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Fundholder Spotlight: Jackie Silas-Butler

Jackie Silas-Butler

By Tracy Burt, Vice President, Marketing & Communications

For many people, Jacqueline Silas-Butler and Project GRAD Akron are synonymous. The local nonprofit has been around since 2002, and Jackie has been at the helm since 2006, nearly its entire existence.

But leading a nonprofit was not necessarily a part of Jackie's plan for her career.

Jackie grew up in southwest Ohio in a small town called Middletown. "People called it the suburbs, but it was the country," clarified Jackie.

When it was time for college, Jackie chose Ohio State University for her undergrad degree. It was close to home, but not too close. Then, when it was time for law school, Jackie decided she wanted to go somewhere she didn't know anyone and settled on the University of Akron.

"I hated Akron," said Jackie with a laugh. "Because of the very reason I chose it… I didn't know anyone! So, at first, I did not like it here."

Jackie decided it was just a short period of time – only three years – so she could tough it out, get her degree, and then move on. But while waiting for her bar exam results, she was offered a position in the Summit County Prosecutor's Office. Jackie also met her husband, Lawrence Butler Jr., through mutual friends, so that initial three-year plan turned into more than three decades spent in the community she now calls home.

While Lawrence, or Larry as he's known by family and friends, built his career as a music teacher with Akron Public Schools, Jackie served as a magistrate in Summit County's juvenile and domestic relations courts.

For those paying attention, her future work in the nonprofit field may have been apparent early on.

"I handled a lot of abuse, neglect and dependency cases, and I was always trying to find solutions rather than just taking children from their homes," explained Jackie. "I found that, a lot of times, people just needed basic help. I think most people need resources they're not aware of. Too many people make judgments."

Jackie has always been solution-minded and tried to find simple ways to help the people she was serving.

"I knew I was getting paid and the judge was getting paid, but if court was scheduled at 9 a.m. and the person didn't have a car and the bus didn't drop off near the courthouse and they had to miss work, that was a burden," said Jackie. "Think about the people you're trying to serve versus the mindset of 'you do what I say.' So that was my attitude. It's not that hard to work together to find a solution that works for everyone."

So, when Project GRAD came calling, Jackie decided it was time to put those solution-finding skills to good work, serving students and their families.

Jackie Silas-Butler and her husband, Larry
Fun Fact: Jackie and Larry celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary on June 14, 2024.

Project GRAD, which stands for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, is a national program that works with students as early as kindergarten to begin preparing them for future academic and career success. It provides mentoring, financial aid support, social-emotional learning, after-school and summer programming, and scholarships.

"We've awarded $2 million in scholarships since I started with the organization in 2006," said Jackie.

And while much of Jackie's community work is seen as tied to her role with Project GRAD, she also cares about her personal giving. Jackie gives to numerous organizations and has been involved with Akron Community Foundation for many years, both because of the grants Project GRAD has received, but also through Jackie's own contributions to the Women's Endowment Fund, which recognized her in 2021 with the Judith A. Read Tribute Award for Service & Advocacy for Women. More recently, Jackie has become a founding donor and advisory board member of the foundation's Black Giving Collective Fund.

When Jackie learned about the opportunity to create a Donor-Advised Starter Fund through the community foundation, she liked the idea because it doesn't take a lot of money up front – just an initial $300 donation – but as it grows, she'll be able to help others. Jackie and Larry's fund, the Silas and Butler Family Fund, was established in honor of both of their parents as a tribute to their lifelong support of their children and their legacies of giving back to the community.

For donors like Jackie who prefer to grow their fund over time, a starter fund is an attainable alternative to a traditional donor-advised fund. After the initial gift, the donor can make smaller ongoing donations monthly, quarterly or annually to grow their fund to the $5,000 level. Once it reaches that level, the donor can begin making grants to qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Jackie also appreciated that it was simple to establish her fund. "There were numerous ways I could start it, including right online," she said.

Jackie can also give to the fund in honor of loved ones who don't necessarily need or want tangible gifts for special occasions. "My mom just celebrated her 90th birthday, and Father's Day is coming up," she explained. "It's just an easy way to show your appreciation… and it can live forever."

To learn more about establishing your own Donor-Advised Starter Fund, visit

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