By Tim Leeds
A resurrected community foundation is issuing a challenge to Hill County residents: donate to help pay for a variety of projects in the county.
"I think I'm going to be the first donor to the Hill County Community Endowment Fund," Ralph Yaeger of the Montana Community Foundation said at the annual Havre Area Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday.
A new board is reviving the Hill County fund, Yaeger said. It's been been dormant since it received its first and only contribution in the 1990s.
A donation envelope had been placed at each place setting at the luncheon and Yaeger said he was going to use one to make a personal contribution.
Yaeger had already given Valerie Hanson and Faye James, members of the Hill County Community Endowment Fund board, a $2,500 certificate from the Montana Community Foundation to use immediately for local projects.
"We hope that you can demonstrate what a community fund can do for a community," Yaeger said.
Future donations to the foundation will help grow an endowment that generates interest income to pay for local projects.
The areas the foundation has selected to fund are: arts and culture, community or countywide beautification, and basic human needs. The fund's board, created in August, used information from the Hill County resource needs assessment report done in the fall of 2003 to decide what areas to support.
Randy Hanson, the state Department of Commerce's regional development officer in Havre, was instrumental in reviving the foundation after he became chair of the Russell Country region of the Montana Community Foundation.
Yaeger said in an interview that the projects could range from promoting performance arts in Hill County to providing handicap access to structures.
"Things that people use and need every day is kind of our focus, I think," he said.
He said a good example of a community endownment fund is one the Montana Community Foundation works with but doesn't manage - the Central Montana Foundation based in Lewistown.
That fund is a grass-roots effort, created, managed and administered locally.
Dean Comes, vice president of the Central Montana Foundation board and president of First National Bank in Lewistown, said the foundation started in 1982 with $4,800. It now has assets worth about $8 million, with the principal's earnings providing countless projects in central Montana with several hundred thousand dollars every year.
The foundation board meets monthly and considers requests, ranging from a few thousand dollars for small projects to major investments.
"The list goes on and on and on, and we typically fund them," Comes said.
He said some examples include helping furnish the large auditorium at Fergus County High School, building an ag pavilion at the county fairgrounds, and building a track and tennis facility at the high school. The foundation has also helped several rural fire departments in the area.
First National Bank and the foundation have also helped several rural communities in the region - including Winnett, Grass Range, Winifred and Jordan - start endowment funds of their own, Comes said.
"It is absolutely amazing what generosity can create for a community. It's just phenomenal," Comes said. "When it starts going and starts growing and people can see what their money can do for a community, it just feeds on itself."
Hanson said she thinks the time is right to start a community foundation in Hill County. The Montana Community Foundation manages local foundations in 50 other communities and counties in the state.
She said that when the fund was initially started, for some reason nothing happened.
"It just never took off," Hanson said.
Havre Distributors owner Ken Myers, responding to a challenge from the Anheuser-Busch company to Montana distributors to set up community endowments, made the initial donation of $2,500 in 1995 and challenged others to match the contribution, Yaeger said. That was the sole donation the foundation received.
Myers has now pledged to make another $2,500 donation, with the same challenge, Yaeger said.
Hanson said the foundation board is planning to hold several fund-raisers, and all of the board members have pledged to make donations in addition to Myers' pledge.
She said that while it is difficult to try to raise money and many groups are looking for donations, the board thinks it will be successful in its efforts.
"We don't want to compete with other fund-raisers," Hanson said. "We aren't competing for funds for the same projects and needs."
Yaeger said the Montana Community Foundation will manage the assets of the fund. All the Hill County foundation will have to worry about is getting the proceeds from the permanent endowment and deciding what projects to fund, Yaeger said.
"We make it easy for them," he said.
The Montana Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization started in 1988 with fewer than a dozen endowments worth a total of less than $300,000, now manages more than 500 funds from around the state worth more than $50 million, including the 50 community foundations.
For more information about the Hill County Community Fund, contact Randy and Valerie Hanson at 265-5072 or Faye James at 265-2119.
On the Net: Montana Community Foundation: www.mtcf.org/index.cfm