OUTLOOK 2021: Community Foundation finds even a little money makes a difference

Melissa Klaric, The Herald, Sharon, Pa.
·4 min read

Feb. 27—SHARON — In 2020, the The Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio helped disburse about $8 million to programs that support at-risk youth, the homeless, elderly, hungry, veterans, the arts, athletic programming, and community development.

But within that seven-figure total was a single grant that wasn't even seven bucks.

The smallest grant that made a big difference in someone's life was $6.71, to help them pay their gas bill.

"When you look at $6.71 having a huge impact in someone's life, you see that it doesn't take a lot of money to make an impact in someone's life," said Kyle English, executive director of the foundation.

Having such an effect on lives took on new forms in a year of the pandemic. The Community Foundation continued to support, under challenging conditions, critical non-profit organizations that provide resources to those in need.

"It was a challenge on a lot of different levels," English said. "In the very beginning (of the pandemic), we were trying to act as quickly as possible to keep up with the changing needs of the community."

Since 1981, the Community Foundation has been supporting a generous community by providing ways for families, individuals, and organizations to choose their impact. The Community Foundation helps donors reach their philanthropic goals while expanding charitable giving throughout the region.

The foundation is comprised of six affiliate foundations: the Lawrence Community Foundation, the Grove City Foundation, the Northern Mercer County Community Foundation, the Trumbull County Community Foundation, the Shenango Valley Foundation, and the Northern Trumbull County Community Foundation. The Community Foundation has over 750 funds whose total assets exceed $90 million.

Last year, the biggest challenge was responding to the different challenges of the community. Each organization had its own needs, English said.

"When the government money started to come in, we started looking for different gaps where government money didn't fill," English said. "If an organization had funding for a certain program, sometimes, people who needed help weren't eligible."

The $8 million disbursed went out in 229,000 separate grants.

"We had another big year," English said. "The biggest thing we wanted to do is empower our donors to have that impact they want to in the community."

John Rose and Sherry Rose of the Rose/Harnett Family Foundation were one of the donor-advised funds to approve disbursements.

"Sherry and I have always believed that the most important charities are those closest to us," John Rose said. "By giving our dollars here in the community where we live, we are better able to see the efficiency and efficacy of our contributions."

Despite all the challenges of 2020, the region has shown great generosity, English said.

Over $131,000 was distributed immediately in mid-March through rapid relief funds to non-profit organizations struggling with new operating challenges due to COVID-19. In July, during the inaugural Pa. Ohio Gives event, the community rallied for local non-profits again and donated more than $575,000. Additionally, roughly $1 million was given to students pursuing higher education through over 200 scholarship funds at the Community Foundation.

Reflecting on the past year Karen Winner Sed, president of the Community Foundation and CEO of the Winner Companies, said there is no doubt that the area the foundation serves are blessed by generous, giving people.

"In times of need, any need, the citizens rally to see that their neighbors' needs are met," Winner Sed said. "The Community Foundation of Western Pa. and Eastern Ohio is honored to serve as the vehicle to make that happen. Even in a year such as 2020, which was fraught with uncertainty, the Community Foundation has served as a beacon for those in need."

Looking forward to 2021, the Community Foundation will piggyback off what happened in 2020, English said.

"It looks like there's going to be government support," English said. "We want to make sure we're there to fill in the gaps."

With the pandemic going into the summer, English said a lot of the problems people are having that everyone thought were temporary are becoming more permanent.

"How can our donors step up to help people get back on their feet?" English asked. "More job losses may be permanent. What can we do to make sure those individuals aren't left behind and get some semblance of their lives back?"

The Community Foundation is seeking applicants for $500,000 in scholarship money for any high school senior. They have more than 200 scholarship funds. Seniors can apply online at www.comm-foundation.org/scholarships.

"The message we want to get out there is that it doesn't take a lot of money to make a difference in someone's life," English said. "We're ready to help anyone that wants to make a difference in the community."

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com