Funding the Movement: An Interview with Kathy Sharkey of PDF

By: Ruby Maddox

Kathleen Sharkey, Director of Communication and Outreach for the Peace Development Fund
Kathleen Sharkey, Director of Communication and Outreach for the Peace Development Fund

I recently interviewed Kathleen Sharkey, Director of Communication and Outreach for the Peace Development Fund (PDF). PDF is a public foundation that works exclusively with Community-based Organizations (CBOs). The foundation has been around since 1981 and makes small grants to community organizations with budgets of around $500,000 or less working on peace and social justice issues. Every year PDF open its doors to any organization that would like to apply and as Kathy explains, “We like to fund early and with small grants.”

What is your role at PDF?
As the Director of Communications and Outreach I do two things, which is all the communications for the org, but I also am in charge of a new initiative, which is our technical assistance training program. That is a program that just started this year. We have 5 orgs from across the U.S. who have applied and been accepted into what is a 3 year program to provide them training and coaching on fundraising, board development, and financial management.

How did you get started in this work?
Well I went to Mount Holyoke College, and after college I started working in the nonprofit sector. I did one small stint in the for-profit sector and immediately got out of it. I’ve been working for nonprofits ever since. I’ve worked in a variety of organizations, from schools and universities, to membership organizations, to museums, and PDF as well.

Why does PDF choose to work primarily with community-based organizations?
Very simply we think that change starts with the grassroots. It’s not something that’s imposed by a foundation. We don’t say, “We think you should all be doing this.” We make general support grants on issues where we think organizations have some traction, can get some traction, and start or make change.

What challenges do you feel community-based organizations face that are unique to their structure, leadership or missions, compared to national or large organizations?
Because CBOs tend to be small and underfunded one of the real challenges they have is sustaining leadership and sustaining volunteers. People tend to get burned out very fast because there are just too many things going on. From a foundation perspective, we really see that it’s important that we provide general operating support, not for specific programs. We’ve seen small organizations chase their tail around trying to create a program that a foundation is going to fund. Whereas we really believe that you, in the small org, you know the work that you need to do, you know your community, and you need some support to keep the lights on, and the fax machine going and the copier going and leaflet and do all that sort of thing. So we’re much more interested in providing small support, small grants where they can make an impact, rather than funding specific programs or established organizations. Although we do have special initiatives. We’ve had a criminal justice initiative, environmental justice initiative, we had a cross border initiative, all of those came out of work that we were seeing community organizations doing and needing to have some opportunity to network with each other on a national level. This is something as a national foundation we can do that a local community foundation can’t do. And we feel that we can really help them get to the next level with our training program.

What’s your organization’s Vision for community?pdf screen capture
Well we believe in fairness for everyone. Fair living wage, healthcare, sustainable environments, freedom from violence, the ability to get an education, it’s really a question of justice. Our tagline is Peace through Justice. We don’t think we can achieve peace if people aren’t feeling like they’re getting a fair share. And a lot of the violence that we see in our communities, we think is a result of an inequitable system. So give us $75,000 and we can make a really big difference with 15 organizations nationwide with $5000 grants. Give us half a million dollars and we might be able to change the world. We can trace back more impact from our grants than some larger foundations because we work with CBOs.

What advice would you give to community – based organizations?
Hang in there! (laughs) It’s a really tough road ahead and a lot of community-based organizations can get so down in the weeds and into the struggle that the struggle becomes all that they are doing, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think this is one of the important benefits of being part of networks with organizations that are at a similar level. You can be inspired just by a simple or different way that one organization is doing something. And it’s so hard, I think, as a community-based organization to look out over that fence sometimes that you build around yourselves and see what else is happening on the other side of the fence. I think that’s another real benefit that PDF brings: with our grants and the desire to work in partnership with our grantees we can bring that national perspective. We can say “Gee, you should be looking at this other organization.” When I do our newsletter I’ll look at a whole bunch of organizations doing different things on a particular theme and try to bring that forward to our constituents as well. So as I would say hang in there, there’s no substitute for perseverance. And perseverance is what gets us through to the end.


An Urban Tropical Oasis

By Ruby Maddox

A few weeks ago I got a call to come down and check out a school garden at the Peck-Lawrence School in Holyoke, MA. Since my background in Urban Agriculture, it’s not uncommon to be contacted on topics related to urban gardens.

At first I thought it was a little odd to do a garden site visit in the middle of winter. Most school gardens in this area are pretty dormant during this time of year, but I went anyway. Boy, was I glad I did.

This is how I came to meet Gerardo Muñoz and his “El Yunque”.



El Yunque (named after an actual National Forest reserve in Puerto Rico) is the Tropical Garden project at Peck-Lawrence School run by, outreach worker, Gerardo Muñoz. Quite a few people pass through El Yunque, always commenting on the breathtaking view and the ambiance that Muñoz personally works to create. Upon entering the classroom space, the visitor is immediately transported into a tropical oasis filled with rare and distinct plants similar to that of the real El Yunque.


In addition to the trees and plants Muñoz displays different artifacts from Puerto Rican culture and refers to them throughout his presentation.  Muñoz believes that by creating spaces like El Yunque youth and other community members are given the opportunity to learn about various aspects of Puerto Rican heritage and the role the plants play in that heritage.

The garden has been featured in many local publications including Mass Live. The entire project run and funded by Muñoz, who utilizes donations from various community resources, to keep El Yunque going. Donations of plant pots, soil, plants, garden decorations, and monetary contributions are always accepted.

If you’d like to contribute to El Yunque or if you’d like to arrange a visit contact


Addressing Health Disparities in Springfield, MA – CBO Profile

By Ruby Maddox

Health disparities in urban minority communities are a significant issue among many community health  organizations. According to a Health Policy Brief on Health

“America’s racial and ethnic minorities have worse health than whites do, and they often receive a lesser standard of health care. People who have limited education or income or who live in poor neighborhoods have worse health and health care….”

It’s a known fact that urban centers with high rates of poverty contain higher rates of health disparities these health risks can often contribute to increased poverty since those who develop chronic illnesses are often unable to work or require costly medical care they or their families are unable to afford.  The National Urban League published a report last December on The State of Urban Health, citing that, “In 2009, health disparities cost the U.S. economy $82.2 billion in direct health care spending and lost productivity.” Health disparities in urban communities can effect everything from socioeconomic mobility to education.

Community Health organizations like the Mason Square HealthTask Force (MSHTF) are working to combat these disparities and change health outcomes for residents within the Mason Square Neighborhood and the City of Springfield, MA. The MSHTF is a community coalition working to eliminate racial health disparities in Mason Square through information sharing, capacity building & policy change, with a focus on nutrition and healthy food access, diabetes & chronic heart disease. This week for my post interviewed Wanda Givens, Executive Director of the Mason Square Health Task Force.

The Mason Square Health Task Force staff, l to r, Arlene Brown-Jenkins, administrative assistant, Wanda L. Givens, director, and Beatrice Dewberry, marketing, communications and outreach coordinator.
The Mason Square Health Task Force staff, l to r, Arlene Brown-Jenkins, administrative assistant, Wanda L. Givens, director, and Beatrice Dewberry, marketing, communications and outreach coordinator.
What does the MSHTF  do?
“The Task Force is a community coalition that aims to address health disparities in the Mason Square community. Over the past few years we have funded two initiatives that provide programming for residents who are at risk or suffering from diabetes or chronic heart disease. We also host a variety of health related activities for the community including an annual health fair,  a health related film series, a drink water campaign and a host of other events.”

MSHTF runs several programs

  • The Healthy Community Collaborative, an initiative aimed at reducing the impact of diabetes and premature cardiovascular disease among the residents of the Mason Square community (Springfield, MA) through high-level collaboration among multiple community partners.
  • The Mason Square Food Justice Initiative aims to create an equitable food system that would allow access to affordable, quality food for all in Mason Square. The mission of this initiative is to undo lack of access to nutritious foods in Mason Square, create community unity & valuing across race/ethnicity, and identify and challenge unjust and historically racist practices, programs, systems and public policies that limit access to healthy food options in order to improve health of the community.
  • Fit Body & Soul is a diabetes and chronic disease prevention program funded by the MSHTF. The long-term goal of the Fit Body & Soul Program is to reduce obesity & type 2 diabetes (T2D). The immediate goal of our program is to reduce diabetes risk factors by promoting the adoption of healthy lifestyles. The program engaged community members through their facebook page.  The program is offered in faith settings in partnership with faith leaders and officials along with guidance from experts from both Diabetes prevention Programs.

How did you get into this kind of work?
“I have worked for the community in one capacity or another for at least the last 15 years. I think all of my positions have actually been about public health in some form or fashion, but it wasn’t until I began working for the Dunbar that I actually considered myself to be a public health professional.”

What challenges do you feel small community-based health organizations face that are unique to their structure,leadership, or missions? (Compared to National or large organizations)
“The biggest challenge of course is the lack of bodies. When you are a small organization you have a small staff. The Task Force has 2 full time staff members. It is difficult to do the quantity of work we’d like to do. It isn’t always easy to get recognized as a small organization which can impact our ability to get funding.”

What’s your organization’s vision for your community?
“Our vision for the community is good health. We want to see our residents have equitable access to health care, food and all other resources. We want our residents to enjoy a safe, vibrant community.”

What Advice would you give to other CBOs?
“My advice to other CBOs is to build capacity. Build it in your organizations, in the communities you work in and in the residents you serve. Never leave anyone the same as when you met them. Leave them better.”