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May
29
2024
Economy

The Yellow Springs Community Foundation turns 50 this year. After half a century of issuing out grants, endowments, scholarships and more to innumerable local institutions and organizations, the foundation finally gave itself a gift: new digs at 201 S. Walnut St. — the former school district offices. From left: Project Manager Chloe Manor, Operations Director Brianna Ayers, Outreach Manager Melissa Heston, Financial Administrator Sara Miller Gray and Executive Director Jeannamarie Cox. The two pups are Lilly and Oakley. Not pictured is Donor Relations Manager Mychael Roberts. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

The Yellow Springs Community Foundation’s half-century of giving and grants

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“There have always been more good ideas in Yellow Springs than funds available.”

This is the existential conundrum the Yellow Springs Community Foundation has been working to address since its founding in 1974, according to Executive Director Jeannamarie Cox, who spoke with the News last week.

“We have a rich creative project pool in the village,” Cox said. “That’s because we’re a community of activists — people who care enough to make Yellow Springs a better place. Our goal as a foundation is to give people the opportunities to do just that.”

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This year, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation turns 50 and celebrates its homegrown legacy of supporting the village’s 100-plus nonprofits, spearheading social justice initiatives, bolstering the arts, providing economic relief and, of course, funding good ideas. To date, the foundation has provided $9,850,000 in grants.

A number of other significant milestones mark the foundation’s 50-year foothold in Yellow Springs.

Since its incorporation, the foundation’s assets have grown to over $20 million. In 2023 alone, it funded $1.1 million in grants to local initiatives, including John Bryan Community Pottery expanding its studio, improving the technology and building at the Little Art Theatre, purchasing nearly 100 new books for the high school library, launching a youth theater camp and more.

All of these grants, Cox said, were made possible by tax-deductible donations to the foundation, which are also growing year by year. Last year, it received $1.2 million in donations — up significantly from the $31,745 it received in 1975 after the foundation’s first full year since incorporating.

“My hope is that this shows that we’re doing really good work — work that the community really wants us to be doing,” Cox said.

Founding a foundation

For most of the village’s history, local projects and initiatives were bankrolled in old fashioned ways, Cox said: Knocking on doors, hosting fundraisers and talking to business owners as they composed their yearly charity budgets.

When village resident and philanthropist Edwin K. Foos died in 1968, Jim Mitchell, then-president of Miami Deposit Bank and trustee of Foos’ will, began conceiving of a better way for people to give to the general welfare of Yellow Springs.

After Mitchell himself died unexpectedly in 1974 — just as he was garnering local support for the creation of a community foundation — his wife, Dorothy, took up his mantle. She assembled what would become the first board of trustees for the Yellow Springs Community Foundation: Perry Stewart, who succeeded Mitchell as president of Miami Deposit; George Asakawa, president of Vernay Labs; Hardy Trolander, president of Yellow Springs Instruments; and Philip Aultman, Village solicitor.

Within a year of its incorporation in 1974, the foundation had $10,000 in unrestricted grants as well as an endowment for the maintenance of the Glen Helen Building, now named the Vernet Ecological Center. The year after, the nascent foundation issued its first three grants: $1,000 to both Antioch College and the Yellow Springs Senior Center and $579 to Glen Helen.

As the years went by, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation’s assets grew from an influx of charitable donations from local residents and, in turn, continued funding village projects and groups. To name a few early milestones: Chamber Music in Yellow Springs received a $2,000 grant in 1987; The Antioch School, $10,000 the same year; and Friends Care Community Center got $10,000 in 1988 to build out a memory care unit.

In the new millennium, the foundation’s grants took a much larger scale. After awarding the Village $200,000 for the maintenance and development of the Center for Business and Education, then another $200,000 to Antioch College to reopen the Foundry Theater upon the college’s revival in 2011, the foundation issued its largest grant to date: In 2019, it awarded Antioch $600,000 for a stabilization project that returned heat to the iconic Antioch Hall, also known as Main Building.

Though the sizable grant indeed returned warmth to the shuttered building, considerable additional funding is needed to bring the building back to usefulness, with estimates ranging from $7.5 million to $20 million, according to past News reports.

As Cox noted, Antioch is far from the only local school that receives the foundation’s support.

The intergenerational Miller Fellow and Encore programs, the student-run philanthropic Youth Action Board, Bulldog sports boosters, educational endowments and scholarship programs are all avenues through which the foundation continues to funnel money into local education.

This year alone, 45 Yellow Springs High School students will receive scholarships underwritten by the foundation. According to Cox, the scholarship program has $50,000 in funds.

Changes and challenges

Entreating more donors to fund more village projects and ideas has been a priority for Cox since she took the helm of the Community Foundation in 2016.

She was hired as the organization’s first executive director and came on board with the priority to “focus on more donors and provide them with more options to give.” Additionally, Cox began seeking donors from beyond the village limits.

“That’s been a huge shift for the foundation in the last seven years,” she said. “Now, over 30% of our donations come from outside the walls of 45387. There are people who love Yellow Springs who don’t live here, so I’m always asking, ‘How do we get them engaged?’”

By bringing more donors into the fold and broadening the ways in which they can give — to specific endowments, grants, scholarships and fields of interest, to name a few — has provided the Community Foundation with greater flexibility over the years, Cox said.

“The needs and priorities of the village are always shifting,” Cox noted. “It’s important for us to keep our finger on that pulse and meet Yellow Springs where it’s at.”

The local onset of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the foundation to do exactly that. In addition to organizing teams of volunteers to keep food pantries stocked and needy neighbors provided for, the foundation launched several economic relief initiatives.

“You could go to the credit union, ask for money and get it right away — no questions asked,” Cox said.

Throughout the pandemic, the foundation disbursed approximately $150,000 in loans to Yellow Springs residents and businesses from newly created emergency funds. As an example, the foundation provided the necessary fund to the YS News to cover the costs of printing a month’s worth of newspapers for every 45387 resident at the beginning of the pandemic.

In the years since the threat of COVID-19 has waned, those various relief funds merged into a single “YS Emergency Fund,” which according to Cox, continues to allow the foundation to help those in need at a moment’s notice.

For instance, in the immediate aftermath of last summer’s fire at Hawthorne Place Apartments, the foundation provided grants that purchased mattresses, dressers, hotel rooms and more for the displaced tenants.

Still drawing lessons from the pandemic that uncovered some socioeconomic disparities in Yellow Springs, the foundation launched YSEQUITY in 2022 — a guaranteed income program that provides qualified residents in Yellow Springs and Miami Township with $300 every month over a period of 24 months. Again, “no questions asked,” Cox said.

“We did a lot of research before launching the program, but it was still scary,” Cox said, referring to the rarity of sanctioned universal basic income programs. It’s the second guaranteed income program in Ohio and the first documented program in a municipality the size of Yellow Springs.

Nevertheless, YSEQUITY has been a success, Cox said. By July 1 of this year, 45 local residents will be receiving a guaranteed $300 each month.

Through Wednesday, May 15, the foundation is accepting applications for the next round of recipients; those interested may apply at ysequity.org.

Looking ahead, still giving back

Alongside all these charitable investments in the community, it may seem uncharacteristic for the Yellow Springs Community Foundation to give itself a 50th birthday gift. Just the same, the organization marked its semi-centennial with a new homebase.

After 27 years at 108 Dayton St., above the former Design Sleep space, the community foundation moved to 201 S. Walnut St. last month.

Nestled between the downtown business district and Mills Lawn Elementary, the little stone building made for “a perfect fit” for the foundation, Cox said.

Owned by the Village and constructed nearly a century ago, it’s where the former Yellow Springs School District offices were sited, and prior to that, the Yellow Springs Library. Now, the foundation will pay $1,500 per month to occupy the space.

“For the next 50 years, we believe this is the right spot for us,” Cox said with a smile.

In the few weeks since the foundation has been at 201 S. Walnut St., the building has undergone considerable transformation. As Cox said, with the help of the Village, the stone building has gotten new ADA-compliant bathrooms and plumbing; an updated electrical system; a tidying up of the old, damp basement; and, in ongoing efforts, a switching of the building’s direction. Whereas the back door faced Xenia Avenue, that will soon be the foundation’s entryway — clad with a forthcoming porch and awning.

“We like the idea of looking at downtown Yellow Springs, almost being a part of the bustle of it all,” Cox said.

But looking ahead — beyond that downtown bustle — to the next half-century, the executive director said she believes her organization will stay the course. As she said, food security, social justice initiatives and making Yellow Springs a more equitable place to live and work are all top priorities.

“The goal is to continue listening to our community and responding as best we can,” Cox said. “I don’t know how things will shift with regard to funding or donations — hopefully for the better — but I think there will always be more great ideas in Yellow Springs than there is available money to fund those ideas. But that’s where we, as a foundation, come in.”

She added, addressing the average villager: “If we’re ever missing something, let us know. We always aim to do better.”

To learn more about the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, to donate to its funds or scholarships, to volunteer or to apply for grants and more, visit the foundation’s website at http://www.yscf.org.

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