Many people would not appoint a 36-year-old man from Flint to head the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF), a more than $240 million foundation in Flint. However, many people do not know Isaiah Oliver.
In 2017 the board of trustees of the CFGF appointed Oliver to be their new president and CEO. Oliver was selected as the fifth leader and youngest ever in the 30-year history of CFGF, succeeding Kathi Horton, who retired. He was selected from a search that included 126 applicants from around the country. Imagine the qualifications of that group of applicants.
“I am blessed to have a space to come back and be the best of Isaiah,” Oliver says.
But why should the residents of Genesee County care who leads the CFGF? Let’s take a detailed look at what the CFGF is and does for Flint and the entire county.
According to its website (https://www.cfgf.org/cfgf/), the CFGF was founded in 1988 by two of Flint’s renowned community leaders, Dr. Arthur Tuuri of Mott Children’s Health Center and William White from the C.S. Mott Foundation. Tuuri and White helped merge the assets of two Flint agencies, the Flint Public Trust and the Flint Area Health Foundation, for use by the community.
The CFGF has given away over $110 million in the last 30 years, with the sole focus being Flint and Genesee County. There have been over 40,000 donors who have given from a single dollar to tens of millions to the 475 funds within the CFGF, supporting area organizations. The entire process is facilitated by hundreds of volunteers who donate their time and energy sitting on boards and helping with details of the CFGF. Their mission serves the common good in Genesee County to build a strong community.
Some examples of funds within the CFGF are the Foundation for Flint, which specifically helps with Flint’s water crisis, supported by donations from the likes of the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, among many others.
Donations came from every state and 15 countries to help with the water crisis. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha established the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, with 18,000 donors raising over $18 million to deal with the long-term health needs of Flint children. Carman-Ainsworth graduate and pro football player Brandon Carr established two funds to help with the water crisis. Bruno Mars pledged a million dollars to the CFGF to aid the crisis. Mars joined other celebrities to offer aid to Flint, such as Cher, Pearl Jam and Big Sean.
“The water crisis is huge,” Oliver says. “However, issues of poverty and access are also huge. Trust is important, and Flint deserves better.”
Reaching outside of the city of Flint, the CFGF maintains community funds for the cities of Clio, Davison, Fenton, Flushing and Grand Blanc. Grants are awarded to organizations in those cities to aid in improving the quality of life therein. An example is when the CFGF gave a grant to jumpstart a backpack food program to ensure that underfed Clio-area students were eating healthy on the weekends.
Concerned about the early education of lead-damaged children in Flint, the CFGF facilitated the opening of Educare Flint, a 36,000-square-foot building located behind the current Durant-Tuuri-Mott School. Funded mostly by an $11 million grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation, the school will serve up to 220 children from birth to age 5 each year.
“It’s time for young people to be looked at and chosen as Flint’s leaders.” —Sue Goering
In addition, the CFGF will assist with the newly created Flint Promise Scholarship Program. That fund was jumpstarted by a $1 million donation from Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and the same amount donated by the Consumers Energy Foundation. Graduates of the class of 2018 from 11 area schools will be able to apply for cost-free college for this fall.
I met Oliver in the fall of 1998 at Flint Northwestern High School. He was an outstanding student in my yearlong writing course, Advanced Composition. He joined me with a busload of Northwestern students who toured Central Michigan University, where Oliver graduated from in 2003.
From there he went to work at Mott Community College in the Workforce, Community & Grant Development program, and while there, served five years on the Flint Board of Education, including two years as president. Oliver also served for four years on the Hurley Medical Center Board of Managers, where he helped develop their $370 million operating budget. Next, he went to work at the CFGF as vice president of community impact.
Sue Goering is a past board member of the Flint Women and Girls Fund at the CFGF. She says, “Isaiah is an intelligent, kind, thoughtful person who is a great listener, a great dad who cares about kids and is not afraid to show his soul. He’s a quality human being who will mature and grow with the job. It’s time for young people to be looked at and chosen as Flint’s leaders.”
Stephen Arellano, CFGF Board of Trustees member, says that Oliver is “a good fresh face for the CFGF who has shown immense dedication with a great head on his shoulders and has the charm and skill to be a great leader going into Flint’s future.” As to his charm, just look at Oliver present a speech on a couple of YouTube videos.
Recently Oliver won the Young Professional Leader Award hosted by the Flint and Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. He resides in Flint, is married to Shay and has three daughters: Zaiah, 7; Carrington, 4; and Chelyn, 6 months.
He concludes, “The CFGF will be here to make Flint the best it can be when people give the best that they have, and in 10 years we will eye a transformation of this town with the help of the CFGF.”
Anyone interested in information about the CFGF, including making a donation to or applying for a grant from it, can contact a representative at 810-767-8270 or [email protected] CFGF’s address is 500 S. Saginaw St., Suite 200.