(Host) Tom Slayton has been talking with leaders of the Vermont Community Foundation. And here are his thoughts on charity, “friendly scheming” and the creative use of money:
(Slayton) I once thought of creativity as something possessed by writers, artists and musicians that helped them make art. But lately I’ve realized that creativity exists in every field of human endeavor.
This came home to me again recently as I talked with David Rahr and Scott McCardle of the Vermont Community Foundation.
The Vermont Community Foundation is a collection of charitable funds – you might think of it as a collection of good ideas, with the money to back them up. There are funds – often established by Vermont families – to provide college scholarships, funds to back community projects and funds to help local schools. And more.
Founded in 1986, the Vermont Community Foundation at first operated with a $100,000 start-up grant out of a tiny office in the Battell Block in
Middlebury . Fortunately, David Rahr, who had been Director of Development at Middlebury College, was put in charge of the fledgling operation, which
quickly began to grow.
“The notion of a community foundation made sense for Vermont,” he said recently,” because there was at the time very little charitable capital in Vermont, the corporate sector was doing what it could, but it was very thin – and there was enormous suffering and need.” David Rahr set out to correct all three problems.
Now, the Vermont Community Foundation oversees more than 450 funds with total asetts of about $80 million. Some funds have specific purposes and others are very general. And that brings us back to both the pain and need in Vermont – and the creativity used to meet those needs.
With money from some of the more discretionary funds, Rahr and the Community Foundation look for societal pressure points – places where a little money can make a big difference. Child care for working parents is one area in which VCF has focussed those discretionary funds – and they have made a difference in the lives of many Vermont children.
Money, if it’s used intelligently, can enliven a community in many ways. In Pawlet, for example, an elderly woman wanted to provide some scholarships for local kids, so she set up a fund with $150,000 worth of stock. A local committee was formed to add to the fund, and began to organize fund-raising events — an art sale, a halloween party, a community dinner-dance. Suddenly there was a lot going on in Pawlet.
“This one individual, with one charitable gesture, helped bring the town together,” said David Rahr, who has collected many similar stories in his years with the Vermont Community Foundation. Rahr sometimes describes the Foundation as a “broker” or a “friendly schemer.”
Now he’s retiring after nearly 20 years with the Vermont Community Foundation. But many of his friends hope that David Rahr’s creativity and friendly scheming on behalf of Vermont will continue in some form for years to come.
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.