The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation: Another Poverty-Fighting Funder in New York

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation came onto our radar because it’s currently celebrating seven decades of bringing hope to the neediest children of New York. According to foundation statistics, 23 percent of children in New York are living in poverty, 68,000 are victims of abuse, and 21 percent don’t have a secure source of food. The foundation focuses its grantmaking on reading and math skills, high school graduation rates, physical and mental health for children, foster care, abuse victims, prenatal care, and residential care for families. This past year alone, for example, the foundation provided support to nearly 80,000 children through its partnership with the Catholic Charities of New York.

To learn more about how this New York funder approaches grantmaking, we connected with its executive director, Bettina Alonso, to ask a few questions.

But first, a bit of history.

Alfred E. Smith was elected governor of New York in 1918 and was one of three New York governors to be elected to four terms. He has been credited for helping to pass reform legislation and improving factory laws, housing requirements, and welfare services. According to the foundation, “He understood, as the foundation does, that breaking the cycle of poverty and making appropriate medical care more accessible to struggling families are not only moral imperatives, but integral steps to the building of a fair and just society.”

When I asked about the most critical needs facing underprivileged children in New York City, the Executive Director Alonso said:

The needs of our inner-city’s children are as varied as their circumstances. If there is a pressing risk they all share, in a culture that moves as quickly as ours does, it is the challenge of being overlooked or forgotten. Without organizations like the Alfred E. Smith Foundation and its partners, who are committed to giving the most vulnerable a voice and establishing an agenda of education, healthcare, and social services, we risk losing a generation of children to the rigors of poverty.

Alonso says Alfred E. Smith chooses grantees that share an understanding of the complex underlying factors that contribute to the cycle of poverty and have a knack for developing innovative, compassionate programs that help children break that cycle and access a better life. One other thing about this funder is that it's steady and reliable, without any plans on the horizon to change its grantmaking strategy.

Alonso said:

Our philanthropic focus is clear and our partners have done a great job at growing and evolving with us. Moving forward, our goal is to remain responsive to the needs of the communities we serve and to continue to partner with innovative organizations that share our values and vision for the young people of New York’s underserved, urban communities.

The foundation’s website provides no clear avenue of applying for an Alfred E. Smith grant, nor any online application forms to complete, but you can view a list of current grantees and get in touch here.