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January 25, 2021
Surprise! Easterseals, United Way of Central Mass. Get $11M

December 19, 2020 — Two Worcester-based nonprofits—Easterseals Massachusetts and the United Way of Central Massachusetts—which have operated for 75 and 100 years, respectively, are ending 2020 on a high note after receiving unsolicited gifts totaling $11 million that their leaders labelled “transformational.”

The donations, from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and reportedly the wealthiest woman in the world, were announced on Tuesday.

Calling it “transformational,” Tim Garvin, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, said the $5 donation it received, its largest ever, came “totally out of the blue.” Previously, the largest gift to the United Way was on the order of several hundred thousand dollars.

Of the $6 million Easterseals Massachusetts received, President and CEO Paul Medeiros said, “This grant from Ms. Scott represents a transformational gift for Easterseals Massachusetts as we work towards a century of service to people with disabilities in Massachusetts.”

Easterseals Massachusetts, which provides services to ensure equal opportunities for children and adults with disabilities, and the United Way, along with one other Massachusetts nonprofit, were among 384 organizations to share $4.16 billion that Scott distributed across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. to support basic needs or address long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the coronavirus crisis.

Describing the donation as “a validation of the work we’ve been doing,” Garvin said it will allow us to be directive, and not just responsive.”

Most immediately, he said, $500,000 will be given to the Worcester Remote Learning Hub Collaborative, which is providing a safe place for school students in learn in 85 classrooms throughout the city.

The collaborative, which was on track to deplete its funding at the end of the month, will now be able to operate through February, according to Garvin.

While Easterseals has yet to decide how to deploy the funds, Medeiros said the gift will enable the organization to “expand the reach of our services and advocacy across the state to empower all people with disabilities and veterans so they can live, learn, work, and play in their communities.”

He added, “For over 75 years, we have served people in the Massachusetts community to help them meet their individual goals. A gift like this allows us to serve many more individuals. Additionally, it will allow us to be even stronger advocates for disability rights throughout the state.”

The United Way plans to put $4.5 million of Scott’s gift to work to address initiatives focused on poverty, community schools, early education and care, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Garvin said select groups of experts and practitioners will be convened early in the new year to map out specific uses of the new funds in each of the four program areas, with a goal to have them all in place before the end of March..

Neither Medeiros nor Garvin, nor any of the other recipients of Scott’s generosity, were told how they were selected for the gift.

Scott said she relied on advisors who used a data-driven approach to identify organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.

The 384 grantees were narrowed down from a larger universe of 6,490 organizations based, in part, on “suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and nonprofit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience.”

Garvin’s first inkling of the donation came from an email he received last month in which the sender said he represented a philanthropist who would like to make a contribution to the United Way of Central Massachusetts.

The donation was transferred a week after Thanksgiving, and Garvin was instructed not to disclose it until Scott publicly announced it, which happened on Tuesday.

Also receiving a donation was the YMCA of Greater Boston, based in Boston, which did not respond to an inquiry regarding its gift from Scott.

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