Philanthropic dollars from area residents are helping the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation find solutions for organizations and individuals in need.
According to Randy Sweeney, CRCF executive director, one of the primary goals of CRCF is bridging the gap between donors and charitable activities. One of the means of doing so is providing community organizations with unrestricted funding.
Unrestricted funds, also called Community Service Funds, address a broad range of local needs. While money donated to this fund doesn't necessarily have a specific target at the time of donation, it becomes imperative when needs arise in education, arts and culture, human services, neighborhood or other crucial areas that will help improve the community.
The Sherman Historical Society received unrestricted funds from Chautauqua Region Community Foundation to restore the various buildings of the Yorker Museum.
"From the late 1970s when the organization was created, to the present, our community has always struggled with some type of particular needs," said Sweeney. "A big part of our role is to make sure that we understand what the needs are. So, we try to be present in a lot of places to help organizations work towards a potential solution."
Finding a solution is more complex than energizing people around discussions, Sweeney said.
"To make things happen, it obviously takes financial resources," said Sweeney. "Our unrestricted pool of assets is not quite as large as we'd like it to be. And, that's what led us to try to bring a more focused message to our region about the significance of unrestricted funds. ... Our board is committed to doing everything we can to position our region in such a way so that people, especially of a younger generation, will be interested in coming here, living here, raising a family here, and that they can find a family sustaining wage."
MAKING AN IMPACT
Unrestricted funds have assisted many community organizations such as the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission, the Sherman Historical Society and Yorker Museum, the Special Olympics, and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation.
"We spent a lot of time looking at the area to decide what is going to make the most impact," said Sweeney. "In the world of granting money to charitable causes, the word 'impact' becomes very significant in everything that we do. We need to make sure that our dollars are being used to the best of our ability for the needs of today."
That's why a portion of the unrestricted funds were granted to the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission, Sweeney said.
"Chautauqua Lake is a significant asset," said Sweeney. "One percent of the real estate in Chautauqua County surrounds that body of water, but, it produces 26 percent of the taxable revenue that the county has to work with. So we really feel that trying to do what we can with Chautauqua Lake is a key issue for the entire region. But, it's not just about the real estate around the lake; it's also everybody who comes to play in the lake."
So, Sweeney worked with Lyle Hajdu, chairman of the CLMC, on various approaches of how Chautauqua Lake can be improved and sustained.
"Unrestricted funding through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation supports important lake and watershed projects being promoted by the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission," said Hajdu. "These private funds, in conjunction with federal, state, and local spending, are essential to bringing about real and permanent change in the way we manage our precious natural resources. Guided by the recommendations set forth in the lake and watershed management plans, it is now possible to create a stream of funding necessary to successfully implement important recommendations on a sustained basis."
Several organizations in relation to the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation have also been able to benefit from unrestricted funding.
"The Community Foundation has been a big supporter of our neighborhood revitalization work, including the Renaissance Block Challenge, GROW Jamestown beautification projects, and development of the neighborhood plan," said Peter Lombardi, director of neighborhood initiatives. "They've also contributed to the Potters gALLErY public artwork project in downtown, which has added liveliness and color to the downtown landscape. Experimenting with new ideas and new ways of doing things is a critical piece of Jamestown's renaissance, and CRCF is playing a big role in this."
The Sherman Historical Society and Yorker Museum are also benefiting from unrestricted funds. According to John Patterson, mayor of Sherman, the funds helped restore various buildings and projects at the Yorker Museum. After a physical survey of the seven Yorker buildings in 2011, it was discovered that all buildings were in dire need of various stages of restoration. The total amount was beyond the historical society's treasury, and even the Village of Sherman's budget, Patterson said.
"Due to a chance 'on the street' meeting with Randy (Sweeney), a grass roots dialogue was struck up," said Patterson. "Randy was very impressed with the site, set up and massive collection of antiques and artifacts. His advice to us was to approach the CRCF to see if a financial grant could be obtained. His further advice was to write a five year, 'five step' plan to present to the Sheldon, Hultquist and Lenna foundations with a chance that one or more of them may be able to help us financially. By the spring of 2012, the Sherman Historical Society had received $41,700 in grants and endowments from concerned citizens."
The funds served to improve the conditions of the Yorker Museum, so much so that Patterson feels that the finished work is 100 percent satisfactory, he said.
"The outcome of the restoration was as expected," said Patterson. "The finished work has benefited every person in the village. We are experiencing more visitors weekly and more privately scheduled tours. ... We learned that once a group of willing people focus in on a project, monumental things can be accomplished."
Unrestricted funds also helped the Special Olympics offset the cost of a van to transport athletes and equipment.
"Several years ago our unrestricted funds helped purchase a couple vehicles for the American Cancer Society," said Sweeney. "The ACS in Chautauqua County had a very unique program, one that I always felt was extremely important to cancer patients in our area. We have some ability to treat cancer patients in our area, but many times they had to travel to Buffalo for treatment. So, we helped them purchase two vehicles for transportation. Unfortunately in the summer of 2011 the ACS decided to discontinue the program. But, we worked with Bob Williams, the volunteer coordinator, to find another organization to carry the liability of the vehicles. After a year of searching the ACS wanted to be rid of the vehicles. So, June Diethrick, operations officer, started working on finding a home for the vehicles. We heard that the Special Olympics was using a van that needed to be retired, and we managed to arrange a transfer of ownership between the two organizations."
The grant became possible when Darla Davison approached the CRCF with a transportation need for local Special Olympics athletes.
"We had just taken our old red van off the road due to its poor and unsafe condition," said Davison. "I knew it was a big 'ask,' but I also knew we have a very generous community, and that the CRCF was the organization that has served the community extremely well in matching needs with solutions. One simple 'ask' brought a continued flow of help from several different areas within or connected to the foundation, and our need was wonderfully met. We now have a 2011 12-seat van that will transport excited individuals to and from sporting events that they would otherwise have to miss out on because of not being able to provide for themselves. We are so grateful for the foundation and its help. I think it's a perfect match when a community gets to help its own community because everyone wins."
IN AN EXCITING PLACE
CRCF is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, chartered by the IRS. With their mission to enrich the quality of life in the Chautauqua Region, the foundation works with individuals and organizations to create endowment funds. These funds serve as a permanent legacy of the many donors who wished to carry out their charitable interests by serving the Chautauqua Region. According to Sweeney, 40 percent of the money that comes to the foundation is granted through scholarships, 26-28 percent is granted to nonprofit organizations and 26 percent is considered unrestricted and benefits emerging needs of the Chautauqua Region.
"We are in a very exciting place as far as our ability to be able to work with people and charitable purposes," said Sweeney. "... I've never done an analysis, but I bet Chautauqua County is one of the leading areas for philanthropic dollars based on the number of individuals living in this area. And, the foundations collectively have an opportunity to give back more than $8 million a year to our region. I think people have realized that this a good place, a nice place and this place has been good to them, so they want to give something back. That feeling of generosity has continued to the current time frame. But probably what has changed over time is the fact that there may not be as many high-wealth donors that we had 25 years ago. Now, we work with a lot of individuals who give on a smaller scale."
The CRCF will celebrate National Community Foundation Week with an open house from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 418 Spring St. in Jamestown. Special guest Jim Roselle, of WJTN, will broadcast live from the event.
For more information call 661-3390 or visit crcfonline.org.