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Beverly Rogers focused on ‘vertical philanthropy’ for education and the arts

Those who know Beverly Rogers know that when she puts her mind to a goal, it’ll get done.

Look no further than The Lucy, an arts and literary space in downtown Las Vegas.

Rogers, a philanthropist who was married to former TV station owner Jim Rogers until his death in 2014, always had a passion for arts, reading and Las Vegas. When she realized she could put each interest together and create a creative corner in Las Vegas, one not previously seen, she wouldn’t give up.

“She spent hours driving around town looking for the perfect place to fulfill the vision she had in her mind’s eye. A place where creative people could congregate and create together,” said Rory Reid, the co-trustee of The Rogers Foundation and longtime friend of the couple.

“She didn’t hire a consultant, she didn’t hire a real estate agent. She got in her car, drove around, she found the property. She convinced the owner that her idea was a better use for it. And then with the parcel next to it, she persuaded them to sell. And ultimately, she had a place to watch her vision become reality.”

Rogers, described by colleagues as a pragmatic and graceful visionary, has long played a role in the Las Vegas nonprofit sector. From her early days of volunteer work at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to the inception of a premier education and arts foundation for Southern Nevada, Rogers has honed her mission for philanthropy — and for Las Vegas.

Opportunities in Las Vegas

Rogers, 70, moved to Las Vegas in 1962. Her mother and stepfather brought their family from Pennsylvania to the valley, knowing no one, but seeking opportunities, she said. Their ability to establish themselves left a deep impression on her about the city. Her stepfather became a bowling alley mechanic, and her mother became an office manager for an orthodontist.

“I saw the opportunity that Las Vegas gave them, knowing no one and with a little gumption, how well they could do,” Rogers said. “And then I watched them bring their friends out, and their friends did the same thing — maybe with a little bit of their help, but not so much. Just with their own gumption and the opportunities that Las Vegas offered them, I think that’s fairly rare in the country.”

She sold radio and TV advertisements beginning in the 1980s, eventually landing at KSNV-TV, Channel 3. In her spare time, she found things she was passionate about — literature and reading — and turned them into volunteering opportunities. She read for blind students at her alma mater, UNLV, before books on tape became popular.

“I would read — I’m telling you — bass fishing magazines,” she said. “I swear to God, I read some of the most boring things. But it felt good to do it, and it satisfied something in me because I felt like all I did was work to make money and that didn’t feel good. I liked my job, but I just needed something else, and that was it.”

Her philanthropic involvement changed after marrying Jim Rogers in 1997. She began getting invitations to sit on area nonprofits’ boards. Those roles showed Rogers a new side to philanthropy and getting involved in the community, she said. Over the years, she noticed how many nonprofits duplicated services offered by others and began looking for ways to go deeper.

But it was Jim Rogers’ death in June 2014 that launched her flagship endeavors as a philanthropist. Her husband set up the foundation trust in 2013 and left Reid and Rogers with a broad mission to address education — a shared passion of the Rogers’ — however the two saw fit.

With such a broad mission, the foundation had many callers, Reid said.

“Everybody in the world had us with ideas of what we should do, and mostly their ideas were, ‘Give me your money so I can do what I want,’” he said. “Bev’s reaction to that says a lot about her as a philanthropist. She’s always been very intentional. She believes that the two best ways to transform the world are through education and the arts, and she didn’t want to just write a bunch of checks, sit in a beach house somewhere. She wanted to develop her own programs that would further those two interests.”

Building a philanthropic mission

Soon after, The Rogers Foundation was established: a place for Rogers to test out her idea of “vertical philanthropy.”

“My thing, then and now, is that if you take what you have, be it large or small, and focus it and go deep, you’re always going to do a better thing than if you can touch thousands and thousands of people because this is temporary,” she said.

The foundation is a single channel to put charitable efforts for education and the arts. It offers higher education scholarships for the institution of their choice, nationwide, to high school seniors in Southern Nevada. It created and powers an educational equity reform program, Educate Nevada Now. It supports CORE Academy, an in- and after-school program supporting students and their families from sixth grade through graduation. It co-sponsors, with The Smith Center, the Heart of Education awards for Clark County teachers.

The organization estimates it has given more than $89 million to children and programs since its inception. Rogers points to the number of recipients in leadership roles as proof of success.

“If you wanted to know why I never want to stop doing this, it’s the look on their face,” she said. “It’s to watch them cry and cry too. It’s to see their reaction to being given something that will change their lives. It’s an opportunity for them — they’re the ones that are going to make their dreams come true.

“I like knowing that we’re the people who can make that opportunity to help make their dreams come true. I like seeing myself, and seeing the foundation, as we back leaders and we offer opportunities. And that’s how I try to live, personally.”

Creating creative spaces

Rogers also has used the foundation to make philanthropic inroads in her passions: arts and literature.

The Lucy is its most visible proof. The arts, literature and community center on Sixth Street and Bonneville Avenue is a dozen loft-style residences for artists and writers in residency, through both The Rogers Foundation and UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute (also supported by Jim and Beverly Rogers’ philanthropy). There is event and classroom space, all anchored by independent bookstore-cafe Writer’s Block. And in 2022, the space next door will be an independent film house, The Beverly Theater.

Rogers, a partial owner of Writer’s Block with Drew Cohen and Scott Seeley, bought out the Downtown Project’s share of the bookstore and helped it move to the current location in 2019. The business owners have found that Rogers’ no-nonsense approach to her goals keeps her on track.

“She’s got a clarity of purpose that I think is potentially rare in a philanthropist,” Cohen said. “I think she has a clear idea of what she wants her role in this community to be and what she does not want it to be.”

Her next goals are publicly indistinct, as she’s hesitant to make herself the center of the foundation’s work: “Just because I’d like to freak people out, I’d love to buy the rest of the block,” she joked.

Rogers didn’t identify specific missions once The Beverly Theater opens. It’s more important to find places that will do “exponential good” for people and for Las Vegas, she said, while keeping up with her vertical philanthropy process.

“You’ll make an exponential difference because what you do for others, they’ll do for others,” she said. “You don’t have to ask them, people just do that. They just pay it forward and it works.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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