One of Arlington Community Foundation’s oldest and closest partners is the Washington Forrest Foundation, a private, family foundation that has invested in south Arlington communities since 1968. Leslie Ariail, Washington Forrest Foundation’s board chair, was a founding member of Arlington Community Foundation and played a key role in setting its direction during its formative years.
The partnership became even closer when Allison Erdle took over as executive director of the Washington Forrest Foundation in 2012. “Although we remain very much an independent foundation, our organizations have a similar focus on safety net services, education, and community development,” she says. “We decided six or so years ago that the Community Foundation’s depth of information and relationships were of such immense value to us and to our grantees that it made sense to do all we could to ensure we were working in concert.”
“Our community is powered by the nonprofits that work every day to address the needs in Arlington, and they give it everything they have,” said Jennifer Owens, president and CEO of the Arlington Community Foundation. “The Washington Forrest Foundation is part of the fuel that keeps those organization’s humming, and Allison’s leadership is a vital part of our funding ecosystem in Arlington.”
Most recently, Erdle and her Board of the Washington Forrest Foundation have played an integral role in the process of reviewing and disbursing grants from the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Prompt Response Fund. The Washington Forest Foundation provided 25 percent of the funding for the first wave of grants.
Erdle and the review team — including staff of the Community Foundation, a group of its board members, and a representative of the County’s Department of Human Services — confer daily to evaluate Prompt Response applications. The process also involves additional digging for contextual information to ensure worthy groups representing many different populations are included in the process and supported.
“Allison’s deep knowledge of the South Arlington nonprofit landscape has been particularly valuable to our process of ensuring that we’re addressing gaps and real priorities in neighborhoods like Green Valley, along Columbia Pike, and Buckingham,” said Owens. “The committee members each have their areas of strength that we hope will lead to the best possible outcomes for those who need our support the most.”
Thinking beyond the current crisis, Erdle is optimistic about Arlington’s future. “I’ve been loving how the nonprofits in Arlington are becoming more connected as they work to undo barriers to getting services and treating all residents with the respect they deserve,” she says. To that end, she and the Washington Forrest Foundation have played a key role in Arlington’s Bridges Out of Poverty initiative, which is sparking change at the individual, systems, and policy levels to help people break the cycle of poverty.
“If we can create real public-private partnerships with all the key players, including the County’s Department of Human Services, it can be really transformational for Arlington,” says Erdle. “We also need to more effectively pull the Arlington school system into the process so they are working directly with safety-net nonprofits and the County to overcome the gaps that we’re seeing.”
“The one thing that we know for sure, even in these early days of this crisis, is that we can never go back to business as usual when this is over,” said Owens. “Collaboration and coordination like we have with Washington Forrest Foundation and others has happened so quickly in response to the pandemic, and I think we are all committed to making sure this is our new normal.”