Three months after unveiling its LIVE UNITED 2025 strategic plan, United Way of Rhode Island today announced that it is putting $4.5 million in grants to work in the community to create transformational change in the Ocean State.

The funding, representing the first of a two-year grant cycle, was awarded to  72 organizations in support of programs targeting the root causes of the racial inequities that have held back Rhode Island’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities for generations.

On Aquidneck Island, FabNewport and Lucy’s Hearth each received grants, which are part of United Way’s commitment to invest $100 million over the next 5 years to build racial equity in Rhode Island and to create justice and opportunities for all.

“There is a lot that must be done if we’re to dismantle the systemic, institutional and historical barriers that prevent too many of our neighbors and families from realizing the quality of life they deserve,” said Paola Fernandez, chair of United Way’s Community Investment Committee, and VP, community development officer at Centreville Bank in a statement. “But, as evident from the grant proposals we received, there is no question our community is ready for this work and ready for change.”

Grants were made available to Rhode Island nonprofits for both programmatic and operational support, and to support the priority pillars of LIVE UNITED 2025. The specific focus areas include advancing early childhood literacy and expanding out-of-school time learning programs for youth, making housing safe and affordable for all, improving access to workforce development and adult education opportunities, and altering policies that perpetuate inequities for people of color. 

Funding is supported by United Way’s donor-driven Community Impact Fund and its commitment to trust-based philanthropy. In December 2020, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott made a $10 million donation to the Community Impact Fund, joining tens of thousands of local donors entrusting United Way to use their gifts to create the most impact. Of Scott’s gift, $2.5 million is hitting Rhode Island communities this month.

“At its core, trust-based philanthropy breaks down the traditional funding dynamic – systemically and organizationally – to foster a more collaborative process and relationship with the community,” said Larry Warner, MPH, United Way’s chief impact and equity officer in a statement. “Together, we hope to build equity in our state and resilience in the nonprofit sector.”

In receiving a $75,000 programmatic grant, FabNewport will use the funds to expand its offerings of authentically engaging learning opportunities for underserved students, helping them to build confidence, skills, and purpose for life. The organization’s unique programs teach participants to code, design, prototype, and build, using some of the latest machines and digital software technology available.  

“With our partners, we’re working to build an ecosystem of learning hubs for youth to launch their lives, and the ability to add two coaches focused on building relationships will allow us to connect with more students,” said Steve Heath, FabNewport’s executive director in a statement. “Relationships are at the heart of strong, equitable learning – if our youth feel safe and they feel like they belong, anything is possible.”

Added Cortney Nicolato, United Way’s president and CEO, “As inspired as we are by the tremendous potential of the programs receiving grants, never do we forget that these investments are only possible thanks to the generosity of our donors and partners. Only by working together and confronting inequities head-on will we truly influence the change our state so desperately needs in order to thrive.”

In total, United Way received 163 grant applications representing $10.4 million per year in funding requests. Applications were reviewed by a team consisting of United Way staff, and members of the organization’s Community Investment Committee and Community Advisory Board.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and serves on the Board of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and Lucy's Hearth. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.