Berkshire Taconic Foundation Hits Quarter-Century Mark and $100 Million in Grants Given

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation CEO Jennifer Dowley (photo John Dolan)

(SHEFFIELD, Mass.) — Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) has reached two milestones: the Foundation will turn 25 during the second week of December and has reached $100 million in grants to support nonprofits and individuals in the region. The Foundation will celebrate the occasion with an informal open house and an invitation to the public to stop in to meet the staff and board and learn more about the Foundation’s work at 800 N. Main Street in Sheffield, from 8:30am-6pm on Friday, December 14, 2012. The day will end with a wine and cheese reception from 4pm to 6pm.

Additionally, to kick off the Foundation’s newest initiative focused on early childhood development, the public is invited to drop off unwrapped new or gently used books for children ages 5 and under at Berkshire Taconic anytime during the week of December 10-14. Berkshire Taconic will donate the books to schools, daycare centers and pediatric practices throughout the region.

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation is a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of life and build stronger, more vibrant communities in northwest Litchfield County, Conn.; Berkshire County, Mass.; Dutchess and Columbia Counties, N.Y., through charitable giving. The Foundation works in partnership with donors and nonprofit organizations to meet community needs. BTCF helps people establish charitable funds and then pools, invests, grows, and manages those funds, handling all administrative, legal, and grantmaking responsibilities.

In addition to helping donors establish charitable funds, Berkshire Taconic exercises leadership in the region by assessing community needs and proactively addressing them. BTCF leadership initiatives have included the establishment of 11 local Area Funds focused on improving life in specific communities, the creation of Education Enrichment Funds for every school district in the region, as well as the formation of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) to help nonprofits build a more secure future for themselves and their communities.

BTCF also addresses pressing regional issues like affordable housing through HousingUs, emergency economic relief through Neighbor-to-Neighbor and is launching a new initiative to address the needs of young children age birth to 5 years.

The Foundation began with an anonymous donation of $100,000 in 1987, and has over the last 25 years granted out 1,000 times that amount in vital support for the arts, education, health, human services and environmental protection. Contributions to funds at Berkshire Taconic range in size from $74 collected in change by a class to support a project at their school to multi-million dollar bequests from local residents who wished to leave lasting legacies here.

Berkshire Taconic’s Denise Kaley Fund helps cancer patients like Jessica Lemon (photo John Dolan)

Originally named the Tri-county Community Foundation, it was an affiliate of the New York Community Trust. The Foundation became independent in 1990 when it incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in Connecticut and registered for charitable operation in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. In 1994, The Foundation’s name was changed to Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. From its early days located over a real estate office in Lakeville, Conn., with one paid employee, it has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in the Berkshire Taconic region.

Salisbury resident Robert Blum, active on the board of the New York Community Trust for 34 years, was a prime mover in Berkshire Taconic’s formation. Donald Warner and William Olsen of Salisbury were also part of the leadership team that started the Foundation, as was Dana Creel of Sharon, Conn., the first board chair.

“A community foundation is about transformation,” explains BTCF President Jennifer Dowley, “both for those who receive grants and whose lives are changed, and also for the donors who fulfill their dreams by making a charitable gift. We at Berkshire Taconic have the thrill and privilege of making those transformative connections.”

Over 25 years, the Foundation has built a strong region-wide philanthropic infrastructure, creating charitable giving vehicles to help donors support causes that are important to them. Each year, thousands of gifts from individuals, families and organizations contribute to the 532 charitable funds managed by Berkshire Taconic. Over 50,000 people have made contributions to these funds since 1987. Charitable assets at the Foundation are currently valued at $99 million and BTCF is ranked in the top 25 percent of foundations nationwide for investment performance over the long term. Hundreds of citizens volunteer each year on Berkshire Taconic committees that award grants — creating a network of caring that touches the lives of almost every person in our region.

 

Berkshire Natural Resources Council is a recipent of BTCF funding (photo Tad Ames)

Highlights from BTCF’s first 25 Years include:

 

·         $100 million granted to nonprofits and individuals to strengthen our community

 

·         $3.55 million invested in education enrichment projects for public school students

 

·         $2.3 million awarded through 51 scholarship funds for students attending college, technical and graduate schools

 

·         $2 million in fellowships to visual artists throughout New England

 

·         $1.2 million provided to families in economic distress for emergency relief through Neighbor-to-Neighbor

 

·         50,000 grants

 

·         Establishment of the Foundation for Community Health (FCH) from the sale of Sharon Hospital making $24 million available for public health programs in NW CT and NE Dutchess County

 

·         Creation of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE), helping nonprofits think strategically, govern effectively and operate efficiently. Among its offerings is the Nonprofit Learning Program (NPLP), teaching best practices in board governance and fundraising for nonprofit boards and executives; 200 nonprofit leaders from 49 organizations have been trained through the NPLP

 

·         Ranked in the top 25% of foundations nationwide for investment performance over the long term

 

·         Featured on the top 100 list of Community Foundations nationwide by CF Insights for Most Active Grantmakers, Most Gifts Per Capita and Most Activity Volume for 3 years running

 

“Our Berkshire Taconic region is unique,” says Virginia Smith of Pittsfield, Mass., an attorney and estate planner who chaired the BTCF board from 2009 to 2012. “We have an abundance of nonprofits in this region, twice as many as the national average, and perhaps because we are made up of so many small villages and towns, there is a level of caring about each other that is quite remarkable.”

Facts and figures alone do not accurately paint the portrait of an organization that has helped improve the lives of thousands of families and individuals throughout our region. What are most telling are the stories of the people that have been helped through funds at Berkshire Taconic: the cancer patient whose rent was paid during the time she could not work while receiving treatment; the student who attended college because of a scholarship and became the first in his family to earn a degree in higher education; an elderly woman who received help to pay for medication through Neighbor to Neighbor; a family who received a loan to build an accessory apartment that will improve their financial situation; a nonprofit executive director who has been coached to lead her organization with greater vision; a new trail built through a woods; young children who now have books to read in their day care center; high school students who traveled to New York City for the first time because of a grant from their school’s education enrichment fund. There are thousands of stories of change and impact in our communities.

Former BTCF board chair and fundholder Janet André Block of Sharon, Conn., said, “My father used to say, ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit.’ That’s what real community is about — that whatever the organization, everybody has a part, everybody owns it. Become involved with something that gives you a lift inside and makes your heart pound when you hear about it or see it and always remember to have fun. That’s been and continues to be my experience with Berkshire Taconic.”

Although Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation has made an impact on the lives of thousands of residents in the region, there is significantly more work to be done to address the major issues facing our communities: poverty, education, housing and the general well being of our residents. Over 10% of the region (and 22% of young children) live below the poverty level. This statistic, combined with the fact that 40% of the region’s third graders are not reading at grade level (a reliable indicator of negative future performance in all aspects of life) is sobering.  In addition, living conditions are exacerbated by the high cost of housing that leaves many of our families with too little of their income for food, clothing, healthcare and transportation. Our extraordinary nonprofits are struggling to keep up with the demand for their services.

Berkshire Taconic President Jennifer Dowley said, “Together with our donors, Berkshire Taconic has had a tremendous positive impact on our communities. But there is much left to do. No one knows what the next 25 years will bring. The role of government support is changing rapidly. The economy will be slow to rebuild. Climate change is becoming more evident. We do know that the Foundation will be here and will be stronger than ever. We have a culture of compassion in our region — people here want to make a difference. Our goal is to engage our communities in the real issues around them and work in partnership with our donors to address them.”

Berkshire Taconic is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors responsible for financial and investment oversight, setting policy, reviewing all grantmaking activities and charitable distributions and guiding the Foundation’s work. The Board of Directors is comprised of community leaders from throughout the Berkshire Taconic region who are chosen for their strategic thinking, vision, and commitment to the future of our communities.

Berkshire Taconic Board Chair, Chris Kennan said, “It’s true that Berkshire Taconic has much to be proud of, but we are all focused on the next 25 years and how we can be effective catalysts for building stronger communities in our area.”

Berkshire Taconic is one of over 700 community foundations nationwide that focuses on specific geographic areas and through leadership and philanthropic services, brings positive change to the communities it serves. Thanks to its generous donors, Berkshire Taconic now distributes approximately $7 million annually in scholarships and grants.

 

 

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