Carla D. Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

TITLE: Vice President for Program Strategy

FUNDING AREAS: Education and vulnerable families

CONTACT: carla.thompson@wkkf.org, 269-968-1611

IP TAKE: Thompson has worked in both the public and non-profits sectors, and supports the notion that good things happen when these worlds partner to tackle the educational challenges facing low-income kids.

PROFILE: For Carla Thompson, the key to impacting the lives of children, especially those from low-income families, is to invest early. Her career in social work, education, philanthropy, and government has convinced her that early childhood education is a smart investment that yields future benefits—not only for the children themselves but for society overall.

"The first 1,000 days of a child's life represent the greatest period of brain development, yet during that same period, we make the least amount of investment in that child's future," Thompson wrote in the Detroit Free Press in 2013. "As we work to strengthen education, we need to ensure that we continue to support families, especially in this early and critical time in a child’s life." With all the emphasis on standardized testing, new state and national standards for schools, and college and career readiness, for Thompson, early childhood education provides a foundation for later success in all of these areas.

"Current programs, such as early Head Start, Head Start and the Early Learning Challenge Fund have a huge, demonstrable impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families," Thompson wrote in the Huffington Post in 2013.

Thompson's career in education and social work informs her belief in the value of early intervention in a child's life. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work and has worked for state and federal education and social service agencies, helping to craft policies and programs aimed at early childhood education, after-school programs, and the empowerment of low-income families. As a special assistant in the Pennsylvania departments of Education and Public Welfare, Thompson helped launch a statewide early childhood education initiative. She later served as assistant superintendent for early childhood education in the District of Columbia Public Schools and as deputy director of the Office of Child Care in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Thompson has been vice president for program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since 2012, overseeing the Education and Learning and Family Economic Security program areas. She has a long record of government service, but Thompson is no stranger to philanthropy and its role in early childhood education. In 2004, she managed fund development and programs in early childhood with United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Thompson's advocacy of early childhood intervention and empowerment of low-income families makes her a perfect fit for Kellogg, which has made a big commitment to helping vulnerable children realize their full potential.

"We support generating dialogue within communities that helps them identify their challenges and establish goals and priorities, while dialogue among communities helps build local, regional, national and international networks for sharing resources, experience and knowledge," Thompson told IP editors. 

Although the foundation works throughout the United States, it places special emphasis on areas of high poverty, especially among children. Its priority areas are Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, and New Orleans. Past grant awards illustrate Kellogg's willingness to support a range of projects and organizations, from established national organizations such as the Children's Defense Fund to public school systems and independent charter schools. The foundation has provided funding to the Detroit and Grand Rapids public school systems in Michigan and to the New Mexico Public Education Department. The Kellogg Foundation also has supported teacher training programs, such as Teach For America, and charter school organizations. Past grant recipients have included Bronx Charter School for Excellence and New Schools for New Orleans.

While urban areas receive most of the attention when it comes to the issue of child poverty and early childhood intervention, the problem is not limited to inner cities. Kellogg recognizes this, as demonstrated by its past support of the Rural School and Community Trust, a nonprofit that strives to improve schools in rural areas.

If your organization wants to invest early in young children, especially from vulnerable populations, Thompson is a funder you should be familiar with. She wrote in the Huffington Post that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has for years worked with community-based organizations to advance a "prenatal-to-age-eight agenda" that not only supports children from low-income families but also creates conditions for long-term success. Further, her combination of government and philanthropic experience suggests an interest in the kinds of programs that forge partnerships among government agencies, schools, school systems, and community organizations. 

VIDEOS:

Carla Thompson, Vice President of Program Strategy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation from NBC News on Vimeo.