Welcome to our first Behind the Board blog post! Each week, we will take you behind the Grunin Foundation Board and introduce you, more in-depth, to our Board members. This week, you'll meet Tomás Alvarez is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Idea2Form.

Thank you to Tomás for taking the time to talk with us for the Behind the Board series!

1. What made you want to serve on the Grunin Foundation board?
I have built a relationship with the Grunin Foundation over the last few years, working together on their rebrand that launched in early 2020. Through that work, I was introduced to the Central Jersey Shore and its amazing community of nonprofits.

I value forward-thinking organizations, especially when it comes to funders. The Grunin Foundation doesn’t shy away from doing the work or doing the unconventional. They have a real, genuine commitment to their values, to honoring relationships, and promoting change. They are creating a better environment for nonprofits to thrive and have impact. Personally, I want to work with people who are thinking outside the box, are courageous and lead from a place of humility. That’s what I saw over the years when working with the Grunin team.

When the Foundation announced they would be adding Board members, I didn’t wait to be asked. I told Heather I would be expecting my invite soon! While I was only half joking, I felt super invested in the organization, so I was hoping for the opportunity to serve on their Board. If you would have told me five years ago that I’d be serving on the Board of a family foundation at the Central Jersey Shore, I would not have believed you (I’m in California), but it was a pleasant surprise and it’s been a great journey so far.

2. The Grunin Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all members of our community by using philanthropy to drive economic excellence at the Central Jersey Shore. What does economic excellence mean to you?
To me, economic excellence means everyone who wants to, has the opportunity to participate in creating and capturing value. That means the barriers to participation in the economy and upward mobility are eradicated. It also means there is an abundance of opportunities to create and capture value in ways that don’t create harm to others or to the environment. Economic excellence would produce a mutually beneficial outcome for all involved – a tide that lifts all boats and a movement to ensure everyone has a boat to begin with.

3. Of our grantmaking pillars (arts, education, healthcare) which are you most passionate about and why?
It’s hard for me to choose as I see them as integrated and very much connected. I’ve always been involved in all three pillars in one way or another in my work. If I had to pick just one, I’d say arts because the arts are a vehicle for improved education and healthcare outcomes. The arts are great tools for improving outcomes in a way that is youth friendly, strength-based and makes use of natural outlets for people. When people gravitate to the arts, they realize the arts can help them feel better, express themselves, get their emotions out and be a part of a community. Art generates opportunities for people to step into the role of being a creator. In order to create, one must own their sense of agency and self-efficacy. You are taking a risk when creating, when expressing yourself through art. Art allows you to transmute your pain and joy into something else. That makes you a transformer, which is an important skill – taking something from inside of you and creating something to put out into the world and inspire others. So much of negative health outcomes are connected to people holding onto stuff that will manifest as physical ailments. Art is alchemy.

4. We strive to ensure that all our partners are committed to advancing equity. How do you (or how does your organization) work to advance equity in the community?
This is the work of Idea2Form and it’s in our mission – to design solutions that connect, activate, and inspire people towards building a more equitable world. We work with purpose-driven organizations to create change. We partner on supporting social impact initiatives. As a BIPOC-led collaborative design studio, we are constantly looking at our own practices, policies and values to make sure we are not perpetuating default culture which can have extractive and exploitive approaches. If you don’t take measures to counter that, it’s reproduced as the norm.

At Idea2Form, we create space for reflection and have an open feedback loop with our team. Mutuality is one of our values which means we strive for mutual benefit in every one of stakeholder relationships. We focus on how to create value where everyone benefits. We are mindful of greater racial and gender inequities. This is ingrained in all our team members and we do this because we feel a real commitment to bring about a change in the world that is desperately needed. We believe to be change leaders; we must create change from the inside out.

5. What is your favorite part of the Central Jersey Shore and why?
Charlie’s of Bayhead – it was the best burger I had in my life!

On a broader level, I’ve met some amazing changemakers at the Central Jersey Shore - folks either from here or who have moved here to create change. I’ve met incredible people and nonprofits here who are committed and are working to facilitate change in the region and make it stronger. They see the bigger picture and are working on creating impact in an environment where sometimes social change can be a challenge.