Pay It Forward, May 2019

Pulling together in tough budget times

by Bonnie Jason and Tom Kizzia,
Homer Foundation trustees

With anxiety rising these days about future state and municipal budgets, we all wonder how much our community will be thrown back on its own resources. This seems like an important time to let our neighbors know that the Homer Foundation has been busy making changes to strengthen the future of private giving in the community.

Our town has always been special for the generosity and support neighbors show one another: whether giving time and money at church and school, digging deep at fundraisers for families in hard times, or writing checks to support our many non-profit groups.

It’s no surprise that Homer was the first town in Alaska to set up its own community foundation. For nearly three decades, the Homer Foundation has served as an independent non-profit vessel for home-grown philanthropy, directing local contributions to everything from the food pantry to youth groups to hospice.

Several big transitions have been underway at the foundation for the past year. Those changes now seem timelier than ever.

First, the foundation has launched a major effort to grow our endowment. After humming along for years with a few million dollars in assets, we are pushing to expand to $20 million in the next decade. An endowment that size would mean a stable permanent funding source for a town like Homer.

We know we can do it, because we’ve seen other small towns raise those kinds of funds. A big part of their success has depended on bequests — essentially, people putting the whole community in their wills.

Loyal foundation donors have helped to launch our new Legacy Society, but we’re reaching beyond them, talking to everyone from old homesteading families to the newly arrived and newly smitten. For people who want to pitch in, we have a way.

Second, last year we made a major change in how we handle those funds entrusted to us. All our money is now invested in conservative Vanguard funds that follow the stock and bond markets.

A cautious four-percent draw will safeguard the investments but generate less cash than we’ve had in the past for operations and distribution grants. To sustain the foundation as the total endowment grows, we have undertaken a new initiative with the goal of raising $50,000 for our unrestricted fund in fiscal year 2020. We have received a $25,000 challenge grant from community members, which means we’re halfway there if other folks come through — every contribution counts double.

There’s been a transition in the people at the foundation, too, as one by one our founding board members have been stepping down, giving way to new trustees and new ideas.

The board’s biggest job this winter was to replace our longtime executive director, Joy Steward, who is retiring in June. After a national search, we were lucky to find Mike Miller, a retired Air Force veteran whose extensive municipal and non-profit experience includes leadership of the Food Bank of Alaska.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the foundation’s commitment to channeling donations to good causes on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Our distributions committee has recently contributed to youth in the Anchor Point area with funds for their wrestling team, and helped the Pratt Museum bring ethnic dancers and drummers to villages across the bay. Grants have gone to the arts, science education, seniors, nordic ski trails, HOWL, Pier One, and Haven House, among many others.

As an independent tax-exempt non-profit, the Homer Foundation occasionally plays a sponsorship role for big community projects, such as rebuilding Karen Hornaday Park and erecting the new Boathouse Pavilion on the Spit. The foundation also manages the City of Homer’s annual grants to non-profits and high school scholarships — things we do without charging fees, so that all the money reaches its intended targets.

And if you’ve read this far, you’re probably aware that the foundation, under the leadership of retired teacher (and recently honored “lifelong learner”) Flo Larson, has been providing regular “Pay It Forward” columns for this space in the Homer News.

Like others in the community, board members of the Homer Foundation are concerned about the future of government funding for our many local needs. We are redoubling our efforts to reach out to neighbors and expand our role in helping Homer’s non-profit groups do their good work for many decades to come.

Bonnie Jason is President of the Homer Foundation board of trustees. Tom Kizzia is the Board Secretary.