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Group takes nominees for years top philanthropist
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The North Georgia Community Foundation is now accepting nominations for the 2009 Philanthropist of the Year Award.

"We’re trying to raise the awareness of philanthropy in our region," said James E. Mathis Jr., president and CEO of the North Georgia Community Foundation. "By having an annual event, we are able to encourage others to be philanthropic."

The deadline for nominations is Sept. 15. Nomination forms can be obtained by visiting the foundation’s Web site at, or by calling 770-535-7880 ext. 221.

Finalists will be chosen by a selection committee comprising members of the foundation’s board of directors.

"We’re looking for people who have a tradition of giving in our region, who have been particularly generous to causes in our region, and people who have set an example by their acts of generosity," Mathis said.

This award includes candidates from 15 counties, including Banks, Dawson, Fannin, Forsyth, Franklin, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White. In total, there are about 25 to 30 people nominated every year.

There have been four winners of the Philanthropist of the Year Award so far: James "Big Jim" Walters, Philip and Mary Hart Wilheit, Lessie Smithgall and Mike and Lynn Cottrell.

The nomination process consists of getting the word out to newspapers in the 15 counties about the nomination and sending out applications to nonprofit organizations.

"We work with the United Way and other nonprofit organizations to identify people," Mathis said.

The Philanthropist of the Year will be chosen about two weeks after the nomination deadline. The winner will then be honored at the North Georgia Community Foundation’s Annual Philanthropy Day luncheon Nov. 17 in Gainesville.

The North Georgia Community Foundation, founded in 1985 by longtime Times publisher Lou Fockele and other business leaders, is dedicated to awarding charitable grants from different community funds valued in excess of $27 million. More than $35 million in grants have been awarded to date.

The organization also promotes training and networking with the region’s nonprofit organizations.

"We believe very strongly in recognizing the folks that are making the area a better place to live and work through their philanthropy," Mathis said.

Regional events