The Ally: December 2020 – Linda Southward

Linda Southward
Executive Director
Children’s Foundation of Mississippi


More than two decades ago, Tom Wacaster (long-time director of the Phil Hardin Foundation) invited me to visit the Jonestown Learning Center in Coahoma County, Mississippi.  I can still sense Tom’s sense of anticipatory joy as we rounded the last field of soybeans before the farm to market road turned into Jonestown.  To the passerby, it may have seemed like any other small town in the Mississippi Delta that had seen better days. The spattering of shuttered storefronts indicated that the past might have been brighter than the present. Somehow, I knew from Tom’s perspective that we were about to experience something unique.

It was there that I met Sister Teresa Shields and others who were operating a Montessori school in one of the most disadvantaged counties in Mississippi.  At first, I could not figure out exactly what made this place and these people special, but as I continued to listen and learn, it became clear.  The mutual respect and commitment to the greater good on behalf of children in this community motivated their collective work. Each leader (one of a nonprofit and one of a philanthropic entity) demonstrated gratitude for each other’s work and respect for their roles.  This regard, commitment, and appreciation between Tom and Sister Teresa yielded a contagious joy for the work.  Through the years, there have been numerous times that I had the opportunity to share the story of Jonestown and the philanthropic investments there.  You may be asking why this story?

For me, this story of more than 25 years ago symbolizes what the Alliance has come to mean to Mississippi in a very short period of time—bringing together nonprofits and philanthropy in a meaningful, respectful way for a greater good, sans any ‘power’ that may have historically been associated with funding disparities.

Prior to and since the launch of the Children’s Foundation of Mississippi in August 2019, I have had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy’s phenomenal work.  The entire team is engaging and exists to improve the quality of nonprofits and philanthropy in Mississippi, thereby improving Mississippi’s quality of life.  The Alliance has the ‘greater good’ as its north star, and I am grateful to be one of their strategic partners.