Vision 2019 | Philanthropy organizations support projects that make the community healthier, stronger, more vibrant

Johnstown philanthropic leaders (from left) Mike Kane, Susan Mann, Don Gardill and Bill McKinney meet in Johnstown’s Central Park on Jan. 16, 2019.

Mike Kane, Bill McKinney, Susan Mann and Don Gardill periodically meet in what they call an informal collaborative philanthropy group.

Together, the executives of four local grant-awarding organizations – Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, United Way of the Laurel Highlands, 1889 Foundation and Lee Initiatives Inc. – brainstorm about ways they can positively impact the community.

“Collectively, we can do a lot more than just simply doing things on our own,” Mann, president of the 1889 Foundation, said when the four leaders met for an interview last month at Press bistro in downtown Johnstown.

For example, the Community Foundation helps individuals and organizations establish funds and handles the donation collection process for nonprofits, including the Cambria County Library System, Friends of Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Greater Johnstown Community YMCA and Stonycreek/Conemaugh River Improvement Project.

CFA has put more than $4 million in grant funding into the city of Johnstown alone over the past three years. In 2018, 5,558 donors combined to contribute $10.8 million in gifts, which enabled the organization to provide $6.3 million in grants to 366 nonprofits and $805,000 in scholarships to 379 students throughout Cambria, Somerset, Indiana and Bedford counties.

“We talk in our office that we’re privileged because we get to work for a mission,” said Kane, executive director of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. “That mission – in service with our donors – is improving the community and making the community better. When you do get the thank-you notes, when you do go see a project that got completed and is working well and it’s empowering kids, or it’s helping to change a neighborhood or what have you, it’s really great because philanthropy is unique.

“Philanthropic dollars are dollars the community gets to use. It’s not like public money. It’s not like private investment. It’s a really different animal in terms of trying to enable a community to provide for itself.”

Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment was established in 2005 to improve the health and well-being of area residents and perpetuate the legacy of the former Lee Hospital. It has, since then, awarded approximately 300 grants worth $6 million combined.

Gardill, chief executive officer, said Lee Initiatives now awards about $750,000 in grants and $50,000 in scholarships per yer.

“The thing I like about it, we get plaques from our recipients of grants,” Gardill said. “They send us letters. All those things just tell me how much it means that we’re in the community and we can help them out in their needs. That’s what we’re all about, helping out people, making their lives better with whatever we can do for them.”

United Way of the Laurel Highlands and 1889 Foundation have developed an interconnected relationship in recent years. Together, they laid the groundwork for the formation of the Cambria County Drug Coalition.

Since 2015, the 1889 Foundation has provided a dollar-for-dollar grant for the first $500,000 the United Way raises during its annual fund drive, which has brought in more than $1 million annually every year for a decade.

The local United Way chapter then uses the money to provide grants to partner agencies – such as Alternative Community Resource Program, Beginnings Inc. and Twin Lakes Center/Somerset Country Drug-Free Communities – that work to address the UWLH’s core issues of early childhood development, parental engagement, and drug and alcohol abuse prevention, along with basic human needs. 

The core issues were determined by a community needs assessment.

“The United Way’s involvement has really changed dramatically over the past 10 years, because of that foundation laid by the community needs assessment and the community impact process that came about because of that,” McKinney, UWLH’s president, said.

What is now the 1889 Foundation was originally established in 1993 as Conemaugh Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Conemaugh Health System. After Duke LifePoint Healthcare purchased Conemaugh, making it a for-profit organization, the philanthropic group was re-established as the 1889 Foundation in 2015.

Since then, the foundation has formed the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health with a $7.5 million, five-year gift in 2016 and has collaborated with the United Way, Cambria City Cultural Partnership and Pennsylvania Rural Arts Alliance.

“It’s hard to put words to how rewarding it truly is to not only impact and change the lives of individuals on a regular basis, but for the donors, what reward they get by being able to see what they’re able to do,” Mann said. “That’s just amazing.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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