Midday Guest: Theresa Erickson from the Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation

New Year's Day will officially mark the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of Community Foundations.

The concept of a community foundation was born 100 years ago, in 1914. Today, more than 750 community foundations are at the center of local civic life – helping people easily and effectively support the issues they care about within their communities.

In 1914, banker and lawyer, Frederick H. Goff hatched the idea of a "community trust" in Cleveland, Ohio. Goff's vision was to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland's philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, great and permanent endowment for the betterment of the city.  Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust's resources would accrue to fund charitable purposes as set up by the donor.

So what is a Community Foundation?  A community foundation is a charitable organization created by and for a community of people. It is supported by local donors and governed by a board of private citizens who work toward the greater good of the citizens in the community. Funds come from a variety of sources, including bequests and living trusts, and are invested in perpetuity. The investment earnings are then distributed to charitable organizations or churches as requested by the donor.

From Goff's idea of a permanent endowment for the city, The Cleveland Foundation was established on Jan. 2, 1914, marking the birth of the first community foundation.  That revolutionary idea turned into a global movement. Within five years, community foundations were started in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Buffalo, N.Y.  Now more than 700 community foundations in the United States (1,700 worldwide) collectively manage more than $48 billion in assets and distribute more than $4.5 billion annually – all to enhance the quality of life in local communities.

Mississippi is also celebrating this anniversary as the State is home to ten community foundations, from the Gulf Coast up to Northwest Mississippi.   The Pine Belt's local community foundation is The Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation.  The PineBelt Community Foundation, which started in 1997, manages $3 million in assets, and since its inception has disbursed more than $5 million to enhance the quality of life for many local residents.  The PineBelt Community Foundation serves Forrest, Lamar, Jones, Marion, Perry, Jefferson Davis and Covington counties.

The source of these charitable dollars is from generous donors who care about making a difference in their community for generations to come.  Donors can easily set up a fund for the charity, church or school they are passionate about.  The beauty of a community foundation is the flexibility – donors can realize nearly any charitable intent by choosing form among the variety of fund types offered.

While the PineBelt Community Foundation may be comparatively young in age, that's not to say it lacks expertise.  The PineBelt Community Foundation is governed by an active Board of Directors who are experienced professionals with expertise in investments, finances legal issues, and leadership abilities.  "Our mission is to build better communities through philanthropy; and, our vision is to enhance the quality of life by building a perpetual source of charitable dollars through generous donors," said Theresa Erickson, Executive Director of the PineBelt Community Foundation.

Here are just a few examples of the many funds that the PineBelt Community Foundation has set up over the years:  the Anne Morris Memorial Fund, the Bob James Memorial Fund, the Baxter White Scholarship Fund, the Omni Ruth Boston Tywner Scholarship Fund, Neighbors of Hawkins Fund, and the Extra Table fund.

The Anne Morris fund was set up to help organizations that enrich the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities, according to Erickson.  "This fund has helped charitable organizations such as the ARC of Hattiesburg and the Pine Belt Region, which is a non-profit division of the United Way, Special Olympics, and two programs at William Carey University: the Quality of Life program and the Harnessing Adults Full Potential Through Music Therapy program."

The Bob James Memorial Fund was established after a well-known Hattiesburg resident passed away.  His wife, Gwen, said 'he wouldn't want flowers, instead let's start a fund that will forever support his passion – his passion was the United Way of Southeast Mississippi.  This fund will support United Way's administrative costs.

The Baxter White Scholarship Fund was established because two successful engineers, Jeff Dungan and Ronald Harvey, wanted to honor the man to whom they attribute their success:  their high school math teacher, Baxter I. White, Jr.  White taught math at Columbia High School for 27 years.  This fund will give an annual scholarship to a Columbia High School student based on academic excellence, community involvement and financial need.

The Omi Ruth Boston Twyner Scholarship Fund will give an annual scholarship to first generation college students from Laurel High School.  Omi Ruth Boston Twyner, born in Laurel, MS in 1922, taught home economics in the public schools of Mississippi for 38 years.  This fund was set up by her son, Olger Twyner, who wanted to honor his mother by setting up this scholarship fund that will give a scholarship in her name - forever.

The Neighbors of Hawkins fund was established by a group of concerned citizens who realized that Hawkins Elementary was about to close its doors because they weren't producing the grades and scores they needed to stay open.  These individuals opened this fund to be able to donate resources to be able to hire tutors through the American Reads program.  "Through these actions, over the years Hawkins has gone from a failing school, ready to close its doors, to a successful school," Erickson said. "This is an amazing accomplishment for the school will have a positive impact on those kids' lives forever."

The Extra Table Fund is a fund created by local businessman and philanthropist Robert St. John in attempts to help feed the hungry. "The statistics are staggering regarding the number of children and adults who go to bed without dinner," Erickson said. "Donations to this fund help raise money to supply food for many local food banks, such as the Edwards Street Fellowship Center."

"These are just a few examples of the 90 funds managed at the PineBelt Community Foundation," added Erickson.  "This year alone we have disbursed more than $1.5 million all for charitable causes in the Pine Belt region.  The beauty of many of the funds is that they are endowments – that is, they will support charitable causes forever."

"The PineBelt Community Foundation is also well known for distributing more than $200,000 in scholarships annually," said Caroline Nurkin, Office Manager.  "These scholarship funds allow donors to invest in our future by helping deserving students pursue higher education. They can also be established to help benefit students from particular geographic area or school, attending certain post-secondary institutions, or entering certain fields of study."

"All of these funds are possible because of our Partners, said Iris Easterling, Board President.  "Partners are individuals and businesses who share the same goal as we do, to enhance communities and improve lives.  Partner's gifts help defray the operating expenses of the foundation so the administrative fees that are assessed to the funds are kept at a minimum.  As we grow to become self-sustaining we rely on and appreciate our Partners."

As we bring in the New Year, we will celebrate a century of community foundations in this country.  It all started with the visionary Frederick H. Goff and his idea for a "community trust" which spurred the first community foundation.  Now community foundations have evolved from an institution funded by the wealthy to one endowed by people of all income levels.

"Every day we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Community foundations are the vehicle which provides support for the arts, education, human services, animal welfare, medical services and other worthwhile charitable causes," said Erickson.  "Every hometown needs a community foundation if you have charitably minded people – and the Pine Belt region surely does. There are people in Hattiesburg, Laurel, Columbia and many other surrounding communities with generous hearts who want to give their time, finances or leadership to accomplish this collective goal of community betterment."

For more information on the Greater Pine Belt Foundation, call 601.583.6180 or visit www.PineBeltFoundation.org.