A Look at the Phil Hardin Foundation’s Shift in Leadership and to Early Education

The Meridian-based Phil Hardin Foundation has a single goal: to improve education in Mississippi. This has been the focus from the beginning, but a few shifts caught our attention with this place-based funder.

In mid-2015, a new leader took over the foundation, which was established back in the 1960s. Lloyd Gray followed in the footsteps of Rebecca Combs-Dulaney, who now works in finance for the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center as well as being the director of Structural Steel Holdings, Inc. Gray came to the foundation after more than two decades as the executive editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal and has been highly regarded for his advocacy for improving education in the state through his newspaper work and community roles.

Related: IP’s profile of Executive Director Lloyd Gray

And in April 2016, the foundation elected a new board member, Kacey Guy, to join its seven-member board. Guy is a partner at Barry, Palmer Thaggard, May & Bailey, a Meridian law firm, and has served on local boards related to music, children, and education. All of the professionals working for this foundation reside in Mississippi and hold the state's education needs close to heart.

In addition to those leadership changes, the foundation made a shift in its overall grantmaking strategy as well. Rather than funding local education in a general sense, the Phil Hardin Foundation is focusing much more exclusively on early childhood education these days.

Gray made the following statements to a local news source:

We believe very strongly, that early education is essential to improving the overall educational achievement of Mississippi school children. We have to get to children earlier. All the research now shows that brain development in the first five years, is critical to have parents knowing how to stimulate their children's brain development. It's important for parents to know how to interact with their children and get them ready for the education system when they enter kindergarten. There's a strong link, an undeniable link, that if you have a strong effective public school system, you are going to have a stronger community.

As of September 2015, the foundation committed to allocating 50 percent of grants to the Lauderdale County area and the other 50 percent statewide. Early literacy, in particular, is a huge cause for this funder. In March 2016, the funder was in the news for funding a book give-away program for kids living in the 39350 zip code in Neshoba County. The foundation agreed to fund 50 percent of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Neshoba County for the first three years.

This foundation typically awards around 37 grants to Mississippi groups in amounts ranging from $500 to $500,000. The biggest grants in the past have gone to groups like Millsaps College for the Eudora Welty Chair of Southern Literature at Millsaps College and the Boys & Girls Club of East Mississippi, Inc. for its Extreme Impact program.

This is a great funder to know for groups in the Meridian and Lauderdale County areas because it has around $50 million in assets and awards about $2 million to local organizations each year. To learn more about this funder, check out IP’s full profile, Phil Hardin Foundation: Southeast (Mississippi) Grants.