Whatcom Community Foundation works with donors, service organizations to build community

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 26, 2014 

Volunteers assist at the 2012 Project Homeless Connect event at Bellingham High School.

EDYE COLELLO-MORTON PHOTOGRAPHY — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Tom Crowell is a helper, perhaps even a hero. He is making Whatcom County a better place by working with the Whatcom Community Foundation to invest, in his words, in "organizations that help people." Tom is one of many donors that inspire us - our board of directors, volunteers and staff. Donors like Tom are at one end of the work we do: the giving. In addition to being inspiring, they are nothing short of essential.

At the other end of our work are the organizations and people that are hands-on in changing lives. The work they do touches all of us, whether we realize it or not. They help to shape and define our community as much as the natural beauty of this place. They, too, are helpers (and heroes).

Recently, I attended a meeting with a number of community foundations from across the state. We are all working to raise the tide in our respective communities: to make educational, economic and other opportunities available to everyone. During a meeting break, a board member from another foundation (I'll call him Elmer, not his real name) approached me. Elmer is an intelligent, retired professional and a dedicated community leader. He asked whether I worked with a specific nonprofit in our area and, if so, what I knew about their work. My first thought was that his question related to the foundation he represents. Not so.

Elmer explained that his daughter has struggled with alcoholism for almost two decades. Until recently she was living in north Whatcom County. Her situation has changed. He knew that she was involved with the organization about which he inquired. Elmer wanted to know that she was in good hands. He is also planning on making a gift to the organization.

We are all busy and it's easy to build on a scant few bits of information to form our impressions of people and their lives. My encounter with Elmer was a moving reminder that appearances are a poor substitute for conversations and relationships. In getting to know many of our donors, I am humbled by the daunting circumstances many of them face, and even more so by the grace and resilience with which they respond. They recognize that the challenges that life throws at us are blind to our socio-economic status. Mental health and substance abuse don't check your credit score, your pedigree or your number of connections on LinkedIn.

How are Tom and Elmer connected? Tom Crowell's gift to the Community Foundation has supported the organization that is helping Elmer's daughter. In fact, it has supported precisely the kind of innovation that will hopefully make life a little easier for Elmer's daughter to navigate.

The Community Foundation has the plum job of being in the middle. We enjoy the honor and privilege of working with the helpers and heroes on both ends. This month the Whatcom Community Foundation invited the nonprofit organizations in our community to tell us how they want to make our community better. Our permanent endowment funds provide the dollars that make these annual grants possible.

Tom Crowell passed away in February 2004. He worked with the Community Foundation for six years before his death, first establishing a donor advised fund to make his giving easier. As he got to know the Community Foundation, he understood that a central part of our work is to educate ourselves about the needs and opportunities in the community by working closely with our local heroes and helpers and to learn about efforts in our community and elsewhere to effectively address them. That knowledge led Tom to include the Community Foundation in his estate planning through which he established the Thomas and Jean Crowell Fund (named to include Tom's late wife). Because Tom had confidence in the Community Foundation, he trusted us to make decisions about how to invest the fund in the community. No strings attached. Thank you, Tom, for your trust and for your gifts. Your thoughtful generosity will be felt by Elmer's daughter - and hundreds of others for years to come. Elmer, thank you for reminding us that "community" is about much more than geography.

ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD

This is one of a year-long series highlighting the work of the Whatcom Community Foundation. Author Mauri Ingram is the president and CEO of the foundation. For more information, go to whatcomcf.org. Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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