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#25YearsGrowingGood Milestone 6 - Community Fund continues responding to the changing needs of the community

Wed, Apr 17th 2019 11:00 am

For a good part of the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation’s 25-year history, the unrestricted Community Fund has played an instrumental part in the organization’s mission to Grow Good in the community.

The fund has made possible grants to projects supporting everything from downtown economic revitalization, healthy eating initiatives, community gardens, area disaster relief, keeping area seniors active and more.

Though much of the Foundation’s work is to help donors with specific philanthropic intentions, CRCF’s early leaders saw the need to establish a fund that would allow the board of directors to make grants that respond to the immediate and ever-changing needs of the community.

“The Board determined that along with our grants through our funds with specific purposes, we needed to be able to support random requests as well,” said Carol Stitt, the executive director at the time.  “The vehicle through which that happens is an unrestricted fund.”

And so the Community Fund was born from golf tournament proceeds in 2000. The $1,800 proceeds the board voted to utilize has since grown to make possible just short of $100,000 in grants to make the community a better place.

“One of most important functions of the Foundation is supporting our area nonprofits who are doing the hard work of providing the services people need,” said CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit. “The reality is that those organizations need to seek funding, especially for start-up projects – and that is where the Foundation and the Community Fund can help make a difference.”

Each May and November the Foundation’s grants and allocations committee reviews submitted applications and makes grants based on that process. Grants tend to range between $200 and $2,000, but the impact of those grants over the years has been significant across Cattaraugus County, not just in terms of dollars but in noticeable results.

When flood waters decimated the Village of Gowanda in 2009, the Community Fund made a $1,000 grant to Hands on Disaster Relief, a volunteer-driven relief organization actively helping the village in its time of need.

At the time, the Community Fund was still growing, making this one of the larger early grants from the fund. But considering this was one of the most devastating natural disasters in the county for a number of years, the Foundation’s board saw it as essential to lend a hand.

The  following year a $1,500 Community Fund grant supported the “Fill a Backpack” program, a collaborative effort between the Youth Bureau, Our Lady of Peace Parish, St. Mary’s Church, Cattaraugus Community Action and Salamanca schools, provides backpacks filled with food and other necessities to Salamanca students in need.

At the time, the Salamanca Youth Bureau had suffered a 60 percent reduction in staff due to budget cuts, despite serving more than 1,500 youth between the ages of 5 and 18.

For some of those youth, the weekend meant no school-provided meals, meaning no meals at all.

“It is our responsibility to be in tune with the needs of the community and educate ourselves on the statistics and the situations in the community,” Buchheit said. “With very few restrictions, the Community Fund allows us to help agencies with new projects or when a need comes to our attention.”

Another grant in that year helped the Chautauqua Blind Association purchase a vehicle in order to provide its services to those who lacked proper transportation to necessary medical appointments.

Lack of access to proper medicine due to transportation limitations and insurance limitations have continued to be a long-running issue in the community.

So in 2017, the board of directors continued its dedication to combatting the issue by supporting the first-ever Remote Area Medical Clinic to be hosted in Cattaraugus County.

The clinic that transformed St. Bonaventure’s Reilly Center into a full-service clinic provided basic physical, dental and optical care to over 400 patients in one weekend.

Other grants have helped provide safe car seats and cribs to needy families to prevent injury and death in infants and young children; assisted area Boy Scouts who could not afford summer camp programs; supported food pantry programs that will deliver directly to those without transportation and so much more.

“Our board members and committee members all have different passions, but one of the reasons they agree to serve on the board is a shared commitment to helping the community,” said Buchheit. “Overseeing and advising Community Fund grant funding is one way that they are able to help in a huge variety of ways.”

Board members are not required to donate to any specific fund, but since its establishment, board members have chosen to personally invest over $40,000 in the fund.  

For Buchheit one of the most important things she has seen is projects initially supported by the Community Fund becoming lasting programs in the community, such as the Veggie Mobile.

The Veggie Mobile began as a project through the Cattaraugus County Health Department to help provide access to healthy foods and nutritional education to underprivileged in the Olean area.

A Community Fund grant helped support the project in its first year, which yielded promising results. One program participant even lost 50 pounds and began working to educate others in healthy dieting.

Another Community Fund grant helped the program expand to serve Salamanca residents as well.

Now the program has established an endowment at CRCF and operates on an annual basis to provide its services to those lacking access to a healthy diet.

“The [Community Fund grants] helped pay for needed veggies. The grants also enabled us to expand, and they served as a vote of confidence in our program!” said Athena Godet-Calogeras. “CRCF is an ally in our efforts to address the issue of poor nutrition in our county.”

Donations can be made to the Community Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203 or online at cattfoundation.org.