Highlighting the creative ways community foundations across the state are meeting specific needs now and forever.

Parkersburg Area Community Foundation Civic Leaders Fellowship.

As the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation’s leaders developed their strategic plan, they identified priorities to improving their region’s vitality. Talking to local citizens, PACF learned that residents were most concerned about education, employment and economic development. Interestingly, the concern about education wasn’t related to their high schools’ sufficiency, it was the fact that our educated young people were leaving after college and never returning. It turns out, there were a few reasons for this.

Local employers were not hiring at the entry-level. Concurrently, area students were graduating with little work experience. Their brief resumes and small professional networks made securing employment difficult. Finding solutions is at the heart of what PACF does. So, PACF created the Civic Leaders Fellowship to stem the out-migration of the next generation by connecting students, nonprofit and governmental organizations and businesses—at no cost to employers.

It’s been a resounding success. Ninety-eight students completed at least one program year. Eighty percent of those finishing formal education are employed within three hours’ drive of PACF’s office with 50 percent employed in our 11-county area. One fellowship graduate works in the public defender’s office. Another, who is events coordinator for their Chamber of Commerce, heads up their local Jaycees. Calhoun County Commissioner and former fellow Michael Hicks is now in WVU law school.

“Research shows this fellowship returns $33 in value for every $1 contributed—donors investing in this initiative are literally changing our region’s future,” says foundation Executive Director Judy Sjostedt.

Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation W. Randy Smith Family Fund

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Those are the numbers that transformed W. Randy Smith from a Berkeley County magistrate into a Powerball-winning multimillionaire. But Smith, also a former county sheriff, was not ready to quit public service. He wanted to use his newfound fortune to better his community. So he turned to the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation (EWVCF).

Smith gave the foundation $5.9 million to establish the W. Randy Smith Family Fund. Now, when he wants to fund a nonprofit program, he phones up the foundation. The staff does some research, makes a recommendation, the board approves it, and the grant is awarded.

Smith has recommended 139 grants so far. The W. Randy Smith Family Fund has purchased pickup trucks for local home health and hospice organizations and new freezers and refrigerators for food pantries. In 2013, it funded the construction of the W. Randy Smith Recreation Center in South Berkeley County which—thanks to another recent grant from the Fund—will soon double in size.

Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley Women’s Giving Circle

Back in 2009, Sue Seibert Farnsworth got a Christmas letter from a friend in Jacksonville, Florida, who mentioned she was a member of a “women’s giving circle,” where women put money into a pool to be divvied up among women-centric causes.

Farnsworth, a board member of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley at the time, took the idea to her fellow female board members and they formed their own Women’s Giving Circle.
Seventeen women attended the circle’s first meeting in 2010. “All 17 women in the room raised their hands and said ‘Yes, I’m in,’” says executive director Susie Nelson. “And all 17 women wrote checks.” Each donated $500—half went to a grantmaking fund and half went to an endowment.

Thanks to some seed money from the foundation, the giving circle handed out $10,000 its first year. Ten years later, the giving circle boasts 145 members and has made $311,000 in grants—including $42,000 in 2019—and has grown its endowment to $275,000.

Circle members vote on each year’s grants, which are only available to organizations within the foundation’s service area: West Virginia counties of Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Tyler, and Wetzel and Ohio counties of Belmont and Jefferson. And the grants must accomplish one of three things: they must increase life skills of women and girls, encourage healthy development and personal authority of young girls, or raise awareness of gender disparities in the community.

The group’s 11 grants for 2019 support, among other projects, upgrades to YWCA Wheeling’s transitional home in New Martinsville for women leaving prison; Youth Services System, which helps young women as they transition out of foster care; and the Challenger Learning Center, which teaches girls in kindergarten through third grade about space science.

Beckley Area Foundation Students First Grants Program

Created by the Beckley Area Foundation more than 20 years ago, the Students First Grants Program provides grants of up to $500 to Raleigh County teachers who want to create new programs or projects in their classrooms. Over the years, it has backed programs aimed at literacy access, fitness and nutrition, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education. Still going strong two decades later, the Students First Grants Program has been replicated in at least four other regions in West Virginia.

Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation Ticket Town

Charleston cardiologist Dr. Bill Carter loves live performances, whether it’s ballets, stage plays, or symphonies. But he noticed many seats—especially those in the balconies—remained unfilled. So Dr. Carter decided to fill the seats while also helping inspire a passion for the arts in the city’s most vulnerable children. In 2016, he launched the program now known as Ticket Town, providing children on Charleston’s West Side with tickets to see the Charleston Ballet, the Charleston Light Opera Guild, and other performances. The next year, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation stepped in to help Dr. Carter run the program and create a donor base to finance it. Now FestivALL, an organization that promotes arts events in Charleston, administers the program. In addition to paying for kids to attend performances, Ticket Town also offers mini-grants to help community-based organizations expose children to the arts.

Tucker Community Foundation The 100 Club

Think speed dating, but with philanthropy. In 2018, the Tucker Community Foundation launched The 100 Club as a way to increase awareness about the foundation and the importance of community giving. Every ticket holder—who paid $100 to attend the event—nominated a project, program, or organization in Randolph County to receive a cash grant at the end of the night. Then, midway through the event, five nominees were selected at random. The people who made those nominations each gave a two-minute pitch to convince everyone else their nominee deserved the grant. Everyone voted—and The Old Brick Playhouse won $5,000. The foundation plans to make The 100 Club an annual event.