George Kaiser Family Foundation
The words people choose reveal their approach to things. For example, you won't hear Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, talk about making "gifts." He even steers away from the word "investments," preferring instead to talk about "projects." It's a word that gives primacy not to the dollars spent, but to the changes sought - and to the Foundation's ongoing commitment to that work.
The Foundation's mission is to break the cycle of poverty at the earliest stage by supporting early childhood education, social services, indigent health care and overall civic enhancement, Levit explained. It's a mission that shares many linkages with The University of Tulsa.
Those ties have led the Foundation to invest heavily in TU through the Embrace the Future Campaign. The scope and specificity of the Foundation's giving to TU are evidence of mutual goals and a close working partnership; these varied projects include TU's National Energy Policy Institute and the Frederic Dorwart Endowed Chair in Energy Law, the George Kaiser Family Foundation Rehearsal Hall in the new Lorton Performance Center, the Immigration Law Clinic, the KWGS FM 89.5 public radio station, Gilcrease Museum (operated by TU), the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge, the James Joyce Quarterly - and more.
"This group of projects arose from the combination of emerging opportunities and an ongoing conversation with TU leadership to develop a list of shared priorities," Levit said. "In working with us, the university has been a nimble entrepreneurial partner."
One especially creative project was a nominal-interest bridge loan from the Foundation, which expedited construction of the Roxana Rózsa and Robert Eugene Lorton Performance Center. Secured by pledged future gift installments from other donors, the loan allowed TU to take advantage of favorable current construction costs and avoid prevailing market debt rates, saving precious time and millions of dollars.
Although the Embrace the Future Campaign is now history, the partnership between the Foundation and TU will take no hiatus. For one thing, as Levit pointed out, the connection is personal. He is married to Janet Levit, Dean John Rogers Endowed Chair of the College of Law. In addition, TU Board of Trustees member Fred Dorwart and TU College of Law alumnus Phil Frohlich sit on the Foundation's board. These bonds, as well as projects already initiated, promise an active partnership well into the future. One emerging area to watch is the Kendall Whittier Neighborhood, where the Foundation and TU are committed to education, services, and neighborhood revitalization. "Over the next five to ten years, I think you'll see more partnership there," Levit said. "There are some good conversations and planning happening now."