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Foundation aids community

January 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

When Hagerstown resident Karen Gray and other supporters of the C&O Canal National Historical Park decided to start a fund to help preserve the park, they turned to the Community Foundation of Washington County.

"The Community Foundation is very reputable and helpful in providing expertise and managing the fund," Gray said.

She and other members of the C&O Canal Association recently contributed $1,000 to start the C&O Canal Fund of Washington County. The supporters will have a say in deciding how donations to the fund will benefit the portion of the park within the county without the hassle of managing the money.

"In working through the Community Foundation," Gray said, "we will have a real voice."

Launched in 1996 with $9,000, the Hagerstown-based Community Foundation now boasts assets of nearly $6 million in 78 endowed and nonendowed funds, Foundation Executive Director Bradley N. Sell said.

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Endowment funds are permanent, with the principle remaining untouched while a portion of the returns is distributed to charity.

Sell attributes the Foundation's success to the vision and dedication of founding board members and a growing reputation as a convenient, flexible and cost-effective way for donors to make tax-deductible charitable gifts. More and more local nonprofit agencies are establishing funds through the Community Foundation to generate income for their programs and operations, and an increasing number of area financial advisers are promoting the Foundation as an avenue for their clients to make donations, Sell said.

"There are a lot of advantages to doing it through us," he said. "It's local, permanent, flexible and easy, and there are many tax advantages."

Those perks and the Foundation's philosophies prompted Hagerstown doctor Mary Money to start a medical research fund through the Community Foundation, she said.

"The Foundation has an excellent reputation and they supported my concept," Money said.

She recently launched the Research Fund for IBS Investigation in hopes of garnering financial support for several scientific experiments she's conducting. Money is trying to determine if a pancreatic enzyme might effectively reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in patients whose symptoms are triggered by specific foods.

She is also working with a Polish researcher to test for a connection between IBS and cystic fibrosis gene mutations, she said.

The Community Foundation promotes philanthropy by offering a variety of fund options. Contributions remain fully invested, with the returns available to support numerous charitable causes in Washington County, Sell said.

The Community Foundation in fiscal 2001-02 distributed nearly $246,000 in grants from Donor Advised, Agency and Provisional Funds to more than 60 nonprofit organizations, ranging from the Alzheimer's Association of Western Maryland to the Washington County Free Library.

"People work hard all their lives to make money, and if they make a large charitable contribution they don't want to see it wasted," Sell said. "The Foundation doesn't have a specific agenda. The Foundation is here to help the entire nonprofit arena in Washington County."

For the first time since its conception, the Foundation in April will distribute money from its unrestricted Community Fund to eligible charities in Washington County, Sell said. Fund assets had to reach $500,000 before any fund earnings could be awarded as grants, he said.

The Foundation's Grants Allocation Committee will award $25,000 in Community Fund grants to 10 of the 33 nonprofit organizations that applied for the funds, Sell said.

The Community Foundation's ability to serve local charities will increase in coming years as its assets continue to grow and its funds diversify, he said.

Similar organizations in other areas have become the catalysts for social change, Sell said. The Community Foundation of neighboring Frederick County, Md., in 2001 granted more than $3.3 million to local charities and nonprofit organizations. That foundation's net assets have grown to about $16 million since it was started in 1986.

"Ten years from now, the Community Foundation of Washington County could be the catalyst for improving the quality of life in our community," Sell said.

He expects contributions from bequests to become the Foundation's largest income sources as more people learn about the organization and gain confidence in its permanence, he said.

"I think we've reached the point where there's no question that we'll be here, continue to grow and have a real impact in the community," Sell said.

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