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Two key local foundations get new leaders

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Sarah Martinez-Helfman, who has led the Eagles Youth Partnership for 20 years, was named Tuesday to be the new president of the Samuel S. Fels Fund, an 80-year-old city philanthropy that awards grants and seeks to promote positive social change.

Martinez-Helfman will succeed Helen Cunningham, who led the fund – a major of supporter of local education projects – for 23 years. Cunningham announced her retirement in January.

Also Tuesday, Pedro Ramos was named the new president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation. Ramos is a former city managing director and former chair of both the School Reform Commission and the Board of Education.

Ramos succeeds R. Andrew Swinney, who retired in June after 16 years.

Martinez-Helfman said that at Fels, Cunningham had built a culture of collaboration between nonprofits and grantmakers that she plans to continue.

"What I know about Fels and one of the things that I’m drawn to is that this is an organization that is responsive and nimble," said Martinez-Helfman in an interview. "The purpose of the funder foundation is to support great work, build access, and put the right people together who may never meet – and together come out with a better outcome. I have a real commitment to carry that culture forward."

She was the founding director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, the charitable arm of the football team, and built it into an award-winning model in sports philanthropy. One of its best-known programs is the Eagles Eye Mobile program, which improves children’s access to vision care and has been replicated in other cities. It has reached 68,000 children.

"The people here are like family to me," she said of the Eagles Partnership, "but it was time after 20 years to move on, and this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I have enormous gratitude to be leaving a place I absolutely love and going to a place I’m completely thrilled about." She will take over at Fels in October.

Ramos will step down from his current position as a partner in the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. In a statement, he said that he is "particularly interested in partnerships that increase economic mobility for all, strengthen the safety net and improve civic capacity. I imagine the Foundation as an exciting hub where needs, information, ideas and resources join the nonprofit, business and government sectors around real and lasting solutions."

A native of North Philadelphia who attended public schools, Ramos has served on many philanthropic boards, including the Philadelphia Zoo, Project H.O.M.E., and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

The Philadelphia Foundation was established in 1918 and distributes $20 million annually to nonprofits in the five-county area. The Fels Fund gave away $1.7 million in 2013.

Disclosure: Both the Fels Fund and the Philadelphia Foundation are funders of the Notebook.