School of Social Work

No. 25 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

With three VCU School of Social Work alumni among its 11 founders, it’s no wonder that the nonprofit Collective 365 has ambitious plans after selecting recipients for its inaugural grant cycle of $17,500 earlier this year. 

Next in their sights: doubling their awards with a $35,000 grant cycle in February.

“With $35,000 as our goal, it was just about acknowledging, ‘Hey, our first year we got 200 applications and we were only able to get out $17,500, so we need to double this so that we can hopefully support more folks and/or we can give more money to the same number of folks,’ ” says alum Fatima M. Smith (M.S.W.’12/SW), one of the co-founders.

Collective 365 centers community leaders to create change in Black and Brown communities in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. It provides unrestricted grants for individuals, business owners and nonprofits focused on improving education, eliminating health disparities and addressing social injustices and workforce development. 

Smith is a “social momtrepreneur” who founded FMS Speaks, which offers services as a speaker, consultant and facilitator. Fellow alumnae and founders are Allison Gilbreath (B.S.’11/GPA; M.S.W.’16/SW) and Abbey Philips (B.A.’09/H&S; M.S.W.’12/SW). Gilbreath is the collective’s board president and the policy and programs director at Voices for Virginia’s Children; Philips is chief of staff for Virginia State Sen. Jennifer McClellan.

“Community leaders – whether they are entrepreneurs or activists – are experts on the needs of their communities,” Gilbreath says. “Time and time again, we’ve witnessed leaders of color create innovative solutions for complex problems. What has been missing is adequate resources and access to funding. Through grants and capacity-building, the collective aims to eliminate gaps in resources in efforts to serve, grow and gather Black and Brown communities.

“We believe that we need to trust Black and Brown folks to be visionaries, leaders and problem-solvers in their own communities. Collective 365 wants to support the tremendous work of many individuals, groups, businesses and nonprofits working with and for Black and Brown communities that may not have access to traditional funding sources. It is important to the collective that recipients have the ability to use the grants in ways that will maximize the impact of building and sustaining Black and Brown communities.”

When we tell folks that we are trying to reimagine philanthropy and we want to position Black and Brown folks as the decision-makers and thought leaders within their communities, it resonated with donors, community members and prospective grant applicants.

– Fatima Smith

Smith says the group initially were targeting a goal of $7,500, but aspirations grew over time, even as there was uncertainty over reaching the mark.

“Collective 365 launched during a pandemic and a time where there was a heightened awareness about racial and social injustice,” Smith says. “With so much going on in, we were unsure where we would land on people’s radar, but the co-founders and I felt the time was now.

It seems that the time spent indoors and the spotlight on racial and social injustice primed community members to say, ‘Hold up, we’re doing something wrong, and we keep having the same conversations, and we want to do things differently.’ Collective 365 was one way to do it. 

“The Collective said, ‘Hey we don’t want to do it like other funders and giving circles; we want to dismantle systems and ways of thinking that decenter the experience and knowledge Black and Brown folks.’ When we tell folks that we are trying to reimagine philanthropy and we want to position Black and Brown folks as the decision-makers and thought leaders within their communities, it resonated with donors, community members and prospective grant applicants.”

Girls Like Me was one of seven organizations to receive one of the initial grants, which ranged from $1,250 to $5,000. Girls Like Me is centering teen girls by promoting healthy self-esteem and self-efficacy; since its inception in 2016, Girls Like Me has worked with scores of young ladies in Richmond. Girls Like Me works to eliminate self-doubt in teen girls from various backgrounds. Girls Like Me will help enhance the lives of young girls in this region. 

The founding executive director, Déja Coley, expressed interest in scaling up the programming to other localities within the next three to five years. Girls Like Me received $2,500 and will use the funding to increase self-esteem and directly influence the self-efficacy of teen girls ages 11-17 through mastery experiences. Coley says the grant was a lifeline during the pandemic.

“COVID completely shut down our programming, and we believe it’s important for girls to still receive mentorship on increasing their self-esteem and self-efficacy,” she says. “When we learned about the Collective 365 grant, it was without question that we would apply so that we could acquire the resources necessary to pivot our approach and meet the needs of our girls.

“For the organization, this means that we can continue pushing forth and fill the gaps that COVID has presented. This funding communicates that even if we’re an underfunded organization, we can get people like the Collective 365 team to see the need and stand behind us and our mission. This is a vital asset to any organization and it helps me feel confident in securing funding without the red tape.”

Other grantees are:

Battle Plan Strategic Consulting: $1,250

The organization bridges gaps in equity in professional spaces for Black women by helping with resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, career consultations, strategic career plans and training and professional opportunities. Funding will be utilized to market the project, identify Black single mothers in need, provide scholarships to Black single mothers for various professional development opportunities and exams, facilitate professional development workshops, and pay for services rendered in assisting with this project.

Black Lives Matter 804: $1,250

The BLM mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. It combats and counters acts of violence, creates space for Black imagination and innovation, and centers Black joy. BLM804 will use grant funding to create an online digital platform for events and demonstrations. Funding will be utilized for online branding, technology and applications, live streaming and online ads. Other funding will go to honorariums and stipends for POC.

Iron Village Preparatory Academy: $5,000

The academy was created in response to the inequities that have existed in the Richmond area for decades. The 2021-2022 Enrich and Empower Institute is an academic enrichment and culturally relevant program that aims to address the racial disparities in learning and achievement affecting Black students in Richmond and the surrounding areas. The program will center on Black Americans’ achievements, societal contributions and community awareness.

Resume Revamp: $1,250

This grant will allow Resume Revamp to provide 12 Richmond citizens with new resumes and job coaching that will lead them into gainful employment with livable wages.

Slyderz Baseball: $5,000

The program is dedicated to using baseball to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for Richmond’s inner-city youth. They believe that baseball is a microcosm of life, so they’ve identified the correlations between life’s transitions and the natural progression in youth baseball, to prepare young men to overcome the challenges they will face in young adulthood. Lessons and games at the Slyderz Baseball Field in the Northside are offered at a free or reduced rate, and grant money will help with upgrades to the field.

World Academic Sports Team (WAST): $1,250

The Prevention & Intervention Project for Black Male At-Risk Student Athletes will address 40 at-risk and underprivileged Black male student-athletes looking to receive college sports scholarships. It will provide collaborative intervention to clients in Prince George’s County, Maryland, area who are facing high poverty and unemployment due to the pandemic. WAST will conduct year-round academic tutoring, SAT/ACT test prep, mentoring, personal training and NCAA eligibility workshops.

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