Robins Foundation’s new strategic direction is well underway, and we are actively engaging with and investing in organizations addressing the early childhood education (ECE) needs in our community. In fact, next week we will announce the 15 nonprofit organizations who will receive grant funding totaling almost $900,000 as part of our June 2022 ECE cycle. We are also defining and building out our framework to begin investing in nonprofits making Richmond a vibrant and dynamic place to live.
To fully execute our Board’s new strategic direction, we have developed a streamlined staffing structure that sets us up for success and provides well-deserved opportunities for team members to step up and shine in new ways. To that end, we are delighted to announce the following promotion:
Dan Halloran has been promoted to Director, Operations. Since starting with Robins six years ago as an intern, Dan has quickly developed and mastered a wide range of knowledge and skills related to our “behind the scenes” operations needs and requirements. For the past three years, Dan was our Program and Grants Manager. Now, in his new role, Dan will continue his Program and Grants Manager duties while also taking on new administrative responsibilities related to budgeting, human resources, office management, and various other internal processes that are essential to the Foundation’s success.
We also want to announce an opportunity to join our team, as we are looking to fill an upcoming opening for a Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Education. Elliot Haspel, our current Senior Program Officer, will be relocating to Colorado at the end of July to be closer to family and leaving Robins Foundation later this fall. Elliot has played an integral role in developing our early childhood strategic framework and overseeing our early childhood grant-making portfolio, and we will sincerely miss him. As a nationally-recognized child & family policy expert and commentator and the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It, we have no doubt Elliot will be hugely successful in his new ventures.
If you know someone who may be interested in this opportunity at Robins Foundation, please share the job description with them.
Chris Chin named Robins Foundation’s new CEO – will lead Early Childhood Focus
Juliet Shield-Taylor, Chair, Board of Directors announced that Dr. Christopher Chin will become the President and CEO of Robins Foundation, effective March 2, 2022. An experienced leader in philanthropy, child development, and nonprofit organizations, he will focus on launching the foundation’s new strategic framework centered on early childhood education.
Chris has devoted his educational and professional career to helping young children and their families and is well poised to lead the organization into a new phase of early childhood-focused impact in the community. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with his PhD in Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, including advanced training at Yale University in child psychology. He has led several efforts focused on early childhood education and family literacy, including serving as Co-Director of the Literacy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University and Director of the Virginia Literacy Foundation, where he developed and oversaw state-wide initiatives focused on early learning and development.
Chris has been with Robins Foundation for almost eight years, starting as Director, Community Partnerships, leading the foundation’s early childhood-focused grantmaking. He was responsible for developing peer funder collaborations and deep community engagement throughout the Richmond region. Most recently, he served as the foundation’s Vice President, Operations and Organizational Development.
Says Chin, “I am thrilled and honored to lead this organization as it begins the next exciting chapter in its longstanding service to the Richmond community. We have an incredible opportunity to strengthen our investments and partnerships in early childhood education so that Richmond can become a place where all young children can learn, grow, and thrive. This next step for me and the foundation reflects my long-standing passion and commitment to make a meaningful difference in the lives of as many children and families as possible. I look forward to working alongside our energized Board, our talented staff, and our inspirational partners to make a measurable impact on our community.”
Kelly Chopus, Robins Foundation’s current President & CEO, will be moving on from the organization in late March.
As CEO of Robins Foundation for almost 8.5 years, Kelly has been a change-maker in the community, leading the organization through strategic shifts and building a talented team of experts. Her leadership has been influential in enhancing the landscape of Richmond’s nonprofit community through open dialog, relationship-building, and collaboration with other funders to address the region’s most pressing needs.
Kelly will remain with the Foundation in an advisory capacity until the end of March. Kelly looks forward to continuing to serve both Richmond and the region’s philanthropic community in a new capacity.
Says Chopus, “I am humbled by the trust the board, staff, and community placed in me and I am more humbled by the experiences and privileges of meeting and knowing community leaders who serve their neighbors every day through the work their organizations do. I am truly amazed by the work of our board, our staff, and our partners. The foundation has a powerhouse staff who will carry on the upcoming important work as the foundation refines its focus, and I am thrilled about the future impact of the organization. Chris Chin is the right leader at the right time, and I have utmost confidence in him as he steps into the role of CEO.”
Robert Dortch, Robins Foundation’s current VP, Program and Community Innovation, will leave the organization in mid-February.
For almost 8 years, Robert focused on growing a highly-skilled, diverse program team and strengthening the foundation’s innovative grantmaking, community engagement, and collaboration.
Robert has played an enormous role, leading the foundation’s deployment of more than $30 million in grant funding to support education, capacity building, innovation and strategic partnerships; helped create $4.5 million of impact investment to support place-based community initiatives; and led the foundation in innovative grantmaking, launching a Community Innovation Grant (CIG) process that resulted in more than $6 million distributed.
We are enthusiastic about the significant impact Robert will continue to have for the region in his new role as Chair for the Board of Trustees of Philanthropy Southeast.
“I am grateful for my time working with the Robins Foundation’s incredible staff and inspiring partners,” says Dortch, “and I am excited for this opportunity to have a bigger impact outside the organization, pursue a personal passion, and continue to give back to our partners and philanthropy as a whole.”
Juliet Shield-Taylor, Chair of the Board of Directors added, “The Robins Foundation is grateful for the vision and leadership of Kelly and her team, and we are thrilled to welcome Chris as our next leader. While we are sad to see Robert leave us, we wish him well as he pursues his professional and personal interests.”
Continuing a legacy of impact and transformation for our community’s children
Over the past eight years, with the hard work of staff and skilled guidance of the board, Robins Foundation has been committed to strategic grantmaking, collaboration, and community support, aspiring to be a catalyst for positive change within the Richmond region.
We are grateful to our leaders and staff members for the impact they have had on the foundation’s direction and success. Under the leadership of Chris Chin and the Foundation’s Board of Directors, we look forward to new opportunities to ensure our young children thrive and to contribute to the long-term dynamism and vibrancy of Richmond.
A question I am often asked is, “why is child care so expensive, if child care teachers are paid so little?” The child care crisis in the Richmond region very much mirrors that of the nation – spots for kids are scarce and often incredibly expensive. At the same time, compensation is so low that these facilities cannot find enough staff members, forcing programs and facilities to run below capacity. Given how key early childhood education is for both working parents and child development, it is important to understand the structural pressures causing this failing system, and where we go from here.
“One fundamental that predates the pandemic and its ripple effects is the cost of doing business in a highly constrained industry. In most states, for instance, one teacher is permitted under the law to care for a maximum of six to eight toddlers. Personnel eats up 70 percent or more of program budgets. So even though parents are paying through the nose, the true cost of care — the cost where programs are operating comfortably and compensating their staff well — is so high that programs would take a loss on each kid. As it stands, programs already have to cut wages to the bone just to keep the lights on. To keep pace with other industries, their only option (other than public funding or closure) is massively raising prices — hence, [child care may become] a luxury good. The U.S. Treasury Department has called the child-care business model “unworkable.”
In Virginia, the median wage of a child care worker is $10.96 an hour. That rate is far below a living wage for Virginia, and drives significant turnover among child care workers. Teacher to child ratios – which ensure safety and quality — are 1:4 for infants (i.e., 1 teacher for every 4 infants), 1:5 for kids between sixteen months and two years, 1:8 for two-year-olds, and 1:10 for three- and four-year-olds. When you consider the diminishing number of child care workers compared to the number of children who need care, you begin to see the problem. This is why most of metro Richmond is considered to be a “child care desert.”
The staffing shortages are making an already difficult-to-locate resource close to impossible. This summer, I helped Smart Beginnings-Greater Richmond and a coalition of other early childhood partners put out a survey to local child care providers. As reported in the Virginia Mercury in June, the survey “found that — of the 26 child care programs they’ve reached so far — 85 percent reported staffing shortages. In total, there were 114 open teaching positions across all of the facilities.” This represents only a sliver of the programs in the region, and by all reports, shortages have only grown worse since then.
Help may be on the way in the form of the federal government’s Build Back Better package, which contains considerable levels of permanent funding for child care and pre-K. However, even if that legislation passes, there will be a tremendous amount of work to do in order to implement the new system well. Staff will need to be recruited, facilities upgraded, and an administrative infrastructure put into place that allows parents to easily access choices which meet their needs and preferences. None of these elements will be swift or simple. And if the legislation does not pass, there will be all the more need for local and state governments to step up.
Robins Foundation stands ready to support these efforts. Our priorities include directly supporting high-quality child care programs and the nonprofits that work to generate that local infrastructure, supporting the advocacy and policy work to ensure that the laws impacting the Richmond region are strong and fair, and supporting parents of young children in accessing the services that are available to them to be the best possible ‘first teacher’ for their children.
This is a moment of both uncertainty and possibility for Richmond’s young children and their families. We must meet the moment with conviction and clear-eyed vision for both the short- and long-term. If we succeed, we can positively change the trajectory of our region’s future and the lives of its children.
But imagine that in addition to the above challenges, you did not have the money or the technology for an internet connection at home this past year. Imagine you had difficulties accessing a computer with which your child could attend school, or that you did not have the money to feed them lunch every day. Imagine helping your child, or someone else’s child, succeed at virtual school under all these circumstances, while more family members and friends than you could count on your two hands became sick or died of COVID-19.
We learned directly from our School System Administrator partners and from families participating in the Richmond Resilience Initiative that many members of our own community navigated these challenges from March 2020 until now. These scenarios highlight why many of our students and educators will be returning to school in September dealing with some level of trauma.
A recent study conducted by our policy partner, The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) found that “[m]any students, particularly those whose parents could not afford private supports, have fallen behind in the virtual learning environment.” Another study cited by TCI “suggests that an additional investment of roughly $10,000 per student in school divisions with high concentrations of students living in poverty, Black and Latinx students, and English Learners is required to make up for lost learning time during the pandemic.”
The lost learning time cited by TCI must be addressed; however, a broader and more far-reaching concern is the social and emotional well-being of our students and educators. Recent studies confirm the depth of the damage caused to mental health across the country because of the pandemic. In fact, damage to mental health is being viewed, and prepared for, as the “next pandemic”.
Hearing directly from community partners, school division leaders and striving families offers a window into the collective trauma experienced over the past year and a half, particularly for communities of color and those living in poverty.
One common theme we hear is the resilience of families in the face of broken support systems. A partner at the YMCA described the humbling experience of working with parents in our community who were forced to choose between keeping their employment and keeping their children in school. Families showed creativity and determination, going to great lengths to keep their children logged-in and learning during the pandemic. For example, in the absence of access to home internet or programs that would help bridge such gaps, a common occurrence in communities of color, several parents of school-aged children came together to rent a motel room where their children could connect to wifi and log on for classes each day.
Another common theme of these collected stories is the pressure put on teachers to manage the mental and emotional wellbeing of their students, even as they are dealing with personal hardship and trauma. One of our school administrator partners lost 18 friends and family members to the pandemic, a level of loss many of our Black, Hispanic or low-income students experienced as well. Both educators and students will be carrying the impact of these losses, and their grief, with them as they reenter school.
We invite our partners and peer funders to join us in reflecting on ways we can address the educational losses created by the pandemic, while reevaluating educational priorities to address the disruption, trauma and stress experienced by our educators, our students and their families over the past 18 months.
As Robins Foundation’s VP of Program and Community Innovation, Robert Dortch, states, “We have to think differently, fund differently, lead differently, act differently, advocate differently, use our power and influence differently if we’re going to change the outcomes for children and families who are suffering.” Whether it is creating more opportunities for social and emotional learning and trauma-informed curriculum, partnering with our local government to create mobile health services, or other solutions, the Robins Foundation will be thinking differently about how to impact and influence educational recovery in our post-pandemic world.
We have also seen, during this pandemic, that our non-profit partners have been overwhelmed with requests for support and services far beyond their existing programmatic and general operating capacity. As a result of this increasing need, there is opportunity for funders to increase their impact by leveraging our collective resources and expertise to support our region’s children, families and non-profits.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Robins Foundation has embarked on a learning journey with several peer funding partners and identified specific ways in which we can collaborate and leverage resources to increase community impact. We are pleased to share that the Bob and Anna Lou Schaberg Foundation, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and Robins Foundation have created and approved a collaborative Social and Emotional Learning & Behavioral Health General Operating Support Grant.
Our foundations have approved five organizations as recipients of two-year Social and Emotional Learning & Behavioral Health General Operating Support grants for fiscal years 2021 to 2023, with funding from the three foundations totaling $700,000 ($70,000 per organization/year). The grantee organizations were specifically selected because of their ability to meet the unique needs of diverse populations, and because of their connection to social emotional learning. Needs in this area are significant and urgent due to the pandemic, so we prioritized organizations with a proven track record of successfully meeting community needs in partnership with the three collaborating funders. Meet our Social and Emotional Learning & Behavioral Health grantees:
Robert Bolling, CEO of ChildSavers said, “We cannot overstate the exacerbated impact of trauma on children made more manifest by a pandemic, by race and by the social injustices that create more stressors. Now is the time to help! Proper mental health supports enable kids to process trauma and to build resilience as a cornerstone for strength and the ability to thrive. Our partnership with Robins, RMHF and Schaberg Foundation provides crucial, accessible and timely aid for our behavioral health work with children.”
We are proud to join together in supporting these organizations during a time in which behavioral health services and social-emotional learning are critical to the ongoing recovery of our communities individuals, children and families.
Robins Foundation partners with organizations like Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME) because positive educational outcomes for children depend on a number of criteria, including housing stability. Children in families with stable housing attend school more consistently, tend to perform better academically and experience less stress.
Families across Richmond deserve a home in a safe neighborhood, access to good jobs, access to good schools, and the ability to build financial stability. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. Since 1971 their work has opened doors for thousands.
To accomplish this, they focus their efforts in three key areas:
Fair housing enforcement
Housing counseling and education
Housing research and policy
Help support HOME so they can continue doing this important work.
Donate to support initiatives such as stopping evictions and preventing foreclosures
Become a tester to help identify unlawful housing discrimination based on race, national origin, disability, or familial status
We are excited and humbled to announce that the Richmond Resilience Initiative (RRI), which was launched by the City of Richmond on October 29th in partnership with Robins Foundation, will receive an additional $500,000 for expansion.
These additional funds will add up to 37 additional families to the pilot program. Richmond is one of 30 cities across the nation whose families in need will benefit from a $15 million donation by Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, to help fund the Mayors for Guaranteed Income Initiative (MGI) among partner cities.
The initial launch of RRI was funded by a $120,000 contribution from Robins which was matched by the City. It is the first and only program as part of this initiative to launch fully funded.
The program is part of a larger national movement to foster economic security in a data-driven, research-tested capacity and is modeled after successful pilots in cities like Stockton, California and Jackson, Mississippi.
Current national and local partners are Family Independence Initiative, the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Richmond, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, the Center for Guaranteed Income Research with the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, and Virginia Excels.
In addition to supporting hardworking families and providing the data needed to design policies that promote economic security and mobility, the program will uplift narratives that dismantle negative and unwarranted stereotypes about individuals and families living in poverty.
“No one wants or chooses to live in poverty,” said Tyonka Perkins Rimawi, Robins Program Officer, Community Partnerships. “To improve educational outcomes and other complex social issues, we must address root causes such as economic security and mobility.”
The pandemic has brought to light that for many families just a few hundred dollars can be the difference between keeping or losing access to basic necessities, like food and shelter. But even before the onset of COVID-19, the Federal Reserve Bank found that 40% of all American families cannot afford a $400 emergency.
Direct family assistance like that provided by RRI and other programs is meant to supplement the existing safety net which is designed to protect families from losing financial security or derailing long-term financial goals because of enduring poverty or an unexpected event like a global pandemic, severe recession, or personal tragedy.
Research has proven that when families receive supplemental assistance, they prioritize spending on what they need most: rent, groceries, transportation, and childcare. It also has revealed that direct cash assistance shows positive impacts on health and education outcomes with negligible effects on the labor market.
“We have learned that economic security among families is at a crisis point. Individuals, families, and communities know their needs best, and initiatives like this recognize their dignity and freedom to best meet those needs,” said Rimawi. “Through these strong partnerships and others we hope to see develop across the region, we can expand this initiative so even more families can thrive through direct support and policy change.”
“Led by Tyonka, our team has done extraordinary work to find and thoroughly research an initiative that supports the work the Foundation has been doing for more than 60 years,” said Juliet Shield-Taylor, Chair of Robins’ Board of Directors.
This program joins others, including eviction diversion, and the Family Crisis fund, which was launched in April in partnership with the City of Richmond. The Family Crisis Fund – a crucial element of the region’s response to economic hardship resulting from the pandemic – provided direct cash assistance to more than 2,600 families in the greater Richmond region.
In addition to RRI, through numerous partnerships with regional funders and nonprofits, Robins Foundation and the City of Richmond have given give $1,314,500 to 2,629 families in the region in 2020. Those funders and nonprofits include Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RHMF), Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, Richmond native and professional football player Clelin Farrell, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and Richmond Flying Squirrels, along with other individual and corporate donors.
Robins Foundation and Friends Association for Children (FRIENDS) believe in investing in and supporting our children and their families, so they have every opportunity for success.
For nearly 150 years, FRIENDS has been dedicated to supporting and educating thousands of Richmond’s children and families.
“There’s nothing more important than making sure our children are prepared to be successful,” said J. David Young, executive director of the Friends Association for Children.
FRIENDS teaches children ages six-weeks through 17-years critical literacy and development skills needed to succeed in school and in life, with the hope that children achieve a greater understanding and appreciation for their community and the world around them.
You can help support their mission! • Donate to FRIENDS to help them reach their fundraising goals so they can continue their work in the Richmond community • Or volunteer your time to help enrich the work they do and touch the lives of the children and families they serve