04 Oct 2021

Community fund grants are vital for local nonprofits

By Jonathan Shipley

In the spring of 1994, the Child Development Center in Cashiers, NC, got $500 for new tricycles for the children to play with in their care. Down the way, at the local Cashiers Glenville Fire Department, they, too, received $500. It was not for tricycles but for new much-needed helmets. It was a good day in Cashiers, both at the play yard and at the firehouse. It was because of the newly established Cashiers Community Fund. The child care center and fire station were the first grant recipients of the new fund. The organization is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Because of the initial and ongoing generosity of individuals, the principal endowment has grown to over $4.1 million dollars. Today, that would buy quite a lot of tricycles.

Nearby, in Highlands today, COVID has taken a toll on the community. It’s been a challenging year for everyone. The Highlands Community Fund knows this. “While Highlands is a delightful town,” notes George Manning, chair of the Fund, “the plateau has many in its population who live at or below the poverty level and are, from time to time, in dire need.” COVID has, to put it mildly, been dire. The Highlands Community Fund knows this, too. “From its inception,” Manning says, “Highlands Community Fund has focused on a wide variety of needs of the plateau’s underserved families including preschool education, literacy, public school needs, dental and medical needs, legal assistance, just to name a few.” These needs have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. “The highlight of COVID,” if there could be one, “was to continue our mission and fund worthy entities,” Manning says.

With an endowment nearing $2 million, it will allow the Highlands Community Fund to distribute more than $70,000 to local nonprofits this year. Since 1996, the Highlands Community Fund has awarded 156 grants totaling $966,846. REACH of Macon County was recently awarded $1,500 to provide outreach related to elder abuse and human trafficking. The International Friendship Center received $5,000 for its food pantry that serves the immigrant community. Five thousand was given to the Literacy & Learning Center of Highlands to support two free after-school programs. Other recipients include Highlands Emergency Council, Blue Ridge Mountain Health Project, Pisgah Legal Services, and Counseling and Psychotherapy Center of Highlands, among others. Manning says, “We want to reach more folks in need.” That’s what the funds do. They help folks in need.

None of this would be possible without the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC). Both the Cashiers Community Fund and Highlands Community Fund are affiliates under the CFWNC umbrella to extend and strengthen philanthropy across 18 counties. The CFWNC is a nonprofit founded in 1978 working with individuals, families and corporations to create and manage charitable funds and make grants to nonprofits and public agencies in the region, including the Qualla Boundary. As of June 2021, the organization manages $423 million in assets. More than 1,220 funds make up the CFWNC as a whole. In fiscal year 2021 they distributed $29 million to hundreds of nonprofits in the region. Since its inception, it has granted more than $305 million.

Some of that money has found good homes in both Highlands and Cashiers. “The highlight of the year,” notes Cashiers Chair Lisa Bates, “comes when we meet to discuss proposals and allocate the annual grants.” She continues, “We are thrilled to support the organizations accomplishing transformative projects.”

The 2021 grant totals for Cashiers equals $151,780. Since 1992, the Cashier’s Community Fund has awarded $1,694,290. The grants this year are as diverse as the community the Cashiers Community Fund serves. Five thousand is going to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina to grow its mentoring program on the plateau. Twelve thousand five hundred is going to the Blue Ridge Mountain Health Project to increase access to free preventative dental care services and dental education. Twelve thousand is going to the Cashiers Valley Preschool to repaint their building. To the Friends of Panthertown, $10,000 to help steward the forests in the area. JAM Blue Ridge received $12,000 for its after-school music program. There are many others in Cashiers and Highlands alike that have received much-needed funds to help those in the most need.

Chair Lisa Bates wishes she could do more. “Each year we receive more grant requests than we have funds to offer. I look forward to the day when we can support everyone.” Highlands Chair George Manning concurs. “We continue to look for areas of need and respond to nonprofits serving those populations and needs.” He continues, “We review and assess applicants with an open mind with the single focus on the most pressing needs.”

If it’s forests or food; school care or dental care; the funds are eager to pitch in. The health and vitality of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, in other words, should never plateau. There is always more to do.

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