WCCF celebrates 25 years

Monika Spaulding, Digital Editor

To say the founders of the Washington County Community Foundation had vision is quite the understatement. After 25 years, the WCCF is alive and well and ready to celebrate its quarter century milestone. 

Similar to many of the foundations in Indiana, the WCCF was created through the GIFT (Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow) Initiative of The Lilly Endowment, Inc.

The Lilly Endowment was started in 1937 by a group of three people who took a little of their Lilly stock and decided to invest it.

“That is the power of endowment,” said WCCF Director Judy Johnson.

In the early 1990s they decided to take the grant making beyond Marion County and help counties set up their own foundations.

Johnson said The Lilly Endowment set a goal of establishing 20 new foundations in the state. Today, every county in the state is served by a community foundation.

“Indiana is the only state that can boast that!” she said.

The Lilly Endowment considers the foundation program one of the most successful things they’ve ever done. 

In 1993, a group of interested citizens got together and created the WCCF. Those on the original board were: David Beck, board chair; Burl Jean; Carmelita Jean; Jack Mahuron, executive director; Don Martin; Ginger Morris; Steve Risen; Oliver Sizemore, treasurer; Jean Wilson, secretary; Drew Wright, legal counsel and Bob Strange.

During those early meeting, the group established an original goal of $1,000,000. 

“Many scoffed at the idea, but the group persevered,” said Johnson. “By July 1996, the group reached the $1 million mark and never looked back.”

In May 2001, the WCCF hired its first official employee, Johnson. This was her first experience with a foundation.

“I liked the challenge and bought into the idea of how it works early on,” said Johnson.

She and her husband, Jim, started a Touch Tomorrow Fund soon after she was hired. Touch Tomorrow funds are grants that can be used for anything.

The couple also joined the Morris Society, which is a group of people who remember the foundation in their will and estate planning.

Getting involved so early made it easy for Johnson to go out and talk to other people about the foundation and how it benefits the community.

She said the job is not rocket science, but it’s handling a lot of balls at once.

“The magnitude of the diversity is a challenge, but it’s a good challenge!” she said.

Johnson said the foundation directors across the state have a close working relationship. There are seven regions and then one state committee.

“It’s a very healthy field in Indiana,” she said, adding that it is different from a lot of other states.

She said two of the biggest projects the WCCF has been involved with are helping to fund the building of the Community Learning Center and the YMCA.

In programming, the WCCF has helped with Youth First, Education Matters, Happily Ever After Project, The Youth Foundation and the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

“We’ve really done a lot!” said Johnson, adding that the board focuses on what they can do. “The board has a very positive view of ourselves and our community and what we can do.”

She added that the most important thing is everything the foundation has done has been because of its donors.

“We couldn’t do what we’ve done without the donors.”

She said the Youth Foundation raises money for its programs and the county elementary school students raise money through the Minnies for Pennies program for the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends 1,000 books a month to youth in Washington County.

The students raised $2,534 this year for the program.

“No matter how much, it all adds up!” said Johnson.

The foundation has an 18-member board,  of which one-third are appointed by county school boards. Terms are three years, with a three term limit.

There are two employees: Johnson, who is the director and oversees the governance, public relations, donor development and donor management; and Lindsey Wade-Swift, who is the program financial manager, who oversees the grants, scholarships and financial aspect.

“Lindsey and I really complete each other,” said Johnson.

Currently, the total assets in the state for all foundations are $3,117,121,326.00.

In 2016, all Indiana community foundations combined awarded $154,000,000 in grants.

In honor of their 25th year, the WCCF has planned several community activities.

On April 24, the WCCF is honoring the men and women who keep the community safe with a reception at the Senior Citizen Center on Shelby Street. 

“We will be awarding grants to the departments and small gifts for the first 75 people to arrive,” said Johnson. 

The top three departments in attendance will win an additional $1,000 grant.

May 17-20, The Wall That Heals will be on display at the Community Learning Center complex. The community will have an opportunity to come and see the three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam War Wall and view the educational trailer. Johnson is excited to bring this opportunity to the community.

In June, the foundation is bringing the Ron Clark Academy to Washington County. This is a full day session for all teachers in Washington County.

The WCCF will also be celebrating non profits for the month of June. They will play “Game of Phones,” which is a social media contest. There will be clues posted on the foundation’s website to locations in Washington County. Participants will be encouraged to take a selfie in front of each location and post it on the WCCF’s Facebook’s page to be entered into a drawing. The grand prize is a $500 gift card to Amazon. 

In July, the WCCF will celebrate donors at its annual meeting on July 12 at Cornerstone Hall. 

Visit the website at www.wccf.biz for more information and for updates on events planned for the 25th anniversary.

Johnson reiterated that the WCCF would not be possible without the community’s support.

“The donors are the artists, we are a paintbrush,” she said. “We are the tool people use to give back and make the community better.”

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