There are many tales of generosity in Central Louisiana. Let’s start with one about a loving and faith-filled woman now living in Pineville. As she and her husband accumulated wealth over the years, their unassuming lifestyle never changed. Instead, they used their means to support ministries and other organizations dedicated to helping those in need. When he passed, she turned to trusted advisors to help determine the way she could give most effectively–how she could maximize her giving to do the most good. In 2013, she established the Harvest Fund of the Central Louisiana Community Foundation, a donor advised fund that distributes grants totaling over $200,000 annually. And still today, you wouldn’t recognize her on the streets. She chooses to remain anonymous, and the Foundation has helped make that possible.
There is the story of the Central Louisiana family that started the Good Food Project through the Foundation. Now a mainstay of the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, the Good Food Project has inspired a local foods movement that reaches all segments of society—from those demanding local foods in the swanky restaurants where they eat, to those who depend on Food Bank distributions which now often include locally grown produce. This all started with one family’s foresight and generosity, and the mechanism of the Central Louisiana Community Foundation for turning their vision into reality.
What about the local attorney–a Baptist–who had the vision for a Holocaust Memorial in downtown Alexandria? He worked with a committee representing the community’s religious diversity to see the project through, along with the hundreds of donors–again, of all faiths–who funded the project.
The word we use today for giving of this nature is “philanthropy.” It comes from the ancient Greeks and means “for the love of humanity”. The media gives us an image of a philanthropist;–usually someone elderly, dripping with wealth. But, the truth is that 80 percent of American households make charitable gifts; 80 percent of us are philanthropists!
There are many more tales of giving. There’s the businessman who provides thousands of free, well-fitted shoes to needy schoolchildren in memory of his late father, a shoe salesman much of his life. Over 7,000 pairs of shoes so far!
There are the people who make the Rapides Symphony Orchestra and a wonderful array of other cultural programs possible, and those help treat the medically underinsured through Community HealthWorx, and those who keep the Alexandria Zoo thriving through the Friends of the Alexandria Zoo. They are joined by those who give so generously though the United Way of Central Louisiana, and even those who helped buy a funny little train they call “Choo Choo Alex” that rolls all around the Cultural Arts District and beyond, bringing smiles to children.
Then, there’s the story of the Alexandria man who wrote a check in the amount of $1 million to establish the Foundation’s Community Impact Fund. Five years later, through the Foundation’s prudent investment, the fund still holds over $1 million, even after Community Impact Awards totaling $430,000 have been made. Programs benefiting from his giving provide healing for sexually abused children; teach critical thinking skills through art education; offer education and testing regarding sexually transmitted diseases to vulnerable populations; support comprehensive services for survivors of domestic violence; and teach lifesaving hands-only CPR in 63 Central Louisiana high schools and to the public at large.
These are but a few examples of how the Central Louisiana Community Foundation has partnered with individuals, families, businesses, churches, civic clubs and other nonprofits to enhance philanthropy in Central Louisiana to improve the quality of life across our region. The Foundation was established in 1999 to do just that—focus on improving life in our community. Community foundations are a special class of foundation, recognized by the Internal Revenue Service for this community-centered purpose. The Central Louisiana Community Foundation is one of over 700 community foundations nationwide, and the fastest growing of the seven such foundations in Louisiana.
The Foundation prudently invests over $16 million in community assets, held in nearly 100 distinct funds, each established for a specific philanthropic purpose. It is governed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors made up, now and throughout its history, by some of the very finest people in Central Louisiana. In recent times, the Foundation’s staff has grown to include a combination of some of the most experienced nonprofit executives in our community as well as some of the most intelligent and energetic young professionals around.
An important mission, outstanding board, effective staff, and excellent service combine to form an unbeatable combination that grows each year in its significance to our community–all fueled by the generosity of our donors through gifts, both big and small. After ten years of slow but steady growth, in 2009, the Central Louisiana Community Foundation received the first of five gifts of $1 million or more which have elevated the Foundation into its position of prominence. With these and thousands of smaller gifts since then, a growing list of achievements fills the Foundation’s résumé.
Because enhancing philanthropy is the essence of its work, the Foundation began publication of its Impact Central Louisiana magazine in 2009. The beginnings were humble, just a few pages sent to a small e-mail list. Twenty-six issues later, this beautiful, well-designed and inspiring publication reaches an e-mail list of nearly 4,000 Foundation friends, while its print version is reserved for mailing to over 200 members and supporters.
Another vehicle for enhancing philanthropy got its start the following year. The Central Louisiana Community Foundation established the community’s annual Celebration of Philanthropy in April 2010, by gathering such notable partners as the Rotary Club of Alexandria, LSUA Foundation, Christus Cabrini Foundation, United Way of Central Louisiana, Junior League of Alexandria and the Rapides Children’s Advocacy Center. Over 300 people representing more than 30 nonprofits participated. They came together not only to mark our community’s great philanthropic achievements, but to begin to set our sights even higher. Now, this annual celebration is among the largest of its kind in the South.
In September 2010, the Foundation—with such partners as LSU of Alexandria and the United Way of Central Louisiana–tackled its first academic initiative with the inaugural A+ Alexandria Bowl, a high school quiz bowl tournament unlike any other in Louisiana. Annually, 32 teams from all corners of the state gather on the beautiful campus of LSU of Alexandria to showcase their academic skills and compete for bragging rights in what has become the kickoff tournament of the Louisiana Association of Academic Competition season. One of the special elements of the A+ Alexandria Bowl is the participation of nearly 100 community leaders, business executives, civic club members, and educators as volunteers, who invest their day to assure the tournament is of the highest quality and that these kids understand how exceptional we think their gifts are. Through this effort, Alexandria is the center of Louisiana’s academic universe, at least for this one day each year.
Only a month later, in October 2010, the Foundation made its first Community Impact Award, making Central Louisiana a leader again by helping to fund only the second Mobile Advocacy Center in the nation. This remarkable vehicle, owned and operated by the Rapides Children’s Advocacy Center, travels across 11 parishes, providing comfort, security and healing therapy for children who have been sexually abused. Unfortunately, the vehicle gets too much use–traveling over 25,000 miles already–because of the scale of this problem.
March 2011 saw the establishment of the Good Food Project, in partnership with the Food Bank of Central Louisiana. Fulfilling the extraordinary vision of the extended Keller Family of Central Louisiana, this project uses community gardening as a vehicle for nutritional education, community participation, and social justice, as well as for producing wonderfully healthful food for Food Bank clients and others. Today, the Food Bank skillfully manages the day-to-day operation of the project, while the Foundation provides general oversight, strategic guidance and management of the Good Food Project Fund. Together, the Food Bank and Foundation continue to seek philanthropic investments to extend the project beyond its 2016 funding horizon.
Also that year, the Foundation helped build an endowment fund to support the Alexandria Museum of Art, in much the same way it had helped the Rapides Symphony Orchestra years earlier. Solidifying these two mainstays of the local arts community was considered by Foundation leaders as an important part of the revitalization of the Alexandria Cultural Arts District, for economic purposes as well as quality of life reasons.
The Foundation begin to play an even bigger role in the arts in 2012, as it assumed the management of the Arts Council of Central Louisiana to stave off an impending financial failure. Success in this effort required tightening fiscal controls, meshing corporate cultures and finding new ways of funding the Arts Council mission, without stifling the artistic expertise of Arts Council leaders. Today, the Arts Council produces success after success, as exemplified by such recent activities as the sold out and inspiring Air Force Band of the West concert in August, standing room only audiences for the innovative Abendmusik Alexandria chamber concerts, brilliant marketing and management to make a win of the surprise Jeremy Davis and the Equinox Little Big Band appearance in October, and the great leadership and organization of the 2014 Autumn ArtWalk just weeks ago. At the same time, the Arts Council now wins praise from the Louisiana Division of the Arts for its management of the Decentralized Arts Funding program, which supports 18 local organizations. And, the Arts Council is more proactive than ever in coordinating and assisting in the promotion of the community’s many cultural organizations.
When the Foundation absorbed the Arts Council, it accepted management of the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center as well. This dazzling 10-year-old jewel is the envy of performing groups from across the region, as it is unmatched in beauty and functionality. But, it was undermarketed and not used to its full capacity, and along the way, some maintenance issues went unaddressed. Today, the Coughlin-Saunders is booked solid for many months in advance. And just wait until we see the new carpet in place in the weeks ahead. A great cooperative spirit between the Foundation, Arts Council and the City of Alexandria–owner of the theater–will wow audiences as more and more of the proposed improvements are actualized.
One of the realities the Foundation had to face as it took on so much responsibility in the arts community is that many of our treasured institutions are struggling to reach audiences. Often, their budgets are strapped. Facing tough financial choices, they frequently choose to reduce their marketing efforts rather than diminish the quality of their programming. Over time, audiences dwindled, not because they didn’t care, but because they simply no longer heard about the wondrous offerings of our community.
The Foundation’s answer was to create TicketCentral in 2013, a low-cost marketing and ticketing service that allows nonprofit groups to promote their events on a one-stop comprehensive website and at sales booths conveniently located at most of the community’s cultural events. TicketCentral booths were set-up at over 200 events in just the first year! Now, you can go to a concert and buy museum tickets there, or go to a zoo event and buy City Park Players tickets. You can join the 160,000 others who have visited www.ticket-central.org, see it all, and buy what you want with no surcharge.
In 2013, one unprecedented gift gave the Central Louisiana Community Foundation the capacity to impact human services and related activities on a whole new scale. That $4.3 million gift established the Harvest Fund. The Foundation now writes about 70 checks each quarter from the Harvest Fund, benefiting organizations and ministries near and far, with total giving each year exceeding $200,000. Hope House of Central Louisiana, the Food Bank, Manna House and so many others are now beneficiaries of this generosity, triggered by the love and faith of a local couple who just wanted to help others.
The latest Foundation contribution is not quite so grand; in fact, it is just a funny little train. Privately funded through the Foundation, Choo Choo Alex is joy on wheels, designed to add kid-friendly fun and festivity to events in the Cultural Arts District and beyond. In its premier appearance at ArtWalk last month, over 300 riders–both kids and adults–traveled up and down Third Street, wearing the comical logo train caps, singing the infectious Choo Choo Alex theme song and calling for toots on the engine’s amazing whistle. Look for Choo Choo Alex at events at TREE House Children’s Museum, Alexandria Museum of Art, River Oaks Square Arts Center and in Fulton Minipark in the weeks ahead.
Predating all of this recent activity was the remarkable philanthropic vision of one man, a man who wanted to honor his father and who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. Willie Harp found an ingenious way to do both with the establishment of the Perfect Fit Foundation. Jerry Harp, Willie’s father, was a shoe salesman much of his life. He was a man who took his work seriously, making sure each customer got the perfect fit. When Willie saw that so many local schoolchildren did not have decent shoes, he created a vehicle to get well-fitted, uniform-appropriate shoes onto the feet of needy elementary students across Rapides Parish. Thousands of pairs of shoes later, the Perfect Fit Foundation is still growing as a field of interest fund of the Central Louisiana Community Foundation.
Formal philanthropic giving is only one way to express generosity, but it is an essential part of our culture. Nearly every American gives to something, and nearly every one of us sees a need in our community that we would like to address. The Central Louisiana Community Foundation works in every field with hundreds of philanthropists and nearly every nonprofit organization in Central Louisiana. The Foundation has the means to interact with anyone who seeks to better our community. For donors who can give $10,000 or more, establishing a Donor Advised Fund is simply an unbeatable opportunity. Give now, get your charitable deduction now, then direct later how the money can be granted for which organizations and causes. Financial planners across the nation are talking about this opportunity, so the information is easy to find. Even easier, simply contact the Foundation to learn more.
For organizations seeking better investment returns on their endowment or reserve funds, the Foundation offers the opportunity to pool your funds with the $16 million in other assets we invest, so your organization can enjoy investment advantages a small fund simply can’t get alone. And, for anyone who just wants to give effectively to make another something good happen here, opportunities large and small abound. The Foundation exists to help you plan your gift for maximum impact. Truly, it is your community foundation.
Together, we can make Central Louisiana an even greater place to call home!