This week children whose parents could not afford to send them to a camp for winter break are learning about marine life, the environment and renewable and alternative energy at the Science Center of Pinellas. • In classrooms at Academy Prep, a rigorous middle school for low-income boys and girls, students are becoming proficient readers with the help of special computer software. • In each instance, money for the students has come from the Community Foundation of Greater St. Petersburg, a young philanthropic group with aspirations to fund many more area causes. • So far this year, the foundation has awarded about $425,000 in grants, including to a foster grandparents program that provides literacy tutoring to kindergarten through third-grade students, to one that builds employment skills for people with disabilities and to another to prevent substance abuse. Recipients generally receive grants ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. • "While each grant may not be that large, it is for something that they may not have been able to do,'' said Vicki Fox, chairwoman of Community Foundation of Greater St. Petersburg.
In a dire economic climate of rising needs and diminishing funds, Fox is eager "to let people know what we do, grow the foundation, grow the funds.''
Barely 4 years old, the organization has about $5.1-million in assets, money that comes from donors who set up endowment funds to support area charities into perpetuity. The foundation invests the money, giving a portion of the returns to nonprofits designated by donors. If a donor does not designate a cause, said Fox, the foundation's grants committee allocates earnings from those funds to nonprofits for specific projects. In each case, the principal is left to grow, ensuring continued support for charities.
Al May, a retired bank executive, is sold on the concept.
"An endowment fund is a way to generate funds and it builds income in good times and bad. The principal is really kind of protected,'' he said.
"It's a gift that lasts forever.''
May, 70, said he has stipulated that his donations go to American Stage, of which he is past president, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, where he is treasurer, and the St. Petersburg College Foundation on which he serves as a trustee.
Charitable giving offers tax advantages, but foundation officials acknowledge that the current economic situation is bound to affect donations.
"Everybody's earnings have gone down this year,'' Cox said.
The Greater St. Petersburg organization is a division of a larger entity, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, whose president and chief executive officer is former St. Petersburg mayor David Fischer. Sun City Center, Pasco and Hernando counties also are divisions of the Tampa Bay organization. Each division is managed by a volunteer board or council, but administrative responsibilities are handled by the umbrella organization, which has offices in Tampa. The Tampa Bay foundation, formed in 1990, has awarded more than $100-million in grants since its inception.
"The thing is that the community is coming together to help the community we live in and love,'' said Cox, 62, who has worked for a number of causes since moving to St. Petersburg from St. Louis 20 years ago.
Community foundations began in Cleveland in 1914. There are now more than 700 in the United States and abroad. The Tampa Bay foundation has been praised for its frugality, an accolade Fischer mentioned during a recent meeting with the St. Petersburg Times' editorial board.
Charity Navigator, which examines the financial health of charities and awards an overall rating from zero to four stars, gave Community Foundation of Tampa Bay its top rating. The foundation's expenses as a percent of net assets is 0.81 percent.
While the foundation supports new and existing programs of local nonprofits, it also funds its own community-focused programs. The foundation and its divisions monitor organizations they fund.
Fox said the Greater St. Petersburg foundation visits one of its grant recipients every other month "to do due diligence and also for us to tour the facility and to learn in more detail what they do and to meet their board members.''
The visit to Academy Prep will take place in March. The middle school, which has separate classes for boys and girls, got $3,000 this year for its Literacy through Fun and Technology program.
Head of school Keturah Mills is grateful.
"The response to this program has been overwhelming and infectious. It has engaged our students ... and it has produced great results,'' she said.
At the Science Center of Pinellas, executive director Madelaine "Maddy" McNaughton said the organization received $5,000 two years in row. The money provided scholarships for low-income students. Thirty-four received scholarships during summer, McNaughton said.
"The help has a real impact,'' she said of the foundation's support.
"They understand that science education is really critical right now. These kids would not have the opportunity to come here without this help.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.