Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Remembering Rhett Wolfe

The Sisters of Charity Foundation and the Columbia community lost a great person last week with the death of Rhett Wolfe. Rhett was one of the most positive people I have ever known.  He always made the best out of every situation. Even in the worst of times, he would find something to smile about. I truly admired that about him. Rhett served this Foundation for many years. He was a founding member of the Board and began his first term in 1996.He actually was the only Board member to come back on the Board for another term after his full term expired. He was our Board Chair from 2003-2005 and served on virtually every committee that the Foundation had to offer. He was truly loved by our Board and staff.

Rhett, Sister Judith Ann Karam, Pat Littlejohn and I joined other South Carolina Foundation colleagues on a trip to Prague in 2004. We visited several Foundations and spoke to a group of local funders on finding ways to engage a community in philanthropy. Rhett made the trip so much fun. We toured the Country, ate good food and we laughed. Then we laughed some more. It was a memorable experience.

Rhett Wolfe touched my life in many ways and he was my friend. But hundreds, if not thousands of others could say the same thing. We are proud to have had him as part of the Sisters of Charity Foundation family for 14 of our 18 years. He was faithful, loyal and dedicated to our mission.

Even though Rhett had a tragic ending that took his life too soon, we were blessed to have known him for as long as we did. And frankly, I find it hard to feel sad when I think of him. Even after he is gone, he still makes me smile. That is the Rhett Wolfe I will always remember.

Tom Keith, President
Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina

Friday, July 25, 2014

May I Have This Dance?

In 2007, an article was published in the New York Times, entitled, “The Down Side of Diversity” (Jonas, 2007).  However, the question might arise as to how there could possibly be a down side to diversity. How could this be when the United States of America is home to over 317 million people and with nearly 7.1 billion people in the world (Schlesinger, 2013)? With America proudly touting its identity as the “melting pot” of multitudes of people of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and multitudes of other differences, how could there be a downside of diversity? Yet, in interviews conducted with 30,000 people in America regarding their thoughts and feelings about diversity, findings revealed that the more diverse the setting, the lower the measures of civic health (Jonas, 2007).  In other words, where diversity existed, there was less community or collective strength, vigor, and well-being. But, how could this be?

Consider this..."Diversity" has become a buzz word of sorts amongst organizations. Over time, there has been great investment in diversity programs, workshops, trainings, and the like. Many organizations have even hired chief diversity officers in an effort to ensure that the organization acquires and maintains a diverse culture.

However, I believe that focused attention to "Diversity" alone can ultimately become detrimental to an organization and its effectiveness when the organization leaves out the critical element of - Inclusion. Indeed, organizations can be diverse, yet still not be inclusive. There can be an acknowledgment of differences, yet still no intention to honor and include those differences in the work and in practice. Verna Myers explained the differences between diversity and inclusion as such, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance."       

In essence, it is not enough to merely go about touting how diverse the organization is when there is little to no glimpse of inclusionary practices. Furthermore, "the absence of inclusion can also be seen as the absence of an “ethical imperative” (Ferdman, 2014, p. 10) to move beyond the superficial to “create environments in which a broader range of people can feel safe, accepted, valued, and able to contribute their talents and perspectives for the benefit of the collective” (Ferdman & Roberts, 2014, p. 95).

Therefore, I encourage you to assess the diversity of your organization, your board, your stakeholders, and the communities and people you serve. Observe their differences. Examine their strengths, talents, and the abilities they bring. See their many ages, ethnicities, genders, races, religions, and abilities. Acknowledge their presence and above all honor them by simply extending your hand and asking them one simple question, "May I have this dance?"


Ferdman, B. M., & Roberts, L. M. (2014). Creating inclusion for oneself: Knowing, accepting,
    and expressing one's whole self at work. Diversity at work: the practice of inclusion (pp. 93-127). 
    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ferdman, B. M. (2014). The practice of inclusion in diverse organizations. Diversity at work:
                the practice of inclusion (pp. 3-54). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jonas, M. (2007, August 5). The downside of diversity. New York Times. Retrieved June 10,
                2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/world/americas/05iht-

Schlesinger, R. (2013, December 31). The 2014 U.S and world populations. US News.
                Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Duke Endowment is a great asset to South Carolina

Recently, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina hosted Gene Cochrane, President of the Charlotte based Duke Endowment. Named for James B. Duke, The Endowment was established from an Indenture of Trust with an initial gift of $40 million in 1924. In establishing The Duke Endowment, J.B. Duke built on the foundation of giving that had been established by his father, Washington, and carried on by his older brother, Ben.

Mr. Duke died unexpectedly in 1925 leaving the Endowment an additional $67 million. The original Indenture of Trust is read every year by the trustees and President of the Endowment and great care has been taken to closely align with the desires and vision of its author James B. Duke.

The Endowment has been a major supporter of organizations throughout South Carolina for 90 years.  With current assets of $3.2 billion, the Duke Endowment invested more than $21 million in South Carolina last year alone.

As in 1924, Duke’s main focus areas are Child Care, Health Care, Higher Education and Rural Churches; providing resources to organizations and institutions in North and South Carolina that offer effective and creative ways to make a difference for people. They have been involved in special programs around nurse family partnerships, Children’s advocacy, Free Medical Clinics, Orphanages, and a host of other projects.  Their efforts to promote health and nurture children have had a huge impact on many lives here in our state. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Duke Endowment, not only for its investment of money but also for its commitment to changing the lives of individuals and families to be healthier and more self sufficient. And the Endowment, along with Mr. Cochrane and his entire staff, has done their work with grace and humility. This is a rare attribute in today’s world.

Duke is a great asset to South Carolina’s nonprofits, Universities, and Hospitals. We can only hope that the next 90 years will allow the Duke Endowment to continue its important investment in our state. Their presence is important to all of us and I am very thankful they are here.

Tom Keith

President, Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina is offering two Leadership Programs.

The two different leadership programs being offered by the Foundation have tremendous value to nonprofit organizations and their staffs. I encourage any nonprofit in the state to consider attending. This is a no cost program unless you want to acquire a Masters then it is a modest cost. It is taught by talented and knowledgeable individuals that provide practical insights to today’s issues.

An added benefit becomes the interaction among class participants. Together they learn a great deal from each other. They can talk freely among their peers and help each other problem solve and also learn important new ideas and concepts.

The Foundation launched the Carolina Academy a little more than five years ago and the leadership component was added to enhance learning through a concentrated program. I have heard so much positive feedback from those who have participated in our leadership programs.

Every leader needs to grow and often it is difficult to grow within the office setting. That is another reason why the programs are so valuable. The deadlines are coming up in the not too distant future so please apply or refer the link to someone else that might benefit. It is worth it (because it is free).

Click here for more information and to apply.

Tom Keith, President
Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Raising money is not just about raising money

Over the past few months, it has become clear to me that the pain and pressure of having to raise money is excruciating.  I knew it was bad in 2008, but it seems as though it is just as difficult today. Asking a funder for money is a pretty easy thing to do. You simply pitch an idea, complete an application or send in a proposal. It becomes a numbers game. If you ask 50 people for money, you hope that five say yes now and maybe five more say yes later. You always know that 100% is not realistic.

It has occurred to me that the art of asking for money and the science of explaining why you are asking for money are not always connected. Often times, the disconnection comes from within the grant seeking organization’s structure. The CEO, Fund Development Director, Grant Writer and Program Director are not automatically “on the same page.” This becomes really clear to a grant reviewer when ideas and concepts are cloudy because often the responsibility of writing a grant has been left in the hands of a grant writer, sometimes in isolation.  Truthfully, this can be a real problem for the organization seeking funds because the application can appear to be shallow or not well thought out. It is imperative that all the players involved in the “ask” have developed a cogent and clear strategy and that every person involved in the process has signed off on the final product.  It is no longer realistic to think that funders are going to provide grant dollars to organizations just because they like them. Dollars are too tight and options for funding are greater than ever before. Substantive programs are crucial to being funded.

So my advice is to: do your homework, have a realistic strategy, have the whole team “buy in”, have a realistic budget and then have a conversation with the Grantor about the proposal you are about to submit. You may not get funded but, at least you have taken the necessary steps to be fully considered.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Benedict College is our Hidden Gem

Recently, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina was invited to visit Benedict College to receive the 2013 Community Leadership Award presented by the School of Business. The Foundation’s Board Chair, Dee Dee Chewning, along with Sister Nancy Hendershot, CSA, and all Foundation staff attended the special ceremony. President Swinton was extremely hospitable in welcoming us and I found the faculty, staff, and students to be engaging, kind, professional and truly interested in the work of the Foundation and the individuals and families we serve.

Although Benedict College is just down the street from my office, it had been several years since I visited the College’s campus. However, I had an “aha moment” after my visit.

Often times, perceptions overshadow reality when people look at an Institution like Benedict College. For example, did you know…

Benedict College is the home of the…

  • Nationally-ranked, award-winning, Benedict College Gospel Choir.
  • Honors Debate Team Champions.
  • Basketball Team Champions (Men and Women).
  • Cross Country Team Champions (Men).

 Benedict College has national academic accreditations:

  • The School of Business and Economics is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
  • The School of Education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
  • Social Work Program was the 1st HBCU social work program in South Carolina to be nationally accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
  • Benedict College is the 2nd HBCU in the nation and the 1st in South Carolina to receive national accreditation for its Environmental Health Program by the Environmental Health Accreditation Council (EHAC).
  • The Child Development Center serves over 70 children and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Benedict has national academic rankings:
  • Benedict College was ranked 1 of the top 10 colleges in the nation in producing African Americans with an undergraduate Physics degree, as reported by the Education and Employment Statistic Division of the American Institute of Physics.
  • The Benedict College pioneering Service Learning Program is a national model program and serves over 114 non-profit organizations around the Midlands. The program recently won the 6th Annual Commission on Higher Education’s Service Learning Competition.

Benedict College is in the business of Community Development:

  • The Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation was established to acquire, rehabilitate, resell or lease sub-standard housing and remove blight from surrounding College neighborhoods.
  • The Business Development Center recently partnered with the FDIC to implement its Money Smart program that teaches people how to understand credit, personal budgets, and assesses the cost and benefits of consumer and home loans.

Therefore, here is what I believe. I believe the reality is that Benedict College’s students and faculty are committed to learning and teaching and that, collectively, they are embracing higher education in exciting ways. I witnessed the magnificent choir, stellar student leaders, confident and poised and young people from all across the country that chose Benedict College for its mission and value added for being part of a Historically Black College/University (HBCU).

My hope is that you will join me in applauding President David Swinton, Dean Gerald Smalls, and the entire Benedict College for its contribution to the Midlands and to the state of South Carolina. I now realize more than ever what we have here in Columbia. Benedict College is a “hidden gem” that often does not get credit for the education it provides or for the impact they have on preparing students as future leaders. The reality is, they are a great Institution and I am proud to call them my neighbor.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What about Allendale South Carolina?

Allendale is a small town in one of South Carolina’s rural counties. If you travel down Highway 301 in Allendale you see remnants of the past. At one time, Allendale was not only a busy community with thriving businesses, restaurants, and motels but a bustling thoroughfare for travelers heading south from New York and north from Florida. Hundreds of cars traveled through the town every day until Interstate 95 was constructed and a new, more direct, four lane route was created for these same travelers around 1970. After that, Allendale was off the map and businesses quickly began to suffer. It was the beginning of a downward spiral for Allendale.

Fast forward to 2013 and South Carolina’s smallest county is now shackled with poor schools, unemployment and poverty. Allendale ranks near the bottom in every statistical category. It is the poorest county in the state with 40% of the population living below the poverty level and Its unemployment rate is second highest at 17%. Its median family income is last at $24,820 per year and its public school performance is fourth from the bottom in standardized testing. Also, nearly 98% of the students attending school in the county are poor and nearly all the teachers live in other counties and commute to Allendale.

What’s even worse is that South Carolina, as a state, ranks near the bottom nationally in several of these same categories. For example, it ranks 48th out of 50 states with children in poverty. It ranks 43rd in families living below the poverty line and 41st in percent of the population with less than a high school education. So Allendale is not only near the bottom in South Carolina, It is near the bottom in the entire United States. Is all of this a direct result of losing a highway that came through town? Many people believe this was the catalyst for the “Allendale downfall.”

Many private funders have essentially given up on Allendale. One funder told me that he felt Allendale was a “lost cause” and putting money there was tantamount to “pouring it down a black hole.” So why have people given up on Allendale? Is the problem so overwhelming that it cannot be fixed or is it that there is simply not enough money to fix it?

These complex community and financial issues without solid answers are not unique to Allendale. If you travel up the Interstate 95 corridor through Bamberg, Orangeburg, Clarendon, Williamsburg, Marion, and Dillon Counties, you see very similar situations. Allendale just happens to be a little worse than the others. Besides unemployment and poverty, you have a very high teenage pregnancy rate; you have an extremely high obesity and diabetes rate per capita; you have the highest infant mortality rate in the state and one of the worst in the country.  The life expectancy of people in Allendale is much lower and the senior citizens who do make it are at an extremely high risk of the threat of hunger.

Allendale did not choose to be poor and it did not choose to lose businesses and therefore lose its tax base which affects its schools. It was the victim of a system of modern transportation. Many people living in Allendale do not see a way out or an improved life. Those in power often have their own priorities which can often be at odds with the people who reside in that community.  It is a sad state of affairs.

Here are a few thoughts about improving things a bit.

 Small rural impoverished communities have lost their economic engines. Therefore, they have lost their job base, tax base, and often their motivation for anything new within the community. They are in survival mode. Many have simply given up on “what is possible” and focused on “what they have lost”. 

  • A good starting point is to find a way to get everyone to focus on the “bigger picture”. Develop a realistic strategic plan for the community and involve stakeholders at every level. Government, churches, schools, outreach programs, businesses, health care providers, and other community stakeholders are very well intended but often work in isolation. It is important to get the people and organizations to “buy in” to a specific plan in the best interest of the overall community. Everyone has to see a better defined strategy with goals and action steps to be executed that will have an impact on every citizen in the community.

Within the strategic plan one must:

  • Find that elusive economic engine using existing assets (beautiful land and wildlife are prevalent in Allendale).

  • Better utilize institutions. USC has a successful branch in Allendale with a very good nursing program and can be a real driver in the community and economic development towards a brighter future. They should take the lead.

  • Build more effective school readiness programs

  • Involve the faith community and all the spirit, energy, and intelligence it has to give.

  • Strengthen parent training and add strong afterschool and recreational programs beyond what is available today.

  • Create or improve a public or quasi public transportation program to support employment, education, and medical needs.

  • Improve public education and reduce dropout rates by offering stronger alternative options such as GED and diploma programs during the evening hours and on weekends.

  • Give a voice to the poor. If you live in poverty and have ideas but believe they will never be heard, then you are voiceless. Leaders of any movement must engage and listen to those experiencing the life that the leaders are trying to help improve. Change and vision must come from all levels—top to bottom and bottom to top.

I think Allendale has some beautiful places. Its farmland, wildlife, and natural beauty is outstanding. It has beautiful people also and they want a life filled with hope and opportunity.

Allendale has a future and it does not have to be a bad one. Finding the vision, energy and passion for this wonderful rural town is the first step towards making Allendale more like the Allendale of the pre 1970 era.

This is the first in a series of blogs to be written about community issues and opportunities across South Carolina.