Systems Change to Support Families in Forsyth County

When the Trust was established in 1947, one of the earliest programs was named “The Poor and Needy Division” as designated by our founder, Kate B. Reynolds, in her will. The division was dedicated to improving the lives of residents with low incomes in Forsyth County.

Today, the Trust no longer has a “Poor and Needy” division—and does not use those terms to define people. We interpret Mrs. Reynolds’ goals in contemporary terms, with a focus on racial equity. Through our Local Impact in Forsyth County program, we work to improve the quality of life for residents in the Trust’s hometown by supporting efforts to address systemic health, education, and economic challenges.

Looking Back

When we examine investments made in the early days of the Trust, we see the beginning of an approach to charitable giving that continued throughout the 20th century.

Making initial grants for health and education

The first Trust grants, in what became the Poor and Needy division, were used to benefit people with low incomes in Forsyth County. These included a $60,000 grant to the Baptist Hospital for construction of a new wing “for five beds for the care of indigent, sick people.”

The Trust’s support for youth services was also established early on, with individual grants made for local camps, individual scholarships to local colleges, and for “girls wishing to go into nursing.” There was even a “Kate B. Reynolds Memorial Scholarship” set up at Wake Forest College. In 1953, the Trust began its partnership with the Winston-Salem Foundation with a grant of $18,000 to be used to fund a rehabilitation project for young girls.

“There was clearly concern by Mrs. Reynolds for people living in poverty, and we thank her for that. While well intentioned, the initial use of her language around ‘the poor and needy’ indicates that there was not an acknowledgement at the Trust of the full humanity of people experiencing poverty. We must recognize that many of our systems were designed to deny economic opportunity to people based on where they lived or the color of their skin. To make long-term change, we must reform the systems that have failed these residents for generations.”


Dr. Laura Gerald
President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

Supporting recurring grantees in local charity work

In the first 20 years of its operation, the Trust offered continued financial support to individuals to meet basic needs as well as a series of local institutions doing charity work, beginning with the Legal Aid Society, and also provided direct support to local government agencies like the Forsyth County Welfare Department.

Moving into the 1980s and 90s, the Trust supported a set of 11 recurring grantees in Forsyth County providing millions of dollars annually to cover operational and programmatic costs for serving meals, providing assisted care to elders, and offering children’s services, temporary shelter, educational programs and more. These organizations included the Salvation Army, Community Chest (which later became the United Way), Senior Services, Crisis Control Ministry, and Winston Salem Foundation and were likely to have been predominantly white-and-male led.

Working Forward

In the early 2000s, the Trust began to shift away from investing half of its annual Forsyth County fund in recurring grantees, to a more outcome-focused approach. Under the leadership of President Karen McNeil-Miller, the Trust took a more prominent role in addressing root causes of educational, health care, and legal issues and becoming a resource for national research studies. The Trust began to transition to support community-based organizations, and these efforts grew over time.

Getting children off to a good start with Great Expectations

In 2015, the Trust launched our special initiative, Great Expectations, with a $30 million investment over a ten year period. Great Expectations is working to ensure that children in Forsyth County enter kindergarten ready to learn and leave set for success in school and life—regardless of their race, location, or economic status. Research shows that nearly half of the children entering school in Forsyth County are at risk of falling behind their peers in reading.The Great Expectations work began to address this issue in systemic ways, initially applying evidence-based strategies and national models as a guide.

“Great Expectations was meant to be an early childhood intervention for families with children from birth to five years old. Given the science around brain development and how much children develop by the time they’re three years old, it was clear to us that if we could make a difference in children’s lives before kindergarten, it would have a tremendous impact.”


Joe Crocker
Former Director, Local Impact in Forsyth County
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust


Listening to community voices

As the Great Expectations work evolved, the Trust began to support projects like Forsyth Family Voices, which connects and empowers families of color about the needs, strengths, and perspectives related to the development and education of their young children. The Trust also supported Forsyth Futures to begin collecting data on the early childhood programs and services available in Forsyth County to inform organizational and systemic actions related to the strengths, needs, and gaps in services.

Overseeing the Great Expectations work is MDC, a strategic thought partner and activating agency that has been supporting grantees and their coalitions in advancing this early childhood systems work for nearly a decade.

“MDC has partnered with the Trust as it has undertaken major shifts from a charity-focused mindset and investment strategy to one that centers Great Expectation investments in systems change, with a strong racial equity lens at the center. These kinds of shifts take time, and it has been deeply impressive to see the steady work that has yielded today’s approach.”


Julie Mooney
Senior Program Director, MDC


The Great Expectations work continues to grow as the Trust learns more from residents about what they need for their families. We are working to ensure informal caregivers—family, friends, and neighbors (FFN)—have access to high quality resources, because nearly two-thirds of Forsyth County families rely on this form of childcare, for economic reasons and/or cultural choice. At the same time, we are working to improve kindergarten readiness and impact the early childhood system by increasing access to universal pre-K for all children, supporting a coalition led by the Pre-K Priority.

Expanding efforts for equitable outcomes

The Trust has recently expanded this work to include maternal as well as child health, in addition to addressing adverse childhood experiences and the impacts of toxic stress.

“When we think about how we can improve education outcomes in Forsyth County, we have to ensure that expectant Black mothers make it to birth and that children are born healthy and ready to thrive. We’re also examining who’s doing the work. We are now working directly with Black-led grassroot organizations to ensure they have the financial support that they need to respond to these issues.”


Shenell McClurkin Thompson
Senior Program Officer, Local Impact in Forsyth County
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust


Key community efforts include the work of Imprints Cares, a local non-profit working to break the cycle of poverty, promote positive parenting, and prepare children for academic success.The Trust is funding two key initiatives—FFN and Pediatric Parenting Connections. With FFN, Imprints Cares offers twice monthly home visits with informal caregivers, as well as caregivers’ professional development—encouraging collaboration and decreasing isolation. The Pediatric Parenting Connections partners with pediatricians to remove families’ barriers to receiving health care by working with family educators, training pediatric residents in home visiting, and supporting community-centered health.

Another current grantee, Action 4 Equity, works to empower families and students of color, as well as activate all residents, to be effective advocates in overcoming the systemic racism embedded in educational culture and institutions. Its advocacy is grounded in a framework that fosters collaboration between education leaders and health sectors to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

Building an inclusive economy in Forsyth County

To ensure children succeed in school and life, we need to ensure families have what they need to succeed financially — with training and access to good jobs and fulfilling careers. This is not the case today. Research shows that Forsyth County ranks as the second worst out of 2,478 counties nationally for economic mobility, and this impacts Black and Latinx residents the most.

That’s why the Trust expanded the focus of our Local Impact program to address the root causes of these issues and focus on developing an inclusive economy. Partnering with community organizations, we’re working to increase the safety net, reconnect youth to educational and career opportunities, and increase nonprofits’ capacity–so that community members of color play a fundamental role in determining their own solutions.

“What does it mean to work for an inclusive economy with a stronger safety net? It is a community where people of color have the educational and economic supports in place for them to succeed, where youth are staying in school and getting good jobs, and where people of color have a voice at the table about what change needs to occur.”


Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter
Executive Vice President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust


Our partnerships with community organizations working for an inclusive economy exemplifies the evolution of Trust efforts over time. Today, we are working for a just society that stands up against racism and changes the system to ensure equitable health, educational, and economic outcomes for all residents.