Profile Story: Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

SFA Sculpture.ii 2015

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter

Sometimes, a plan comes together perfectly. And the rewards are generously spread to the next generation.

Take, for example, the “Connecting Kids and Culture” program, a joint effort of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and Bravo Greater Des Moines. Charity dollars from the Principal Charity Classic fund the program, which provides opportunities for youngsters to get a taste of culture and the arts.

When Principal became title sponsor of the Principal Charity Classic in 2007, it needed a non-profit organization to serve as the host charity. The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines became that organization.

Bravo Greater Des Moines was also named one of the tournament’s founding charity partners.

“Neither organization had children’s programming at the time,” said Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. “We were thinking of how we could best allocate the funds to have the most impact.”

Giving out grants was considered. But that changed with a little research, and some listening.

“One of the things we heard from arts and cultural organizations was that they were seeing fewer and fewer children coming in, because school districts were cutting budgets and these were the first things to go,” Knous said. “And we were hearing from school districts the frustration that they weren’t able to get kids out and give them exposure to the arts and cultural organizations.”

So the Community Foundation and Bravo did something about it.

“We talked with Bravo about joining our money and having an even greater impact by developing a program that would address that issue and would get kids exposure to our arts and cultural organizations throughout Des Moines,” Knous said.

“Connecting Kids and Culture” covers students from kindergarten to fifth grade. It was originally provided to public and private schools in Polk and Dallas counties. It has since been expanded to Warren County.

That gives nearly 50,000 students annually an opportunity to sample arts and cultural organizations in Greater Des Moines. Maybe it’s a trip to the Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Art Center, the Des Moines Metro Opera, the State Historical Museum or the Science Center of Iowa.

“The value is what we have to offer the kids right here, so close,” said Tracy Ferguson, a second-grade teacher at Van Meter Elementary. “And they get so much out of it. If you ask any one of my students what their favorite part of second grade was, undoubtedly they’re going to come back to that field experience. That’s what they remember, and that’s what’s going to help them in the future.”

Allocated charity dollars can also be used to cover transportation costs, another strain on school budgets. Or some teachers might pool their dollars together and bring in an organization to give the students a taste of culture and the arts.

At a time when civic leaders hope things like the 80/35 Music Festival or the Des Moines Social Club will help keep young professionals in the area, the “Connecting Kids and Culture” program could have the same end result.

“This is planting the seeds for that sort of life-long enjoyment,” Knous said.

It is, in essence, a program that opens youngsters’ eyes to the art and cultural opportunities they might not sample if “Connecting Kids and Culture” didn’t exist.

PGA TOUR Champions players are rewarded financially for a good week on the golf course. But the charity dollars generated from the tournament have an impact for years to come.

“It’s not just about the golf,” Knous said. “It’s a bigger week than that.”

The tournament raised a record $1.4 million for charity in 2015, and $7.7 million in the first nine years Principal has been its title sponsor.

“No. 1, we identified a community issue because we were listening,” Knous said. “Then we were able to use dollars to make an impact on that need. It’s not just about the kids. It’s about addressing a critical need in the community. Then there’s the kids’ part. But you’ve also got just the sustainability and ongoing exposure for the arts organizations. “

And everyone wins.

“I really see it as a win-win for both the children and the arts and cultural organizations, and the educators who are able to incorporate an arts piece into the curriculum,” Knous said.