Member Spotlight: Opportunity Fund

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Opportunity Fund was established by Gerri Kay, a longtime supporter of social justice and the arts in the Pittsburgh community. GWP checked in with Jake Goodman, Executive Director, to see what the Fund is working on and how it is honoring Gerri’s legacy in our community.  Below are Jake’s replies.


What do other funders need to know about Opportunity Fund?

One of the treasures we possess is the transcript of a commencement speech that Gerri Kay gave at Pitt's School of Social Work in 2000. In that speech, Gerri exhorted the graduates to "never lose sight of the tenets of our profession:

  1. We must focus on the strengths of those we seek to serve, regardless of the setting. The consumers of our services have skills and talents and experiences that will help them get where they need to go. … We are not there to ‘fix’ them. We must truly listen and ‘hear’ what people really want and need.
  2. There is no ‘they.’ ‘We’ and ‘they’ are inextricably joined. Who among us has never been in need? … When we, as social workers, are needed, we must remember how hard it is to ask for help. We must be respectful.
  3. We must view the consumers of our services holistically, not as the problems they are facing. People with drug addiction, people with mental disabilities, people who are homeless, people who have committed crimes—all have their humanity. We must remember their humanity when we are helping them to help themselves. And the services we provide must be ’culturally competent’ and individually tailored, not out of a cookie cutter."

We are actively trying to figure out how to apply these tenets to our approach to grantmaking. How can we best see the strengths, talents and experiences of those who benefit from our funding—those who receive grant funds and those whom the work we fund aims to support? What do we need to do to truly listen and ‘hear’ what people really want and need? Ultimately, how can we support efforts that invest in the talents and skills and experiences people have to get themselves where they need to go?

What project or organization are you funding that is most exciting to you right now?

My parents taught me not to have any favorite children, so I'll cheat and share two. I am excited about Casop: Requiem for Rice, a powerful new opera about African American slave rice croppers produced by historian and librettist Dr. Edda Fields-Black and composed by Emmy Award-winner John Wineglass. The music is gorgeous and, together with the libretto, presents an evocative embodiment of an undertold part of American history. I have never before been to a classical music performance in which all of the musicians are Black. I was just one of many people crying in the audience.

The second is Pittsburghers for Public Transit, a grassroots organization of transit riders, workers, and residents who defend and expand public transit. They are policy wonks who have an astounding track record of realizing their goals toward equitable, affordable, and sustainable transportation systems. I am inspired by the way they organized when Amazon was still considering Pittsburgh's bid for HQ2. They asked: why are we choosing to spend $2.1 billion + and additional $4.6 billion over 25 years in taxpayer-paid incentives to Amazon? Then, they offered an alternative vision.

What funding areas would you like to form some partnerships around?

We are open to forming partnerships around any of our funding priorities. Two possibilities stand out for me:

  1. As the national landscape grows grimmer for reproductive rights, we'd love to form partnerships around ways to provide more capacity for abortion providers in the region.
  2. The best conference I attend every year is EDGE Funders, which organizes philanthropy to increase resources for communities and movements creating systemic change alternatives for a transition to a society that supports justice, equity and the well-being of the planet. Karen Abrams from The Heinz Endowments also attends. We'd love more funders from Pittsburgh to attend so that we can come back and figure out how to do some of this work together in Pittsburgh. Join us!

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