Innovative Transportation Grantmaking from the Skillman Foundation

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June 18, 2013; Crain’s Detroit Business

Anyone who has worked in youth programs knows that transportation can be a major barrier to involvement. This program takes that bull by the horns. The Skillman Foundation has granted $100,000 to the Detroit Bus Co. to run a six-month pilot program providing free transportation service to take children to and from more than 90 after-school and summer programs. The programs are a part of Skillman’s Youth Development Alliance. The buses will even drop children back off at pre-approved safe locations, like police stations, fire houses and libraries, if necessary.

Chris Uhl, vice president of social innovation at the Skillman Foundation comments, “Our goal is to increase membership in these programs, but one major impediment is transportation and the ability to get these kids from school to the program and back home…We’re often talking kids ages 11 to 18 who have unsafe and unreliable public transportation and whose folks don’t have transportation.”

For now, the program will concentrate on southwest Detroit and the Chadsey-Condon community, where a lot of the programs are clustered. The Detroit Bus Co. has hired a dedicated transit planner and has staffed the buses to ensure the routes run smoothly.

If the pilot is successful, the Foundation and the Bus Company may expand to other neighborhoods. Says a representative of the bus company, “Right now we’re using the school buses—they are finally being used for school bus work—but we may potentially invest in more if demand ramps up…If they want it, we will make it happen.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Steve Hagler

    The Skillman Foundation is right on the mark. Second to more money, logistics — how to get children from point A to point B — is the most cited barrier to getting children and youth to programs, particularly activities beyond their neighborhoods. A dedicated transportation system is an innovative approach.

    Readers should also know about a new transportation initiative In the San Francisco Bay Area. The Environmental Education Funders Collaborative (EEFC) ( created a pooled Transportation Fund which helps subsidize transportation costs for low-income schools sending their students on field trips to outdoor and environmental education programs. The fund is managed by a local nonprofit, and administrated through the Science by Nature website (

    In the 2012-13 pilot program, the EEFC invested $100,000 of pooled funds, helping to get over over 11,000 students from schools with an average of 70% free and reduced meals on a trip. At a cost of less than $10 per student, this is a inexpensive and effective way to provide a real world hands-on learning experience to kids who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend a trip. This idea is scalable, and transferable to any community.