These Funders Want Kids to Play Hard, Too

A small group of lesser-known foundations recently made a major investment in expanding play in public schools. The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and Jenesis Group all came together to pour $26 million in support of the exapansion of Playworks AIM, an effort to bring safe and healthy activities to some 3.5 million children nationwide.

The focus here is helping kids build social and emotional skills, a red-hot issue in education today, and these funders (along with Playworks) believe that students can do this in large part through play-based activities. By the end of 2020, they hope to reach their goal by expanding coaching and training services and adding team-based online learnng and strategic support for schools.

These funders aren’t exactly going out on a limb, here. Playworks is a proven player in the education space with 20 years of experience with demonstrated results that have increased physical activity, improved social and emotional learning, and developed conflict resolution skills among thousands of students across the country. Its basic premise is simple: Millons of low-income kids do not have access to safe and healthy play every day. Playworks exists to fix that, as the organization partners with elementary schools providing them with full-time recess coaches, on-site recess coordinators, and professional development for school staff to help them create a positive recess environment for students. Bechtel, Einhorn, and the other funders Goldsmith have agreed to invest in what is essentially Playwork’s moon shot program, AIM, a national campaign to dramatically improve recess and play for millions for kids in tough neighborhoods.

We’ve written before about S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation in particular, a family foundation that is spending down through 2020 and has tended to limit its giving to organizations based in California. With offices in Oakland, Playworks has long been on Bechtel's grantee list. We've also written about the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, an interesting funder whose mission is “helping people get along better,” which aligns quite nicely with the social and emotional learning focus of the Playworks AIM initiative. Einhorn stresses the value of empathy in its grantmaking, giving generously to organizations that encourage positive school culture and social-emotional development such as City Year, iMentor, and Prep for Prep.

For the other funders of the Playworks program, this investment is a little outside of their usual portfolio. The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation tends to focus on global health and development, with a preference for funding organizations doing work in Africa. The focus on supporting play in low-income communities specifically, though, does connect with the foundation’s stated priorities in strengthening poverty alleviation efforts around the world.

Meanwhile, we’ve written previously on how James Jensen of the Jenesis Group has cautioned against few organizations being able to “metabolize” (his word) large gifts and put them to good use. The hope among these funders is that an established organization like Playworks with the right resources behind it, can achieve its truly ambitious goal to reach millions of kids with better opportunities for play.

Related: A New Foundation That Believes in the Power of Play for Kids