THE HISTORY OF POISE FOUNDATION A PROMISED KEPT
In 1957 Mr. Bernard H. Jones, then a recent graduate of Knoxville College, was serving as the Community Services Director for the Friendly Service Bureau, located in the inner city area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, known as the “Hill District”. Mr. Jones was raised in the “Hill”, knew from personal experience the challenges facing the teenagers in the neighborhood, especially the young males, and believed that he could make a difference in their lives.
The seeds for POISE Foundation were sown when Mr. Jones reached out to these young men by establishing an Explorer Scout Post (Explorer Post #48) to provide a vehicle through which he could offer a wholesome developmental and social alternative for them. He knew that some members of his target audience came from single parent households, abused alcohol, and participated in other activities of which neither they nor their families would be proud. His vision was to instill in them a sense of pride, an appreciation for a strong work ethic, and the beginnings of an entrepreneurial spirit.
Mr. Jones’ office was located in a community center called the Hill City Youth Municipality, which was frequented by some members of his target audience. They came there to play games, chase and be chased by girls, and otherwise occupy themselves. Mr. Jones began his recruitment effort at Hill City and convinced a few young men to join the Explorer Post. At 6’4″ tall, weighing 250 pounds, Mr. Jones was an imposing figure and it was hard to tell him no. Using the Hill City group as a core, he asked them to tell their friends about the Post and assist in recruiting others.
After several weeks, the post had grown to 7 members and Mr. Jones began to mold them. In organizing the Post, he required them to elect officers and conduct their meetings according to Robert’s Rules of Order. He talked to them about the importance of doing well in school, stressed the importance of working for what they wanted, explained that fathering a child was not a true test of manhood, and demanded that they take pride in everything they did. When he felt that he had completed the indoctrination phase of his program, Mr. Jones moved into phase two, the challenge.
With the help of a friend, he was able to arrange for the group to visit the Moore Family farm in Brandywine, MD, just south of Washington, DC. During the trip, the group would also be able to visit their Congressman, the Honorable William S. Moorehead. Mr. Jones brought this news to his scouts and they were ecstatic until he told them about the strings attached to his offer. They could only make the trip if they agreed to be on their best behavior before and after the trip; earned money to buy Explorer Post #48 Blazers for each member, and earned the money to pay for the round trip bus fare from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. The only ground rule was that each member had to raise the money by doing honest work.
You have to have lived in a Black ghetto to understand what Mr. Jones had just done. By issuing what amounted to a challenge to these would-be tough guys, he knew they would have to try if only to save face. He believed they had what it would take to succeed, but he also knew that they faced a tough challenge, because jobs were not easily obtained in the “Hill”. Mr. Jones’ belief was justified as the youths took his challenge and demonstrated their resourcefulness. One of the scouts went into business selling “ice balls”(shaved ice topped with fruit flavored syrup). It was almost beyond belief to see this particularly tough, “go for bad” individual pushing a cart up and down the street and shouting, “Ice balls, come and get your ice balls here”.
Another of the scouts went into the rags and junk business. He would go from door to door with his wagon asking for old rags and junk to take to the junkyard. The pay was poor, but the work was honest and he persevered. Still other scouts got jobs in local stores, while others did odd jobs in the neighborhood for anyone willing to help them in their quest for funds.
Mr. Jones was proud of the initiative his scouts exhibited, but realized that he had given them perhaps too tough a challenge. He also knew that with some cooperation from the families the program could still be effective. Although most of the group tried to be tough, they all respected their Mothers and he capitalized on that. He invited the Mothers to come to Hill City to see their sons in action. He then asked the mothers to help the Post by forming a support group; thus the Explorer Scout Post #48 Mother’s Support Group (known as the Explorer Mothers) was formed.
Shortly after the Explorer Mothers group was formed, Mr. Jones went to them for help. He shared with them his challenge to the scouts and asked for their ideas for additional fund raising ideas. The Explorer Mothers were understandably eager to help and they adopted the idea of cooking meals for the scouts to sell on the weekends. For the next several months, the scouts and their Mothers worked together in a business venture that captured the imagination of the community.
During the week, the scouts would solicit orders for chicken or fish dinners for delivery on Saturday. On the weekend, their Mothers would cook the meals and the scouts would deliver them. The money raised from these dinners supplemented the funds earned by the scouts in the ice ball, junk, neighborhood stores, and odd jobs businesses, and resulted in full funding of the blazers and round trip bus fares for the entire post.
The successful response to Mr. Jones’ challenge was graphically demonstrated in the when the entire post, Mr. Jones, and members of the Moore family, met with Congressman William S. Moorehead on the steps of the United States Capitol!
The trip to the Moore family farm and Washington, DC was a significant event in the lives of all the scouts. They enjoyed themselves so much, they asked Mr. Jones if they could go again the next year. Mr. Jones agreed, but with the same strings attached. He didn’t have to worry at all this time; the team was in place, they earned their money and went again.
Lest we lose sight of the big picture, let me assure you that there was much more to Explorer Scout Post #48, than a 6’4″-250 lb giant of a man taking a group of scouts to a farm in Maryland and to meet their Congressman in Washington, DC. Mr. Jones interceded in the lives of these youth at a critical juncture. He invested in them the time, energy, concern, and love that was destined to pay dividends in the future. As these young men graduated from high school, some went on to college, some entered the service, and others went to work in Pittsburgh and other locations.
Urban Youth Action
Mr. Jones stayed in touch with most of his former scouts and in 1966, with the help of some of them, founded Urban Youth Action (UYA), a youth support program designed to provide developmental and social growth opportunities to inner city youth in Pittsburgh, goals similar to those of its predecessor organization, Explorer Post #48. UYA however, had a more sophisticated agenda, a broader scope, and a more global vision than Explorer Post #48. UYA had elements of the Junior Achievement Program, the scouting program, daily life studies, and a host of other programs designed to help young people transition from adolescence to young adulthood and beyond.
In UYA, just as in Explorer Post #48, young people were taught the importance of doing well in school and the importance of working for what they wanted. They learned that fathering a child is not a true test of manhood nor is bearing a child a true test of womanhood and they were admonished to take pride in everything they did. But in addition to these “Explorer Post #48 basics”, UYA taught them how to dress and behave in an interview, how to balance a check book, how to plan for and run a business, etc. They were exposed to business and civic leaders who imparted knowledge to them that would have otherwise been unavailable.
In June, 1968, Mr. Jones met with eight of his former Explorer Scouts to continue to build upon the foundation he had established with them years before. At this meeting he suggested that they start an investment club. All agreed that this was a good idea and THE MISTERS investment club was born that day. The MISTERS soon became an institution in Pittsburgh. In addition to pursuing their own investments, they sponsored financial information luncheons around the city to which they invited prominent business persons to address the group. These luncheons were open to the public and were very well attended. It wasn’t until many years later that the former scouts, realized that the MISTERS was simply a vehicle that Mr. Jones was using to exploit the entrepreneurial spirit he had engendered in them many years earlier.
It should not be surprising to learn that in 1969 Mr. Jones, with the help of the MISTERS, founded the Pittsburgh Afro-American Investment & Development (PAID) Association to provide investment opportunities for those of modest means who wanted to invest a portion of their funds, but lacked the capital to enter the front loaded, high cost of entry vehicles available to others. PAID was patterned after the successful 10-36 program the Reverend Leon Sullivan established in Philadelphia a few years earlier. The 10-36 program required its participants to deposit into a group account, $10.00 per month for 36 months. This may seem like a small sum of money, but if enough people participate, this small stream of money quickly grows into a mighty river of wealth. The PAID project was modestly successful and many people had sums of disposable income in the late 1970s and early 1980s that would have been unimaginable without the availability of PAID.
In 1973 Mr. Jones recommended that UYA, The MISTERS, and PAID combine their resources to create a new organization, UMP associates, that would have more investment clout. His recommendation was approved and the combined resources of UMP resulted in more rapid economic growth for all involved. To many, especially the MISTERS who had worked with him throughout the years, this seemed like a logical place to stop, but Mr. Jones had more to teach.
After much discussion, debate, and analysis, in December 1980, POISE Foundation was incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania as a public charitable foundation with Mr. Jones as its President and two of his former Explorer Scouts serving as trustees. This incorporation fulfilled an unspoken promise made between Mr. Jones and his scouts that they would make good use of his counsel and never forget to give back to those who made it possible for them to progress.
Over the past 30 years, POISE Foundation has grown from an initial capitalization of $164K to a present value in excess of $4.5M. During this same period, POISE has returned to the community that nurtured it more than $4,200,000 in grants to deserving organizations in the inner city. These grants have been provided to organizations fostering improved conditions in six areas: Aging, Arts and Culture, Children and Youth, Education, Health and Human Services, and Urban Affairs/Economic Development. Beneficiaries of POISE Foundation Grants range from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Allegheny General Hospital that provides care for newborn infants ranging from 1 pound to 12 pounds who are born with special health problems to Camp Achievement that provides camping programs for underprivileged youngsters. POISE is proud of its history and looks forward with great anticipation to its future.
In February 2002, Bernard H. Jones, Sr. passed away, but as he taught and often said “We must build our institutions for our children’s children.” A board member and lifetime mentee of Mr. Jones decided to keep a promise to his mentor to make sure that the Foundation kept moving forward and stay true to its mission, so in December 2001, the Board of Trustees appointed Mark S. Lewis as the second President of POISE Foundation, thus the legacy of wealth building continues on!