Kathleen Fluegel retired at the end of 2020 from her role as Executive Director of HRK Foundation, so at this moment, she might just be heading out on her bike! An avid cyclist, Kathleen intends to take time in the early days of retirement to explore bike trails, read, and identify where she can best make contributions to the changes that she sees coming to society.
Kathleen has spent the past two decades at the helm of HRK Foundation, a family foundation that seeks to improve the fabric of the community by recognizing and addressing unequal access to resources. The Foundation’s philanthropic focus has been on working to promote healthy families and healthy communities and its grantmaking has been through the lens of racial equity and inclusion.
A long-time funder of YWCA St. Paul (initial grants date back to 1984), Kathleen sees the work of YW aligning well with the Foundation’s focus. “Over the past several years, we have tried to be more accountable to our own community,” explained Kathleen. “The mission of YW since Day 1 has been to eliminate racism and empower women in our community – they have never strayed from that mission. And their focus areas of housing, youth, employment and education are targeted where the needs in this community are the greatest.”
Kathleen describes the journey she and the Foundation have been on as they finetune their grantmaking. “I remember attending a conference in Louisville where the keynote speaker was a young, African American farmer who said, ‘The system isn’t broken. It works just fine – for the people it was designed to support.’ For me, that statement brought the pervasiveness of institutional racism into sharp clarity. Shortly thereafter, Philando Castile was killed. With the Foundation Board’s leadership and support, we decided it was time to get serious.”
As she dove deeper into Minnesota’s dominant narrative, Kathleen learned about the Minnesota Paradox – the simultaneous existence of Minnesota as the best state to live in, but the worst place to live for Black Americans. “The Board recognized that as a small foundation, we could only change where the money goes, so that’s what we set out to do, through long-term, intentional relationships with community partners.”
As Kathleen looked back on her career, she had this advice for others interested in making a philanthropic difference:
“Trust the people in communities, on the ground, doing the work. Their greatest need is unrestricted operating support – by empowering the organizations to make decisions on where to invest, you will have the greatest impact on the community as a funder. And wherever you fund, stick with it – be a consistent partner over the long haul. That provides nonprofits with the stability they need to actually drive change.”
Kathleen Fluegel has been an advocate, champion, and friend to YWCA St. Paul. We wish her all the best as she writes her next chapter!