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Submitted photo The newly formed Centra Foundation presents an oversized check, symbolizing the first portion of a $50,000 grant to the Columbus Parks Foundation for the People Trails. From left, Sherry Stark, Centra Foundation executive director; Al Degner, Centra Foundation board president; Dave Hayward, Columbus Park Foundation pPresident; Rick Johnson, People Trails Campaign major gifts chairman; Ben Wagner, Columbus Parks & Recreation director.
Centra Credit Union has established a foundation to foster financial literacy, provide disaster relief and improve its communities.
Centra is stepping up at a time when other local foundations have disappeared, and others have lost some of their assets and reduced their charitable giving because of the recession. At the same time, the need for services funded by the foundations has remained, and in some cases increased, as the recession and the flood from 2008 have lowered household incomes and increased poverty.
Loretta Burd, the credit union’s chief executive officer, said credit union leaders generated the idea for the new foundation while discussing how best to improve Centra’s communities.
The foundation “positions Centra with purposeful giving,” Burd said. “I just think it’s another step where Centra can reinforce its philosophy of ‘people helping people.’”
The credit union, founded in 1940 by Cummins Inc. employees, has nearly 280 employees, more than 125,000 members and assets exceeding $1 billion.
Burd, who took a clerical job with Centra at age 19, will retire at the end of the year after serving 25 years as CEO.
Sherry Stark, former president of the Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, is leading the foundation during its start.
The foundation board includes three Centra employees and Centra board members Alan Degner and Amber Fischvogt.
Stark said the foundation will focus upon providing grants for pressing community needs and disaster relief, and it will offer scholarships for teachers and students to improve financial literacy.
Stark said she thinks the foundation is particularly important because other community foundations have folded or changed their focus.
For example, the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller, Arvin, Irwin Financial and Irwin Union foundations all have been dissolved.
Meanwhile, the county’s biggest foundation, the Heritage Fund, invested $3.9 million in the community in 2011, according to its annual report. That was a four-year low and less than half of the $10.2 million it invested in 2008, as assets declined from $63.9 million in 2007 to $45.9 million in 2011.
The need for services funded by foundation grants continues, fueled by events such as the recession and the flood.
Though Bartholomew County’s median household income, at about $49,000 in 2010, exceeded the state and national averages by more than $5,000, nearly 13 percent of the county’s residents live in poverty. And about half of the students enrolled at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. receive free or reduced-price lunches.
“A lot of people don’t realize the extent of the problem that we have in the community,” said Cheri Stone, Community Impact Director of the United Way of Bartholomew County.
Thankfully, she said, a lot of local people and businesses contribute heavily to nonprofit organizations such as foundations and the United Way. Local per capita giving for the United Way routinely ranks first in the state.
For 2013, the local United Way has earmarked nearly $500,000 for education, including vouchers that provide child care for parents who otherwise would not be able to afford it, which likely would mean a loss of income because a parent would have to stay at home.
The agency also will provide more than $800,000 to health-related efforts, including domestic violence prevention, counseling and Foundation for Youth athletics. It also will offer almost $420,000 for financial stability, including the Horizon House homeless shelter, the Sans Souci thrift store and the American Red Cross.
The Centra Foundation has awarded its first grant, $50,000 over three years, to the Columbus Park Foundation to help extend the People Trails.
“The Columbus People Trails symbolize the unity, family focus and health consciousness of our community,” Foundation board member Doug Harris said in a press release. “Centra Foundation is excited about the opportunity to support such a worthwhile and collaborative community project.”
Burd said that it would take a while for the Centra Foundation’s funds to build enough to award additional significant grants.
The foundation, a nonprofit, will provide grants twice a year. The next round of funds will be awarded in May. Gifts to the foundation are tax deductible.
To raise funds, the foundation is selling a book and a calendar at credit union branches.
“We’re very excited about the foundation and its future,” Burd said.
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