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When Stanford Thompson got the call that his group was getting $ 1 million to keep Philadelphia’s children able to make music, he thought someone was pulling his leg.
“I thought it was a joke at first, and then I realized it wasn’t a joke,” said Thompson, founder and CEO of Play On Philly.
The donation was just a donation to various groups on behalf of the multi-billion dollar philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, pledged $ 286 billion in “assets made possible by systems that help 286 organizations helping communities in Philadelphia and across the country Enable changes ”to donate.
“In this endeavor we are guided by the humiliating conviction that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a few hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.” Scott wrote in a medium post. “While we still have a lot to learn about how to follow these beliefs without refuting and undermining them, we can start by recognizing that people who work to build power within communities are the agents of change are.”
For Thompson, the stroke of luck could not have come at a better time.
His group, which started out in West Philadelphia but has now expanded to southwest Philadelphia and Center City, offers free after-school music lessons for K-12 students who might otherwise not be able to afford them.
“We offer our programs free of charge, we lend instruments to every child, have them repaired if necessary, provide every teacher, and we have about 25 performing opportunities each year,” said Thompson.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress that nonprofits typically face, such as:
But perhaps the biggest challenge was not being able to offer in-person tuition. After all, some classes could typically see 100 students in a room, Thompson noted, a huge risk amid a virus known to spread to congregation environments.
Play On Philly has come due anyway and offers different types of instructions about Zoom. Surprisingly, Thompson noted, students tuned in, likely because it was possibly the only time they could interact with their friends during a period of social isolation.
“We made the best of it, but we don’t want to repeat it,” he says with a laugh.
Therefore, Scott’s donation was “a great relief after such a challenging year,” he said.
“It means a lot to know that we can have more kids in the room this fall, and we can begin a journey that I know will help them years later,” Thompson said.
The GreenLight Fund also had to shift gears to adapt to the realities of the pandemic.
The group serves 10 cities by bringing in nonprofits that help people overcome barriers to economic opportunity. It has been in Philadelphia for eight years and works with five organizations there, CEO Margaret Hall said.
Some of the groups the GreenLight Fund works with have had to adapt to help people with new needs such as food shortages and paying utilities, Hall said.
“It’s been a tough year for everyone, and it’s been a tough year for the people we want to support the most,” she said.
One of the organizations the GreenLight Fund supports is the Employment Opportunities Center, which helps recently incarcerated people find work.
The stigma that comes with incarceration can often be a barrier to employment and lead to relapses, Hall said. But with the CEO’s help, released prisoners can find much-needed stability and help not only themselves but their communities as well, she added.
“These people in the CEO get a job within a week,” Hall said. “Linked to this is the dignity to contribute to oneself, to their families and to their communities.”
Hall said the GreenLight Fund has an annual operating budget of approximately $ 8 million. She didn’t want to reveal how much the group received from Scott as they are still deciding how to use the money. However, she said the funds will allow them to pursue an “ambitious” plan that will help more people.
“Having that kind of support and recognition is like basking in warmth and sunshine that you didn’t expect,” Hall said.