Good Works: Grantmakers for a Better Future

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The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama serves a nine-county region through community partnerships, grants and philanthropy.


More than 60 tornadoes swept across Alabama on April 27, 2011, with devastating effects. Lives were lost and many homes were damaged or destroyed, with homeowners’ possessions scattered.

The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama was there to help. The Anniston-based organization collaborated with the Patterson Foundation in Sarasota, Fla., to raise $500,000 for tornado recovery efforts.

“The money accomplished rebuilding of several homes, replacement of mobile homes, (building of) storm shelters,” says Eula Tatman, vice president of programs for the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Managing more than $37 million in assets, the Foundation administers 152 charitable funds and awards more than $1 million in grants and scholarships each year.

The Foundation uses donor gifts including cash, personal property, life insurance – and once even a signed Babe Ruth baseball card – to build funds that benefit nine Alabama counties: Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Etowah, DeKalb, Randolph, St. Clair and Talladega.

After the devastating tornadoes, funds were used to help the DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center hire an additional counselor to help families cope with the emotional trauma caused by the storms.

“We provided a counselor to the four schools hardest hit,” says Elizabeth Wheatley, the center’s executive director. “She provided counseling for lots and lots of students who were fearful anytime there was the threat of bad weather.”

The counselor was also able to offer therapy to students whose family members died during the storm. “

A mother and her two children were in the bathtub, and she was covering them to protect them and she was killed, but the two children were spared,” Wheatley says. “(The counselor) provided therapy for both children, helping them work through that trauma.”

The funds made available to the region after the tornadoes were invaluable because “they actually rebuilt lives, not just homes,” says Thereasa Hulgan, executive director for the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce. “The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama does a lot of good for the region. They do a wonderful job. They’re so knowledgeable.”

Supporting organizations in storm-recovery efforts is just one thing the Foundation has accomplished over the years.

“We focus on three specific areas,” says Jennifer Maddox, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. “We make grants, serve as the region’s partner in community projects and assist with donors’ philanthropy.”

In the fall and spring, for example, the Foundation awards grants from the Susie Parker Stringfellow Health Fund to not-forprofit groups that provide educational services and healthcare in the region. Grants from this fund have allowed for the renovation of a school playground and the building of two new ones.

“The Foundation’s origins go back to Susie,” Maddox says. “In her will, she left assets and a home to create a hospital for Anniston.”

That initial private trust evolved into the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama – one of more than 700 community foundations in the United States that promote and build permanent endowments on behalf of their regions, Maddox says.

Local organizations that receive funds from the Foundation are able to help many people, says April LaFollette, executive director of Interfaith Ministries in Anniston. Interfaith Ministries provides dental services to low-income adults, runs a Meals on Wheels program for homebound people and offers emergency assistance for rent, prescriptions and other needs.

Oxford resident Christine Roberson, 57, received help recently when her electricity was shut off for lack of payment.

“They were able to help me get my power back on,” Roberson says. “I’m on disability, and I was short of funds. I’ve always tried to do everything on my own, but it just got overwhelming this month. I never knew there was anything out there to help. I thank God for them.”

Tatman says the Foundation is important to the region because it is one of 11 community foundations in the state and the only one covering the nine-county northeast region. “We are the largest grant maker,” she says. “Not only are we providing grants to nonprofits, but we also have helped them become better organizations – through our Standards for Excellence program – so they can do their job better. So far we have about nine that have gone through this certification process.”

The Standards for Excellence Institute is a national initiative that promotes the highest standards of ethics and accountability for nonprofit organizations. It is the first program of its kind in the United States.

Maddox says the Foundation also takes pride in helping donors fashion a project that is personally meaningful to them while also fulfilling its intended purpose.

“We help donors by providing philanthropic options that meet their needs,” she says. “Sometimes people need to create a legacy for someone, maybe to start a scholarship in their child’s name. We do that, and we do it well. We have a 14-member board of trustees, and we recruit leadership from throughout the region.”

Among the current board members are a ninth judicial circuit judge in DeKalb County, a state community college president in Etowah County and an attorney in Cherokee County.

Maddox says the Foundation’s staff and board bring “a level of expertise and experience to the table that helps projects move forward. We work with donor advisors. We research legitimate organizations. We do the background work for our donors as well. We make grants to not-for-profit organizations so they can get funding for infrastructure and other needs.”

The Foundation also has a highly successful scholarship program. Twenty-four scholarship funds have been established with the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama since 1999, Maddox says. Through September 2014, those scholarship funds had awarded a total of $884,610.

When donors work with the Foundation to establish a scholarship, they are able to honor the legacy of the individual named in the fund for a lifetime because the money is invested, Maddox says. Each fund carries specific guidelines developed by the fund creator, and scholarship recipients are selected based on these guidelines.

“We are a premier not-for-profit organization, and we are a transparent foundation with a goal of doing good in the community,” Tatman says. “We reinvest what our donors trust us with. We honor donor wishes. If you were interested in leaving a legacy for your family and stipulated what you wanted funds to be used for, we make sure we honor the wishes of our donor. The funds get invested and they grow, and then we distribute it back out into the community. We help it grow so it will be here forever.”[/s2If]