It's been a little over a year since Maurice “Mo” Green took the helm at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The organization is a major funder of nonprofits across the state.

Green is thinking about what the foundation's role will be in the future, so he took a trip all over North Carolina with trustees and staff, part of what's called the “Mo Wants To Know Tour.”

He heard about racial divides, a need for health care, and better access to high speed internet. But one of the most pressing he issues he encountered was the state's growing opioid epidemic.

In North Carolina, there were more than 1,100 opioid-related deaths in 2015, a 73 percent increase from 2005.

Health experts are projecting that this year, opiates will surpass car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths in North Carolina.

“What stood out for me was when I was in Wilkes County as an example, and we were talking with young folk at their community college, we heard that their families were being impacted, or their friends were being impacted,” says Green. “They also lifted up how it's really putting a strain on the foster home situation in their community because so many young folks are having to end up in foster homes.”

Green says his travels took him to places in the state he's never been before. But beyond the gleaming towers of the big cities and the rustic countryside, there were stories of people living in poverty in both areas. They struggle with transportation, unemployment, and low wages.

“As we were in a lot of urban communities, we heard a lot about growth and how to manage that growth. In rural communities, there were concerns about people leaving and how do they re-engineer themselves to attract people or allow people to stay in those rural communities. But in these very same communities you have some significant poverty that exists,” says Green.

Beyond the rural/urban divide, North Carolina's population continues to grow. It's the ninth most populous state. Mecklenburg, Wake, Cabarrus and Union Counties are some of the fastest growing areas. The demographics are changing, too. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the people in North Carolina are getting older and more diverse. A recent report shows the Hispanic population is booming, especially in the eastern part of the state. Green says all of this growth puts a strain on resources in some communities.

“It is abundantly clear that we have multiple North Carolinas and that we have to recognize that one size is not going to fit all in our state,” says Green. “That trying to do everything the same way for every community is ultimately not going to be effective for every community.”

Green also heard a lot of questions about the state of public education during the meetings. What impact do charter schools have? Are there enough teachers and are they getting what they need to instruct students?

As the former superintendent of Guilford County Schools, Green understands the challenges well. He says the state needs to provide more money to help meet the need.

“Additional funding that would allow for additional teachers to be hired and additional teachers that may have training in multiple languages would be beneficial for many students,” he says. “I also think there is a need for training and professional development for teachers in general, as they are having to work with students who are coming from varied backgrounds.”

For now, Green says he's taking in what he saw and using that information to help plan the future steps for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.  He takes that seriously, because the organization can award around $15 to $20 million a year in grants. Green says the foundation has a history of making change in North Carolina. 

“As I went to various parts of the state and met with many individuals, it became clear to me the impact that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has had on this state,” says Green. "So many individuals would talk about how the foundation was the first grant to a particular organization that now is in it's 25th or 30th year of existence, how the foundation was a leader on taking up issues that other foundations or individuals really weren't willing to do – whether it be poverty or the very first grant around venereal disease in 1937.”

He adds, “It was remarkable for me to be in the position that I'm blessed to be given and then be able to tour the state and truly be able to listen from others.”

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news



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