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Funding legacy celebrated by local foundation
Volunteers Nathan Jablonski, left, and Alesiah Kish pack boxes of food for distribution last fall at the Georgia Mountains Food Bank, a nonprofit agency supported by the North Georgia Community Foundation. The foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. - photo by Tom Reed

North Georgia Community Foundation’s 25th anniversary
6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Glades Farm, North Hall

How much: $100 per person, which includes dinner and drinks

More info: 770-535-7880, ext. 221 or

By the numbers
In the past 25 years, the North Georgia Community Foundation has given $35 million in grants.

It currently has $32 million in assets.

It gives $3 million to $4 million each year.

Twenty-five years and $35 million dollars later, the North Georgia Community Foundation is going strong with a vision for the future.

But it took a few creative community leaders to get the idea off the ground.

In 1985, the now late Lou Fockele, a former Times editor, got a $250,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation to start a community foundation in Gainesville, which acts as an endowment and manages 300 different types of funds.

“In very basic terms we’re the savings account for the community and the United Way is the checkbook,” said Jim Mathis, the foundation’s president and CEO. “It’s a tool to make effective giving happen.”

Mathis said Gannett, which formerly owned The Times, was donating money to form community foundations across the country, and Fockele grabbed hold of the idea.

“Lou Fockele — he’s the one who really had the vision,” Mathis said. “Somebody that has true vision is somebody who not only can see the top of the hill but can see what’s on the other side of the hill.”

The group worked hard in those early days and was well received.

Its first executive director, Julia Cromartie, said she was blown away by the support the foundation received from Gainesville.

Cromartie said after three years as executive director, the foundation had raised $3 million.

“That’s Gainesville. If there’s something that needs to be done, people in Gainesville do it,” Cromartie said.

Maria Calkins, now a Gainesville City Schools board member, worked with Cromartie in the early days to help boost the business side of the organization. She worked with accountants, attorneys and estate planners in an effort to make the community foundation part of people’s planned giving.

In the late ’80s, the group performed a needs assessment of the Gainesville area, which spawned a number of charitable efforts.

“So many things that have happened in this community came out of that needs assessment,” said LeTrell Simpson, co-chairwoman of the foundation’s anniversary celebration.

“That pretty much set the motion,” Cromartie said.

A number of notable nonprofit groups in North Georgia — such as Court Appointed Special Advocates, Challenged Child and Friends and the John Jarrard Concert — got started with grants from the North Georgia Community Foundation.

“CASA was told when they came to Georgia to come to Gainesville,” Cromartie said. “They came to the community foundation and we gave them their first grant.”

The organization’s biggest pool of money is donor advised funds.

“The donor puts an asset, a stock, land, or it could be cash or an insurance policy, into the fund and they get an immediate tax deduction for putting it in the fund,” Mathis said. “We invest the money, manage the money and manage the grant process of how they give the money away.

“They retain the right to recommend at any time what they would like to give it to. We do what’s called due diligence to make sure that it goes to a qualified charity.”

The community foundation will also establish and manage endowment funds for nonprofit organizations. There are currently 50 nonprofit groups with endowments through the foundation.

And the community foundation continues to support new nonprofit organizations in the area.

“The most recent one was the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which was born out of the community foundation,” Mathis said.

The foundation also provides brick and mortar support for area nonprofit groups. It maintains a building on Oak Street that a number of organizations call home. They can rent space and share the cost of utilities with other organizations.

In the future, the foundation plans to put an emphasis on legacy giving.

“One thing that we recognize is there’s going to be a huge transfer of wealth coming. We want to be a part of that and give philanthropy a bigger part of that,” board chairman James Coyle said. “And we’re reaching out to estate planners and other advisers, gatekeepers and letting them know more about who we are and what we do and the benefits of a community foundation and donor advised funds and how they can create such a lasting legacy and impact in the community.”

Simpson said another goal is to increase the group’s presence throughout the 15-county region it serves.

“We see this as an opportunity as well to gain greater exposure throughout North Georgia and have people understand that there are projects people have already benefitted from through the community foundation in other communities, but there are so many more opportunities. It’s all of North Georgia,” Simpson said.

The organization plans to take time out on Saturday to mark its achievements with a 25th anniversary celebration in an unusual venue.

Tower Hill, on the Glades Farm property in North Hall, is one of the highest points in the area and offers a panoramic view of rolling hills and farm land. The property is the site of a planned reservoir that will serve the future water needs of the region.

“The vision is to stick a party on top of a hill in the middle of the future of our community, which isn’t necessarily civilization today,” said Frank Norton Jr., one of the celebrations’s co-chairmen. “It’s the location of the reservoir, it’s the middle of 7,000 acres, it’s all about that legacy of stewardship.”

Norton said the goal is to launch the future of the foundation while honoring its past achievements.

“The philosophy is that the community foundation has had a great run for 25 years, but it’s really just a foundation,” Norton said.

“Now we can start really making a difference throughout the entire region.”

Regional events