Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett. I asked local West Virginia leaders recently what these three had in common other than great wealth. Those present quickly responded that all three are wonderful philanthropists doing phenomenal things. That’s true, I said, but not the most significant answer for us. They looked at me, questioning. The most important thing in common in relationship to us, I replied, is that none of them live here. Their giving does not hold the strongest potential to transform our hometowns; our local citizens’ philanthropy is far more essential.
The power and resources to transform our communities resides in our own back yard. We must acknowledge this and lead our region forward with the faith that people will hear our message, witness its impact, and join their hands. For folks accustomed to hearing others describe our communities as places of profound need, I could see it was a scary realization. We have met the cavalry and it’s us.
That’s what National Community Foundations Week means here. It’s a time to recognize the merits of what we do every day to help ourselves and our neighbors. While our region’s unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest nationwide and per capita income lags both state and national averages, our residents have cause to be very grateful. Our Parkersburg Area Community Foundation’s Jackson County affiliate recently gathered 240 persons, celebrating its 10th year of building philanthropy and awarding its Community Support Fund grants.
Several years of Support Fund grants have delivered $540,000 in a community with previously no county-level philanthropic resource. Next week, it’s on to another full house for our Mason County affiliate’s annual meeting. In addition to awarding its Community Support and Youth Fund grants, citizens are building an Arts and Education Fund.
Other affiliates are working tirelessly. Two counties are collectively building the Little Kanawha Area affiliate. Ritchie County’s affiliate has a new Field of Interest Fund for Education. Doddridge County’s Public Library Fund is growing. Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, the parent entity, is thriving, nearly quadrupling assets since 1999. We’re truly becoming “Our Community’s Foundation.”
In places where we’re often told, “your rural is too rural, your scale too small,” we’re holding hands, running this marathon with all we have. It gives us great hope to know thousands of community foundation volunteers are working hard in communities much like ours and that over time we are all making a difference.
We’re celebrating National Community Foundations Week here by getting stronger together. How are you working together in your community?
Judy Sjostedt is executive director of the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation and Regional Affiliates www.pacfwv.com