Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2016
Source: William Penn Foundation

Many in our country have continued to reflect on our unprecedented election season. The divisiveness we experienced is unsettling. Uncertainty and a sense of vulnerability persist. How will we find common solutions, better paths forward?

We do know that America is resilient. Time after time, Americans have come together to tackle difficult problems. Experience has taught that our diversity drives creativity, courage, optimism and strength. We need and want to be with one another. And we know that it takes respect, compassion and love to honor one another.

These times summon the best we can give. We know that each of us must listen and seek to understand one another in order to find common purpose in community. Philadelphia’s bold Rebuilding Community Infrastructure, a $500 million city-wide plan to invest in libraries, recreation centers, parks and playgrounds, creates a better future for all Philadelphians, particularly those who live in under-resourced communities. Undergirded by values of equity, community engagement, and economic opportunity, it will create high quality public spaces that promote social interaction, learning, recreation, exercise, health and programming essential to residents’ lives. Its widespread impact will be transformative.

The William Penn Foundation has approved a landmark grant of up to $100 million to Rebuild ( The work will expand on our past investments in libraries, parks, trails, riverbanks, playgrounds and public spaces. It reflects our understanding that real change springs from the ground, just as we have seen in our work on watershed protection ( and our support for early childhood learning, such as the Fund for Quality program (

Creative use of public spaces is about public life. In our current climate, public spaces are more important than ever as places where strangers become neighbors and where neighbors learn from and care about one another, explore ideas, debate and disagree, and build trust and a love for community. Thus, we find a path forward together.

We are finding a path forward at the William Penn Foundation as well. It was with heavy hearts—but also great pride—that we learned in September that our Executive Director Laura Sparks will leave next month to become the first woman president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in January. We have been the beneficiary of Laura’s insight, wisdom, and leadership since she joined us in 2012.

As we seek to identify Laura’s successor, we are fortunate that a highly skilled and experienced Foundation team member, Shawn McCaney, has become Interim Executive Director in addition to his role as Director of Creative Communities and National Initiatives. We have engaged Philadelphia’s Diversified Search to help us conduct a broad search for the Executive Director position. We will post information about the process on our website from time to time in the coming months.

It is not possible to stand still. Our world changes, often in unexpected ways. We continue to anticipate a great future for our city and region, and for the William Penn Foundation in its service to this region.