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Packard Foundation’s New Program Rewards Empathy-Building Projects

Packard Foundation's New Program Rewards Empathy-Building Projects

Making a difference in the community isn’t just about the end product of a charitable endeavor. It’s about building people’s sense of connection with others that continues long after a donation is made or an activity is finished. In short, empathy.

Recognizing this, the Packard Foundation in partnership with Ashokan Changemakers launched its new “Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change” award. The program will give $500,000 to up to six community projects that will be showcased at the Packard Foundation’s 50th Anniversary celebration event.

The Foundation is looking for new and innovative ideas, says Local Grantmaking Director Irene Wong, and in areas that are outside the Foundation’s traditional focus.


“We’re very deliberate in not being specific in what kinds of projects we’re looking at. What are those interesting ideas that make a community a better place? It [the program] opens doors for an organization that may not fit in our traditional five focus areas, for us to learn about new ideas, and to ask the question: how do we think about empathy in our work and how does that play out?”

One example of this is Immersion Reality Education’s Dementia Reality Tour (, which has been given in Santa Clara at the Pacific Gardens assisted living community.

Instead of hearing about dementia, participants get to experience it first hand through prickly insoles that make walking painful, bulky gloves that interfere with dexterity, glasses that limit vision, and headsets playing a continuous jumble of confusing sounds — kids playing, sirens, people talking, loud music. They quickly realize how hard everyday activities are for those suffering from dementia.

If you’re interested in submitting your organization for consideration, or know of a group you’d like to nominate, visit Currently, about 20 groups have entered. The deadline is July 10.


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