Winchester Multicultural Network (the Network) was recently awarded a million-dollar grant through Cummings Foundation’s Major Grants Program. The grant, payable over 10 years, will provide for staff and a more suitable office space, and will allow the Network to expand its programming.
Founded by Winchester resident Sandy Thompson, the 24-year-old nonprofit’s mission is to promote the recognition, understanding, and appreciation of diversity; advocate for each and every person’s civil rights; and confront intolerance.
The Network has a broad reach in Winchester, from being a strong advocate for accessibility in public spaces to participating in events such as Take a Stand Against Racism, which this year featured Winchester-born author Debby Irving discussing her book Waking Up White.
The Network has been operating out of a small walk-up office located on the third floor of Winchester’s First Congregational Church. Thanks to the Cummings Foundation funding, it will open for business in January at its new street-level location at 2A Winchester Place.
“This grant means the world to us,” said Thompson. “Being in a central location in the heart of Winchester is very exciting.”
A previous Cummings Foundation grant allowed for the hiring of a part-time executive director, Kathy-Ann Hart, who has been with the Network since January 2013. The latest Foundation award allowed the board to expand her status to full time, as of November 2014.
“Having a full-time executive director is a dream realized,” said Thompson. “It provides continuity and support for initiatives and programming, which is vital.”
Hart is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she co-founded Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s Diversity Task Force. Her past positions include attorney at Ropes & Gray LLP, assistant general counsel for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and director of the Cambridge office of AIDS Action Committee.
Increased “virtual and actual visibility” are part of Hart’s plans.
“We will be able to improve and update our website and donor database and make better use of social media, which will help us to articulate and share our unique message and approach,” said Hart.
The Network has a strong 20-member volunteer board that Thompson anticipates will continue to be active.
“These dedicated volunteers bring multicultural perspectives to everything they do in the community and in their own lives and jobs,” said Thompson.
Hart concurred, stressing that the Network’s unique training seeks to make board members and volunteers “ambassadors” of diversity and inclusion in their everyday lives.
“We engage individuals in our board meetings, our peer-to-peer interactions, and our trainings to help them grow their multicultural muscles,” she said.
The Network uses methods and tools developed by VISIONS, Inc., a training organization specializing in diversity and inclusion, to equip people with the tools needed to thrive in a diverse world. It was a four-day VISIONS workshop in 1990 that inspired Thompson to start the Network.
The Multicultural Network partners with many organizations, including the Winchester administration, the Disability Access Commission, English at Large, Jenks Center, Winchester’s A Better Chance Program, Winchester Public Library, Winchester Public Schools, Winchester School of Chinese Culture, and Winchester Youth Center.
According to Thompson, it is regularly consulted by those seeking to improve understanding of diversity issues or seeking assistance responding to incidents of bias or discrimination.
“It is truly gratifying to see a nonprofit grow and thrive as the Network has from a founder-led, all-volunteer organization to one with paid staff and a solid strategic plan,” said Cummings Foundation executive director Joel Swets, a Winchester resident. “We look forward to watching it continue to grow and make an impact with this major grant.”
Cummings Foundation makes it a priority to give back locally, particularly in the areas where it owns property, all of which is managed by its affiliate Cummings Properties at no cost to the Foundation. Founded in 1970, the Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages more than 10-million square feet of commercial space, most of which exclusively benefits the Foundation. Its president and CEO Dennis Clarke, general counsel Craig Ziady, and founder Bill Cummings are all Winchester residents, as are a dozen other staff members.
In 2014, the Major Grants Program awarded a total of $10 million to eight nonprofits that serve greater Boston. Proposals for these larger grants are accepted by invitation only. Many of the awards, like that of Winchester Multicultural Network and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education at Salem State University, build on funding previously provided through the Foundation’s $100K for 100 program.