GERRY - The Chautauqua County 4-H program further fueled its new endowment fund Sunday during its second annual benefit dinner at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds.
Proceeds from the event will go toward funding a $2 million endowment through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. The benefit dinner was the first of many fundraisers to help the youth development group reach its 2017 deadline in order to stay independent of county and state support.
"This is going to support 4-H forever, not just this year," said Emily Kidd, local issue leader, of the funding plan. "We've had some pretty generous contributions towards it, and we're hoping to make a lot here today to help that."
Liz Comstock, left, of the Harmony Haystackers, and Kamryn Harper of the Chrowes Corners pose during the 4-H benefit dinner Sunday at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds. The county 4-H group used the proceeds from the dinner to fund its new endowment.
P-J photos by Eric Tichy
The 4-H program began exploring its financial future two years ago when the group saw its funding slashed in the county budget. The organization received $100,000 from the county in 2007, but that amount dwindled to $25,000 in 2011 and nothing at all last year.
Kidd formally appealed the legislature's Human Services Committee in September for $70,000, pointing out that 4-H was rapidly running out of money. County Executive Greg Edwards in his executive budget returned financial aid to the program - in the amount of $25,000.
Edwards last year praised 4-H for establishing the endowment, noting the county could not afford to financially support multiple programs in the long-term.
If Sunday's event was any indication, the community is backing the 4-H program. More than 1,000 pre-sale tickets were sold for the dinner, which included silent auctions, raffles and music. Kidd expected proceeds around $20,000.
"I am very impressed," said county Legislator Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott. "This program is one of the hardest working groups in the county, and they always have been."
Tarbrake, whose district will represent portions of Gerry in the next legislature, said it was important for 4-H to begin the endowment with the county struggling to fund programs.
The Chautauqua County 4-H group has more than 500 members and 150 volunteers. The organization has one full- and one part-time employee.
The largest 4-H program, meanwhile, is in Wyoming County, which has 934 members, 232 volunteers and eight staff. The group there received $185,495 in county support last year.
Kidd said due to uncertainty of funding this year, enrollment fees were increased from $20 to $50, with a maximum fee of $200 per family. The Cornell Cooperative Extension board of directors approved the enrollment hike in its August meeting.
"We are off to a good start this year," Kidd said. "We hope to raise enough money where we won't have to worry every year."