Looking around a packed Tiffany’s Banquet Center in Brookfield on Oct. 10, for the 38th Annual O’Brien Children Memorial Fund Lobster-Clambake, Paul O’Brien marveled at the support the fund has received over the years.
“There’s people who have come all 38 years,” he said.
He described the attendees as people who “want to make good happen.”
The O’Brien fund benefits children and the elderly and has given out more than $2 million in grants. It was created by Paul and Tina O’Brien in memory of their children, Jill, Paul Jr. and Stephanie, and Tina’s mother, Lola, who died in a home accident.
John “Chip” Mastrian, emcee for the event’s brief program, said the fund sprang from love.
“Paul and Tina’s love is special,” Mastrian said. “It carries over for their love of the community.”
The fund was the springboard for what is now known as the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio.
The foundation, based in Sharon, is the umbrella organization for 700 funds in Trumbull, Mercer and Lawrence counties and has nearly $100 million in combined assets, said foundation Executive Director Kyle English. Since 1981, the foundation has given away more than $75 million, he said.
While those numbers are eye-popping, they were created mostly in small increments.
“The average size of our grants is really below $1,000,” English said.
That shows that the foundation is open to all who would like to address a community need. Individuals can “choose your impact,” he said.
The Sotus Foundation in New Castle supports education, not by providing scholarships, but by paying for gasoline for transportation, babysitting and utility bills for women, particularly single mothers, to attend undergraduate or job training classes.
“For some of the ladies who have participated in the program, it has made the difference between going to school and not going to school,” English said.
W.D. Packard Music Hall created a fund specifically for the purpose of raising money to install an elevator at the Warren landmark theater. The Small Town Neighbors Charitable Fund helps struggling families in the Joseph Badger Local School District. Historical Society of McDonald Fund supports historical preservation efforts there.
English, who was hired in 2015, said he works to build trust with potential donors and existing fund managers by keeping up on any changes to applicable laws, adopting best practices for foundations and telling the story of the charitable funds.
“It’s really about how to help the community at large in terms of their charitable giving,” he said.
Although the foundation’s investment policy changes with the economy, it strives to provide a fairly constant amount of grants each year – $5 million to $6 million – mindful that the need is greater when times are tougher, English said.
The fact that the foundation is able to invest its various affiliate funds together means that smaller funds can take advantage of investment opportunities available to larger ones, he said.
“It’s really a strength-in-numbers approach,” English said.
Although he is managing the foundation’s day-to-day operations, English said his goal is to make sure the foundation continues to grow long after he and the foundation’s founders are gone.
“I always talk about 100 years into the future,” English said. “This organization is set up to be part of the bedrock of this community. It is an incredibly powerful concept.”