Our Views: New charitable fund aims to make difference in Janesville’s future

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Friday, January 24, 2014

For more than 20 years, the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin has done great things in and around Janesville.

Now, organizers hope a new entity within that foundation, the Janesville Community Fund, can lift this city in more ways. Starting with a base of $75,000, the fund is designed to serve as a financial resource for Janesville nonprofit groups.

About 22 years ago, a small group of civic-minded Janesville residents pooled their knowledge and dollars to launch what was then known as the United Community Foundation. Longtime residents will recognize names of founding board members—Alan Dunwiddie, Jim Cripe, Alfred Diotte, Martin Kennedy, Phil Reuter, Gary Smith and John Steil. Some of them worked for Parker Pen and took their cue from a fund set up by that company. That fund supported causes but wasn’t designed to take donations from the public.

Organizers of the new foundation set a goal of raising $1 million a year to benefit this region. The foundation, which took its current name in 1995, has far exceeded that. The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin serves Rock, Walworth, Green and six other counties, has more than 500 funds set up according to desires of donors and holds assets worth tens of millions of dollars.

Among local projects the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin has supported through the years are the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Peace Park, Paw Print Park, the Youth Sports Complex and Janesville Senior Center renovations.

As Community Foundation Executive Director Sue Conley explains, many foundation funds generate scholarships or are specific to organizations or fields of interest. The Janesville Community Fund, in contrast, will raise endowment dollars and have the flexibility to change over time. It will serve as a catalyst for helping the community through nonprofits or city projects. Residents who care about Janesville will oversee it, and it will benefit our community forever.

Bryan Steil, John’s nephew, is chairman of the Janesville Community Fund’s 14-member advisory board. He says grants to nonprofits will start small but hopes the fund can accomplish grand things as donations grow. For example, had it been formed years earlier, the fund might have supported construction of ECHO’s downtown offices and CAMDEN Playground, as well as renovations of the YWCA’s women’s shelter.

Donations began through word of mouth, Steil said, and the advisory board has yet to set a fundraising goal. Gifts can be large or small, and pledges can be made over three years.

“Janesville has had a wonderful background of people who have given to the city. It’s another avenue for people who can continue to do that,” Steil said of the Janesville Community Fund. “Projects that have a long-term ability to serve the community are what we foresee this fund to do and hopefully grow over the longer term.”

Your donations to the Janesville Community Fund would be another way to help make this city a better place to live, work and raise families.

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