Grant program looking to grow

Community Foundation hopes to give $180,000 to nonprofits this year

Dental care for the uninsured. Continued restoration at the old Democratic headquarters in Lecompton. Recliners for Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s pediatric unit.

This diverse collection of needs represents only a small portion of the causes the Douglas County Community Foundation has helped fund since Lawrence philanthropist Hortense “Tensie” Oldfather launched it two years ago.

Back then, the economy was thriving, and Oldfather’s initial gift of $5 million stretched a bit further than it did last year and will, most likely, this year. The foundation in 2002 hopes to give somewhere in the neighborhood of $180,000 to Douglas County programs for youth, education and health services.

“Money doesn’t earn as much now as it did a little while ago,” said Oldfather, who is on the foundation’s board of trustees. “Right now, of course, in the slight business downturn, things are going to be tough. But it will get better.”

The foundation board makes grant selections each fall. The application deadline will be announced later.

A far-reaching vision

In 2000, the foundation passed out $204,959 in grants to some 30 Douglas County nonprofit and community organizations to support their work the following year. Although the economy began to slow in 2001, the foundation still distributed $186,413 in grants to 31 organizations.

Oldfather, widow of former Kansas University general counsel and law professor Charles Oldfather, envisioned the community foundation as a way to ensure that educational and charitable endeavors in Douglas County would continue long after she was gone.

“This is my community,” she said. “I wasn’t born here, but I’ve lived here and I’ve really participated in it in a variety of ways and for a long time.”

Oldfather said she preferred that a great deal of the grant money go toward establishing new programs.

One such project that received a $5,000 grant in 2001 from the foundation is a peer education effort being development by Women’s Transitional Care Services, Rape Victims Survivors Service and Douglas County AIDS Project. The program would educate youth ages 8 to 18 about domestic violence, rape, sexually transmitted diseases and other topics by exposing them to movies and other media and then discussing with trained adults what they see.

“The whole goal of the project is to develop a relationship with a few kids so that when they’re talking with their peers they’re going to be sharing this information,” said Sarah Terwelp, WTCS executive director. “One of the things that we do know from research is that peers have the most impact on each other.”

Web Golden, Oldfather’s attorney and the foundation board’s executive secretary, said community foundations were becoming increasingly common across the country. From 1998 to 1999 alone, the number of active, grant-making community foundations nationwide increased 18.8 percent, from 437 to 519, according to The Foundation Center, a national clearinghouse for foundation information.

Room to grow

In addition to the grants awarded out of interest generated by Oldfather’s initial gift that core fund will grow as other unrestricted funds are donated the foundation works in three ways. First, it allows individuals to create their own endowments. They decide who their money benefits from year to year, and the foundation manages the endowment.

“It’s our way to try and provide a vehicle to the citizens of Douglas County to make gifts to both endow the charities they know of now and to reallocate the income from those endowments over other charities that they may wish to help in the future,” Golden said.

The foundation also serves as the umbrella organization for bodies that already exist but need help with record-keeping and reporting. In those cases, the board of trustees for the smaller organization maintains control, but the foundation becomes administrator.

Finally, existing charitable organizations that don’t already have an endowment can encourage donors to establish one to support them. Endowments set up in this way remain permanently committed to the organization for which they were initially established.

The foundation is still in its infancy and hasn’t received many contributions, Oldfather said. She’s hoping that, like the community foundations in neighboring cities which the Douglas County foundation is modeled after, her budding creation will take off in years to come.

“(Topeka’s) started out rather slowly like ours,” she said, “and it has grown quite nicely as people get used to it.”