The perception of rural communities is that of quiet, sparsely populated areas subsisting on agriculture and wildlife. Often small grants in these communities can have large ripple effects. While the needs may be similar to other rural areas, the Rio Grande Valley is anything but a textbook example of small town America. The Valley boasts a growing majority Latino middle class with strong heritage blended with American culture. While many of the misperceptions about rural grant making are prevalent, local organizations are working together to highlight other foundations' work in the area, bring new partners to the table, increase organizational capacity, shift from a “needs-based” to an “asset based” model, and ultimately demonstrate impact for tens of thousands of Mid-Valley residents.
“Improving the health of families in the Mid-Valley region of the Rio Grande Valley is a challenging but important task,” said Yvonne “Bonnie” Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer of Knapp Community Care Foundation (KCCF). In August 2019, KCCF jointly hosted a Funders Forum with Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation that bought together over 300 attendees including nonprofits, institutions of higher education, and other grant seekers interested in learning about grantmaking and funding opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. Several other funders who attended and participated on a panel were PSW members The Raul Tijerina Jr. Foundation and The Mike & Mary Terry Family Foundation. More information about the event including links to the presentations is available on the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation website. “Partnering with Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to host a funders forum to share resources and information with grantees has opened up a sense of community that goes beyond our historical funding geography.”
Conversations from the event are still reverberating across the Valley. After several discussions about potential impact investments Bonnie was able to provide an introduction between Robert “Bobby” Calvillo, CEO of Affordable Homes of South Texas Inc., and Debby Kasemeyer, Director of Community Development and Investment at PSW Member Northern Trust. Affordable Homes of South Texas Inc. is one of the largest nonprofit housing producers in the country. It serves as subdivision developer, builder and mortgage company exclusively for low income families in the area. Debby and Bobby developed a one million dollar, five-year debt investment strategy to create financial and social investment returns in a project that will provide affordable housing opportunities and related services to eligible families in the Rio Grande Valley. “There is a large and growing population that need access to home ownership and home improvements in order to participate economically in the community,” said Debby. “Northern Trust is proud to make an investment in a community where we have established relationships with trusted partners.” Debby leads a Social Impact Advisory Services team that educates and deploys capital as well as provides valuation and tracking of investments.
Bonnie was pleased with the result: “I am always happy to introduce new ideas and connect new partners to our vibrant community!” This is one example of the changing narrative of philanthropy in South Texas. Grantees are getting more specific about the assets they have to effect change and grant makers are working together to create efficiencies and economies of scale to reflect the expanding economic opportunity for residents in the region. President & CEO of Philanthropy Southwest, Tony Fundaro sees impact investments and rural funding as important philanthropic trends. “Successful philanthropy is about connecting people in communities to address the most pressing issues. Our members continue to look for opportunities to build relationships, innovate and develop the capacity to advance and strengthen cultures, thoughts and values of distinct communities in the Southwest.”