"Mary Ellen Scofield got a close-up look at the ongoing struggles nonprofit organizations face to stay afloat when she worked as a grant writer for The Next Door, Inc., a Hood River-based organization that operates a variety of social services programs.
"When you're in grant writing, you start to believe more and more in the power of philanthropy," Mary Ellen says. She not only found herself giving more to charities she believed in, but she gained a true understanding of the ins and outs of fund-raising.
"Part of that process was coming to really believe in the power of endowments," she says. "They are the way to give a long-lasting gift -- a gift that keeps on giving."
Mary Ellen became instilled with that belief about the time Maija Yasui and Lynn Everroad were setting up the Gorge Community Foundation. Yasui had been "an amazing mentor" to Mary Ellen in the business of grant writing, and when the former explained her latest endeavor, Mary Ellen was struck by the foresight of it.
She was soon offered a grant writing position at Columbia Gorge Community College -- her dream job. But as she prepared to leave The Next Door, she decided she wanted to do something to show her ongoing belief in and dedication to the organization.
"The Next Door is an amazing provider of services to people who really need help," she says. "Directors come and go, but overall that doesn't matter. The services provided are still great." Mary Ellen decided to offer her final paycheck -- a month's salary -- to start an endowment fund dedicated to The Next Door.
"I challenged the employees and board members to do the same," she says. "And several of them took me up on it." After several years of building, The Friends of The Next Door Fund will provide grants to the many entities under its umbrella -- including Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Gorge, New Parent Services, Columbia Gorge Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Klahre House alternative school.
Having worked in the trenches of The Next Door, Mary Ellen is comfortable with the organization using the money wherever it's needed.
"There are all kinds of things that cost money in a social services organization," she says. "Whatever it goes for, it helps something else within the organization be maintained."
Mary Ellen is on maternity leave from CGCC -- she and her husband, Dave Harlan, had their first baby in December -- but she hopes to explore more options with endowment funds and the Gorge Community Foundation.
"You figure out what philanthropy works for you," she says, adding that giving to charities is a "habit that you develop."
"You think you can't afford to do it, but you probably can," she says. "And the more you do it, the more you realize you can." She said that establishing the Friends of The Next Door Fund worked out nicely in that it brought several people into it.
"When you're offering up a certain amount, it's easier to ask others to do the same," she says. "It was really fun. The Next Door just does good work." And thanks in part to this fund, it will continue to do so well into the future.