Creating change "little by little"

Kenneth Malcolm (Mal) Jones and Carol Koury
Kenneth Malcolm (Mal) Jones of West Tisbury and his wife and confidante Carol Koury, the founders of Up the River Endeavors (URE), stand on Mal Jones's property on Tiah's Cove in West Tisbury. Photos By Tamar Russell

By Tamar Russell - July 12, 2007

West Tisbury has its share of quirky individuals and Kenneth Malcolm (Mal) Jones is certainly one of them. An inventor and a social and political activist, Mal Jones has not shied away from controversial causes. Nor has he shied away from the weighty responsibility of managing a large inheritance.

If invested wisely, money can multiply into larger sums; if directed, it can affect change. The latter is what Mal Jones is attempting to do with what he has inherited.

Now in a philanthropic trust, the money came from Mal's mother, Gladys Helen Noteman Jones. Mrs. Jones was born in 1904. She was all around an interesting lady - an extraordinary swimmer with Victorian manners who kept goats, and an heiress to the money Mal would later receive.

Mrs. Jones's father, Mal's grandfather, Norman Lester Noteman, had been the deep springs for all these funds. He was a rustic Kansas farm boy who didn't do too well in school. Finally, after having enough of the institution of school, he took off for the city in search of his own place. He rode his bike to Chicago. Then, as Mal Jones says, "He pulled himself up by his boot straps," and became a banker and lawyer, doing so in a way that breathes life into the term "ambition."

URE

In 1997, Mal's lovely mother died and passed this amazing man's self-earned wealth to Mal. Suddenly Mal Jones became astutely aware of his roots. He felt he owed it to his heritage to know where his family's money was going.

Mal Jones is somewhat of a ladder climber himself, though in a different way from his grandfather. Trained as a machinist, he considers himself an inventor.

After serving in the United States Air Force, he settled on the Island and started a machine shop. He also worked for John Whiting's oyster company, dredging out Tisbury Great Pond and breaching the barrier beach with a Navy Duck and a hydraulic pump. In the 1950s, he worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to invent a mix-flow, or impellor, dredge to be used in dredging out the Panama Canal.

But Mal was not only an inventor. He also held some deep-seated environmental views. These vistas of a better planet moved him to help in the '60s and '70s with the Save the Whales effort. It was at one of these events in 1974 that he met his wife and the two continued on a venture to make things planet wide - healthier.

"I started inventing to solve problems. I saw the world from a machinist's point of view," Mal related on a Friday evening in June, "just like a guy in the bottom of a boat." As earth's problems became more evident to Mal, his machine-like approach to humans grew. He started to wonder a host of things - why are we so destructive? Why is our air, water, etc. in trouble?

"As a machinist you tinker with everything to fix it," Mal expressed, "but machinists are not on the front lines." So once the funds were his to apply, he knew he had to direct things and get people involved.

Thus was born Up the River Endeavors (URE).

In addition to philanthropy, Mal's time is also spent in other ventures, sailing and contra dancing (part of the up-coming URE weekend in Chilmark). "Basically he is a very generous philanthropist who wants to help others understand what is really going on," said David J. Andrews, a consultant for not-for-profits, who has been a consortium member of URE since its inception and has worked with Mal for seven years.

Mal Jones is like no other, according to Mr. Andrews, "He is unusual. He does something few do, he challenges folks by his funding to look deeper for the fundamental issues." And as Cindy Pearson, executive director of National Women's Health Network, another consortium member, relates, "Malcolm's ideas are very intriguing. A person with resources, such as Malcolm, can often help in unusual ways."

Up the River Endeavors (URE) is a conglomerate comprised of three freelance individuals and nine consortium member organizations, such as Amnesty International and the National Women's Health Network.

URE's governing body has a feminist orientation. It is directed by an executive committee of seven. These seven have a conference call once or twice a month to keep up on URE's progress.

URE's focus is large - changing human behavior for survival. To do this it was necessary to gather various organizations. URE decided entities working for different goals should be found and encouraged to work together.

The organizations receive $21,000 per year. They agree to use 20 percent of their received money to cooperate on various projects, networking in ways that they never would otherwise. "It has been interesting dealing with other groups," says Ms. Pearson, "it has helped our organization and has helped in co-worker relations."

I asked Carol Koury, Mal's wife, how they locate their members. "It is very serendipitous how we find them," she replied. Mal agreed. They are in-tune to global events on all levels. Whether they hear about something on the radio or through some other channel, they Google the group/person and find them.

Cooperative types are the kind of people who function best in URE's environment. "Last year we had one individual who didn't think we were serious enough, but this person was not a cooperative person," Carol recalls. Conflict happens everywhere, according to Carol, and the group feels that unselfish people are best suited to understanding the cooperation needed to affect change.

URE is working hard to get young people involved. One such younger person is Carol and Mal's daughter, Carina Koury-Jones.

Currently they are satisfied with the amount of members they have. Now they are seeking people who can help them. These extra "helpers," referred to as associates, also found serendipitously, are also invited to come here each summer to present ideas.

In addition to receiving funds, heads of the member groups are invited each summer to come to the Vineyard to move change along in a weekend full of three days of dialogue, food, and rest.

A topic is developed during the summer session. "The topic developed is about hopeful ways to cooperate with each other to create change little by little," Carol says. But just what are they trying to change? URE wants to insure that humans and the planet will survive in the face of rampant greed and the current abuse of resources. This summer in Chilmark, at URE's summer event, 23 people will gather to look for solutions.

What's in a name

The name for the organization comes from a jungle tale. The story begins with a fisherman who lives on a river. One day he sees a basket in the river, inside the basket is a baby. He cares for the child and finds a home for it. The problem begins when this phenomenon repeats itself day by day, only each day the number of children floating in baskets increases, one becomes two, two becomes three and so on.

Obviously the man wants to save the children, but the sheer amount of children is more than the village and its resources can handle. Realizing something must be done, he takes his boat up-river to find the source of the problem. URE feel they are moving in a similar manner - up-river to the source of the planet's problems.

URE's fifth summer Island event will be a panel discussion on Saturday, July 14, at 8 pm, at the Chilmark Community Center, South Road, "Finding Earth's G-Spot: It's all about women and survival." The panelists invited this year will be Chris Knight, Kerrie Kvashay-Boyle, Jessica Seigel and Kelpie Wilson. The event is free and open to the public. Friday, July 13, at 8 pm, URE will host a contra dance also at the community center with a $5 cover. For more information on this organization visit uptheriverendeavors.org.