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Charitable activity a viable part of Shelby’s economy

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Nonprofits take in thousands for people in need

By Lisa King

Raising money for the less fortunate is big business in Shelby County, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, which is funneled back out to the community’s less fortunate citizens and organizations. 

One nonprofit organization, the Shelby County Community Foundation, which got its start more than two decades ago, is actually responsible for helping many of the county's 501(c)3s get their start, said its chairman.

"Very few of these organizations were in existence when we got our start in 1990, and we have helped with funding for most of our nonprofits, like Operation Care, to get established. We gave them their first start up dollars," said Howard Griffith. 

The foundation, which gave out $65,612 in grant money in 2013 and $1,263,559 since its inception, is a little different than most nonprofits, in that it targets other organizations, Griffith said.

"We're different because charities can give money to individuals, but we can't do that," he said.  The foundation selects a half dozen or so charitable organizations to award money to each year, drawing from three main sources, the H. Augustus and Austine T. Barnett Fund, the Mary Ellen Hackworth Fund and the Moses Ruben Fund. Some of the money is designated for certain causes; the undesignated money is what the foundation's committee awards each year to nonprofits such as the Serenity Center, ALC Pregnancy Resource Center, Operation Care, and Centro Latino, to name a few. 

Griffith said that since the recession hit a few years ago, the foundation has focused heavily on what he calls “front line nonprofits,” those that serve large numbers of people that were struggling to catch up with expenses. Now that times are improving, he said the foundation might shift its focus. 

"This year, we're not sure yet where we will focus," he said.  He added the foundation plans to do a community survey soon to identify specific needs.

Another nonprofit with a similar sounding name, Shelby County Community Charities, has also been around for a long time, since 1996, but unlike the foundation, works to raise money for individuals, focusing on children and young adults with serious medical conditions.

Gary Walls, one of the co-founders and a past president, said the organization began as a way to help a 14- year old boy with a brain tumor. From there, the organization grew quickly, and was the first non-profit to donate a significant amount of money to a community venture.  "We gave ten-thousand dollars to start the FAC [Family Activity Center]," he said. "We have awarded over one-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars in scholarships and, since 1996, we have given one-point three million to help seriously ill children and their families." 

Walls said that he and the organization's current president, Larry Montalto, are very serious about the stewardship of the money they collect for their causes.  "The people of Shelby County are very generous, and we make sure we do not misuse the funds we raise," he said. "Like, we even pay for our volunteers’ T-Shirts ourselves. I think it's important that people know that.”

Sam Eyle, director of the Serenity Center, a non-profit counseling agency that also operates a food bank, says, that charitable organizations play a very important role in helping to take up the slack for many people, and Shelby does better than most communities.

“I think in Shelby County, the non-profits are doing a wonderful job,” he said. “You know, we have the men’s shelter taking care of the men, we have Operation Care for the women, there’s us, there’s Centro Latino, and even in Bagdad, they have a food bank, so I think we’re doing a great job.”

Robeta Steutermann, donor relationship manager for the Metro United Way, said that in 2013, the MUW provided $270,881 to help fund the following seven Shelby County organizations involved in charitable activities:

§       Multi-Purpose Community Action Agency: $44,893

§       Operation Care: $14,070

§       Mercy Medical: $34,572

§       Center for Women and Families: $134,070

§       American Cancer Society: $6,997

§       American Red Cross: $24,827

§       Centro Latino: $10,000