Samuel S. Fels Fund


Fels Insights


Deepening Community Connects and Building Responsive Grant-making

Fels believes in a holistic and integrated approach for newcomers fleeing oppression and seeking a better life. In 2015, with the arrival of a new executive director after 23 years, Fels reached out to the communities and organizations it was serving and realigned its priorities with a narrower focus and greater focus on social justice and systems. The foundation understood the need to view Philadelphia’s newcomer community holistically, by not dividing immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, but also recognized that external circumstances could create important opportunities or challenges for particular groups within that population at certain moments in time.

With an annual grants budget of $1.5 to $1.8 million, Fels now funds in three main program areas: Focused Populations (which includes refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, as well as youth either in or exiting the child welfare system); Arts and Culture (to preserve, strengthen, and share social or cultural identities and traditions and amplify marginalized voices); and Social, Racial, and Economic Justice (to advance other marginalized communities). In general, the foundation prefers making general operating support grants to organizations providing advocacy and direct services to accelerate the inclusion, integration, and advancement of refugees and immigrants in Philadelphia. It prides itself on being a place where someone could bring a good idea and be heard. Here is an example from several years back: the Nationalities Service Center of Philadelphia (NSC) approached Fels with a capital expenditure request to make bathroom alterations for the comfort of clients who had suffered female genital mutilation. Fels made the grant, even though it did not usually fund capital expenditures. That philosophy of responsiveness continues to this day.

The foundation also tries to anticipate grantee and community needs based on its ongoing dialogue with community stakeholders and grantees. In 2016, Fels approached its refugee resettlement grantees to ask if they needed more resources because of the rise in anti-refugee rhetoric during the presidential campaign and made additional rapid response grants that same year: one to HIAS Pennsylvania (HIAS PA) for volunteer and outreach coordination and one to NSC for resources to meet critical needs for refugees that the federal government’s aid did not cover, such as fumigation and funeral expenses.

In 2017, as the policy climate continued to deteriorate, from the executive order on the travel ban to an abrupt decrease in refugee admissions, the refugee community and the refugee resettlement infrastructure in Philadelphia was severely impacted. Although Fels typically did not make large grants, it made $100,000 grants each to HIAS PA and NSC to enable them to reorganize staffing in light of severe budget pressures stemming from reduced refugee  admissions. These grants provided essential support to these two refugee organizations anchoring support in the local community. By the end of 2017, Fels had made nearly $700,000 in grants to support immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia though its Focused Populations portfolio. Approximately half of the support was directed to refugees,[ref]The 2017 grantees in the Focused Populations portfolio who support refugees and asylum seekers: African Cultural Alliance of North America, Center for Literacy, HIAS PA, Live Connections, Nationalities Service Center of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates, Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition, and Women’s Opportunities Resource Center.[/ref] and most of the other grants served a mixed immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker population. Additionally, some of the Arts and Culture grants also support refugees and asylum seekers.

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