Founded in 1964, the Phil Hardin Foundation provides grants in support of educational programs in Mississippi. In a state plagued by widespread poverty and one of the worst public school systems in the country, the foundation has funded some of Mississippi’s most successful educational initiatives of the past half century. As of 2010 the foundation had distributed nearly forty million dollars in grants and loans.
Phillip B. Hardin (1891–1972) amassed a large fortune by turning a bankrupt bakery in Meridian into the Hardin Bakeries Corporation, the supplier of hamburger buns to McDonald’s restaurants in the Mid-South. The process of consolidating older plants in Meridian, Jackson, and Tupelo into one modern production and distribution center in Meridian convinced Hardin of the need to improve the ability of Mississippi’s educational system to produce skilled workers. The short-term need to develop trained workers blossomed into a broader vision for the future that championed education as the key to raising the quality of life in the state. When Hardin died with no wife or children, he left the bulk of his estate to the foundation.
The foundation focuses chiefly on early education. A typical program targets a specific community, develops a strategy to prepare local children for kindergarten, and collaborates with other philanthropic organizations, area colleges and universities, the Mississippi Department of Education, and corporations to implement the program. The foundation evaluates the success of the program and promotes the strategies that have proved most effective. In addition to collaborating with state agencies and officials, the foundation works with regional groups such as the Southeastern Council of Foundations and national organizations such as Teach for America. Through the S. A. Rosenbaum Mississippi Teaching Fellows Program at the Earthwatch Institute of Maynard, Massachusetts; the Thomas R. Ward Fellows Program at Harvard University; and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Nation’s George Washington Scholars Program, the foundation allows teachers and administrators to participate in seminars and workshops with national and international experts.
Given the low quality of public education in Mississippi’s poorest communities, the Phil Hardin Foundation offers help in areas of the most urgent and desperate need. By not only providing financial backing but also encouraging innovation and creativity, the foundation has helped to bring new solutions to Mississippi’s oldest deficiency.
- Phil Hardin Foundation website, www.philhardin.org