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Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.

Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

San Carlos Apache Small Business Plan Competition Produces Sweet Success

Earlier this summer, I accepted an invitation to serve as one of five judges for the 2nd Annual San Carlos Apache Tribe Small Business Plan Competition. JSF supported this exercise as part of a two-year grant to the Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) at Northern Arizona University in January of 2020.

Due to the pandemic, the competition was conducted over Zoom. During the week of October 12th, the judges received written business plans for the competing proposals. Contestants would pitch their proposals to judges on October 15th. Presentations were rated on marketing, product or service, competence, management capability, financial understanding and investment potential. Judges were further asked to provide written comments to the applicants. The format of the contest was modeled after the TV series “Shark Tank.”

The business ventures were varied in their industries, stages and development. They included a document scan and shred business, a coin laundromat, a children’s book proposal, a Native sewing business, a bead supply company and a sweet bread baker. Contestants were given 15 minutes to present their proposals and answer questions from the judges. All of the participants were well prepared, and the exercise was conducted well. The competition effectively promoted the intended purpose of encouraging entrepreneurial activity and education.

I was particularly struck by the resourcefulness and creativity of the applicants. The current pandemic has required them to pivot their work, and all of them had some measure of a successful testimony of adaptation. I was also struck by the resonating theme of community in all of their proposals. Many of them spoke of the benefit to others more than they addressed the viability or financial opportunity of their business. The winner was the Beaded Edge Supply with a business expansion proposal. You can see their business at

I was asked to forward a grateful thank you from the San Carlos Apache Tribe to JSF and all who participated. All participants received some remuneration. First place received $6,000 and sixth place received $100. Beaded Edge Supply will use the winning proceeds to offset the cost of a new facility to accommodate their growing business. For me, I left inspired, encouraged and appreciative for the opportunity to represent the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

But what happened next to one of the presenters makes it doubly rewarding. Frankie Holmes, the participant who made strawberry sweet bread, landed a major contract with Freeport McMoRan to provide his desserts to their employees. One of the judges works for Freeport, and was instrumental in making it happen.

Here’s Frankie’s story:

“I had heard of the business plan competition from the year before. Baking wasn’t even my thing. But writing a business plan is nothing new for me. I’ve done it numerous times.

“I hear back from the competition. They say, ‘You’re going to be presenting.’ But I didn’t get picked. I got a phone call saying I got, like fourth place. But prior to that, one of the judges reached out to me and said, ‘Your presentation was flawless. We’d like to place an order.’ I’m thinking she’s going to order like four or five loaves. No! She put in a giant order for her whole department! Now I have a contract with them for six months for their team building activities,” he said.

“Then, she put it on Facebook, and things just took off! Prior to the competition, I was doing like a few hundred (in sales) a week. Then, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had sales galore! Thanksgiving alone was over $3,000!

“Word of mouth is very viable down here,” said Holmes, who works in Globe-Miami, an area of sister cities east of Phoenix and west of the San Carlos Reservation with a population of less than 10,000.

Holmes is a personal banker with Wells Fargo who got into baking when COVID-19 hit the town, he said.

“It hit our little town big-time,” he said. “Our whole town shut down. The banks shut down. I was out of work. I figured I could sit here, sulk and cry, or be the guy I’ve always been and find a muse. I never heard of anybody making a strawberry sweet bread, so in one weekend, I did it.”

Congratulations, Frankie Holmes!

Robert Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Disruption-Loss-Adaptation-Gratefulness…Reflections on My First Month as CEO

I really thought my first CEO article would reflect a glamorous month of my professional coming out party. I envisioned tales of flattering introductions by an articulate and esteemed predecessor to the who’s who in the educational and philanthropic worlds. I expected to see first-hand the finished exhibitions, all-star resume accomplishments and celebrated trophies of JSF investments. I’d travel North America for a few weeks and return energized and inspired to dive into a month of professional development. I just knew these experiences would prepare me to lead and inspire a gifted staff.

Most of this happened, just not how I thought it would. I’m confident that none of us had the March 2020 we were planning for. There would be no travel. I’d spend much of my time glued to a 13-inch laptop monitor, fumbling my way around new technology that included a persistent visual of what my extended social distancing from my barber looked like.

My predecessor, Malcolm Macleod, and I would embark on reaching out to every grantee through video conferencing. Our meetings would typically last for 30 minutes and most were back to back to back. I would meet or be reintroduced to many of the rock stars in the educational and philanthropic worlds. Our meetings did not take place in prestigious office spaces, adorned with organizational accomplishments. Most conversations were held in living rooms, over kitchen tables, and a few in the front seats of automobiles.

The actual experience I’ve had in my first 30 days on staff, was far better than the glamorous month I had envisioned. The COVID-19 Crisis offered a candid look into the lives and callings of JSF grantee partners. These partners were sober in their assessment of the COVID-19 crisis, painfully aware of the havoc and change it would likely bring, but stubbornly resolved to serve their students and vigorously pursue their mission.

Most of our conversations revolved around some common themes:

Disruption—The COVID-19 crisis had turned their lives upside down. The means of their work had been changed dramatically, but the ends of that work had not. They remained staunch advocates for their organizations and the students they serve.

Loss—This crisis exacted a real loss -losses that included time with students, celebratory graduation ceremonies, refunded revenues, muted philanthropic giving from their donor bases, canceled fund raisers, and separation from colleagues, friends and family.

Adaptation—All of them were continuing to adapt to the changes around them. From their communication means to the schedules they held.

Resolve to be better—“We won’t waste this crisis.”

Optimism—I suppose this is a prerequisite to be an educator, advocate or philanthropist. Most grantees felt the crisis would yield fruit in their organizations due to organizational efficiencies forced upon them in the crisis. Some viewed the crisis as an opportunity thrust upon them to reinvent themselves or their approach.

Gratefulness—Our inquiries were met with such a permeating attitude of gratefulness. They all deeply appreciated the intentional outreach of JSF. It was very obvious to me their gratefulness resonated from the experience of many years with JSF staff, consultants and Board.

The month of March has ended. It has not been glamorous, but it has been remarkable. A crisis will often strip away the glamorous and reveal the underlying character and qualities of organizations and people. The staff I intended to inspire has inspired me with their own willingness to adapt and resolve to serve. The themes that resonated through the conversations with grantees have been echoed in correspondence with JSF staff, Board and consultants. I have learned a lot and been reminded of more. I’ve been emboldened to lead by the gracious deference and encouragement of our Chairman. I am so very grateful for my first 30 days on staff at JSF.

Robert A. Krause is an entrepreneur and business consultant to the Central Florida agricultural industry. He has served as a member of the JSF Board of Directors since 2013, most recently as the Foundation’s Treasurer. He recently was named JSF’s new CEO.