...A PROMISE 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.
Mr. Jones reached out to these young men to establish an Explorer Scout Post (Explorer Post #48), as 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. Through these efforts, the seeds were sown for several strong Black community organizations.
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 36 years, POISE Foundation has grown from an initial capitalization of $164K to a present value in excess of $7M. During this same period, POISE has returned to the community that nurtured it more than $10,000,000 in grants and scholarships to deserving organizations and families in the Pittsburgh area and throughout the United States. Historically, grants have been provided to organizations fostering improved conditions in the areas of: Aging, Arts and Culture, Children and Youth, Education, Health and Human Services, and Urban Affairs/Economic Development.
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 continued on!
During Mr. Lewis’s tenure, the Foundation has grown from a single staffed organization to a staff of seven. POISE expanded its scholarships from post secondary to include pre-k through 12th grade (serving Allegheny County.) In 2012, the Foundation shifted its focus on two primary goals, convening an effort to build a sustainable Black community in the Pittsburgh Region and Strengthening Black Families. The Foundation now focuses its unrestricted grant making to support organizations that do their work through a family lens where the whole family is strengthened and provided opportunities to develop more positive family interactions. We also advocate for the family to be reinserted as a core institution within our community.
Our goal is to continue to build POISE as an institution that can be a significant financial as well as strategic resource focused on promoting equity within the Pittsburgh Region and throughout the nation.