Building Hope Announces Winners of First Annual Impact Awards


$135,000 In Grants Awarded to Inspirational Public Charter Schools And Dedicated School Volunteers Impacting Charter School Community Students And Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28, 2022)Building Hope, a non-profit dedicated to creating high-quality K-12 public charter school opportunities for students through its expertise in real estate, finance and operational services, awarded a total of $135,000 in grants to inspirational charter schools and dedicated community volunteers from across the country who have demonstrated their impact on the charter school community. The grants were awarded at the first annual Building Hope IMPACT Summit in Washington, DC.

“On behalf of Building Hope, I want to share our warmest congratulation to our winners,” said President of Building Hope Joseph Bruno. “A quality education has never been more important, and we are honored to recognize our first cohort of outstanding charter school leaders and dedicated parent volunteers who impact students every single day in this country. They share our passion for creating excellence, innovation, and empowerment within the charter school community.”

Along with the granting of the awards, the three-day Summit featured deep-dive sessions and short talks from impactful leaders that showcased the power of bringing diverse voices together. “The impact these leaders make every day is unquestionable. Bringing these diverse and passionate advocates for educational excellence together demonstrates the power of uniting around a common cause and gives us great hope for the future of education,” Selection Committee Chair Sherilyn Moore shared.

The first Annual IMPACT grant award winners were selected from nearly 400 charter school applicants stretching across 38 states for their impact on community engagement, educational innovation, or student empowerment.


Student Empowerment 


The $20,000 grant award winner is Washington, D.C.-based Richard Wright Schools.

At Richard Wright Schools, the mission is to create the next generation of leaders through strong reading, writing, research, and communication skills. The schools look at their education programs through the lens of the student, not the educator, and are guided by the principle that when students feel a sense of belonging, they can learn anything. With the grant, the Richard Wright Schools plan to enhance their journalism, creative, and performing arts programs. The schools’ needs include updated Mac desktops and MacBooks; a full Adobe Creative Suite for studio classrooms; resources for performing arts programs; artist materials for larger scale murals, sculpture, and mixed media; and updated studios for student-produced films and news. 

“We are a community of care, love, and culture that instills empowerment in every student,” said Founder and CEO Dr. Marco Clark. “We believe that young people’s voices matter, that impact matters, and empowerment matters. Decisions can’t be made without young people’s voices at the table – they belong at every table, not just those in the classroom – because learning happens outside our academy too. And when students are empowered by academics and community involvement, they can generate waves of positive, transformative changes in their communities and beyond. Thank you to Building Hope for supporting our mission and growth.”


The $10,000 grant award winners are:

Palm Beach School for Autism of Lake Worth, FL

The Palm Beach School for Autism’s mission is to provide innovative education and behavioral support to empower individuals with autism. The school is dedicated to empowering students for success beyond school and believes in fostering independence, wherever that may be for each student who comes through the doors, by providing transition job training and placement through collaborative community partnerships. The IMPACT Awards grant will enable the school to fulfill an immediate need for devices used for communication in the community, transportation, and virtual interview software. The grant will also be used to expand job training and transition programming. 

After receiving the grant award, Executive Director Ann Eisenberg said, “Thank you to our friends at Building Hope for this grant. Palm Beach School for Autism was founded to respond to the need for essential, and equitable services in our community for students with autism. We are all about academics, but there is more. Empowerment is everything to our students. For our students this means having a voice, having self-esteem, and not letting autism define them – they define autism. And not just our current students, but also our graduates, who we empower and support through Project Next, a job training and placement program that helps our students transition into our local community and be set up for success after leaving school.”


Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, Cambridge, MA

Prospect Hill Academy Charter School is one of the oldest and largest charter public schools in Massachusetts and offers a vibrant community with a communal feeling of “we.” At the center is the students, with student empowerment at the core. The school has challenged the norms by celebrating students and the important contributions they make to the school culture, local community, and ultimately the nation. This education model and the priority Prospect Hill Academy places on college readiness programming have been successful in achieving a college enrollment rate of 95%. The school has hired a part-time Alumni Support Specialist to extend support to school alumni in college and increase the alumni college graduation rate of 70%, which is higher than the 59% national average, and significantly higher than the graduation rates for students of color. This unique support is designed to help alumni persist in college and achieve their dream of getting a college degree. The IMPACT Awards grant will allow the school to expand its overall alumni support efforts with increased hours for the Alumni Support Specialist and additional resources to further develop this program for its alumni. 

“Receiving this $10,000 Building Hope IMPACT grant will help us continue to provide excellent, equitable, and culturally relevant education opportunities for our students as well as expand our support of alumni,” said CEO Dr. Angela Allen. “At Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, we celebrate triumphs and embrace joy, and we create opportunities for students to excel beyond school walls and beyond graduation.  We believe in student choice, student voice, and student empowerment. We prioritize building relationships between students and staff and as well as creating a safe space where students have a sense of belonging.”


Community Engagement 


The $20,000 grant award winner is Common Ground High School in New Haven, CT.

Common Ground is a school but also an urban farm and community environmental education center – inviting people across ages and identities to connect to their urban environment, build community, grow into their full potential, and contribute to a just and sustainable world. Dedicated to creating an inclusive student community on a pathway to college success, meaningful careers, and healthy, sustainable lives, the school engages the entire New Haven community as its learning lab – where students take direct action to positively impact their own community working alongside New Haven residents. The $20,000 IMPACT Awards grant will support the Student Pathways Team, staff members charged with creating learning opportunities for students, beyond the classroom and school day. These opportunities include creating 75 paid youth jobs through Common Ground’s Green Jobs Corps, helping 75% of students take on college courses before they graduate high school, and expanding the farm education programs to build access to healthy food and education for the community.

“At Common Ground, we talk about the ripple effect – the outward ripples we create to impact our students, families, and New Haven community, said Executive Director Monica Maccera Filppu. “Thank you to Building Hope and the selection committee for recognizing our school, our leaders, and the students who inspire us with this grant. With this generous support, we will continue to create a sense of wonder, curiosity, inclusivity, and resilience that will power our students’ futures while also instilling in them the knowledge that by activating the entire New Haven community, they have the chance to impact the world around them.”


The $10,000 grant award winners are:


Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School, Brooklyn, NY

Launch’s mission is to prepare students to thrive in college and careers by providing a public education rooted in active learning experiences and powerful character development. To continue that mission, Launch will be building a new campus on National Park Service land at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn that will enroll more students as well as serve students at other public schools and the community as a whole. With the $10,000 grant from Building Hope, it will be possible for Launch to keep offering programs that meaningfully engage students in transformational experiences and prepare them to disrupt inequities to build a better world.

“It is an honor to be a recipient of one of the first-annual Building Hope IMPACT grants,” said Director of External Affairs, Alexis Rubin. “At Launch, we believe that learning is part of living in the world. Our students are empowered to solve problems in our community by collaborating with community partners and learning from and with them.   Our job is to break down walls between our school and the community to ensure that this interconnected relationship will catalyze future impact. The more we can seek out these interconnected opportunities, the more we will be able to build the type of world we want to live in.”


Legends Academy, Orlando, FL

Legends Academy is a Kindergarten through 8th grade Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – focused school serving the students in one of the highest needs communities in central Florida. The school’s philosophy centers on the development of a culturally responsive and safe learning environment for all students. As a recent recipient of the Governor’s award for being in the state’s top 10% for academic growth, the school’s STEM focus creates scholars who continue to achieve, while supporting the needs of the surrounding community. The school will use the IMPACT Awards grant to grow partnership engagement and impact the community.  

Upon receiving the $10,000 IMPACT Awards grant, Executive Director Jennifer Porter-Smith said, “Thank you, Building Hope and the selection committee. At Legends Academy, we recognize that human beings were fashioned and purposed to form relationships and community. We have been strategic, purposeful, and thoughtful about creating a school community that dispels myths about what black and brown students can accomplish – one where they see themselves as intellectual human beings and feel nurtured and safe. Our school is located in the heart of Orlando, and this location offers opportunities to make external connections with the philanthropic community, neighborhood associations, and city officials. Through these connections, our scholars know there is a community that loves, cares, and invests in them today and in their future success.”


Education Innovation 


The $20,000 grant award winner is Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy in Maple Lake, MN.

Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy’s mission is “Out of the classroom, into the world,” and the staff and students live this mission daily. The school is a project- based learning environment – both expeditionary and experiential. The school is teacher-led. There is no single director, and all staff are involved in the decision-making processes. Learning is student driven, allowing students to design learning experiences based on their own unique interests and passions, all of which encourages them to be self-motivated, independent thinkers who are capable of solving problems, thinking critically and who are prepared for life. The Building Hope grant will be used to provide more off-campus learning experiences like “Off-Campus Fridays” where students engage in passion projects and any aspect of learning they cannot do in the classroom.

“I want to thank Building Hope and the selection committee for awarding us this generous grant,” said Advisor Les Harrison. “Our education innovation is really us. We approach things differently. On our campus, we have trails, a lake, a pond, and our hallways are the outdoors. Connections are at the heart of who we are and allow us to get to know the joys, passions, and struggles of each student – we get to know them as human beings. Last week, a student shared with me that she has found her love of learning again. I can’t ask for anything more.”


The $10,000 grant award winners are:


Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS), Philadelphia, PA

FACTS is a leader in Folk Arts Education (FAE) programs that help students understand folk art rituals and the value of seeing things from other people’s points of view. Located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia, the school serves the educational needs of its students with an innovative method for honoring the diverse experiences and knowledge of its immigrant/ refugee and American born populations. FACTS provides Kindergarten through 8th grade education that weaves FAE throughout the fabric of each day by utilizing traditional arts and cultures found within its own and neighboring communities as the catalyst for critical inquiry and community engagement. The Building Hope grant will develop and model advanced practices in FAE. 

“It’s an honor for our school to be recognized for our education innovation,” said Executive Director Ellen Somekawa. “At FACTS, we open doors to many ways of being in the world, and we welcome and embrace knowledge and wisdom from our different cultures and rich traditions. We all have this knowledge; we just need to slow down and notice it – and share it. And in the process of sharing, students are making connections and learning. We infuse our entire school with this innovative approach so that our students are better served and comfortable in the world of their origins.”


Genesee Community Charter School at the Rochester Museum & Science Center (GCCS), Rochester, NY 

GCCS is a diverse-by-design school that erases social and traditional academic boundaries. The school and its students embrace school integration, social justice, and strive to be active citizens in the Rochester community. In addition to providing a high-quality academic program, the school offers social-emotional education that teaches its Kindergarten through 6th grade students to respect and understand differences in others. The IMPACT Award grant will fund consultants and staff fieldwork to provide professional development. 

“Education innovation is something charter schools were charged with at the beginning,” said CEO and Executive Director Shannon Hillman. “GCCS innovates as an arts integrated and project-based school, where students learn through arts. Culture and character are really important for us as is learning about the community we live in and serve. We want children and families from all walks of life to learn alongside one another and break down biases and prejudices. It is our mission to nurture children’s natural abilities to be reflective questioners, articulate communicators, critical thinkers, and skilled problem solvers, enabling them to reach exemplary standards.”


Shellie-Ann Braswell Shine Brighter Award

The first annual Shellie-Ann Braswell Shine Brighter Award was given to three dedicated volunteers. The award, named in honor of inspiring volunteer leader Shellie-Ann Braswell who led with love and made everything around her shine brighter, recognizes dedicated school volunteers who embody that spirit and make memories for charter school families to cherish. Each volunteer received $5,000 to support future volunteer efforts.


  • Dominique Moore, volunteer at EL Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.


Moore said, “I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do. It’s my purpose. This is how the world grows stronger. And by showing up every day I’m giving young people the opportunity to shine.”


  • Sabrina Payne, volunteer at Project Impact STEM Academy in Kuna, ID


When asked why she volunteers, Payne said, “I choose to invest in what I value, and there’s no better investment of my time than volunteering at Project Impact STEM Academy to build community and a sense of belonging so that all students can thrive and grow.”


  • Shawna Thissen, volunteer at Promesa Academy in San Antonio, TX


Upon receiving the Shellie-Ann Braswell Shine Brighter Award, Thissen said, “Thank you to Building Hope and the Selection Committee for recognizing my volunteer work at Promesa Academy. To be a part of uplifting children is beautiful. It truly feels amazing to see the impact you’re making in someone’s everyday life.”


“Dedicated, passionate volunteers are the heart and soul of many schools,” said Sheila Ryan-Macie, chair of the board of directors. “This is particularly true for charter schools given charters are often organized by parents and other members of the community seeking an alternative and innovative model for education. This award was created and named to honor a special Building Hope colleague and inspirational charter school volunteer – Shellie Ann Braswell.  “Like Shellie-Ann, Dominique, Sabrina, and Shawna truly shine bright with their tireless commitment to educators, families, and students in their communities. It was impossible to choose between them, so the Selection Committee generously voted to award all three finalists with $5,000 grants. Congratulations to these special members of the charter school community.”


About Building Hope

Building Hope is a non-profit foundation created to support education and public charter schools. Since 2003, Building Hope has created impact by investing in facilities, financial, and operational services for charter schools nationwide. With Building Hope’s support, schools can devote more resources to educating students in underserved communities. Building Hope has supported over 300 charter school projects and more than 150,000 students in 20 states and the District of Columbia, by providing more than $375 million in direct loans, credit enhancements, and equity investments to support more than $2 billion in school construction. For more information about how Building Hope helps charter schools nationwide with facilities, financing, and operational services, visit 


Martha Holler

ShinePR for Building Hope |