WACF luncheon highlights partnerships, plans for future
by Jennifer Cohron
Sep 20, 2013 | 1580 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Russ Robertson gives the annual report at the Walker Area Community Foundation’s luncheon on Wednesday. WACF has grown from an initial endowment of $6 million in 1995 to more than $24 million in assets today. Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
Russ Robertson gives the annual report at the Walker Area Community Foundation’s luncheon on Wednesday. WACF has grown from an initial endowment of $6 million in 1995 to more than $24 million in assets today. Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
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Since the Walker Area Community Foundation was formed in 1995, its board members and staff have become experts at making connections — donors with funds, nonprofits with grants, programs with partners.

Now WACF’s leadership is taking the necessary steps to connect today’s decisions with tomorrow’s needs.

Board vice chairman Eddie Jackson announced during Wednesday’s annual luncheon that a long-range plan for WACF is currently under development with the assistance of Birmingham-based Clarus Consulting Group.

Jackson said community members should expect no less of a foundation that with their support has grown tremendously from an initial $6 million endowment.

Today, WACF manages more than $24 million and more than a dozen different funds.

“We needed to ensure that the faith and trust which you have placed in us was not abused by misdirected efforts. We needed to ensure that we just didn’t run around in circles, making no meaningful long-term impact. We needed to ensure that we were responsive to needs in a responsible way,” Jackson said.

Clarus founder Cathy Wright said she and her staff are currently gathering input for the plan from approximately 250 citizens representing all walks of life.

Although local leaders are now being more strategic about how to accomplish their goals, Wright said some of the best practices that will sustain WACF for decades to come have already been adopted in recent years.

“While foundations historically have and will continue to make grants to the many fine organizations who need their support, there’s another role that’s really important for foundations to play. That is understanding at a very deep level the issues facing the community and then starting to bring the people, organizations and leaders together to talk about how things can move forward by working together in an aligned way around specific priorities,” Wright said.

Two examples given during the luncheon of this practice at work included WACF’s efforts in disaster recovery and its partnership with the University of Alabama’s New College program.

By the two-year anniversary of the April 2011 tornadoes, more than $2 million and nearly 1,300 volunteers had flowed into Walker County to meet the needs of storm survivors.

Guest speaker Jera Stribling of Alabama Giving said it was WACF President Paul Kennedy who consistently spoke up about problems common to all the affected communities in the state, such as the need for better communication systems and more volunteer support.

“There were weekly phone calls from all the foundations in the state and many throughout the Southern region, and it was Paul’s voice that got their attention on those grassroots, desperate needs,” Stribling said.

WACF collaborates with New College on a program that allows students to receive college credit for living in Walker County each summer and working with local partners on issues of importance.

Projects completed this summer included expanding an elementary school’s raised bed gardens, securing funds to sustain the community garden at a rural health center, creating strategic plans for agriscience programs in area high schools and developing a literacy campaign for high school faculty workshops.

“I firmly believe the partnership we have forged with the Walker Area Community Foundation is a model for effective and successful community-university partnerships based on the values of civic engagement, community dialogue and social change,” New College director Natalie Adams said.

Local attorney Russ Robertson said during his remarks that the ability to affect change through WACF is one of the reasons he is proud to serve as a board member.

“This board is able to aggregate and accumulate many small individual donations from hundreds if not thousands of donors and then target those collective funds toward solving problems that would be too large for any of us to address individually,” he said.

In 2012, WACF awarded more than $3.6 million in grants — the most in the history of the foundation.

Kennedy told the audience that 32 nonprofits applied for a total of more than $400,000 in the most recent grant cycle, which ended Sept. 1.

“The $25, $50, $100 gifts that you have given in the Community Fund over the years will potentially impact those 32 organizations, more than 1,000 individuals and multiple cities across Walker County. And that’s just this grant cycle. Your gifts will continue to do this for future generations,” Kennedy said.