The Johnson County Community Foundation unites people who can help with causes that need them
By Paige Harden
Thanks to the Johnson County Community Foundation, Chelsi (Mobley) Harper feels her life has been forever changed. It was 2007 when Harper was awarded a scholarship through the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship Program, which covers full tuition and fees for a student who is pursuing a baccalaureate degree in an accredited public or private college in Indiana.
It was a gift that Harper says she passionately prayed would happen. In order to receive the scholarships, students must have graduated from an Indiana high school and have shown a high level of community service and a record of high academic performance. During her high school years at Franklin Community High School, Harper met all the requirements. She served as student council president and vice president of National Honor Society, among other roles. She also served on projects for Riley Children’s Foundation and for the local community through an annual Christmas celebration that helped families in need during the holiday season.
“My life was immediately transformed through the Johnson County Community Foundation,” Harper says. “I was able to attend college and devote my attention to learning and serving without having to carry the burdensome load of debt that is associated with a college education.”
While attending classes at Butler University and Franklin College, Harper continued to serve (class president at Butler; student body president at Franklin), and it is this same spirit of servitude that drives the Johnson County Community Foundation (JCCF).
A leader in philanthropy in Johnson County, the foundation, which started in 1991, brings together those in the community who wish to give of their time or finances with the causes and organizations that need them.
In 2013, the Johnson County Community Foundation awarded 170 higher education scholarships, totaling more than $400,000. In 2012, the foundation supported the growth of more than 200 funds. It granted $379,754 to local causes and awarded $373,713 in higher education scholarships to 165 students.
“Together, we have helped strengthen education, support the arts, promote civic life, protect our environment, ensure strong health and social services, and offer thousands of Johnson County students scholarship opportunities,” says Gail Richards, JCCF president and CEO.
Money earned on the organization’s assets, which are currently at a record high of $20 million, is awarded to community agencies and nonprofit organizations through grants. A nine-member committee makes decisions on how the organization’s endowment funds are invested. “Each committee member takes (his or her) role very seriously,” Richards says. “The endowment belongs to the community, and we work very hard to grow and nurture it.”
Some donations are allocated for specific funds, but all are granted to help the community in one of the organization’s core areas of focus: education; health and human services; arts and culture; civic and community development; enrichment; agriculture; scholarship; and circle of friends. The foundation has established more than 240 funds.
“We are proud to support such an amazing group of nonprofits that are leaders in meeting the diverse needs of the community,” says John Shell, grants chairman of the Johnson County Community Foundation. “We believe that supporting our local organizations is a critical step to helping build a better, brighter future for our community.”
One way it does this: helping to fight the Johnson County hunger war—one backpack at a time. The foundation gives funding to Creekside Elementary School’s Boomerang Backpack program, which provides economically disadvantaged students with weekend lunches. “It is absolutely certain that some of our students would go hungry on weekends without the food from Boomerang Backpacks,” says Samantha Lowe, Creekside counselor.
The school would not be able to help these students, Lowe says, without the support of JCCF. “Their generosity has undoubtedly made this program possible.”
Richards encourages Johnson County residents to actively learn about and participate in the foundation’s efforts. “The best way to understand Johnson County is to get involved with an organization such as the foundation,” she explains. “Because of our flexibility in providing grants to organizations, the foundation touches every conceivable field of interest. There is no better way to understand everything going on in the world around you than to get involved.”
Richards says many donors choose to donate to JCCF because they know their investment will make a significant impact on the community. “This organization is complex and involves a great deal of trust on the part of the donor to make an investment with us,” she says. “Because we are so flexible, we have donors who structure their legacy to provide annual support to multiple causes. We are a one-stop shop for charitable giving.”
Richards says community members do not need to give a financial donation to help JCCF. She says there are numerous volunteer opportunities that also are crucial to the strength of the organization.
“Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for all citizens of Johnson County, now and for generations to come, by building community endowment, addressing needs through grant making and providing leadership on key community issues,” she explains.
Harper graduated from Franklin College with a degree in secondary education with concentrated studies in government, economics and history. Just prior to graduating in the spring of 2011, she was hired by Brownsburg Community School Corp. to teach. She has since moved to Clark-Pleasant Middle School in Greenwood, where she teaches eighth-grade U.S. history.
And Harper has her own hard work, as well as the support from the Johnson County Community Foundation and the Lilly Endowment, to thank for it. “At my heart’s core I know that every opportunity I found during my college education, every mission I was able to set and accomplish, every person that I was able to reach out to, and every dream that I was blessed to watch transpire into reality was made possible by the altruistic gift I received,” she says. “The Johnson County Community Foundation embodies the power of giving.”