By Callie Hietala
The Harvest Foundation on Wednesday announced its new 2022-2026 strategic plan and direction that focuses on the idea of hope.
The new vision features three primary areas of focus, according to Senior Program Officer DeWitt House: thriving youth, a vibrant community, and a resilient and diverse economy.
Accomplishing the first area will include focusing on partnerships with community members and organizations to provide first-class learning and development opportunities for youngsters, from birth to college.
Part of this will be accomplished through the continuation of the SEED Fund. House said the foundation will focus, too, on learning and development opportunities for early childhood education with an emphasis on quality and affordability.
A vibrant community also means a healthy community, House said, and added that the foundation will work to support existing health systems to ensure that residents have access to primary and behavioral health care with a special emphasis on destigmatizing mental health and substance abuse services.
The area of a vibrant community focus means the foundation will explore improved affordable housing and broadband expansion. House said it also will look to “help create space for honest conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
A resilient and diverse economy supports efforts to increase jobs and the tax base while building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, which will work to promote talent that helps form and grow companies and develops opportunities so everyone can participate.
The foundation will work to strengthen systems lessening the effects of benefits loss and helping families overcome poverty.
“We want to focus not only on who’s thriving, but who’s not,” House said, adding that the foundation will continue to invest in the nonprofit community, helping to build capacity so organizations can “meet people where they are.”
The announcement comes after a year-long process of data collection and analysis, as well as extensive community input through focus groups, work groups, and public surveys.
Kate Keller, president of the foundation, said the plan was developed with the “use of an intentional equity lens,” and emphasized inclusion.
Senior Operating Officer Sheryl Agee said that, over the course of the past year, the foundation “looked back to see what worked, what didn’t, what needs still existed, and listened to community voices.”
From that, Keller said officials discovered that “despite our success with new jobs and investment, our poverty rates have not budged. We learned that many in our community feel invisible and not engaged, that our community shares a general lack of hope and optimism. People feel stuck and don’t share a common vision for the future.”
Agee noted that, in Martinsville and Henry County, single women likely will need some college to make a living wage, while single men are more likely to earn a living regardless of educational attainment.
She said there are continued challenges posed by the limited access and affordability of broadband, transportation, and housing, as well as issues facing the community related to addiction and mental health services.
Agee said that the area’s population decline has continued, but the loss is slowing, “which suggests to us we have turned a corner.”
However, the remaining population is “becoming more diverse,” Agee said, “with an increased Hispanic-Latinx population.”
Josh Blancas, who owns The Ground Floor in Uptown, said that he participated in one of seven work groups that helped the foundation develop this new strategy. The diversity of the groups offered a lot of different perspectives on various issues. The focus of his group was building community hope.
“Everything we talked about in our work group is perfectly reflected in this strategic plan,” he said. “This isn’t the result of a few voices, but of many voices.”
“The North Star of our plan is hope,” Agee said. “We feel it signifies our desire to help build a community where all have a voice and feel empowered to make a change, however small.”
Bill Kirby, chairman of the Harvest Foundation’s Board of Directors, said that, typically, the result of Harvest’s strategic planning process is something “much more tangible” than the concept of hope.
“When we convened these groups, each and everyone brought up in one way or another some sort of hope, and more specifically the loss of hope or lack of hope,” he said. “It became apparent to us at Harvest” that hope— “the thought that your tomorrow is going to be better than your today”—was something the organization would have to address for other initiatives to be successful.
“We’ve bitten off a lot to chew,” Kirby said. “It’s ambitious, yes, but you don’t have good results unless you’re willing to take a risk.”