New Orleans has a murder rate higher than that of Chicago and a poverty rate over twice that of the United States as a whole. It is these and other challenges that the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) tackles within the gleaming Greater New Orleans Philanthropy Center, a $14 million edifice that opened in November 2016.

Situated on the historic Lee Circle, the 22,000-square-foot, three-story structure serves as headquarters for the foundation, which according to its website was founded in 1983 to “create a resilient, sustainable, vibrant community in which individuals and families flourish and the special character of our region is preserved, celebrated, and supported.”

The site further notes that the foundation, which has gone from $4 million in assets in its infancy to some $275 million today, does work in the following areas:

  1. Crime: As noted, the murder rate in New Orleans as of early 2017 was higher than that of Chicago, long known as one of the most violent American cities. The foundation attacks this problem on a grass-roots level — by examining things like the economy, education, mental health, drugs, etc.
  2. Economic Opportunity: Through 2016, the percentage of New Orleans residents living below the poverty level stood at 29 percent; nationally, it stood at somewhere between 12.7 percent and 14 percent. According to GNOF, one of the troubling discoveries in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — the storm that ravaged New Orleans in 2005 — is that many residents were unable to heed mandatory evacuation orders because they either didn’t own a car or didn’t have enough gasoline to travel an extended distance. GNOF has launched programs like Economic Opportunity Community of Practice and New Orleans Works (NOW) in an effort to combat the poverty issue.
  3. Environment: The foundation has zeroed in on three primary concerns: the management of urban water, the protection and restoration of the Gulf Coast, and the growth of the Southeast Louisiana water economy. That stands to reason, seeing as New Orleans, the country’s third-rainiest city, accounts for 90 percent of the lost wetlands in the U.S., and loses the equivalent of one football field of coastline per hour.
  4. Education: The illiteracy rate in New Orleans is estimated to be 26 percent, three percent above the national average. Enter such GNOF-sponsored programs as Stand Up For Our Children and IMPACT, which advocate for the most vulnerable youths and the highest quality education.
  5. Children and Youth: IMPACT is also felt here, as it provides the apparatus that aids youth workers in various areas and supports organizations helping those between the ages of 16 and 24 find educational or employment opportunities.
  6. The LGBT Fund: Established in 2016, it finances nonprofit organizations that aim to improve the quality of life for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Some $100,000 was granted to 13 such organizations in the fund’s first year.
  7. Arts and Culture: The city’s vibrant, unique culture is also supported by IMPACT, which seeks to maximize the quality of life and economic opportunities for those involved in the arts, and advocate for increased support.
  8. Organizational Effectiveness: The GNOF offers a grant program that helps nonprofits operate at peak efficiency. Among those earning grants in 2016 were Lighthouse Louisiana, which helps blind and visually impaired teens and adults become more independent, and Silverback Society, Inc., a mentoring program.
  9. Health and Human Services: Again operating through IMPACT, the goal is to improve various social services, increase insurance enrollment for low-income, disabled and elderly individuals and improve health literacy and awareness.

In short, the work being done behind the walls of the Greater New Orleans Philanthropy Center is as impressive as the structure itself.