The Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation
A grantmaking framework focused on positive aging: creating the best neighborhoods to grow up and grow old
While many foundations grapple with addressing the needs of the rapidly growing number of older adults in their communities and integrating them as a resource to help solve community problems, the Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation provides a model for how to do it right. With its focus on Westchester County, NY, the Foundation bases its work on the following premise: older people are assets to their communities.They are an essentially untapped resource of time, talent, and experience, who offer the potential to benefit neighbors and neighborhoods.
No matter the size of your foundation or grantmaking budget, no matter the focus of your philanthropy, all can adapt the strategies this small family foundation has used to bring together older adults and organizations in efforts at building an aging-friendly community.
Lessons for Grantmakers
Early on, the Foundation employed a number of strategies that, in its view, are as important as its grants. They include:
- Identifying community movers and shakers. The Foundation has proactively sought to engage the community’s most influential people in dreaming big and working together at finding ways to create an aging-friendly community.
- Regularly gathering grantees and others together for networking, inspiration, learning, and dreaming. To help build a sense of community among grantees and encourage collaboration, the Foundation gathers grantees and community leaders several times a year for educational seminars highlighting nationally recognized, cutting-edge programs and emerging issues. Many national presenters are grantees of the Foundation and have helped local organizations and the Foundation create a bigger vision of what is possible in their communities.
- Asking again and again: how can older adults be resources? The Foundation is constantly nudging and prodding organizations of all types and shapes to design programs with and by older people, rather than for older people. The Foundation regularly poses questions like: How could older volunteers make this happen? Or how are older people involved in your planning?
- Positioning the community as a leader and a model for others. Through presentations at conferences and other venues, the Benedict Foundation and its grantees share models (and the lessons they learned from them) with other grantmakers and nonprofit organizations
One of the Foundation’s most important measures of success is the extent to which it has helped communities transform their needs-based thinking to asset-based thinking. That means moving away from viewing older people as poor, frail, needy, and sick liabilities, and toward seeing them as significant resources to their communities. The Foundation’s goal is to help communities throughout all of Westchester County adopt this way of thinking. With $700,000 in annual grantmaking, the Foundation has made huge strides.
Programs and Initiatives of the Benedict Foundation
55 Plus Yonkers Connections is a partnership between a local community planning council and a hospital that has a strong geriatric program. This program plays a vital role in Yonkers, helping adults 55+ participate in a range of activities, from lifelong learning, peer and social connections, employment, and volunteer opportunities to advocacy for the public good. An aggressive RSVP campaign launched several years ago in the city of Yonkers continuously recruits older volunteers for the arts, the environment, health and human services, libraries and education, and children and youth. As a result, nearly every older adult in Yonkers is aware of the wide array of opportunities available.
Through an $800,000, multi-year Intergenerational Health Initiative, the local United Way and the Benedict Foundation have woven together intergenerational programming that mobilizes people of all ages into action on behalf of their neighbors and neighborhoods, enhances meaningful opportunities for older people to volunteer their time and abilities, and encourages other funders to support intergenerational initiatives. In two years, more than 15 nonprofit agencies added an intergenerational component to existing programming, and 11 colleges and universities integrated new aging-related additions to their curricula. The Foundation and United Way also co-funded a shared childcare and adult daycare site and launched four Communities for All Ages programs. People of all ages work together to assess needs and envision and carry out community changes. Also, a small grant supported the creation of a local chapter of the New York State Intergenerational Network, and chapter meetings educate nonprofits and government decision makers and promote intergenerational approaches to community needs.
To help older adults age in place, teens from the Our Folks program survey their neighborhood to identify houses owned by lower-income older adults. Young people then visit the older homeowners, share a snack and conversation, and help them rake leaves, mow lawns, weed gardens, repair fences, and weatherize their homes.
Other programs funded by the Foundation include Grandpower, which connects older adults and helps them advocate for grandparents and the children they are raising. Grandparents are educating courts, schools, and social service agencies about the special needs of children being raised by grandparents. In the SMART program (Students and Mature Adults Read Together), 200 older volunteers tutor more than 400 students in 27 Yonkers schools.
Making it possible for older people to be independent and active participants in the community benefits all. Regardless of your approach, aging is an area ripe for exploration by foundations and funds of all sizes.
“The exciting thing about aging is that it is almost a pioneering field at this point. There are so many opportunities that can be tailored to any foundation’s interests,” says Barbara Greenberg, advisor to the Foundation.