FA L L / W I N T E R 2 0 1 8 11 “The Foundation recognizes that social issues are not a people problem, but a systems problem,” she says. “As an organization that works closely with those making mean- ingful change in our communities, it’s our responsibility to be more than money providers and engage nonprofits in changing the systems that make their work necessary.” Small and Mighty grantees have taken up this charge. Robin Horston Spencer, executive director of Message Carriers of Pennsylvania, has dedicated her life to advocating for individuals in recovery from substance abuse. Spencer regularly meets with local legislators and brings the people she serves to Harrisburg at least once a year to build relation- ships and make sure legislative policies reflect the needs of people in recovery. “Through all the work I’ve done with my organization and with the help of The Pittsburgh Foundation, I’ve learned a key lesson,” she says. “You can be much more effective in changing systems when you’ve been a part of them.” by Christiana Dillard | communications intern The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Michelle McMurray (far left) participates in a group strategy discussion with LucindaWade from Coraopolis Youth Creations, Aviva Lubowsky from the Hebrew Free Loan Association, TamaraWhiting from SisterFriend, and Tiffany Huff-Strothers, board member of Coraopolis Youth Creations. SisterFriend works to ensure that women have access to feminine hygiene products, which can often be expensive and are not covered by benefits. District officials saw the post and, within a week, Whiting was meeting with school board members about the idea. After an official vote, it was decided that Langley, Westinghouse, Arsenal and Brashear high schools would be the pilot locations for “SisterFriend closets” available for use by students this fall. In addition to encouraging nonprofit leaders such as Whiting to connect with legislators, Foundation officers meet with lawmakers and provide funds to nonprofits engaged in grassroots organizing and public policy. To ensure that the Foundation’s donors are aware of this work, The Center for Philanthropy kicked off its latest Explore Series with “Social Change Through Policy and Advocacy,” a program that provided an overview of the Foundation’s policy agenda. At the event, President and CEO Maxwell King empha- sized the importance of bringing attention to policy issues related to equity in the region. “We’re not just the commu- nity foundation for one section or another of the area we serve,” he says. “We’re the community foundation for every part of our community because we all have to work together to ensure its success.” All of the Foundation’s policy initiatives tie directly to its 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle, which seeks to ensure that all residents can share in the revitalization of the region. Roughly 30 percent of the people in our community live in or at the edge of poverty. Some of the most pressing local and state issues for these residents include implementing standard paid medical leave and raising the minimum wage, which is now set at $7.25/hour. These issues are especially critical, Foundation staff has learned, for the two populations at greatest risk of poverty in our region: single women raising children and youth ages 12–24. To better serve those populations, input is sought directly from them. “Engagement from community members is a fundamental part of our research,” says Khalif Ali, director of Public Policy and Advocacy, who credits the combination of research, education, advocacy and lobbying as the Foundation’s formula for success. “When we know what people need, we use our reputation and resources to advocate to legislators and policymakers to support those needs.” Foundation staff also funds efforts encouraging non- profits to engage in advocacy. At the Mobilize Your Mission event, Michelle McMurray, senior program officer for Health and Human Services, stressed the Foundation’s responsibil- ity to utilize its status and privilege to benefit others.