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Local Resident and GGC Member, Denise Edwards Brings Resident Voice to Opportunity Fund’s Grantmaking Process, Building Social Capital at the Resident Level

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When the Opportunity Fund set out to create a panel of residents, they sought out residents who were deeply involved in their communities and invested in the civic life of their neighborhoods. The goal was to gain outside perspective from community members, to develop and cultivate meaningful relationships with residents through information sharing and networking, and to create more effective grants.

Denise Edwards at the 1st Annual Healthy Neighborhoods Celebration, where she was honored as a graduate of the Real Estate Co-Powerment Series

In its 5th year of grantmaking, the Opportunity Fund began a participatory grant model by inviting resident panelists with professional or lived experience in social and economic justice work to make recommendations on a portion of its grants.

The Opportunity Fund and Neighborhood Allies share a common value and belief that involving residents in the grantmaking process not only allows space for community voice, but gives grantmakers the chance to gain invaluable wisdom from residents. In fact, Neighborhood Allies has built our Community Capacity Building Program around building social capital within neighborhoods and cultivating resident change makers. The Opportunity Fund’s model, which brings together intimate community knowledge with principles of grantmaking, helping to create the most effective grants and the most positive impact, is in direct alignment with our resident-focused strategy.

Because of this shared value and alignment, they looked to members of our Grassroots Grantmaking Committee (GGC) as a recruitment pool. Our GGC is a group of local Pittsburgh neighborhood stewards who believe that the people in their neighborhood have ideas, skills, and knowledge of high value and work to support and grow these assets with resources, connections, and information, as a referral source. Our GGC’s role is primarily to make decisions concerning which Love My Neighbor! project proposals receive funding and help grantseekers to find additional resources. After interviewing a few interested members, the Opportunity Fund offered our first year GGC member, Denise Edwards, a position on the panel.

“Denise has been involved in this work for some time now. In addition to being a member of the Grassroots Grantmaking Committee, she is also a graduate of the second cohort of our Real Estate Co-Powerment Series. I recommended her for the panel because of her passion and willingness to work through the system to create real and meaningful change.”

-Stephanie Chernay, Chief Operating Officer of Neighborhood Allies

The graduates of the 2nd cohort of the Real Estate Co-Powerment Series

The Opportunity Fund invited six community panelists to participate in part of their 2019 Cycle 1 grantmaking round. The collaborative decision-making process brought together the board of directors and other staff with residents holding community knowledge and expertise. To ensure that all voices were heard, Executive Director and board member Jake Goodman and Program Officer Tiffany Wilhelm used a cooperative learning model to help create consensus among the group and allow for deeper discussion and varying perspectives. This entailed discussing all proposals as one group to establish common understanding and to collectively clarify any complexities. Then participants were divided into two groups, each given a budget, to review a selection of this round’s proposals. Each group reviewed all 22 proposals and came to preliminary decisions about how to disperse funds. Then, the groups came together to compare answers, share recommendations, and discuss final suggestions.

“We are always conscious of building trust. In addition to everything else, this was a chance for the board to build even more trust in outside voices and for the residents to gain trust in our process.”

– Jake Goodman, Executive Director & Board Member, Opportunity Fund 

Altogether, the Opportunity Fund awarded a total of $726,550 in funding to 57 projects. The grants range from arts and music-based projects and programs, to social services and social justice initiatives, to general entrepreneurship and organizational support.

The 2019 GGC members, including Denise, with Neighborhood Allies staff during neighborhood tours.

“I have learned that community integration is key,” said Edwards. “Without it we will have small boards of people making decisions for communities that they have in some cases only heard of through the news media. That creates a bias that will affect the possibility of funding projects and initiatives that have the potential to fundamentally change those communities or marginalized groups of peoples. I applaud the Opportunity Fund for being sensitive enough to understand that reality and engage certain community members who strongly believe in the communities that they represent. Every panelist was a strong candidate and I was proud to serve with each of them.”

“The desire to make change and no longer sit and watch it happen, or NOT happen around me has brought me to this point at this time. I am inspired to learn more so that I can do more. Founding a community nonprofit, The Lincoln Lemington Neighborhood Revitalization Group has afforded me the opportunity to be a change maker and to sit among the change makers. I am simply taking my seat at the table where I belong.”

-Denise Edwards, Founder of Lincoln-Lemington Neighborhood Revitalization Group and Community Panelist and GGC Member

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