Harry Chapin Foundation
by Bill Hornung
dedication to social causes is legendary--a commitment that is still alive
today in the mission of the Chapin Foundation. But what was he thinking?
Why did he concentrate on so many issues?
the pure expression of tackling any problem and doing whatever he could
to solve it. He was totally selfless,' said Tony Curto, one of the founding
Chapin Foundation board members.
a rhyme to Harry's reason. "He saw how all these issues were
just feeding people isn't enough. People have to
be educated; they have to be self-aware; and they have to have programs
to help them move forward," said Jason Dermer, a Foundation board
member and longtime volunteer for various Chapin projects.
After more than 20 years, the Foundation maintains Harry's belief that a small financial boost--from $500 to $10,000--can have more impact dollar-for-dollar if provided to smaller innovative grassroots organizations. "Although the sums of money we have given are modest, the benefits to the organizations that received them have been significant," Curto says.
the beginning of his career, Harry was inclined to give away his concert
money to just about anybody who asked," Sandy Chapin said when recalling
the times her husband was asked by skeptics how he could make sense of
being involved in so many causes. "He'd say it all is related
the arts, as an example, humanizes a person to understand his relationship
to other people.
had a bumpy start after Harry passed away, but the donated proceeds from
a Kenny Rogers concert financially stabilized the organization. The Foundation
has continued to methodically grow through contributions from Chapin family
members, investments, royalties from the song "Circle," fan
donations and sales of Chapin-related merchandise. "Our operating
expenses are very low, so most of what we make can go into our endowment,"
said Executive Director Leslie Ramme.
agrees that it's time to investigate new ways to expand the endowment
so more small financial seeds can be planted that might grow into major
social changes. Sandy wants to sponsor more programs like World Hunger
Year's Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Awards. Award winners are not only honored
but also receive small grants to further their work.
is at the heart of many programs today, the concept was in its infancy
when the Foundation first began funding the award. "I feel the award has
contributed to the national dialogue about and definition for self-reliance',"
said Sandy. "As a result, I think the award is one of the most important
things we've done."
spawned World Hunger Year's (WHY) Reinvesting
In America program, a book by the same name, local workshops and a
USDA-sponsored database of self-reliant programs. "None of these would
have happened without the Foundation's initial commitment
the money behind it is only $15,000 or $20,000 a year," Sandy continued.
as WHY pioneered work to understand the root causes of hunger and poverty
through self-reliance, the Harry Chapin Foundation sees arts, environment,
health, education and other issues as inextricably weaved together into
the creation of a healthy society.
efforts like Emily's List, the
Children's Defense Fund
and Habitat for Humanity International
have become important examples of how grassroots efforts can still be
effectively maintained even during these times when many political and
social campaigns have become multi-million dollar ventures.
he would like to see a greater focus on other Foundation priorities, such
as environmental issues. "If we have everything in the world in terms
of food, education and healthcare, but the world is an environmental disaster,
then things are not going to work too well."
completed a compilation of interviews between Chapin and WHY Executive
Director Bill Ayres' on Ayres' radio show On This Rock. The
interviews reveal Chapin and Ayres talking about many social issues that
remain relevant nearly 30 years later. Said Dermer, "The flip side
is you wish the issues weren't relevant because it would mean we
had made a lot more progress."
in an odd way today's turbulent times are a good sign of things to
come. "Believe it or not, things are closer to getting back to reality,"
says Curto. "People are talking about the real issues today. There's
still a lot of danger and risk on every level
yet I believe that's
the path to getting back to wholesome."
the outcome over the next few years, Curto added, the Foundation's
longevity still will stay true to doing what's right. "We measure
courage by holding onto out principles during the hard times, not just
the good times. We've got to hold onto the values that were best
expressed in Harry's life through his devotion to others in need."
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on March 7