Andrew Martin Kolstee
In 1978, a group of individuals devoted to our community wanted to start a community foundation. 40 years later, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation (CRCF) has grown to impact numerous organizations and area students. The CRCF establishes funds for scholarships and endowments. “Donations are received, we invest them, and let them grow,” said June Diethrick, Chief Operating Officer.
Once the funding is there, the assets grow over time. In the foundation’s 40-year history, a total of $74.6 million in contributions have been made, $52.6 million in grants have been awarded, and at the end of 2017, total assets exceeded $100 million.
“All of these contributions came from private individuals, and then they are invested and granted over time,” said Tory Irgang, Executive Director. “We pretty much sustain ourselves,” said Diethrick. “It’s done with the notion that we want the funds to grow over time, so that they are here forever,” Irgang added.
Mostly known for scholarships, the Community Foundation manages funds that benefit healthcare, environment, arts and culture, economic development, human services, and religious organizations in the community. “When you think about a community and how a community is strong, it must be strong in each of these areas,” Irgang said. “These are just the general topic areas in which we make an impact.”
“The Community Foundation exists because of tens of thousands of donors,” said Irgang. ”They come from all walks of life, contribute at different levels, and they are all of equal importance and value. The Community Foundation is a place for everyone. It allows everyone to be generous.”
The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation began in 1978. Spearheaded by John Hamilton, a banker and President of the Gebbie Foundation, he brought together a group of interested individuals to establish a community foundation. “These were people who cared so deeply about this community,” Irgang said. “They were ahead of their time. They were entrepreneurs and had either run or owned businesses, or helped businesses succeed. They were risk takers.”
The founders met with a consultant, who had experience with community foundations. “For a community of our size, our community foundation was established very early. Community foundations were more common in larger cities and communities at the time,” Irgang said. It had been said that the consultant was in doubt that the area could have a successful organization in the region.
“So they proved him wrong,” Irgang added. “It was very bold, and certainly it would not have been possible without the initial grant money from the Gebbie Foundation, but also the people who were a part of that early team.”
When most people hear about the Community Foundation, they think about scholarships, but that is just part of what they do. They have other funds, including endowments for numerous community organizations.
They have designated funds to agencies, which provide ongoing income for different community organizations, including the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, the Audubon Community Nature Center, the Fenton History Center, the Chautauqua County Humane Society, and the Boys and Girls Club.
Grants are made to nonprofits through different means, including fields of interest grants, in which a fund may be set up for a particular cause or topic, from at-risk youth to arts and music. In 2017, a total of $2,109,082 in grants was awarded in these categories, while $1,129,319 was awarded to scholarships.
“Often people have the desire to do something, and they may know a little bit about what they want to do, but they are not quite sure how to do it,” Irgang said. “We can sit down with an individual or family, listen to what they want to accomplish, and then help them figure out how to do it. We have a creative team here, and after 40 years, we have connections to many organizations and we have developed great processes and strategies. I think that is why the foundation is a such benefit to donors.”
“We have a lot of very creative people that help these funds succeed.” Irgang continued. “Even if an individual alone does not have the means to necessarily do what they want to accomplish, they can gather a group of volunteers and fundraise.” Diethrick added, “Once they sign the paper, they are part of our family, even though they are not yet able to give out a grant or see some real action from the fund. When non-scholarships funds reach $5,000 and scholarship funds reach $7,500, that is when funds can be granted.
Scholarships comprise approximately 300 of the 800 funds to help area students with furthering their education. “Thousands of students have received help with their education,” Irgang said. “We have stories on some of the people who are well–known in the community, including attorneys, school superintendents, physicians, and bank vice presidents—any walk of life you can name.”
“A good portion of our impact is in young people, who were able to achieve their career goals,” Irgang said. “In many cases, after 40 years, some of earliest recipients of scholarships that were managed by the Community Foundation are retiring. They are in a different place in their lives, and many of them remember the Community Foundation as having been the game changer. If it was not for that scholarship, they would not have been able to go to college or they would not have been able pursue a four year degree following a two year degree.”
“In many cases, it’s the fact that people remember that impact personally, and that in turns helps them be generous,” Irgang added.
“The community foundation impacts every town, village, and hamlet—every kind of place you could name,” Irgang said. “Our mission is to enrich the quality of life in the Chautauqua region. It can be serious at times, such as making grants to mental health for rehabilitation, but grants can also be made to hold a concert in a gazebo in a park.”
While many of the contributions come from direct donations, many of the events and fundraisers around the community contribute to the funds managed by the Community Foundation, from numerous food sales such as chicken BBQs, cookouts, and spaghetti dinners, to basket raffles, music events, and sporting events such as golf tournaments, kickball tournaments, running races, and boating races. Often, several events are held on a weekend in different places in the area, and many of those events contribute to the funds managed by the Community Foundation.
Diethrick mentioned that businesses would also set up funds to instill to the next generation that we need to give back to the community. “It’s always a good thing to teach the next generation about their legacy,” she said.
Dietrick gave the Jamestown Gazette a guided tour of their offices and building. She revealed their archives, in which she pointed out that each file represents a fund and it has a story behind it. Downstairs features a wall of the Community Foundation’s leaders and a board room where volunteers make decisions on these grants.
The board room is surrounded by photographs that represent each fund. More of these photos are displayed in the lobby of their offices, each with their own unique story. “I have only been here 17 years, but I can pick up just about every one of these photos and give you a story,” said Diethrick.
“We have a big list of all our funds, but the problem is, when you see a list, you don’t see a story.” Diethrick picked up several photos and explained some the stories behind them. She explained how they maintain contact with many of the people connected to the different funds. As an example, she would often send clippings pertaining to Jamestown music programs to an out of town individual who started a fund to benefit music programs in schools.
People start funds for various reasons, whether it is to promote a cause, or memorialize a family member, friend, or colleague. Funds have been made in honor of soldiers who fell in the line of duty. A man started a fund to honor an employee who had a passion for youth sports, and a couple started a music fund to memorialize their son, who was a musician.
“We know that there are many interesting, unique, fun, and sad stories behind these,” Irgang said. “When students receive their scholarship check, it has the name of a fund on it, but we know there is a whole story that goes behind that.”
Some people will contribute to the funds while living, some will set aside funds in their will, and some will set up a fund in memory of another individual. Many Community Foundation volunteers have set up such funds. “There’s a plethora of things of people do with their funds,” said Diethrick, “they choose their cause, and it is forever, as these funds are in perpetuity.”
“There are many more stories, and there’s more all the time,” Irgang said. “We have probably learned 20 new stories this year. Since the stories are about their family member or friends, all you need to do is ask a couple of questions and people start to share. As an employee here, you get to know people in a very meaningful way.”