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March 6, 2017

Kelly leaving behind a larger Hartford Foundation

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns Linda Kelly stands inside the Hartford Foundation's Columbus Boulevard office.

Using a football analogy, one could say Linda J. Kelly is leaving Connecticut's largest community foundation — and one of the largest in the U.S. — in good field position for her successor.

Kelly has entered the final weeks of more than 11 years as the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving's president, leaving behind an institution that's grown its assets 25 percent under her watch. There is also a strategic plan in place focused broadly on investing in vibrant communities, family economic security and education.

“We've got a plan, we've got the money, we've got the technical resources to move forward, that's what makes me feel good about this being a great position for a new leader to come in and take this organization to the next level,” Kelly said in a recent interview.

Kelly's last day is March 17. Board member Yvette Meléndez will head the foundation until a permanent replacement is hired, expected by midyear.

Kelly, who arrived in fall 2005, said she's most proud that the organization continued to grow under her watch and “continues to be viewed as a very significant asset in the Greater Hartford community.”

The foundation gave almost $317 million in grants from 2006, Kelly's first full year, through 2016. Assets have grown from $735.1 million in 2006 to $918 million last year, according to unaudited 2016 figures.

In 2016 alone, The Hartford Foundation awarded more than $ 33.3 million in grants to education, family and social services, arts and culture, community and economic development and health initiatives.

The foundation has served myriad needs in its 29-town Greater Hartford service area since its founding in 1925, but is expected to be leaned on more heavily in coming months as state and local governments and, hence, many nonprofits, grapple with expected budget cuts.

“Sometimes there are those who don't understand the role of the community foundation and believe that we can actually take the place of government funding, which, of course, we cannot,” Kelly said.

The foundation's strong financial footing is key now as organizations seek ways to continue their work amid shrinking budgets, said JoAnn H. Price, chair of the foundation board and co-founder and managing partner of Fairview Capital Partners in West Hartford. The foundation will offer support to continue that work, she said.

“So having a healthy organization and managing it well is obviously critical to the work we do and [Kelly] has done that in a masterful way,” Price said.

“She is extraordinarily conscientious” and totally dedicated to ensuring the foundation is responding to the issues its communities confront, Price said.

Kelly said the foundation can impact lives in ways that can be sustained over the long term.

“Addressing issues on a long-term basis is a luxury that not very many institutions have, but we do have that luxury here,” she said, largely due to the foundation's solid financial base built by generous donors.

Working with its community partners, the foundation can try new ways of doing things that might not yield immediate results, but can long term, she said.

“Our goal is to address some of the major issues that occur in the region from a systemic standpoint,” working with partners that include nonprofits, governments, the private sector and residents. “We do know that we cannot make significant change alone.”

Paula Gilberto, president and CEO of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, highlighted a couple programs her organization has partnered on successfully with the foundation during Kelly's tenure.

They teamed up to found the Hartford Partnership for Student Success in 2007 to help children and youth with learning and home challenges, offering support services before, during and after school and through family engagement, Gilberto said.

The foundation and United Way also teamed up to launch in 2008 the Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford focusing on developing an educated, economically self-sufficient workforce that meets employer needs in areas including health care, manufacturing and transportation.

More than 100 employers have participated, connecting the unemployed and underemployed to jobs to better support themselves and their families, Gilberto said, adding that Kelly is results-driven.

“She's smart, she's savvy and she is about results and there is a positive element of that in terms of accountability,” Gilberto said.

Kelly also is excited about the philanthropic, public and private collaboration occurring in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's Working Cities Challenge competition, an economic development effort to help urban communities with disproportionately more low- and moderate-income people. Connecticut joined the competition last year.

Diversity is important to Kelly, both in how assistance is distributed and received. She wants people to know that philanthropy isn't just about writing checks, but can include giving time and wisdom.

While she's proud of the foundation's work, big issues remain in Hartford and most urban areas in the state, Kelly said, citing high-quality education for all children in public schools, food insecurity, health care and wintertime shelter among areas needing continued attention.

“There are issues and I wish I could say that I've taken care of five of the 10 and everything is fine and I can't,” Kelly said. “But the Hartford Foundation will always be here helping those most in need.”

Kelly, a lawyer by education, said she'll remain in the area after retiring and stay engaged in a community she's called home for 40-plus years. She worked in the public and private sectors before the foundation, including stints as a commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, state deputy commissioner of banking, and senior executive positions at then-Shawmut Bank Connecticut.

“I'm ending my career with what I consider the capstone — and that is in the philanthropic sector,” Kelly said.

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