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Fellowships for Social Change: Q&A with Ronnie Bloom, Executive Director of the Stoneleigh Foundation

Ronnie Bloom August 12, 2014 Category: FundingUncategorized

1RonnieBloomPhotoDirectorStoneleighFndJune2014 Ronnie Bloom, a former lawyer and director at the William Penn Foundation, assumed the role of executive director at the Stoneleigh Foundation in June.

Established in 2006 by John and Chara Haas, philanthropists with family ties to the William Penn Foundation, Stoneleigh is named for the Haas’ suburban Philadelphia estate.

Stoneleigh is focused on an individual approach to social impact. It has supported 44 Stoneleigh Fellows from across the U.S., who have worked on cross-systems solutions to improve the lives of children and youth. A shorter, one-year fellowship supported by Stoneleigh, Emerging Leader, helps Philadelphia-based nonprofits bring on recent grads who are interested in public service and social policy.

We spoke with Bloom about her future plans and what makes Stoneleigh different.

(Answers have been edited for clarity and length).

Please give us an overview of what the Stoneleigh Foundation is doing to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and youth in Philadelphia.

At the Stoneleigh Foundation, we give fellowships to individuals, not organizations, that do cross-systems work, primarily in child welfare and juvenile justice, but we end up looking at other systems too. We are interested in research, new ideas, and programs for the most vulnerable children who are at risk of being in those systems.

What are some specific factors that negatively impact youth?

Obviously, poverty is the biggest one. Lack of jobs for youth, a lack of paths toward jobs, and in the area of juvenile justice, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which is something that we’re really trying hard to work on in the city.

As the new executive director, what experiences have shaped your understanding of what it means to improve the well-being of children and youth?

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I’ve always been drawn to thinking about how to help the most vulnerable children in our society. I’m amazed at the disparities in experience. I look at my own children and see how advantaged they are.

One of the reasons I made a career change was because I wanted to be working on these issues. I was really interested in thinking about systems change. What’s wrong with these systems, and how can we change them to help kids who are obviously so needy?

What are your plans for the Stoneleigh Foundation?

Long-term, I would really like to see Stoneleigh become a leading institution in funding fellowships that support children who are in these systems and help bring attention to the good work that is happening here in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of great thinking going on.

In the short-term, we’re thinking with our board, staff, and stakeholders about our particular niche. How does Stoneleigh fit in with other fellowship programs, and whether there are particular areas that we should be focusing on in more depth.

What are some of the most innovative solutions Stoneleigh Foundation has supported recently? 

It’s not just about innovation, it’s about operationalizing. One of our fellows, Rufus Lynch, is bringing father-friendly principles into foster care and other child-serving systems. Research shows how great it is to have fathers involved in the lives of children, but it’s not always been easy for them to be involved.

Rufus is working with a number of agencies, including DHS, around how you get people to think differently about what their concept of a family is, including how to incorporate the strengths that fathers can bring to these children.

While each Fellow is unique, what are some of their similarities?

They are people who are thinking outside the box, who have high levels of emotional intelligence and can ask what it takes to navigate these systems — sometimes it’s about forming relationships, sometimes it’s about getting data.

It’s not so much a particular trait, but the quality of leadership and an interest in pushing new ideas. At Stoneleigh, we have two products. The Fellows themselves, and the ideas they push out. What we care about is getting their ideas into the mainstream.

What should interested applicants do?

We look for applicants in a variety of disciplines. For Stoneleigh Fellows, we get them in a variety of ways — we hear about their work, some are recommended, some of them apply.

And then we have Emerging Leader Fellows. They are brought to us by nonprofits who have a particular project, but may not have enough resources or staff.

They make an application for us around the concept, and then it’s up to them to find the person who is going to do the work. That person is embedded in the organization, and the nonprofit supervises the project.

Part of it is about helping the nonprofit and getting ideas out there, but it’s also about leadership development for the Fellow.

Not everyone can be a Fellow. What advice do you have for those who want to make an individual difference?  

I think that people can be civic-minded and pay attention. They cannot write children off who are in these systems, and they can advocate for more funding for programs that help these types of kids. They can connect with whoever might be influential, or do volunteer work. Everybody has something to offer.

CORRECTIONS: A former version of this story stated that the Stoneleigh Foundation is currently supporting 44 fellows. In fact, it has supported 44 fellows to date. 

An inaccurate detail about the foundation’s origins has also been removed.

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