatives to address specific concerns, as well as opportunities within the area.
In 2016, CFGB (with Catalyst Donor support) made a significant grant to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) to conduct an intensive study on regional cooperation. With 35 municipalities in Jefferson County and 89 in the seven-county metro-area, the region is a patchwork quilt of jurisdictions. Our metropolitan area has fallen behind regional rivals in areas such as economic, employment and population growth, in part because we lack unifying political or cooperative structures. The study and report (Together We Can), launched in June 2017, provides rigorous analysis of our current situation, the collaborative models other cities have employed, and the pros and cons of greater cooperation. It presents community leaders with sound information on which to evaluate possible alternatives for enhancing our region’s economic prosperity. Since the release of the report, Community Foundation staff (working with Direct Communications) has made presentations to 40 organizations representing over 2000 civic and community leaders, met with almost all regional government officials, and reached over 7,500 people through the Together We Prosper website. In 2018, we have moved from dissemination and discussion to planning and action. We are engaging elected officials around ways to use existing structures as a framework for cooperation and engaged more than 40 area leaders to serve on our Champions Council and provide strategic support to regional cooperation efforts. In June, 17 mayors from Jefferson County, along with three county commissioners, gathered at Top Golf to socialize and talk specifically about regional cooperation. The group has committed to meet in September for a facilitated deep dive in order to work on structure and identify and begin tackling a regional issue.
In 2015, CFGB played a lead role in bringing together major Birmingham institutions (City of Birmingham, UAB, BBA, REV Birmingham, Regions, Alabama Power) to compare economic development plans and identify areas of synergy. The group became known as the Mayor’s CEO Group and met throughout 2015 and 2016. During this period, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute came to Birmingham to speak about the Metropolitan Revolution and the importance of innovation districts – geographic areas that foster innovation through close coordination between leading-edge anchor institutions and companies and clusters of start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. This concept aligned with plans emerging from the Mayor’s CEO Group and its participating institutions. The group decided to focus on developing an innovation district, and UAB took the lead in moving the process forward. Support from CFGB’s Catalyst donors allowed the group to engage planning firm Perkins + Will to synthesize plans and complete a market and real estate analysis. Early successes supported by this partnership include the launch of the Velocity Business Accelerator at Innovation Depot (funded by CFGB) and a $6 million federal grant to help unemployed or underemployed young adults in Birmingham train for existing local tech jobs. In 2017, Catalyst support helped create an entity (Innovate Birmingham) to drive implementation of the plan and hire venture capitalist Bob Crutchfield as its Executive Director. Bob and the leadership team have refined the plan to employ multiple strategies – redeveloping the physical innovation district, attracting and aggregating investment capital, exploring incentives to promote startups – for fostering startup growth and technology-based economic development. By July 2018, Innovate Birmingham had completed five reports on tech ecosystem gaps and presented final recommendations for addressing these gaps. The team is now working on a proposed 18 month plan.
Burning Glass/ Building It Together (Workforce and Employment Study)
With support from Catalyst donors, CFGB has partnered with United Way, UAB, BBA and other partners in the Workforce Action Network to commission a study and report by Burning Glass Technologies, a national leader in labor market and employment data analysis. The report, only the second of its kind in the country (after Pittsburgh), is a comprehensive, forward-looking and data-driven picture of skill and occupation demand in the Birmingham region. It will serve as an invaluable tool to drive workforce training, education and economic development strategies in ways that harness our strengths, address our weaknesses and aim to maximize our competitiveness in a 21st century economy. In Pittsburgh, according to the Chairman of PNC Bank, a similar Burning Glass report ‘sounded the alarm on the looming 80,000 person skilled worker shortage, serving as a wake-up call and a catalyst for all employers, educators, civic leaders, and our current and future workforce goals.’ It anchored the efforts of employers, educators, and community organizations with a single goal, and has led to substantial funder investments, catalyzing a $250 million campaign for post-secondary education. The Birmingham report was released on June 5th at a public launch attended by over 200 people, generating great excitement and broad media coverage. Over the summer, the partners have been working on sharing the findings at presentations throughout the metro area and gathering input for a regional strategy. The City of Birmingham and UAB have been early leaders in using the findings to shape their strategic workforce development and education efforts.
Breast Cancer Survivorship Rehabilitation Initiative / Forge
The Women’s Breast Health Fund WBHF was established as a Field of Interest Fund by an anonymous gift of $5M in 2009 and then augmented with the establishment of the Women’s Breast Health Advised Fund with an additional gift of $5M in 2010. The purpose of both funds is to provide support for holistic breast cancer care for women and their loved ones from the time of diagnosis for the rest of their lives. In 2014, in an unprecedented move, CFGB brought together executive‐level leadership from all hospital systems in the Greater Birmingham Area (Baptist Health System, Brookwood Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Health System, Grandview Medical Center, UAB Medicine & School of Nursing) This unprecedented partnership has worked together to survey breast cancer survivors and co-survivors as well as breast cancer survivorship services in the Greater Birmingham area, including Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties. WBHF also provided funding to launch Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. Forge assists survivors and co-survivors in taking an active role in their fight against breast cancer by offering support, knowledge, strength and direction. Learn more…
According to the CDC, Alabama and all but one of the Birmingham metro counties have higher rates of suicide and poor mental health than the nation as a whole. Since 2008, Alabama has cut state funding for mental health by a total of 30%. Despite these challenges, CFGB has identified opportunities to make a meaningful difference in mental health. Drawing on proven national models, CFGB has taken the lead on two key mental health projects:
- Building Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: In 2015, CFGB became the backbone organization for the local Health Action Partnership’s Mental Health Priority Group, which aims to expand access to mental health services. Over the course of two years, the group researched children’s mental health systems, engaged a national expert in school mental health, and worked with four local school districts to develop a collaborative plan to build more comprehensive school mental health systems. In 2018, all this preparation and planning has culminated in the launch of this unprecedented partnership between four school districts and key partners to strengthen school mental health through enhanced training, assessment and mental health services.
- Vincent’s Collaborative Care Clinic: CFGB is partnering with St. Vincent’s Health System to implement an integrated care model (linking mental health and primary care) at two local primary care clinics. This model is associated with improved mental health outcomes and lower mean health care costs. A CFGB grant helped St. Vincent’s plan and launch the project in 2016. A 2018 outcome review indicates that over 2/3 of patients showed significant improvement in depression and/or anxiety. There have been some challenges around sustainability (limits to third party reimbursement in Alabama) and patient utilization that we are working through.
Predatory Lending Reform
In 2003, the Alabama legislature carved out a special exception to the Small Loan Act for certain types of loans. As a result, today Alabama has the second highest concentration per capita of payday lending businesses in the nation. In Alabama, payday lenders are allowed to charge 456% interest APR on loans up to $500, and auto title lenders can charge 300% APR on loans secured by the borrower’s car. Predatory lenders are disproportionately concentrated in low‐income communities that lack access to traditional financial services, and offer quick sources of cash as a way to seemingly bridge a short‐term cash crunch. However, studies show that customers often take out repeated loans and get trapped in a prolonged cycle of debt as they try to pay off the original loan and its high fees. The average borrower remains indebted for 212 days, renewing the loan 8 times. Since 2015, CFGB has been involved in advocating for predatory lending reform at the legislative level through a statewide, bipartisan, grass-roots coalition. In 2018, CFGB and partners pursued a legislative strategy focused on changing the minimum repayment period to 30 days, effectively halving the annual interest rate. The bill passed the Senate and had strong momentum going into the House, but was stalled when it was not brought up by the committee chair for a public hearing. Over 1/3 of the legislature slated to change in 2018, so we have worked with partners to develop an updated strategy that takes advantage of this change and builds on our past progress.
Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL)
Summer learning loss (the ‘summer slide’) is the primary cause of the cumulative academic performance gap for low‐income students. CFGB is part of a funder collaborative that helps develop summer programming opportunities that include both enrichment and a robust academic component. Beginning in 2014, CFGB began to focus most of its SAIL funding in the summer programs in Tarrant, an urban community northeast of Birmingham where 95.4% of the students receive free/reduced meals. This small school system has allowed us to pursue a longitudinal analysis of how summer programming impacts a child’s readiness for the next school year. The data over the past four years has consistently shown that: students participating in the SAIL program do show some gains in math and/or reading; students that started at the lowest performance level showed the most gains; students that participate in two or more programs (summer or afterschool) show greater gains. Relative to the highest performing SAIL programs, the gains from the Tarrant program are fairly modest; therefore, Tarrant is shifting in 2018 to Power Scholars curriculum, which has shown locally and nationally to be one of the more effective summer learning curricula.
At its 2016 retreat, the CFGB Board identified community revitalization in an underserved, high-need area of our footprint as a top priority for further exploration. As a result, CFGB spent 2017 exploring the potential for an initiative in the Western Area of Birmingham. Staff reviewed existing Western area plans and projects, conducted a series of conversations in Western Birmingham with community leaders, met with other institutions leading or interested in collaborative efforts in that area, and researched national models for inclusive community revitalization. The purpose was to build relationships in the community, identify needs and opportunities for collaborative action, and assess possible strategic roles for CFGB to play. At the end of the year, CFGB staff convened a workshop on Asset-Based Community Development as a way to further inform our approach in the Western area. In January 2018, we drafted a summary of findings a draft plan of action and have been working with new mayoral administration to align our plans with their priorities. We have identified North Titusville as one major hub of revitalization activity and are exploring two major projects for our second 2018 grant cycle. We are also developing possible project partnerships in Smithfield, West End and Ensley.