Donor Spotlight: Diana Davis Spencer Foundation
Mother and daughter Diana Davis Spencer and Abby Spencer Moffat lead the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation which seeks to provide individuals with tools to take charge of their own lives. As teenagers, Diana and Abby each volunteered for Children’s Village, mentoring juvenile offenders in New York’s Westchester County to help them become proficient, productive and responsible members of their communities. These formative experiences gave them insights into the kinds of support many children don’t have and really need. Today, their foundation invests in people to promote national security, freedom and a healthy economy – with entrepreneurship and innovation at its core.
The foundation’s grantmaking has been critical to Turnaround for Children’s growth in Washington, D.C. During the 2017-18 school year, Turnaround is working with four elementary schools in the district – Hendley, Houston, Malcolm X and Turner, and will train clusters of District of Columbia Public School principals, social workers and psychologists. Moreover, with encouragement and funding from Spencer and Moffat, Turnaround is now partnering with KIPP DC, the charter management organization, providing guided learning and consulting sessions to its 17 principals and working closely with two of its schools – AIM and Quest Academies.
THE 180: Why is education a priority for you?
DIANA DAVIS SPENCER: Because if we don’t have an educated populace then we won’t survive as a country.
ABBY SPENCER MOFFAT: It empowers individuals to own their future if they have a good education. Education means opportunity.
THE 180: How do you see Turnaround empowering individuals to reach their full potential?
DIANA DAVIS SPENCER: Turnaround looks at children not as people who if they don’t toe the line, they’re out; it listens and tries to understand children. And it helps schools set up systems to reduce suspensions and truancy.
I think if you feel together emotionally then you learn more effectively and you can start thinking about helping others.
ABBY SPENCER MOFFAT: And you can dream bigger. You can see your situation as not limiting but instead as an opportunity to learn, grow and shoot for your dreams. Just because someone grew up poor or in very difficult circumstances doesn’t determine their future.
THE 180: Why did you suggest to KIPP DC that it might be fruitful for them to partner with Turnaround?
DIANA DAVIS SPENCER: We really like KIPP’s approach. They are innovative and have a good R.O.I. (return on investment). It seemed appropriate for them to work in partnership with Turnaround which is innovative as well and has a holistic approach to dealing with emotional issues.
ABBY SPENCER MOFFAT: If you are in the upper echelon, so to speak, the emotional piece gets taken care of. You go to therapy, you provide mentors for your children, you might send your kids to private school where teachers and coaches can spend time with each of them. But many teachers in public schools do not have the time to deal with the emotional component. They are just trying to survive and they don’t have often have the skills and knowledge to address behavioral challenges. And that’s why Turnaround is extremely important because it brings that part. And then it transforms all the other parts.
THE 180: Are you pleased so far with where the partnership with KIPP DC is headed?
DIANA DAVIS SPENCER: Definitely. KIPP is leading the charge as a charter network and they can also become leaders in this whole child, whole school approach Turnaround is bringing to them.
THE 180: Tell us why you see Turnaround as innovative and perhaps entrepreneurial too.
ABBY SPENCER MOFFAT: Part of why we love Turnaround is that Pam Cantor took her skills as a psychiatrist and used them in an entrepreneurial way to start an organization when nobody thought it would go anywhere. She didn’t take no, and that what our foundation is founded on as well. Not to take no.
DIANA DAVIS SPENCER: Yes, kudos to Pam for getting Turnaround off the ground.
We also think it’s terrific that Turnaround is bringing innovation into schools such as mindfulness meditation – something my family started doing in the early 1970’s – and growth mindset work, teaching teachers to encourage and praise each student’s efforts to achieve. It’s encouraging each child to believe that they have something to offer with their effort.
ABBY SPENCER MOFFAT: You are training teachers and principals to look at children as assets, not just as they have to learn this or that to be successful. You’re helping educators see that each child is smart in his or her own way and therefore you are changing children’s lives.