From its beginnings, Center of Hope has had the mission, “Fostering resilience across the lifespan.” And as the Center has continued to develop innovative programs to empower disadvantaged area residents, Greater Toledo Community Foundation has been a partner.
Education is an important focus for the Center. Explains founder Dr. Tracee Perryman: “As far back as 1997, we saw how so many young people of color start with brightness and promise, and that light dims as they get older — then by their teen years, they’re gone. We asked: What kind of curriculum works best for children of color? We discovered we could restore children’s love of learning through a stronger sense of self and a focus on social justice.”
With this vision, Center of Hope established a 501©(3) in 2007 and implemented the first Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in the area. As an afterschool and summer-only program, Tracee and collaborators Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark and Willetta Perryman created a culturally centered curriculum tailored to students’ age and development, while including life skills and character-building principles.
Illustrating the concept, Tracee explained, “Our students expressed an interest in athletic shoes. Because it was important to them, we developed a lesson called, ‘What’s in a shoe?’ Kindergarteners are able to recognize the letters in words like shoe, and draw or color a shoe for display. But, our 3rd-5th graders developed marketing plans, and learned about the costs associated with manufacturing shoes. We structure content so that it is culturally relevant, while integrating a continuum of learning benchmarks so that every child has the opportunity to contribute and feel smart.”
Tracee’s personal dedication had an impact on the Greater Toledo Community Foundation’s decision to fund the program. “During the on-site visit, the Foundation asked, ‘What if we gave you partial funding?’ I said I’d donate my time to the project, and they approved the grant in full.”
But children don’t learn when their family life is unstable – so the Center has also embraced opportunities to support parents and siblings through workforce development, parenting education, support and advocacy. These programs, including Workforce Support, Parent Support, Elevate and Family Navigator, all received support for launch from Greater Toledo Community Foundation.
Commenting on Center of Hope, TCF’s program officer, Chris Dziad, said, “Tracee really knows her community, and knows what works. And, she is committed to doing the research and analysis that shows what works. Supporters want to know they are having an impact – and she can demonstrate that.”
Tracee’s perspective on data collection is similar. “What we do needs to be intentional. We work hard to identify what data we need,” she said. “I look closely at the data on a weekly basis and ask, ‘Who is being served? Who is NOT being served? Are we meeting the community’s real needs?’ Our research shows our programs are aligned with best practices and are producing results.”
Tracee also credits the Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Resources as a partner in Center of Hope’s success. “I’ve received consultation from The Center, and call regularly with questions. We’ve done their training in accounting and regulations. We want to learn from people who’ve been there and done that. My focus is on assuring the programs are sustainable, because so many families have been disappointed by good programs that come and go.”
Describing their involvement with the Foundation, Tracee said, “I always feel like GTCF’s decisions are about what is good for the community. Some funding agencies come at you with low expectations. Greater Toledo Community Foundation does not do that. They have high expectations – but they also help you meet them.”