December 19, 2022
(Frederick, MD) – Transform Mid-Atlantic’s inaugural cohort of Civic Fellows wrapped up the fall semester with two sessions in November and December. On November 21, the fellows met with President of the Somerset County, Maryland Board of Commissioners, the Rev. Dr. Craig Mathies. Mathies, who was elected as a county commissioner in 2010, is the first person of color to be elected to countywide office in Somerset County since its founding in 1666. He spoke with the fellows about the importance of local government and his efforts to make rural communities in Somerset County more equitable and inclusive. On December 12, Yolanda Rushdan, Senior Program Officer for Community Impact at the Delaware Community Foundation (DCF), spoke with the group about grant writing, community development, philanthropy, and changes that DCF has implemented in its grant making process as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and events that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Advancing Equity in Rural Communities
A native of Philadelphia, Commissioner Mathies has spent most of his life and career in Somerset County. Mathies, who also serves as the pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Cambridge, Maryland, graduated Somerset County Public Schools. After attending the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he received his bachelor’s degree from the Norfolk Theological Seminary and a master’s degree from Virginia Union University. He began his career in the automotive industry as a salesperson and finance and sales manager at a local dealership. Over the years, Mathies has served the Somerset County community in many capacities, including as a former president and vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP. In his capacity as an elected county commissioner, Mathies serves on numerous boards, agencies, and governing bodies, including Somerset County's Board of Health, the Alcohol and Drug Council, the Social Service Board, and the Local Management Board. He has also served in many leadership roles with the Maryland County Officials’ Diversity Caucus, the Maryland Association of Counties, the Choptank Electric Cooperative, and the Tri-county Council for the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Mathies recently received his Doctor of Ministry degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary at the age of 67.
During his visit with the fellows, Commissioner Mathies provided an overview of the challenges and opportunities that rural counties in Maryland face. Challenges such as a high unemployment rate, difficulty attracting employers, and a lack of well-paying jobs for college graduates make it difficult to attract new residents to Somerset County or encourage young people to stay in the community. The motto of Somerset County, Mathies shared, is Semper Eadem, which translates from Latin as “Always the Same.”
As commissioner, Mathies has attempted to introduce new ideas and change the culture of decision making in the county to make it a more inclusive and welcoming community for people from diverse backgrounds.
Mathies also spoke to the partisan political divide that hinders progress in nearly every community across the United States. Often, Mathies shared, decisions are made based on loyalty to one’s political party. Visionary leadership, he said, is that which embraces open communication, honest exchange of ideas, and the intent to do what is best for the whole of a community. He encouraged the fellows to embrace and aspire to a selfless form of public service that counters closemindedness and narrow ideological views of the world. Community-minded leadership requires one to embrace new and different perspectives, which Mathies concluded can only be done by carefully listening to people with whom you may not always agree.
Developing Resources to Catalyze Positive Social Change
During her visit with the fellows, Yolanda Rushdan of the Delaware Community Foundation shared her own story and pathway to working at DCF. Rushdan has served in numerous leadership and development roles at non-profit organizations across Delaware. She was instrumental in founding the Delaware Children’s Museum, working there for more than five years in various capacities. She has also worked in donor relations and development at organizations such as the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and Exceptional Care for Children. During her free time, Rushdan volunteers with the Delaware Theatre Company and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, a TMA member institution. The Delaware Community Foundation plays an important role in supporting the work of Delaware non-profits. In 2021 alone, DCF distributed approximately $25 million to over 900 non-profit organizations, and scholarships to 142 students in the state.
Rushdan spoke about her continuing efforts to transform the grant making process at DCF to make it more equitable and accessible to an increasingly diverse group of non-profit organizations in Delaware. As the COVID-19 pandemic constrained the activities and fundraising of the Delaware non-profit community, Rushdan played an instrumental role in quickly and efficiently streamlining the grant application process to make weekly emergency response funds available to organizations. At the height of the pandemic, DCF was receiving 100 grant applications per week. Rushdan said that this was an exhausting time; however, it enabled many non-profit organizations, particularly small community-based organizations, to continue their operations in response to the pandemic. Many of these organizations were providing basic needs, from shelter to food, to community members throughout the state.
Rushdan spoke about her continuing efforts to transform the grant making process at DCF to make it more equitable and accessible to an increasingly diverse group of non-profit organizations in Delaware. As the COVID-19 pandemic constrained the activities and fundraising of the Delaware non-profit community, Rushdan played an instrumental role in quickly and efficiently streamlining the grant application process to make weekly emergency response funds available to organizations. At the height of the pandemic, DCF was receiving 100 grant applications per week.
Rushdan said that this was an exhausting time; however, it enabled many non-profit organizations, particularly small community-based organizations, to continue their operations in response to the pandemic. Many of these organizations were providing basic needs, from shelter to food, to community members throughout the state.
After the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed in the summer of 2020, DCF, like many organizations throughout the region and country, carefully reflected on its mission, processes, and procedures. Rushdan discovered that the long, tedious grant application process at DCF often hindered new or minority-governed non-profit organizations from applying for grants or following through on submitted applications because they lacked the time, resources, or grant-writing experience necessary to comply with the foundation's standards. DCF refined its process, making the application more accessible and proximate to the non-profit community. Instead of focusing on how grant applications were written, applications were reviewed based on the impact they already had or might have on the community. DCF offered office hours, interviews, and other services to applicants, so that their questions could be answered and relationships between the foundation’s staff and non-profit leaders could be cultivated.
The fellows asked Rushdan questions about the grant-making and grant-writing processes, learning more about how she and her team have successfully implemented policy changes at DCF to make grant making a more equitable and human-centered process.
Spring 2023 and 2023-2024 TMACF Nomination Process
While plans are being finalized for sessions during the spring semester, the fellows will meet in January to reflect on the first half of the fellowship and share their plans for the end-of-fellowship capstone project.
Meanwhile, the 2023-2024 Transform Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellowship nomination process will open in early January, with nominations due from TMA member institutions by February 28, 2023. If you know of a student at one of TMA’s member institutions who you think would benefit from the TMACF program, please contact Associate Director Anthony Wagner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nominees must currently be enrolled at a TMA member institution and have at least one year remaining in their undergraduate or graduate studies.