Foundation’s Growth Linked To People, Relationships
A tree is often used as a metaphor for life.
For the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, a tree cannot only be used metaphorically, but also in actuality.
One of the first grants given by the foundation in 1980 was for the planting of trees in the city, said Tory Irgang, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation executive director. She also said, coincidentally enough, one of the most recent grants given by the foundation is to the city for the planting of trees. See added that the foundation funded the city $3,500 with one of its first grants to plant trees in Chadakoin Park. Last month, the foundation funded the city $5,000 to plant trees in Allen and Bergman parks this fall.
“It has been a continuous investment in the city,” Irgang said about the Urban Forestry Fund the foundation manages that has assisted in funding the more than 12,000 trees that line city streets, which doesn’t include the ones in several city parks.
Irgang said even though the foundation officially started in 1978, foundation officials first held a fundraising campaign to generate funds for grants. She said the foundation’s first successful fundraising goal was to raise $5 million in five years. She added that during the first year of grants in 1980 the foundation funded $30,180 to programs at the James Prendergast Library to assist in updating materials and Fenton History Center for museum exhibit expansion.
Again, as with the Urban Forestry Fund, Irgang said probably each year the foundation has provided grant money to the James Prendergast Library. She said this year the foundation granted money toward the library’s MakerSpace. The MakerSpace is dedicated to creative, STEM-based activities, which feature exciting technology including a green screen, Lego wall, robotics, single-board computers and a 3-D printer.
Also, like in the first year of grant funding more than three decades ago, the foundation provided Fenton History Center officials money for their new museum exhibit titled “Made in Jamestown: How Furniture Built the City,” which is about the city’s deep-rooted furniture manufacturing history.
Along with city organizations that have received several grants from the foundation through the years, Irgang said there have also been opportunities to make one time donations toward large projects. Some of these projects include the Northwest Arena and to the future national attraction based on the “celebration of comedy” the National Comedy Center.
“We try to respond to the needs of the time,” Irgang said. “We’re trying to keep pace and evolve to meet changing dynamics.”
The foundation also has 322 scholarship funds for students, which has grown exponentially through the years. Irgang said the first year the foundation awarded scholarships was 1981, when they presented 13 students with $6,500. Compared to 2017, the foundation awarded 765 students $1,129,319.
Irgang said each scholarship is different, with some providing funding to several students while some of them just provide one student with the education endowment. She also said students can receive several of the scholarships as well.
“That is very impressive when you think of the number of students, thousands … tens of thousands,” she said.
Irgang said foundation grants either come via an established, specific fund like the Urban Forestry Fund. Also, grants came come from the “Fund for the Region,” which is the name of the general fund the foundation’s board uses to provide money to organizations or individuals. In 2017, the foundation awarded more than $2.1 million in funding grants through their general fund and several endowments for specific purposes.
The way the foundation raises money has changed through the years, with more of an online presence now, Irgang said. She said when the foundation was first raising money for grants, volunteers would go door-to-door. She added that even though the process of collecting donations has changed, the relationship between people and their community has not.
“The Community Foundation is about people and relationships,” she said. “We rely on people and relationships. At the heart of it are the people. How to connect, how to say relevant. We want to stay true to our roots.”