Classroom Central

Classroom Central equips impoverished students to effectively learn by providing free school supplies. The Mobile Free Store distributes supplies to teachers, which is particularly helpful in the outer areas of CMS. A $317,000 gift over three years fully funded the Mobile Free Store. A $59,938 grant provided backpacks full of essential school supplies to students in selected high poverty schools through Classroom Central’s Backpacks and Basics program. Our Executive Director, Hannah Rankin, also serves on the Board of Directors.
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Empowering Our Youth

DifferenceMakers CLT is a dynamic initiative within Communities In Schools (CIS) that seeks to empower the voices of our youth, create opportunities for economic mobility, and develop an intergenerational network of support. The effort breaks down barriers and builds bridges across differences. Despite school closings and uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CIS team made great strides in developing a framework to promote youth leadership, advocacy, and mobilization by equipping a diverse cohort of 40 rising student and community leaders. Through monthly leadership development programming, 20 high school students and 20 community leaders used their social capital to help increase economic mobility for residents across Charlotte. DifferenceMakers CLT participants are learning about creating “movements” and how to be “difference makers” in our local community and the world.
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DifferenceMakers CLT September Experience

September 19, 2020, was an amazing day for participants in the Difference Makers CLT program. A virtual event described how local and national history inspired leaders in the Charlotte community to step up, speak out in the fight for change, and promote social justice. Our student leaders came fully prepared to engage and enthusiastically participate. Attendees were also eager to interact with and learn from the impressive guests, including local heroes Harvey Gantt and Dorothy Counts Scoggins, education reformers James E. Ford and Pamela Grundy, diversity and inclusion expert Dr. Joseph Allen, CMS graduate and student activist Kayden Hunt, and Dr. Marian Yates, longtime CMS teacher and principal and currently VP of School Relations and Risk Management with CIS.
Student leaders also are working virtually to develop a presentation on Education Reform, Homelessness, or Racial Equality. This social justice project explores how Charlotte student leaders currently see the community versus what they envision. The goal is to facilitate a dialogue about strengths and gaps, and ways to effect positive change.
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Central Piedmont Community College

Central Piedmont provides a real-world, affordable, hands-on education that will transform students, change their lives, and impact communities. A $1 million grant over 3 years funds 75 students to participate in the Gambrell Opportunity Scholars Program. The program provides post-secondary education and career-focused training opportunities to first-generation college students. The scholarship covers not only tuition, books and fees for two years to earn an associate degree, in addition, the scholarship provides each recipient with a laptop computer, participation in the Summer Bridge Program, transportation and food vouchers, and academic counselor-career coaching.

An additional $875,000 grant over 5 years provides 13,500 Google Chromebook laptop computers and computer skills training to first-time, full-time students attending Central Piedmont. This revolutionary project was the first in the nation and provides a model for assessing the impact of access to technology for students.

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Vision to Learn

Vision to Learn provides glasses to students to see the board, read a book, study math and participate in class. About one in five children need glasses. A $300,000 grant over 3 years will provide 3,000 eye exams and glasses to students in need in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, free of charge through a mobile clinic.

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At Risk Youth

Florence Crittenton Services of North Carolina

Florence Crittenton Services of North Carolina

Florence Crittenton Services of North Carolina provides comprehensive health, education and social services for at-risk or pregnant adolescents. A $1MM gift over 3 years will improve and sustain the facilities and provide program services.

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The YMCA puts Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy minds, bodies and spirits for people of all ages. A $500,000 gift over two years helps provide a path for at-risk teens to receive help in their journey to success and productivity through the YMCA’s Year of Opportunity. Working with CMPD and other partners, a year-round system of support, mentorship and opportunity was created.

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Promoting Opportunity Across the Region

In 2014, a Harvard University/UC Berkeley study uncovered a gap in Charlotte’s economic mobility. The study ranked Charlotte in the last place out of 50 cities in upward mobility—specifically the ability of a child born in the bottom income quintile to rise to the top income quintile as an adult. In response to that study’s findings, Opportunity Insights seeks to reverse this trend. Supported by The Gambrell Foundation, as well as the Brookings Institute, and the Institute for Social Capital at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Opportunity Insights was launched to achieve the following:
1) Uncover local factors that drive opportunity and inequality,
2) Identify policy pathways that can improve upward mobility rates
3) Support local efforts to promote policy and systems change.

Collaborating with UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont, Opportunity Insights identified ways for local colleges and universities to create greater opportunity for students from low-income backgrounds. The analysis contributed to efforts like the Good Jobs Project, which creates sustainable career pathways for youth in the community. A report published in November 2000 provided research and analysis on promising neighborhood revitalization programs, investments in early childhood and education, racial disparities, and social capital. The report’s findings will help guide future policy, funding, and research decisions.
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Building Social Networks

Charlotte is a city rich with opportunities, but those opportunities are not equitably shared. The Brookings Institution wanted to understand how social networks—which provide access to support, information, power, and resources—mattered for economic mobility in Charlotte.

Funded by The Gambrell Foundation, a team interviewed 177 city residents and analyzed over 10,000 interpersonal network connections. The study compared social networks by demographic group, including race, income, and gender. In particular, the study assessed the value networks play in providing access to opportunities and resources in three domains: jobs, education, and housing.

The team found that social networks in Charlotte were racially homogenous and that the size and strength of these networks varied by gender and race. White men and women had the most robust networks relative to economic opportunity; Black women and Black men had less fewer opportunity networks, with Black men usually having only one person to whom they could turn. Younger Black males faced consistent disadvantages. Ultimately the study found that Charlotte needs to actively pursue meaningful public policies that can lead to a society where all residents can rise. This research is helping The Gambrell Foundation focus grants to areas that may have the most significant impact.
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Vibrant Communities

Queens University

Queens University provides transformative educational experiences that nurture intellectual curiosity, promote global understanding, encourage ethical living and prepare individuals for purposeful and fulfilling lives. A $10MM gift over five years was given for the establishment of the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement, a renovation project of a 50-year-old building dedicated to arts, creativity and community. The Foundation honored its founder through the naming of this new center.

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Camp Blue Skies

Camp Blue Skies

Camp Blue Skies provides overnight camp for adults with development disabilities including Down syndrome, Autism, Williams syndrome, and other cognitive disabilities. Their focus on health and nutrition, exercise and life skills education is provided with the intention that these participants can return home to live more independently and lead fulfilling and productive lives. A $1MM gift over 5 years will ensure the unique camp experience will continue and grow.

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For more than a century, YWCA Central Carolinas has stood at the forefront of social change, justice and economic empowerment in Greater Charlotte. The Gambrell Foundation provided a $225,000 grant over 3 years to fund a Community Engagement Manager. This person works tirelessly on projects that aim to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. The YWCA is focused on ensuring they are a beacon of hope for equity and transformation in the face of racism and misogyny.

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United Way United Neighborhoods

United Neighborhoods is a comprehensive, multi-year initiative that will lay the foundation for greater economic mobility for residents of Charlotte’s most under-resourced neighborhoods. Through two local community “quarterback” organizations – Crossroads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development are supporting Grier Heights, and Renaissance West Community Initiative supporting Renaissance West. A $500,000 grant over 5 years will ensure stability in funding for years to come.

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Charlotte Opportunity Insights Partnership

The Gambrell Foundation is working closely with Foundation For The Carolinas and a research team from Opportunity Insights, under the leadership of Harvard University Professor Raj Chetty. Chetty was the key architect of the 2013 study revealing Charlotte’s 50th out of 50 national ranking in upward mobility for children born in poverty. Opportunity Insights is using its rich research and data to inform policy changes that increase economic mobility. Through a Gates Foundation grant, the Harvard team selected Charlotte as its inaugural city in which to conduct further research. 

At the local level, a $1 million grant over 2 years is helping to build capacity of the Institute for Social Capital’s integrated community database and supporting pilot projects that emerge from the Opportunity Insight work in Charlotte. These pilot projects will be identified and pursued in 2020.  

The Gambrell Foundation is also supporting the research of twelve faculty fellows at UNC-Charlotte on various aspects of economic opportunity. 

  • Jobs, transit, gentrification and changing neighborhoods
  • Housing insecurity among community college students
  • How the arts and design contribute to economic mobility
  • Language skills as a pathway up the economic ladder
  • Breaking the criminal justice system revolving door with digital skills training
  • Finding a path to prosperity in the digital economy
  • How available rental housing leads people to relocate in search of better schools

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Creating More Affordable Housing

The Gambrell Foundation made a $3 million grant to our local YWCA to transform the front lawn of its 10-acre property into 104 affordable housing units. Households earning 30% to 60% of area median income (which is between $25,050 and $50,100 for a family of four) will be eligible to live in these units. This is just one solution to help address to Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis.

As YWCA Central Carolinas CEO Kirsten Sikkelee explains, “In recent years, it’s become more and more challenging for individuals to find affordable housing. People are moving outside of the city, and they are commuting from far away. They should be able to live in Charlotte if they work in Charlotte.”
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Tracking the Social Impact of the Arts in Charlotte

In Charlotte, little is understood about how the arts and design-based efforts impact social issues. Rigorous evaluation of such work is almost nonexistent. In fact, of 21 overarching strategies recommended by the Opportunity Task Force, only one referenced the role of the arts. To fill this knowledge gap, a group of local artists and designers, arts advocates, and researchers came together to form Arts Impact Charlotte, which studies how the arts and design address social justice, equity, mobility, and well-being in the Queen City.

Through a 2019-2020 Opportunity Faculty Fellowship funded by The Gambrell Foundation, Ken Lambla and Meg Whalen of UNC Charlotte’s College of Arts + Architecture, and Nikkeia Lee of The Possibility Project-Charlotte, worked with the Arts Impact Charlotte advisory group to lead a county-wide survey of artists, designers, and arts organizations. The intent was to understand how the community was using creative practice to effect social change.

Twenty percent of those surveyed offer their programming for free, and 75% offer educational programming. While most artists and arts organizations seek to address multiple social issues through their work, the three most common areas of impact are race/ethnicity, education, and health/wellness.

The Gambrell Foundation-funded research became the basis for two further grants: a 2020-2021 National Endowment for the Arts Research Grant and a 2020-2021 Opportunity Faculty Fellowship, awarded to UNC Charlotte professor Vaughn Schmutz. Arts Impact Charlotte aims to develop long-term data and ways to measure and communicate outcomes as a resource for the government, community, funders, and the cultural sector.
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Creating Internships with Black-owned Enterprise

The Gambrell Foundation partnered with Loyd Visuals, a local Charlotte Black-owned videography firm, to hire two college interns. Loyd Visuals boasts a national client list and serves as the business learning ground for two rising stars in Charlotte. The goal is to provide an opportunity for interns to learn, network, and assist with operations at Loyd Visuals and The Gambrell Foundation.

Pascale Williams, Social Media / Marketing Intern, and Senior at Queens University
“It has truly been a privilege to work as an intern with Loyd Visuals and The Gambrell Foundation. I have had the opportunity to broaden my horizon in a way that I could never have imagined. I have learned the importance of mentorship and what it means to be around a team that champions your success, both as an individual and collaborator. For that I am so grateful. I have loved every part of this experience.”

Diamante (DJ) Mckelvie, Video Production Intern, and Senior at University of North Carolina- Charlotte
“I’m in a place in my professional and personal life that has been a culmination of growth, expression, and wisdom. My time as an intern with Loyd Visuals and The Gambrell Foundation has been wonderful. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with some fantastic individuals, sharing knowledge and creating amazing experiences. I look forward to the future and the impact I can create with the wealth of knowledge I have gained.”

Partner Videos

Steve Smith Family Foundation

Gerard Littlejohn

Communities In Schools Video
DifferenceMakers CLT

Communities In Schools (CIS)

Central Piedmont Community College

Kevin McCarthy

Communities in School

Gwen Thompson

Classroom Central

Karen Calder

Communities in School

Tyrece Edwards

CIS Charlotte

James Berkman

Communities in School

Gricelda De La Cruz

Charlotte Symphony

David Fisk

Communities in School

Nate Salley

CMS Foundation

Sonja Gantt

Vision to Learn

Peter Silberman

Communities in School

Tavia Tubbs

International House

Erin Phelps

Other 2018 Grants