A fund started 30 years ago by a group of everyday women with a desire and passion to help youth in Allegheny County take advantage of educational and employment opportunities now serves as an example of what can be accomplished when we, as a community, work collectively.
Recently, the Financial and Moral Supporters fund, one of the earlier trusts established within the POISE Foundation by women of the Financial and Moral Supporters organization, reached its goal of more than $100,000.
“For FAMS to choose POISE Foundation is extremely important as Pittsburgh’s only African-American community foundation, and possibly the only African-American community foundation nationally. (It is) a great example of what others can do to not only support POISE, but the community,” said Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the POISE Foundation.
“What’s unique is that it was a group of average Black women, none of them wealthy, especially 30 years ago, who decided to do some fundraising for causes they saw as important. Because of those initial efforts the fund is well over $100,000. It shows that through the power and will of a few people that are committed to putting their talents and resources together, what we can accomplish as a community. It’d be different had a wealthy donor wrote a check for $100,000.”
The FAMS organization was founded in 1977 by five women who saw a need and jumped into action to support the goals of Urban Youth Action Inc., which provided educational, employment and enrichment opportunities for youth of Allegheny County, and its founder, the late Bernard Jones.
In 1984 the ladies decided to establish the fund within POISE, a foundation established in 1980 by Jones to assist Pittsburgh’s Black community in being empowered and self-sufficient, to provide opportunities for youth through UYA. Then in 1987 FAMS established a scholarship fund within POISE to aid students of its members.
The organization later decided to reach out to Allegheny County youth beyond the UYA. The fund that started out with $5,300, according to Lewis, has now reached well over $100,000.
To date, POISE oversees approximately $7 million and has 150 funds that it supports.
Lennie Henry, president and founding member of FAMS and a UYA alumna, said, “From 16 I can chart this and to see it reach that ($100,000), I am out of my mind happy and blessed. The organization always knew that we were blessed. We have made it and we have struggled through as we went towards our goal, as oppose to away from our goal.” She added that, “Mr. Jones is dancing and singing in heaven. He did not organize FAMS, but he had been there a great step of the way. He saw that commitment. He had so much to give and he gave it to everyone he met; he was that kind of person.”
Henry said a great deal of their funding came from their fundraising which included annual salad-a-ramas, dinner dances, banquets and much more.
“People love what we do and we recognize that. That’s how we grew our fund,” she said.
“When I think of FAMS, I think of them being an ultimate example of what a financial and moral supporter is for the youth in Allegheny County. To me, I look at them as freedom fighters. Women that saw a vision and the purpose, and wanted to come together, not just to talk about it and hold a whole bunch of meetings, but to put things together to raise money, not to just to keep it amongst themselves, but to be a blessing,” said Rev. Cornell Jones, Jones’ son. “I’ve been one of a thousand people they’ve helped over the years. The fact that they’ve reached that goal, it just shows what hard work does. It’s a powerful example of what we need to be doing in the community.”
Henry credits the organization’s members—their paying out of their own pockets, continuous support of their functions and their ability to never waiver from their mission—along with its supporters for the its success. She also said it was having the tools in place so their endowment could grow and they could use the interest from their fund to carry out their missions.
“If we stop meeting today, tomorrow, there’s a fund that people can still submit their proposals to. If it falls within our mission, then they can receive our support, and I feel good about that,” said Henry. “Every organization needs to have an endowment to make sure it stays in the community. All these organizations I see are solid in their history and not in entertaining their future.”
Lewis believes the efforts of FAMS serve as an example for the community and as something that can be duplicated. “As for the foundation, we believe that this is a way the foundation can grow, but it is also an easy way for our community to come together and collectively give and build, so that we don’t have to have millionaires in our community to make that significant difference. It’s critical, that’s the reason why POISE was created-to be a vehicle for the African-American community in the Pittsburgh region to collectively bring resources together.”
While they have reached a significant monetary goal, Henry said the work of FAMS is not over. They hope to continue to grow their fund, as well as continuing with their mission. She said they are now focusing on recruiting younger women, who share in their organization’s goals, mission and purpose.
“Bernard Jones passed away in 2002, but he would be ecstatic and extremely proud. He was the reason FAMS began, so to see this fund reach $100,000 from women he knew and supported him in the early days, he’d be proud,” Lewis said.
(For more information on the POISE Foundation, visit http://www.poisefoundation.org.)
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