Active Listening – SNJ Today


Active listening is one of the most effective communication tools we have. Active listening involves not only hearing, but responding in a way that others are heard. This form of active listening is exactly the approach that Frances and Donald Sykes took in 1992 when they decided to invest family resources to create the Pascale Sykes Foundation. Their intention was to effect change by being bold, “outside the box” thinkers, investing in the lives of communities, people in need and those with dreams and goals of success.

The southern region of New Jersey is known to be rural. The area has beautiful green and sprawling farmland. The eight-county region sandwiched between the city of Philadelphia to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east is home to a racially and socioeconomically diverse population. In recent decades, the region has seen its fair share of growth accompanied at times by sheer devastation.

Families and businesses have fled the region in search of more lucrative opportunities in more urban environments. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the region was experiencing rising unemployment rates, negative school outcomes for children, and business closures.

The issues in southern New Jersey touched the Sykes family, and through a community outreach, they decided not just to listen, but to act. In 2010, they brought together local residents, politicians, clergy, educators, nonprofit leaders, and business owners to discuss the most pressing needs of the four county region. of Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem. Through active listening, the Sykes were able to learn what local communities needed to thrive. This knowledge then became the basis for the Foundation’s philanthropic giving in the region, which ultimately funded 21 collaborative efforts made up of 123 individual agencies.

The approach of the whole family: The main and fundamental interest of the Pascale Sykes Foundation is the family. Recognizing families as holistic entities, the Foundation reinforced its commitment to strengthening families by formalizing what is now known as the “whole family approach”. This approach became the Foundation’s flagship program, first in southern New Jersey, then expanding to Jersey City and the Bronx, New York.

The Whole Family Approach invests in and supports collaborative partners who work with adults and children to meet the needs of the whole family. The approach recognizes that prevention, rather than crisis management, is essential and works in various sectors, from schools to foster care, community development and health.

Public transit was one of the greatest needs expressed during the early listening sessions, as community members agreed that transportation is essential to providing residents with access to employment opportunities and commerce.

This is how a public-private partnership was formed. Through the collaborative efforts of the Pascale Sykes Foundation, New Jersey Transit, and several nonprofits, public transit has been significantly expanded in the area. As this was not an area of ​​expertise for the Foundation, it entrusted the process to transport professionals. The goal was not to reinvent the wheel, but to partner with those who knew how to solve the problem and provide the resources to make it achievable.

Today, the Pascale Sykes Foundation supports four shuttles in three counties, providing low-cost or no-cost transportation around the region.

Investing in businesses: Finally, the Foundation responded to the needs of the local economy. Small businesses struggled when big box stores moved in and changed the competition. Community members recognized that while investing in transportation and families is extremely important, the system would remain weak without also investing in economic development.

Through a creative partnership with New Jersey Community Capital, a New Jersey-based community development finance institution, Thrive South Jersey was created. It provided resources to help small businesses that would otherwise not qualify for traditional loans obtain financing for the development or expansion of their businesses, often at lower interest rates than commercial lenders can offer. . To date, this program has supported 109 small businesses in Salem, Gloucester, Atlantic and Cumberland counties.

Giving while living: In December 2022, the Pascale Sykes Foundation will close its doors after having invested more than 60 million dollars since its creation. Countless families have benefited from the Foundation’s investment. Communities in the region have thrived thanks to the work of the Foundation, local partners and committed members of the community.

The active listening approach to philanthropy taken by the Pascale Sykes Foundation allowed them to hear from the community and then respond in a way that really helped. Of this we are most proud.

At the end of 2022, the Sykes Foundation will come to an end, having made its investments in the region and proud of the work it has been able to accomplish. The aim of the Foundation has been to support the region and have a significant impact for a period of time, not to establish itself as a permanent fixture. We hope that others will step in to support the area and that other foundations and philanthropists can learn from the successes the Sykes Foundation has had in southern New Jersey.

Richelle Todd-Yamoah is Vice President of Programs and Operations at the New Jersey-based Pascale Sykes Foundation.


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