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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Area foundations feeling pinch of poor returns

April 21, 2009

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Lawrence resident and Kansas Audio-Reader Network volunteer Bev Wilson flips through newspaper pages during a March session at the Kansas Audio-Reader Network studios. The organization depends upon foundation funding to provide reading services for visually impaired patrons.

Lawrence resident and Kansas Audio-Reader Network volunteer Bev Wilson flips through newspaper pages during a March session at the Kansas Audio-Reader Network studios. The organization depends upon foundation funding to provide reading services for visually impaired patrons.

Lawrence resident and Audio-Reader volunteer Kris Shields delivers the news for Kansas Audio-Reader.

Lawrence resident and Audio-Reader volunteer Kris Shields delivers the news for Kansas Audio-Reader.

Even in Lawrence, long-known for its generosity to those in need, it might seem the current economy could put a kink in the community’s long record of supporting good causes.

But several local charitable foundations say they plan to conduct business as usual and are taking the wait-and-see approach to their work for 2009.

Chip Blaser, executive director of the Douglas County Community Foundation, said the amount of charitable dollars the organization doled out to various groups in need more than doubled in 2008, a sharp increase from the $460,000 awarded in 2007. That statistic gives him hope.

“We are fortunate to have a very active community in terms of giving,” Blaser said. “I think people will continue to give something, even if the amount of their gifts may be less.”

He added that perhaps the bigger challenge will be dealing with an increase in requests for aid from the community. As various organizations, governmental agencies and families face budget cuts, he predicts a wider broad-based need, especially in the areas of basic life necessities and education.

“The needs definitely increase when times are tougher,” he said.

And Blaser should know. Now in his third year with the foundation, he has a full-time job soliciting donations, managing funds and facilitating the good intentions of others in the community who wish to make a charitable impact.

The Community Foundation, founded by the late Tensie Oldfather, a local philanthropist, has awarded more than $2.7 million in grants since its inception in 2000.

The money meets an eclectic range of needs, including food, housing, scholarships, education, environmental projects and local arts programs.

Unlike the Community Foundation, which relies on community contributions, the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation operates solely off its investments. Because of that, James Paddock, the foundation’s president, said he and his colleagues on the foundation’s board of trustees may face a decline in grants they are able to award this year.

“Even if the economy stays steady, we are likely facing a sizable reduction in grants,” Paddock said. “But we wait until the end of the year to award our grants, so it is too early yet to tell what will happen.”

The foundation doled out $636,000 in 2008, up slightly from the previous year.

Paddock said that he, too, expects an increase this year in applications for aid from the community’s charitable organizations.

“Unless the economy undergoes a radical change for the better, in all probability, we will see more requests,” he said.

The Rice Foundation was established by Raymond Rice in 1972, for the purpose of providing grants to worthy causes serving the people of Kansas, particularly in Douglas County. About 50 applications for aid are received each year. In 2008, about half of those requests were granted.

Because of the foundation’s long record of successful giving, Paddock said he is optimistic the organization’s good work can continue.

“Anyone engaged in this finds it difficult to make choices,” he said. “In that regard, I expect this year to be no different.”

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