May 16, 2022
A "Heart-to-Heart" with Social Entrepreneur David White
Brick Street Café is famous in Greenville and beyond for its sweet potato cake, but for one of the city’s social impact entrepreneurs, the restaurant is more than a dessert destination. It’s where he made a big decision that changed his life and the lives of countless children in the foster care system.
Two stark statistics were troubling David White when he invited a former Department of Social Services director to lunch: the high number of foster children who end up as human trafficking victims and the low number of kids in the system who score at or above the national average on standardized tests.
During that pivotal lunch meeting at Brick Street Café, White asked whether there was space for him and others in the community to do more to help support children in foster care. When he heard an emphatic “absolutely,” White jumped into action in the community. A year later, he registered Fostering Great Ideas as a nonprofit. Since then, FGI has launched more than 10 support programs for children and families in the foster care system.
“It was a logical decision to move towards these children, but it was also an emotional decision in that I'm all about belonging, and community investment,” White said. “These children are looking to belong, so it was a beautiful connection for me where I said, ‘I see a real issue…and I’m going to jump right in.’”
In the first year alone, three Greenville organizations jumped in to support. Within four years of launching, White knew Greenville was the right home for FGI. “In 2014, with 27 donors and $84,000 in the bank, I left my day job of doing clinical work in foster care and became the full-time CEO for this social impact charity,” said White.
Currently, his organization serves about 20% of children in the Upstate foster care system. By 2025, White hopes to expand that impact to serve 20% of foster care children statewide. FGI has grown into exactly what White envisioned. “The vision has always stayed the same: to bring hope to children in a difficult situation,” he said. “We have three belief systems, and they’ve always stayed the same. I think that’s the beauty of entrepreneurship. If your vision and your belief system stay constant, you can adapt and move the vision forward.”
FGI’s three core beliefs according to White:
- Every child matters.
- Relationships are the key for the children they serve.
- If the community comes together as one, reform occurs.
As soon as White starts talking about his work, it’s obvious how much it personally affects him. His heart for helping began growing back in high school when he spent a summer working at a soup kitchen and shower house for men. “Not only served, but also ate with the men who were homeless, and from that we talked,” White remembered. “I learned that their humanity and my humanity were very well linked even though we were from very different environments. I could be a part of their journey of recovery if they allowed me in, and they did.”
White’s drive to impact people’s lives in a meaningful way continued to grow. During his college years and time in the corporate world, White created three social impact organizations. Greenville’s Nonprofit Alliance, which White also founded, is still active in our community.
White said it was a mid-life crisis at 34 that finally drove him out of corporate America. He felt a yearning to get back to his passion for helping marginalized individuals. Two years later, he moved his family from Atlanta to Greenville to run Greenville First Steps, an organization that provides support and resources to help young children meet important milestones that help them start school strong.
When he started FGI, White had six years of experience doing clinical work in the foster care system. He knew the importance of building a team that got it.
“We hire people with lived experience. Even though I’m an outsider, I’m simply an ally. Four of our 12 employees lived in foster care for a time as children. Two of our employees lost custody because of addictions. Another five of our employees have fostered or adopted, including myself,” said White.
As he recounted stories of the children his organization has helped, emotion welled up in his voice and tears formed in his eyes. One particularly powerful story White shared was about a recent visit of three siblings placed in different foster homes. White said the children met up for a birthday visit through FGI’s program Sib-Link, which facilitates monthly meetings for foster care children and their siblings.
“They’d come from a very scary situation, and they were removed from each other while in foster care, which happens to over half of the sibling sets,” described White. He said all three children, two boys and a girl, spent the day playing. Before they left, the siblings hugged and set up their next meeting to ride bicycles on the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
“That is their restoration of family when family has fallen apart, and it will stay with them forever. That’s what I saw,” said White. Stories like this are partly why White feels compelled to give back to the entrepreneur community as a NEXT Upstate Mentor and lecturer for Clemson’s Social Entrepreneurship MBA Program.
“If someone wants to change the world, if they say, ‘This is my platform: to make life better for everyone in my industry and my area of interest…I would love to help that person,’ and so would all of us who are entrepreneurs,” said White.
There’s an opportunity in May, which is National Foster Care Month, to see White in action and to learn how he put his vision to work. He’s hosting an event called Heart to Heart, which is more than just a fundraising dinner. White hopes to facilitate deep conversations and connections and share how FGI plans to change the world for foster kids in South Carolina over the next few years.