“Look! The house next door is for sale!” said Tara McKenzie Sandercock as her parents were visiting Greensboro from upstate New York. Not long after that, the senior McKenzies were neighbors.
Having Mom and Dad next door is “a wonderful thing,” according to Sandercock, whose parents had been influential to her as role models of altruism and public service. Mom was a teacher and community leader. Dad was an attorney who was active in the civil rights movement and once hosted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s associate, Wyatt Walker, in their home and church in Clarksville, New York.
Mr. McKenzie had been a speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller and a rural lawyer who, like Harper Lee’s fictional Atticus Finch, would sometimes be paid for legal services with rhubarb pie or chicken. He worked for urban renewal and fought corruption in the New York lottery system, while being president of their small town school board.
“Dad’s family were immigrants (Scottish parents) and so he has a passion for helping newcomers,” said Sandercock. “I think I inherited that.”
“I didn’t have an idea of philanthropy as a career,” said Sandercock, despite her decades of tenure in the practice beginning with the Council on Foundations in Washington, DC. For the past 14 years, Sandercock has served with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro where she is currently vice president, grants and initiatives.
“It’s a calling, I suppose,” says Sandercock. “We’re promoting social capital. And this is truly a ‘foundation for the community.’”
One of her proudest accomplishments with the Foundation came after the financial crisis of 2008 – Operation Greensboro Cares. It was a collaborative effort with the United Way of Greater Greensboro that secured some $350,000 in emergency funds to meet the surge in demand at a number of Foundation-supported charities.
“Our local nonprofits had people coming for services having never had to ask for assistance before,” says Sandercock. “From housing needs rippling out to mental health. The needs are still great, and while we can’t meet all the demands, I’m glad that the Foundation has maintained its level of giving and partnering during the downturn.”
The work of the Community Foundation continues to engage Sandercock and she enjoys the results as well as all the new challenges. “We listen to the non-profits,” she says, “and that inspires us to invest in building their capacity.”
For the current situation in the local community, Sandercock says, “We need more leaders who are willing to be creative who are committed to bringing people together without being divisive.”
An innovative example of this is “IMPACT Greensboro,” an initiative by the Foundation in collaboration with the Center for Creative Leadership that prepares 45 participants to become “change agents” in the community. This results in seeking public service posts, creative new job opportunities, increased leadership in civic groups, or, in one case, a woman wanted to help PTAs become more effective.
Technically, Sandercock’s role with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro is “capacity building” to help local non-profits achieve their missions more effectively through grants and technical assistance. It’s a behind-the-scenes process that assures a more stable community and is forward-thinking for the betterment of the overall quality of life.
For Sandercock, the community’s “foundation” is built with ideas, people and energy as much as with the financial grants she oversees for about 50 projects a year, that include gifts to human service agencies, arts groups, and youth-serving organizations. A key strategy Sandercock employs in addressing current issues is facilitating partnerships that are co-funded by the Foundation and other local and national funders.
Like many Boomers, Sandercock has an active involvement with her senior parents, as well as a young adult son, Jeremy, in college. She and her husband, Steve, are members of Guilford Park Presbyterian Church. Sandercock is active as an elder, chorister and search committee member for a new pastor.
Steve just took early retirement from being a teacher and coach at Page High School, where both Sandercocks carried on the family tradition of being PTA stalwarts. He is currently volunteering as a counselor serving homeless clients of the Interactive Resource Center.
Sandercock considers Greensboro a vibrant place to live, “People love being here!”
And this includes her parents from New York who have quickly made themselves at home as they have found an independent, meaningful and fulfilling social life in the community their daughter helps cultivate.