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Fund boosts, inspires

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Local black cultural, educational and business leaders have launched an African-American endowment fund through the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

While the fund is designed to improve the quality of life for area blacks, it by extension will benefit all residents, the leaders said.

The African American Fund of Bartholomew County was created around five key initiatives to educate and inspire blacks in Bartholomew County. Focus areas are education, leadership development, economic and career development, health awareness, and arts and cultural events.

Building a lasting endowment will assist with diminishing disparities between blacks and others, model philanthropy for others and inspire blacks to overcome barriers to reach goals, according to its founders.

Columbus construction company owner Tom Harmon, who brought together five other black families to create the African American Fund of Bartholomew County, said there was a strong commitment among those launching the fund to give back to the community.

Besides Harmon and his wife, Mary, a business owner, the other creators are Gil and Dawn Palmer, Dennis and Paulette Roberts, Charles and Lorraine Smith, Don and Shirley Trapp, Ben Downing and Lori Thompson.

Harmon said the public will be able to see the work of the endowment through efforts ranging from school tutoring efforts to Healthy Communities initiatives. He also said he wanted coming generations of blacks to have opportunities others have not had.

“My generation was the first in my family to get a full college education,” Tom Harmon said, adding that his father had to leave school after two years.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2010 show that 2.1 percent of Bartholomew County’s population of 76,794 is black.

Columbus resident Paulette Roberts is a retired teacher very involved in black history and cultural presentations and performances. She is passionate about the educational component of the fund.

When she grew up in the hills of Hazard, Ky., she had no help with schooling and was in a predominantly black school through eighth grade.

“I had zero advantage,” Roberts said. “So any help students can get today to benefit themselves is a plus.”

Heritage Fund President and CEO Tracy Souza called the establishment of the new fund “a remarkably generous act by the founding families and one that will increase the richness of our community for years to come.”

The new fund was a participant in the foundation’s 2013 Not-for-Profit Endowment Building Challenge and will receive a $5,000 Heritage Fund grant for completing its $10,000 fundraising goal. In the first quarter of 2014, the fund will begin accepting requests for grant funding.

Harmon said he and other fund organizers are encouraging residents to join the cause and donate to the fund. The African American Fund of Bartholomew County is one of more than 420 funds managed by the Heritage Fund.

The community foundation held total assets of about $54 million in 2012.

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