Rob Hilton and Susan Althans started the McGregor Foundation in 2001.That was the year Rob became the CEO of McGregor Home, a 140-year-old senior living and rehabilitation center in East Cleveland, after spending two decades in the banking industry. Rob, who had been a board member of McGregor Home for eight years, partnered with Susan, working as a consultant at the time, to figure out how McGregor might extend its reach and further advance its mission to support seniors in need as well as those who serve them. McGregor Home could have continued to dedicate its endowment to direct care, but instead, saw the establishment of the foundation as a way to further carry out its mission through philanthropy.
McGregor Home serves close to 700 vulnerable seniors, but the foundation touches the lives of tens of thousands more through grantmaking, said Susan, who would later become the foundation’s first Director of Philanthropy.
The McGregor Foundation became a member of the Fund in 2015, seeing alignment in the missions of the two organizations. “Our connection with the Fund is embedded in our mission,” Susan said. “Workforce is just as important as the seniors we serve because our seniors wouldn’t be anywhere without those who serve them.”
Rob explained further: “In serving low-income seniors, there’s a desperate need for workers, primarily health care workers, across the entire continuum of the profession, from paraprofessionals, nursing assistants, resident services coordinators all the way to geriatric physicians and [those with a] master’s in social work. … Every year, we fall short of turning out the number of health care workers to meet the current demand.”
The McGregor Foundation is at the forefront of this issue, eager to help meet the demand by working closely with schools and recruiting individuals into health care careers. Rob also sees overlap with the Fund in areas other than workforce, including work to improve access to jobs and increase neighborhood wealth.
The McGregor Foundation has three grantmaking priorities:
• Home and community-based care, particularly programs such as affordable housing with services.
• Workforce development, especially related to providing ongoing educational and training opportunities for workers engaged in direct contact with, or providing services for, seniors in home and community-based settings.
• Total quality of life programming for seniors in all settings.
“Our number one priority is to build out the capacity of services that enable affordable senior housing,” Rob said. This priority encompasses not only the buildings themselves, but also the service infrastructure around them so that seniors can access food, medical services and other essential needs. One successful grant within this priority area was the funding of predevelopment costs for a grandparent housing project built by Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation in the Fairfax neighborhood. This housing was built specifically for grandparents with legal custody of their grandchildren.
The foundation’s second priority area, workforce development, has led to the funding of programs such as “Lifelong Smiles,” a dental van operated in partnership with the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. The van is essentially a full dentist office on wheels, and is staffed by two dentists, dental students and a professor. The van goes to nursing homes and neighborhoods without access to dental care.
The last priority area, quality of life, includes the funding of programs that expose seniors to the arts. This can be in the form of art or music therapy or even an experience like the TOPS Swing Band that plays hits from the 30s and 40s at nursing homes in the Cleveland area, and brightens the days of not only the seniors they perform for, but also those caring for seniors.
Rob and Susan feel that an aging workforce and dwindling philanthropic investment in seniors are two challenges McGregor and our community faces. Although seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population, grantmaking that supports seniors makes up just 2 percent of total philanthropic dollars in the U.S., Rob said. As the only foundation in Ohio focusing exclusively on vulnerable seniors, McGregor consistently receives funding requests three to four times beyond what it could possibly fund. “By no means do we have the capacity to fund the real need out there,” Susan said.
Rob and Susan are very active on boards relating to McGregor’s work. They’re both members of the Council on Older Persons (COOP), an affiliate of the Center for Community Solutions, comprised of executives from nonprofits across Cuyahoga County serving seniors. Rob and Susan are also involved in Leading Age and the National Pace Association. In addition, Susan is on the board of Grantmakers in Aging and serves on the United Way impact committee, which oversees the use of United Way funds. Rob’s principle activity outside of McGregor is serving on the board of Evergreen Cooperatives, an initiative of The Cleveland Foundation aimed at building wealth in neighborhoods through employee ownership.