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Community Foundations Building a Foundation for Success

Article written by Christine Bryant, The Times of Northwest Indiana | March 24, 2024

Strength in numbers — that’s the aim of community foundations across the Region to amplify impact and foster positive change.

It’s a strategy that can adapt as circumstances change, especially considering the needs of the community are continually shifting.

Whether it’s through building a strong educational foundation or by strengthening neighborhoods, Northwest Indiana foundations are evolving to meet the needs of its residents. Here is what some of the area’s local foundations are focusing on in 2024.

Capacity building

One of the greatest areas of need is capacity building within nonprofit organizations and local communities, says Kelly Anoe, president and CEO of Legacy Foundation.

“For nonprofit organizations, we help to build their capacity by providing training in areas that they identify as needed,” she said. “It could be in grant writing, board development, leadership development, strategic plan development, new software needs or other areas. We then tailor our training around what they identify as their greatest needs.”

During its next grant cycle, Legacy Foundation plans for a portion of available funds to go toward capacity building services.

“The Legacy Foundation serves Lake County, but we need to make sure our organization can be competitive on state and federal levels to access resources outside Lake County,” Anoe said. “If we can use our dollars to help the organizations leverage additional funding, we see that as an impactful way to use our funding.”

Early childhood literacy

Addressing challenges when it counts the most can help alleviate other issues down the road. That’s why Bill Higbie, president and CEO of the Porter County Community Foundation, says investing in early childhood education is key to making a difference in the community.

“It’s a very long-term approach,” he said. “One of the key things we learned is that 85% of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.”

It’s a critical time to provide the county’s youngest residents with the best start possible, he said.

“We thought if we could make a difference there we’d see an improvement in a variety of other areas and make the community healthier, more vibrant and better overall,” Higbie said.

The First Things First Porter County initiative is a community effort to support families, healthy beginnings and quality early learning for every Porter County baby. Through funding from the Lilly Endowment, the Porter County Community Foundation has helped provide access to prenatal and postpartum health care for mothers, preventive and comprehensive care for infants, family support, and quality early learning for children 0 to 3 years old.

“We were able to pair our own funding with their generosity and create this initiative that involves getting our youngest residents the best start possible,” Higbie said.

The Porter County Community Foundation is also partnering with the Porter County Public Library system and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide the funding needed to offer a free book to every child in the county ages 1 to 5.

“Reading is critical to brain development and we were surprised to learn that so many homes are without books, or have very few books,” Higbie said. “Getting books into the hands of young families goes along with our belief that getting it right when it counts the most is what we should be doing.”

The foundation also received an estate gift that allows the organization to set aside $100 for an educational savings account for any baby born to a Porter County family, Higbie said.

“Not only does this help financially, but it creates an ecosystem within the family where they know they have this resource that will help a child continue their education after high school,” he said.

Continued educational support

Supporting high performance outcomes in K-12 and higher education institutions is a continuing focus of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, executive director Bill Hanna said.

The organization is continuing its work with the Big Shoulders Fund, a Catholic Chicago-based organization that supplies elementary and high school students with academic support and scholarship opportunities. In 2019, the foundation contributed $16 million to the fund to extend programming to Northwest Indiana, specifically to 20 schools and 6,000 students within the Diocese of Gary.

“We’re really excited about this partnership and believe a lot of big things are going to come from that this year,” Hanna said.

This partnership has also played an important role in helping Aquinas Catholic Community School expand by securing funding for scholarships, federal lunch programs, curriculum materials and staff training.

The foundation has continued its work with Purdue University as well to launch a hospitality immersion program, create the Dean V. White Real Estate Finance program and continue furthering opportunities for students at the Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. School of Business.

Healthy neighborhoods

Through partnering with Crossroads YMCA and Boys and Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana, the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation is focused on strengthening the wellness and safety of neighborhood families.

A new $70 million Hammond Destination YMCA project will serve as a cornerstone attraction and once finished, will be three times larger than the current YMCA in the city. With state-of-the-art amenities and diverse programs, Hanna says an estimated 50,000 residents will benefit annually.

Last year, the foundation also committed $10 million toward Tolleston Opportunity Hub’s initiative, a new 40,000-square-foot facility that will include and connect the YMCA and Methodist Hospital. The facility will feature amenities like urban gardens, a central kitchen, pool, physical therapy, pharmacy and urgent care services.

Hanna said working with large community networks throughout Northwest Indiana allows the foundation to reach more people.

“Everybody deserves to have these things and have these opportunities,” he said.

Connecting communities

By strategically investing in Rise NWI, organizations like the Legacy Foundation are providing ongoing support to advance community causes and issues, Anoe said.

Rise NWI is the Legacy Foundation’s civic engagement program that offers opportunities to become civically engaged within a community. Through training and resources, residents can become advocates for improved quality of life in the Region.

Engagement can be one of the biggest challenges organizations like the Legacy Foundation face in addressing the region’s needs, Anoe said.

“We work with some of the most energetic and passionate people in our communities who are dedicated to making a positive change,” she said. “However, we often see the same people over and over again who come to the table through giving of their time, talent and resources.”

One of the challenges the organization faces is pulling in new people to have an even greater impact, she said.

“If we could get all community residents working together toward a common goal, could you imagine what a great impact we would collectively be able to achieve?” Anoe said.

Mobilizing philanthropy

Expanding the impact and reach of grants by becoming a data-informed organization is one of the Legacy Foundation’s strategic pillars moving forward. The organization recently adopted a new strategic plan that will lead to the launching of programs and initiatives this year, Anoe said.

To mobilize philanthropy, the Legacy Foundation is refining its grantmaking process to ensure the alignment with evolving needs of local organizations. It’s also using more data to understand community challenges, while identifying strategies to enhance scholarship application rates.

“We also have the opportunity to match donations that are made to our grant funds,” Anoe said. “If any donors want to make donations, we’re able to match those two to one.”

Other initiatives on the horizon

By working with government officials and organizations in rural areas, the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation is looking at opportunities to expand its reach.

“We’ve been working with township trustees in the Shelby area,” Hanna said. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of activity there.”

The foundation is also continuing its work with the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Foundation, which is a first responder training organization based in Northwest Indiana.

“We like the collaborative effort that also focuses on working with partners like the Y, hospital systems and schools to help train,” Hanna said. “That provides the opportunity for constant, positive interaction between health and safety officials and the general public.”

The Legacy Foundation is working on a new neighborhood leadership initiative similar to Neighborhood Spotlight, a collaboration that began in 2013 to help communities improve quality of life by building stronger partnerships, building organizational capacity, coordinating programs and leveraging external funding.

“I think the neighborhoods will be really excited,” Anoe said. “We will be officially announcing that later as we develop it.”

The Porter County Community Foundation is exploring the idea of supporting initiatives in the areas like transportation, affordable childcare and housing, Higbie said.

“We have some effective organizations working in those arenas, so we’re in conversations with them to see if that partnership could be beneficial,” he said. “We’re always responding to nonprofit organizations engaged with significant development projects so we can support those, ranging from animal causes to food pantries. We want to be as helpful as we can.”

In addition to giving as part of your estate planning, Anoe says there are several opportunities for residents to get involved in making a difference in their communities now.

“If you see there is a listening session or neighborhood forum by a local nonprofit, or a town hall meeting, show up to those events and meetings,” she said. “I think sometimes it can feel intimidating if you’ve never been involved or active before, but they’re such welcoming environments. People want to see new faces and hear new voices. It’s about showing up and making your opinion known.”

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