"The storm of recent budget shortfalls and tightening pursestrings that has buffeted Mid-Columbia social service agencies and other nonprofits for months often seems just a continuation of a cloudy financial picture in a region of perenially high unemployment and never-ending funding struggles.
Local entities from the foodbank to schools, which are constantly trying to do more with less, have felt the squeeze of the latest recession particularly hard, and the future seems far from rosy.
But amid the storm, a sturdy -- and growing -- shelter has been quietly built thanks to the vision of two local women and the generosity of several community members.
It's called the Gorge Community Foundation and its mission is grand: to enhance the quality of life in the Columbia River Gorge.
"We're here to address the single largest problem in the nonprofit sector," said Lynn Everroad, executive director of the Gorge Community Foundation. "The sustainability of funding." Everroad and Maija Yasui, Hood River County prevention specialist -- "who has probably worked with every nonprofit organization in town," said Everroad -- launched the innovative foundation last year and are slowly incorporating it into the fabric of the Mid-Columbia.
Everroad had long been thinking of such a foundation, even during her last few years as executive director of the Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital Foundation. In that position, which she held for eight years, she oversaw fund-raising efforts for the hospital, including developing the annual Hood River Classic equestrian show into the hospital's largest fund-raising event.
Everroad also supervised the successful effort to establish the hospital's Ray T. Yasui Dialysis Center.
But with each successful fund drive at the hospital, she began to look beyond the hospital walls to other needs in the community.
"I was looking more at the community as a whole -- at working for the community," she said. Everroad, experienced in the often-arcane world of funding nonprofits and raising money, started researching community foundations.
"I spent literally hundreds of hours on the Internet studying them," she said. There are more than 600 community foundations nationwide. According to Everroad, they are the fastest growing segment of charitable organizations.
"The more I looked into it, the more (the idea) appealed to me," she said.
Community foundations are public charities that build and manage permanent endowment funds which provide grants to local nonprofit organizations and projects. The Gorge Community Foundation is so far comprised of 14 separate funds. All the funds are endowments, meaning that grants are made only from the interest on a fund's principle.
"This means the funds continue to grow," Everroad said. "People working in the nonprofit sector get worn out trying to fund-raise. Their attention is taken away from where it should be focused. We're creating these endowment funds so nonprofits can become sustainable for the long haul."
Community foundation funds allow donors to make meaningful -- and lasting -- gifts to causes they believe in.
"When you compare this model to private trusts, this one is better," Everroad said, citing problems like lack of oversight and administration hassles with trusts.
"With charitable giving, often the donor's intent gets lost," she said. When a nonprofit organization receives a gift, she explained, it often spends the money wherever it's needed just to stay afloat.
"Then, a few years later, where's the significance to the donor?" Everroad said.
People who establish a fund through the Gorge Community Foundation can choose from a number of fund types -- from "field of interest" funds, which make grants to a specific area chosen by the donor (like performing arts or needy children) to "designated" funds, from which grants are made to a specific agency chosen by the donor.
"Everyone has their own area they support," Everroad said. "This is a way to provide a lasting gift for whatever that is."
While some of the funds so far set up in the foundation are already quite large, one of Everroad's goals was to "make it accessible to as many people as we could."
"You don't have to be wealthy to set up a fund," she said. There is no minimum amount needed to establish a fund, only a commitment to bring the fund to $5,000 within five years.
While many of the funds are established by families as a way to give a lasting gift to favored charities, foundation funds also can be a collaboration among like-minded individuals -- like the Friends of the Next Door Fund (see below). Instigated by a former employee of The Next Door, Inc., that fund has garnered contributions from several employees and board members as a way to provide some long-term stability to an organization they believe in.
"The community foundation is a perfect charitable model," Everroad said. "It answers so many of the reservations about charitable giving."
As executive director of the foundation, Everroad has literally poured herself into launching the organization and handling the myriad logistics involved in establishing each individual fund. She and Yasui put together a board of directors, which includes Chuck Beardsley, Judie Hanel, Kate Mills, Janet Nunamaker, Dr. Mike Pendleton, Tom Schaefer, Mike Schend, Gil Sharp and Mary Gale-Wood. Yasui is acting board president.
It's been a long process. "You have to be not into instant gratification," Everroad said, laughing. But with each fund that's established, it's more and more fulfilling.
"This, to me, is a passion," she said. "This is what I want to do. I feel so lucky to be in at the beginning of this.
"It's beyond exciting," she added. "I plan for this to be many millions of dollars before I'm through with it."
Following are three profiles of Gorge Community Foundation funds and the people behind them.