City Schoolyard Garden Receives Shaping Futures Grant; Birth Sisters of Charlottesville Advance Work

City Schoolyard Garden, in partnership with Charlottesville City Schools, has been awarded a five-year, $500,000 Shaping Futures grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. That group’s project is designed to improve the health of Charlottesville youth through healthy school meals, engagement in school gardens, and cultivating leadership and lifelong healthy living skills.

Meanwhile, the Birth Sisters of Charlottesville, a nonprofit organization whose trained doulas provide childbirth education, labor support, and postpartum care to women of color, continue work on their Shaping Futures grant—awarded in 2016 and the first such grant from the Community Foundation.


The Community Foundation established the Shaping Futures grant in partnership with the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation and with a generous annual gift from Dorothy Batten. The goal is to support programs that aim to improve outcomes for a population affected by a community-health trend.

Last year, City Schoolyard Garden (part of Cultivate Charlottesville), in partnership with Charlottesville City Schools, received the second-ever Shaping Futures grant for their Just Food for Charlottesville program. The grant is funded with help from the University of Virginia Health Systems and Dorothy Batten, and is designed to improve health outcomes identified in the MAPP2Health 2016–2019 Community Health Improvement Plan.

The Community Foundation sought proposals for projects scaled to produce population-level change for a specific demographic in such areas as healthy eating and active living, mental health and substance abuse, equity and accessibility, and the fostering of a healthy and connected community for all ages.

Just Food for Charlottesville was launched to improve food security and health outcomes for Charlottesville youth through increased access to and consumption of healthy school meals, engagement in school gardens, and cultivating leadership and lifelong healthy living skills.

While the COVID-19 crisis affected the program’s timeline, Cultivate Charlottesville helped bridge the service gap in the school-nutrition department during school closures. In collaboration with other community partners, Cultivate prepared meals to support Charlottesville City Schools students when the district was not providing meals, including spring break, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

“We are excited to collaborate with Charlottesville City Schools in launching this grant that builds on goals defined by Food Justice Student Interns, parents, and community partners. Through amplifying youth voice and choice, increasing fresh, from scratch and local foods, building CCS infrastructure, and engaging students in nutrition and garden education, we aim to implement a meal program that builds equity and health for CCS students to thrive,” Jeanette Abi-Nader, the executive director of Cultivate Charlottesville, said.

“This project gives us the opportunity to build school infrastructure to increase from scratch and fresh-meal options while partnering with students to learn about what foods work for them,” Carlton Jones, the schools’ nutrition director, said.


In 2016, the Community Foundation awarded the first Shaping Futures grant to Birth Sisters of Charlottesville, then known as Sisters Keepers Doula Collective. The group seeks to address systemic racial disparities faced by Black women seeking maternal healthcare. At first the group received its grant funding through a fiscal sponsor but this year reorganized as a 501(c)(3) called Birth Sisters of Charlottesville. They have since leveraged an additional $150,000 from the Early Childhood Funders Network, a committee-advised fund at the Community Foundation.

The Early Childhood Funders Network was founded in 2017 to create a long-term, focused philanthropic response to the needs of young children and their families in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. “One of our goals has been to demonstrate the power of collective philanthropy,” the group said in a statement. “We are thrilled that six of our members have come together to support the critical and systems-changing work of Birth Sisters.”

“The grant highlights our commitment to addressing health disparities in the communities we serve.  The doulas are expert healthcare navigators, and their services continue to make significant differences in pregnancy outcomes for Black women in our community,” said Kimberly Skelly, the executive director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation, co-funder of this Shaping Futures grant.

“We are grateful to the Community Foundation, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the Early Childhood Funders Network for recognizing the need for radical change through their significant contribution supporting our mission,” the Birth Sisters said in a statement.