What’s New

From Maurie Lawrence, Board Chair of Piedmont Health Foundation

It is with both sadness and gratitude that the Board of Directors announces Katy Pugh Smith’s departure as Executive Director of Piedmont Health Foundation, effective June 15, 2022.

Katy has led the foundation since 2005, spearheading grantmaking and facilitating the organization taking on a more strategic, systems orientation.  We thank her for her 17 years of service, which have included championing partnerships to develop healthier, scratch made foods in Greenville County Schools (now one of the premiere school food programs in the nation), forming LiveWell Greenville, catalyzing a transformation of Greenlink (Greenville County’s public transit system), and using local partnerships and philanthropic investments to leverage millions of dollars in federal and national foundation grants and other investments.

While we will miss Katy’s staff leadership, she is stepping down from her role at the foundation as we begin the transition from our focus on transportation and hand the work over to the coalition, Greenville Connects.  As was already planned, the board of directors will conduct a strategic planning process to identify what is next for the foundation.  We are grateful that Addy Matney – former board member and chairman of Piedmont Health Foundation – will serve as interim executive director as the board goes through this process.

Katy leaves us to take on an expanded role with the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy, which since 2014 she has also led on a part-time basis.  We look forward to continued work with her in that capacity, and we wish her all the best.

Maurie Lawrence

From Katy Smith, Executive Director, Piedmont Health Foundation

For the last 17 years, it has been my joy and honor to lead the Piedmont Health Foundation and to work closely with so many committed community partners working to improve health in Greenville County.  It is with a mix of emotions that I have notified the board of directors that I will be stepping down in early summer to expand the work I have been doing with the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy and its sister organization, the NonProfit Alliance, to lead the new Greater Good Greenville.

I thank all of the many partners with whom I’ve been privileged to work and from whom I’ve learned so much: current and former board members of the Piedmont Health Foundation, my fellow colleagues in philanthropy across the state, faculty and staff at Furman University, and the many staff and volunteers in nonprofit organizations and local government working every day to improve health and the conditions that make good health possible.  I especially thank the current board members of the foundation, who are thoughtful people, committed to the mission, who I know will make great decisions for what’s next for the organization. 

Katy Smith

How do we support community mobility?

Mobility – defined here as the ability to move with ease throughout the geography of our community – is supported by more than our personal cars. What types of vehicles can help make it easier to get to and from the places we want to go? What emerging fuels and technologies can be deployed? How does the way the community is built impact mobility?

A new publication from Piedmont Health Foundation gives a quick overview of community mobility. Written by Public Health and Political Science Intern from Furman University, Sean Rusnak, this document takes a look at the many ways we can promote mobility for all.

Transit gaining traction

Readers of the Greenville News on Sunday, March 25th saw the front page headline: Transit Transition: Change May Come to Greenville.  The article by Eric Connor explored why businesses and politicians are now on board to help Greenville passengers.

The online edition included a video by Lauren Petracca (embedded above) following a Greenlink rider through her day.  Her story is heart-wrenching and familiar to those in health care, education, and social service agencies – one of pinching pennies, walking miles instead of paying a friend $25 for rides, and carefully planning the day around bus trips.  She has long known that Greenlink needs improvement and is desperate to see change.

But these days, in a booming economy and tight labor market, business leaders are demanding a better transit system, too. They need employees on whom they can depend for the second and third shift. They want access to workers even if their business are located off the current bus routes. They want to see congestion reduced and parking alternatives created for their employees. With a growing awareness of disparity of opportunity in Greenville County, new voices are calling for change.  And with increasing congestion and new ridership markets, some residents are making the switch to transit by choice.

This demand may very well create a “transit transition” in Greenville County.

Piedmont Health Foundation is proud to have been a partner to Greenlink since 2015, when we called for the completion of a Comprehensive Operational Analysis and a Transit Development Plan (both of which we helped fund). Greenlink’s staff have made significant changes and have proven the system is efficient, ready for innovation, and worthy of investment.

Lend your voice to the movement. Check out this tidy and helpful summary of the facts to date. Stay tuned here for local news related to transit and upcoming activities of our elected officials related to improving mobility for all.


Transit and the hunt for Amazon’s HQ

In Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka Bar fever sweeps the world as children (and adults) tear into millions of Willy Wonka’s candy bars in hopes of finding one of five golden tickets.

That same fevered anticipation blanketed civic and business meetings across the nation as leaders discussed (planned? plotted? prayed?) how to be on the short list for Amazon’s second headquarters.  Local and regional committees developed packages of tax incentives, boasted of their educational systems and labor forces, and worked to position themselves to entice Amazon to set up shop in their area. Even those who didn’t submit proposals heard frequent conversations among civic and business leaders around how to get a game-changing headquarters like Amazon.

Some cities were able to pursue the Amazon opportunity with the coordination of Veruca Salt’s father, creating realistic and compelling proposals; twenty such communities are now on the short list.

But others were confronted with a shared significant weakness: a lack of mass transit.  It’s what the CityLab blog called “a come-to-Jesus moment for cities where high-level service has long been an afterthought.”  Writer Laura Bliss quotes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jim Galloway: “There’s nothing like being left out of the money to force a rethinking of policy.”

So what does that rethinking look like?

Some cities who made the cut and who also made recent transit improvements can provide a model.  Raleigh, NC and Indianapolis are both on the short list. Although some believe it was their business environment and active, younger labor force that tipped the scales for them (rather than transit), both Raleigh and Indianapolis passed taxes within the last 18 months to pump local dollars into their mass transit systems. Columbus, OH, also an Amazon headquarters finalist without a large transit system, received a renewal of a quarter-cent tax for transit in 2016.  Each has ambitious plans for transit expansion.

Of course, there’s more to the story. Some communities that didn’t make the cut, like Grand Rapids, MI, just renewed a tax for transit in 2017. Houston also wasn’t named a finalized, even though it revamped the transit system in 2015 to be more responsive (with increased ridership as a result).

But as Andrew Van Dam’s analysis in the Washington Post pointed out, the US cities that made the cut could check the boxes of having top levels of educated technical works, large public transit systems, and active young labor markets. None of them is lacking mass transit.

How many of these boxes will Greenville, SC check the next time an opportunity like Amazon HQ2 comes up?

Who cares about funding for transit – and why?

We know that Greenlink’s local and state revenues for transit fall far behind other peer communities in the Southeast. Because of this, Greenlink is using federal funds that are generally intended for capital expenses – such as replacement buses – to operate the system.  This creates a double-whammy for Greenlink; the lack of capital dollars means they have not been able to purchase new vehicles or save money in a capital replacement fund. And the limited operational dollars mean the system is unable to expand to meet residents’ needs.

Thanks to our 2017 transit funding report and the attention of numerous local advocates from the private sector, social sector, health care, education, and more, our community is beginning to take notice. The Greenville Chamber of Commerce 2018 Public Policy Agenda lists support for mass transit a top priority at the state and local level, noting that a plan from the City of Greenville and Greenville County needs to be a “first step toward a long-term plan to bring Greenlink funding to the level of our peer cities so our workers have public transit options to take advantage of jobs, healthcare, and education.”

Transit Director Gary Shepard recently presented to the Greenville County Council Committee of the Whole with a room packed with nonprofit organizations, health care providers, community-based organizations and businesses. Several council members noted that without increased funding, it will be impossible for the system to meet the community’s needs, ranging from connections to jobs, serving residents pushed out of the city by gentrification, alleviation of traffic congestion on major thoroughfares, and positioning the region for headquarters opportunities like that recently presented by Amazon.

We are encouraged by the number of conversations around the importance of transit funding, and we look forward to discussion leading to a strong transit system for all.

Greenlink continues to make progress

2017 was a year of significant progress at Greenlink, Greenville County’s public transit system. Thanks to the leadership of its staff and board members, Greenlink is making changes to be more responsive and rider-friendly in the near term and to anticipate growth and community needs in the future.

Adoption of route changes. Greenlink completed twenty public hearings to share results of its Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) of the system and the route changes it recommends. These changes, approved by the Greenville Transit Authority board in December, will be the first significant adjustments made to the routes in decades. Community members who attended the sessions were excited to see plans to add more bidirectional service and more transfer points outside of downtown, and riders of the busy route serving Furman, Cherrydale, and Rutherford Road were thrilled to see that this route will be split in two to improve crowding and on-time service.

Addition of an Intelligent Transit System (ITS). Thanks to the philanthropic support of our partners The Graham Foundation, Hollingsworth Funds, and the Jolley Foundation, Greenlink riders will soon be able to track on their phones the location of their bus and see how full it is. This is a long-desired benefit for riders who can now see if the bus is early or late, and it will help provide the real-time data Greenlink staff need to make smart business decisions.

Other technology advancements are coming, including an electronic payment system (for those with credit cards, no more counting out quarters for the bus ride) and the much anticipated purchase of two Proterra buses (with delivery expected in late 2019).

Progress on the Transit Development Plan. The TDP considers the Greenlink network from 2020 through 2024 and ways to make it useful to more residents in Greenville city and county. It recommends a prioritized service plan that demonstrates where and how Greenlink should operate expanded services in the next five years and identifies costs for this expansion. The TDP was recommended as a phase two in our 2015 mobility study and was funded in part by the Piedmont Health Foundation.

After surveying riders and community members, holding community focus groups, and considering Greenlink’s operational opportunities and constraints, the TDP draft offers the following recommendations:

• Extend weekday service from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., cost = $800,000
• Expand Saturday service to 5:30 a.m. (from 8:30 a.m.) through 11:30 p.m. (from 5:30 p.m.), cost = $323,000
• Improve all weekday routes to 30 minute frequency (from 60 minutes), cost = $3,000,000 plus $7,700,000 in capital costs for expanded fleet
• Add Saturday frequency (increasing from 60 minutes to 30 minutes), cost = $367,000
• Add Sunday service (60 minute frequency over 12 hours), cost = $548,000

The plan also considers adding routes to provide more crosstown and connecting service as well as service for commuters from Easley.

Of course, these expansions are all contingent upon increases in funding.

But with Greenlink’s positive demonstration of its responsiveness, innovation, and strong stewardship of resources, combined with the significant growth we are seeing in Greenville County, the case for greater investment is becoming clear.

All aboard for a transit field trip

The Piedmont Health Foundation is excited to bring you aboard Greenville’s public transit system, Greenlink. Catch one of Greenlink’s buses to the downtown Greenlink Transit Center for a one hour presentation about Greenlink’s operations, changes, and future. The whole experience takes about two hours when including the time spent traveling to and from the Transit Center on a Greenlink bus. Remember to bring $3.00 in exact change to buy your ticket to and from the Transit Center. Lunch will be provided. Read more about the field trips!

To plan your bus ride, please use Google Transit and check your departure time with Greenlink’s posted schedules. Remember to show up your stop ten minutes early to prevent missing your bus.

If you have any questions, dietary restrictions, or would like to book a group trip, email Sean Rusnak at seanrusnak@piedmonthealthfoundation.org or call (864) 752-8888.

To sign up, click below:

Friday, April 13, 12:30 – 1:30 (plus travel time)

Friday, April 27, 12:30 – 1:30 (plus travel time)


Reinventing school food with passing gear philanthropy

Kids won’t eat healthy cafeteria food.

Cafeteria workers can only open boxes and reheat chicken nuggets. They’ll never learn how to cook.

School cafeterias can’t afford to serve healthy or local food.

Students don’t think school lunch is cool.

When the Piedmont Health Foundation teamed up with Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services back in 2010 to consider how to put a better product on the school lunch tray, these were the objections we heard in the community. Naysayers who scorned the typical school lunch at that time – hot dogs, processed chicken products, canned beans and the like – tended to point the finger at the schools as if they were stubborn or lazy or ignorant of children’s health needs to not offer scratch-made entrees, whole grains, and locally sourced produce and proteins every day.

Food service personnel had great ideas of what they could offer the district’s more than 76,000 students. But they needed technical resources, financial support, and culture change in schools to get them there.

This is where passing gear philanthropy came in.

Institutions like school districts have strict mandates to meet with finite resources, and in this environment it can be challenging to transition current practices to a new model, no matter how innovative or promising.  Philanthropic foundations, on the other hand, are free from the regulations of government, the pressures of fundraising, and the demands of public opinion, and can thus apply their assets to help more constrained institutions make a promising transition, described by Ford Foundation staff Paul Ylvisaker as philanthropy acting as society’s “passing gear.”

In 2011 and 2012, Piedmont Health Foundation provided seed funding for a culinary training program for Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services staff to learn to cook healthier lunches. They did, indeed, need to learn how to trade their box cutters and microwaves for chefs’ knives and sauté pans, which they did at a week-long culinary training institute at our local Greenville Technical College.

In 2013, we connected them to bigger funding sources, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of South Carolina, Greenville Women Giving, and others. We supported LiveWell Greenville in visiting countless PTAs, encouraging them to offer taste tests to kids and promos to teachers and parents. In 2014, we gave funding for development of a communications plan for them to toot their own horn on social media and elsewhere, promoting the innovation that was becoming commonplace in the cafeteria.  We did everything we could to advocate and cheer for Greenville County Schools as they rolled out exciting plans for making school lunch healthy, delicious, and – yes – financially sound.

It’s now been seven years since we first asked Greenville County Schools, “How can we help?”  What’s most exciting is that our help is no longer needed.  Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services has made the transition in every way, with talented chefs in every school cafeteria, parents, students, and employees who embrace and celebrate the diverse and unique offerings on the menus each day, local farmers who are proud to see their blackberries, apples, beef, and more feeding thousands of their neighbors’ kids, and industry partners who are eager to try the next new thing in Greenville County knowing that all eyes are on Food and Nutrition Services Director Joe Urban and his incredible team of professionals.

We want to give Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services a giant shout out for being a national model for how school food can and should be done. And while we are proud to say we were part of it early on, today’s innovations like food trucks for families in low income neighborhoods, locally sourced humanely-raised Brasstown Beef, seafood on the menu every week (earning a mention in the New York Times), unusual items like alligator creole (yes! and the kids are eating it!)…and on and on…that’s ALL because of the passionate team at Greenville County Schools. If you want more joy in your Facebook feed, follow them today! Read recent coverage on their new menus. And please, go have lunch at any of Greenville County’s 101 schools and special centers.  I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Special thanks to former Greenville County Schools Superintendent Dr. Phinnize Fisher for supporting a pilot of the culinary school program at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School and to current Superintendent Dr. Burke Royster for supporting its expansion to all schools and centers, and congratulations to former and current Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services staff for their hard work and perseverance in championing the reinvention of school food.

Previously on this topic: There is Hummus Among Us

How to improve Greenlink in the near term?

Greenlink’s proposed route changes would bring more bidirectional service, reducing riders’ time to get where they want to go.

Greenlink – the public transit system serving Greenville County, SC – could see the first significant improvements to its routes in decades if recommendations from its recent Comprehensive Operational Analysis are implemented.

This Comprehensive Operational Analysis, or COA for short, was a product of the Piedmont Health Foundation’s 2015 study of public transit and health and human services transportation.  The study found a strong need for improved mobility in the community but revealed that most residents – both riders and nonriders – perceived Greenlink’s services to be insufficient.  Part of that was due to limited service times and geographic coverage constrained by Greenlink’s low levels of funding.

But frankly, part of this insufficiency was tied to outdated routes and stops. The transit system had been designed decades earlier and many routes had never been updated. Yet Greenlink staff and board members weren’t certain of the best way to go about making changes because of limited data with which to make decisions. There was no data on which stops were most and least used so that routes could be redesigned to meet the needs of today’s riders.  Without solid business information, Greenlink couldn’t take the first steps to become the system of the future.

So our study in 2015 recommended that first step – in the transit world, a study called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis, or COA for short.  The goal of the COA was to identify strengths of the system and areas for improvement and to provide suggestions to improve efficiency and increase ridership without any additional revenues.  With funding support from the City of Greenville, County of Greenville, and Piedmont Health Foundation, Greenlink hired Connetics Transportation Group of Atlanta to conduct the COA.

The COA had three major findings:

First, Greenlink accomplishes a lot with a little.  It uses its limited resources more efficiently than its peers based on its low cost per peak vehicle, cost per revenue hour and cost per revenue mile.  Research we released earlier this year showed that Greenlink receives far less local funding in absolute terms and per capita than its peer systems in the Southeast.  This finding from the COA shows it is using every one of those dollars well.

Second, because the recommendations were restricted to the assumption that no new revenues would be available for improvements, the best way to improve service would be to make routes bi-directional where possible, meaning the bus services both sides of the road, rather than loop routes.  This would be a significant change in Greenville County, as many of Greenlink’s routes are loops or non-linear shapes.  More on this below.

Third, Greenlink’s maintenance facility is too small to adequately serve the system. Staff and board members have known that the maintenance facility, which was formerly a beer distributorship located on Augusta Street near the Greenville Drive stadium, was insufficient to service an aging fleet of vehicles, but the COA provided clear documentation of the facility’s constraints on the system.

Regarding the route changes: the proposed changes aim to continue offering coverage to as many current riders as possible, but in a way that is far more efficient. Click here to see the proposals in detail. The changes reduce the service area footprint by 6.9%, but only 2.4% of existing Greenlink riders are using existing stops in the areas losing service. However, all of these changes are just proposals.  Greenlink will begin a month-long process of hearing from the public: What do they like? What are their concerns? What changes to the recommended routes would they make?  The Board will then consider all of this feedback and make final decisions to go into effect in the summer of 2018.  Click here to see a full schedule of public hearings.

GTA Board and Greenlink staff are excited about the future and ready to make informed improvements to the system. We’ve previously reported that Greenlink staff are up to the task.

As GTA board chair Addy Matney said, “We know our customers and potential customers want better service. Identifying and implementing these positive short-term, revenue neutral changes are important first steps toward building a more vibrant transit system for our community.”

But doing so will take partners, something Greenlink welcomes.  Transit Director Gary Shepard said, “Greenlink is excited that nonprofit organizations, such as Piedmont Health Foundation, and the business community are beginning to talk about the need for improved transit. Greenlink will be unable to make the needed changes without support from the community, and we greatly appreciate the partnerships that have developed.”  Interested in learning more? Contact Nicole McAden, Marketing and Public Affairs Specialist at Greenlink, or Katy Smith, Executive Director of Piedmont Health Foundation, or sign up for a transit field trip.

To learn more:

Full Comprehensive Operational Analysis

FAQs on Greenville’s popular trolleys

The downtown trolley is Greenlink’s most popular service, providing nearly 120,000 rides to residents and visitors in 2016. Because the service was so popular, Greenville City Council decided to set aside Hospitality Tax funds to expand the trolley system from one Main Street route to four separate routes. Since the routes launched August 3, 2017, we have heard many common questions arise about the new trolley system. In an effort to get the correct information we sat down with Nicole McAden, Greenlink’s marketing and public affairs specialist, to get the run down.


Q:  First, what are the basics of the expanded trolley system?

Where do the trolleys operate? The four trolley routes – Heart of Main, Top of Main, Arts West, and Augusta – can be viewed here.

When do the trolleys operate? – Thursday and Friday 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.  It’s important to note that the last trolley run of each night will depart from the trolley hub on Falls Park Drive 30 minutes prior to end of service. This should allow for the trolley to make one last complete loop before service ends for the night. This does not mean that the trolley will service each stop until 11 p.m.

Track the real-time location of the trolleys thanks to Code for Greenville, a volunteer team of programmers, with the Trolley Tracker app. Download it free at www.YeahThatTrolley.com

Food and beverages – You may bring drinks that have a secure lid. No open solo cups, cans, bottles, or fast food type cups (paper cups with plastic lids and straws). Food may be transported, but must remain in containers and cannot be consumed on the trolley.

Q: How is the trolley system different from the regular fixed route bus system?

A: The trolleys are funded with City of Greenville Hospitality Tax funds (along with a Federal Transit Administration match), so they must serve City of Greenville hospitality-related venues.  The idea behind expanding the trolley system is to provide a way for people to access destinations that are outside of the downtown core in an effort to share this success with other restaurants, retail establishments, parks, and tourism facilities in the city.  Its hours of operation are limited to Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. – 8 p.m.

The existing fixed route bus system provides transportation to a variety of locations, including jobs, schools, shopping, residential and retails areas, and more, and is funded by federal, state, and local sources and passenger fares.  It runs in various geographic locations throughout the county.  Its hours are Monday – Friday, 5:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Q: What process was used to create the new routes?

A: The Greenville Transit Authority board of directors passed a set of criteria that trolley routes must meet, many of which are required since the trolleys are partially funded using City of Greenville hospitality taxes. The characteristics include:

–          New routes must provide service to the Central Business District (CBD)

–          New routes provide service between the CBD and other hospitality venues

–          New routes provide connections to leisure/recreation facilities

–          New routes provide connections to tourism facilities

–          New routes provide connections to residential areas

Additionally, Greenlink staff established the following operational goals:

–          Route length is under 5 miles

–          Route headways – the time it takes for the trolley to run the full route – are under 30 minutes

–          Routes are connected and integrated with a common hub to allow for transfers from one trolley to another

Once the criteria were set and proposed routes were drawn, Greenlink staff held three public hearings to gather input and feedback, much of which were incorporated into the new routes that are running today.

Q: Where can you get on and off the trolley?

A: To ensure safety, passengers are permitted to board and exit the trolleys only at designated trolley stops. A map of the trolley routes and stop locations can be found on the Greenlink website at: www.RideGreenlink.com/Trolley

Q: Can I request new stops to be added?

A: Not surprisingly, the new trolleys are popular and residents are already submitting requests and ideas for stops, and Greenlink staff are continually evaluating the stop locations in order to make changes that would better serve passengers.

There are some requirements that every stop must have, which include:

–          Space to pour an 8 ft. by 5 ft. concrete pad. This landing pad must be flat and tied into other infrastructure (such as sidewalks) to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act and create access for all ranges of mobility. The trolleys are equipped with a wheel-chair ramp or lift, and this pad is an essential component to ensuring the ramp/lift works correctly.

–          Approval from the entity that owns and maintains the roadway. Many streets throughout Greenville are actually owned and maintained by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Before Greenlink can install any new stops on an SCDOT roadway, Greenlink must obtain an approved encroachment permit from SCDOT. The permitting application ensures that the stop won’t create any new safety hazards.

–          Adjacent property owner buy-in. The point of the trolleys are to provide transportation for tourists traveling through town. Many businesses are excited about stops being installed near their location, as it could lead to increases in customer traffic. However, trolley stop locations throughout residential neighborhoods are trickier, and Greenlink is interested in pursuing stop locations that are agreed upon by the adjacent property owners. While the stops are installed in the public right-of way, and therefore don’t require property owner approval, it’s important that Greenlink receive support from the neighbors.

The Arts West Route and the Augusta Route are both funded through October 2017. Between the months of November 2017 to April 2018, Greenlink staff will evaluate service performance and make tweaks to service.

Q: Can I rent the trolley for private events?

A: No. We know residents love the trolleys, but the Federal Transit Administration prohibits any charter services from agencies using vehicles intended for public transportation.

Q: Will we see trolleys anywhere in the County or other municipalities?

A:  The City of Greenville was interested in bringing trolleys to City residents and visitors to transport them to hospitality destinations using hospitality tax dollars. If other local governments or private funders or companies are interested in exploring using trolleys or other forms of transit to move residents and visitors, Greenlink staff are willing to explore the opportunities.