Dr. Michelle Foster, President and CEO 

The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation

July 18, 2022 Op-ed in the WV Gazette

I am honored to serve as the 4th President and CEO in the 60-year history of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation (TGKVF). The 60th-anniversary celebration included a Day of Service on June 11, STEAM for All, Lunchtime with the Arts, Reflections and Celebration at the Clay Center, and Grantee Luncheons in Boone, Clay, Fayette, Kanawha, Lincoln, and Putnam counties. The Day of Service engaged 32 volunteers and staff who prepared 1,200 meals at Manna Meal, cleared the garden at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary, and picked up trash on Summers Street. STREAM for All at Slack Plaza included hands-on science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math activities in collaboration with Toyota West Virginia, the Clay Center, Kanawha County Public Library, Charleston Ballet, Read Aloud West Virginia, and West Virginia State University Extension. Lunchtime with the Arts included live music from local bands and food trucks over three days in Slack Plaza. Over 230 friends and partners joined us for a reception in the Clay Center’s Grand Lobby that featured the Bob Thompson Unit and dinner on the Clay Center stage featuring poet Jamela Brown, the Appalachian Children’s Chorus, and keynote speaker Douglas F. Kridler, President and CEO of the Columbus Foundation. Finally, attendance at the six grantee luncheons totaled 154.

Aristotle wrote that to do good in service to others is the essence of life. During this time of reflection, it is important to acknowledge the importance of volunteers to TGKVF. In fact, volunteers handled the operations, grantmaking, and administration of the Foundation in the early years. The late Stanley Loewenstein volunteered as the inaugural executive director from 1980 to 1986. He was followed by Betsy VonBlond, our first paid staff member. My predecessor, Becky Ceperley, was appointed in 1999. Becky has been the longest-serving Foundation leader in our 60-year history. I thank Becky for establishing the infrastructure of the organization. Becky, who now serves as the Charleston City Council president, left a solid foundation for me to build upon when I began my tenure in 2016. 

As the TGKVF President and CEO, I don’t work alone. I represent a dynamic team of professionals who are committed to the Foundation’s mission and vision. We have Kristin Mounts, CFO; Stephanie Hyre, Chief Program Officer, handling the arts and culture and education grant portfolios; Jane Powell, Communications Director; Christine Spaulding, Controller; Megan Simpson, Program Director, managing the health grants portfolio; Todd Dorcas, Community Economic Development Program Officer; Susan Hoover, Scholarship Program Officer; Derek Vance, Basic Needs and Special Initiatives Program Officer; Candace Krell, Grants Manager; Accountants, Angela Dobson and Almeda Tincher; Malia Whiting, Receptionist; and Sophia Hudanich, Social Media Fellow. I am thankful for this team that assists me in efficiently and effectively operating the Foundation. I commend them on their unwavering dedication to our community as we serve our donors and nonprofit partners. 

There is another team of professionals who provide the Foundation with behind-the-scenes expertise all year long. They include our legal counsel, Melody Simpson and Emily Lambright of Bowles Rice; our investment advisor, Greg Desisto of Prime Buchholz; auditors, Suttle and Stalnaker; graphic design, event production, and branding provided by Auge, Gray & Drake; information technology, Ameli Business Systems; web design and video production, Cucumber & Company; photography, Rafael Barker and Chris Gosses; and film production, Jason Adams of Adams Film.

TGKVF is the largest community foundation in central Appalachia and a philanthropy leader in the region. The word “philanthropy” means the love of humankind. Our community is blessed by the many people who express their love for humankind through their giving. Thank you, to ALL of our donors. 

Additionally, there are hundreds of people who liberally give of their time and talents, assisting us in the efficient functioning of the Foundation. They include our board of 13 trustees and over 100 volunteers who serve on the investment, scholarship, distribution, program, finance, and advisory committees, as well as on our health, education, and community economic development task groups, leadership institute, and Summit on Race Matters panelists. Thank you all for your service to the Foundation. Your contributions are critical to the success of our efforts. Please know that we appreciate you. 

I honor the memory of a long-term volunteer, L. Newton Thomas, who transitioned earlier this year. Newt contributed his considerable energy and talents to the growth and development of the Foundation for over 44 years. He joined the Board in 1976 and served as its Chair in 1979 and 1980. After his term as a Board member expired, Newt devoted the rest of his life to the betterment of the Foundation and helped to ensure its success. He gave freely of his time and wisdom to the Foundation in the development of several of its initiatives, particularly in providing leadership and counsel for many years as an active member of the Foundation’s Investment Committee, a role in which he was instrumental in assisting in the development of the Foundation’s investment policies. We are immensely grateful for Newt’s service and will endeavor in the years to come to build upon his legacy.

After examining the essential elements of OUR Community Foundation, including our assets under management, our donor base, our community investments, our processes, our systems, and our relationships, it is my pleasure to report, that after 60 years, the foundation is SOLID… Solid as a rock! The Foundation continues to be a philanthropic leader that helps donors, nonprofits, and other collaborative partners strengthen our community so all of the people and places we serve have the opportunity to thrive. We have come a long way from our first gift in 1962, a small but significant gift of $100 from members of the Charleston Municipal Planning Commission in memory of Robert S. Spilman, III. We later started our discretionary grantmaking program in 1965 with a grant of $1,000 to Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston) to support students in the nursing program. Fast forwarding 60 years, we received $3.8 million in contributions and distributed $13.1 million in grants and scholarships in 2021. Over the last 60 years, we have distributed over $183 million in grant funding.

At the end of 2021, the Foundation had $329 million in assets under management, distributed among 555 individual funds. To those of you who made financial contributions last year, thank YOU for caring enough to invest in YOUR community via YOUR community foundation. To those of you who received a 2021 grant, it is our pleasure to partner with you for positive community impact. Please refer to the TGKVF By the Numbers video that will be posted later this month and the annual report book that will be in your mailboxes very soon for further insights into our 2021 contributions and distributions.

In this our 60th year of existence, we are celebrating the strength of community. Community is not merely a geographical place; rather, it is the bonds, shared values, history, and sense of belonging that allow us to make a meaningful life with each other. It’s a commitment to our neighbors and a shared aspiration that the next generation will thrive. Coretta Scott King wrote that “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” As I reflect on the Greater Kanawha Valley, I can certainly say that we live in a great community!

We are excited to be in the heart of the downtown community and a part of the Summers Street renaissance. As most of you should know, in September 2020, we moved our office to Summers Street and Brawley Walkway. We’re on the ground floor, in a space that used to be B&B Loans. We are thankful to Lewis Payne of Dupont LLC for building out this space to meet our needs. With the new City Center at Slack Plaza, Fife Street Brewing, the new library, and a growing Business Improvement District, we are a part of the revival of downtown Charleston and it feels so good! We are happy to host Bryan Cooper and Charleston Creativity Connections, a collaborative effort that is responsible for programming at City Center. Thanks to everyone for running with the vision of a new Charleston with Mayor Amy Goodwin, our fearless leader.

Looking to the future, I see even more growth in philanthropy as generous citizens respond to community needs and give like never before. For example, during our 2021 strategic planning process, TGKVF board member Bob Orders was so moved by the need for more scholarships that he and his wife graciously endowed the new TGKVF Scholar Fund so that more West Virginians in need can be educated. Thank you, Bob and Ann.

The needs of the region are tremendous, whether they be in basic needs (e.g., food and shelter), health, education, or community economic development. As the needs increase, so do the demands on philanthropy to contribute more. For us to respond in meaningful ways, we need your help. Commercial donor-advised funds and other instruments from national entities are competing with place-based community foundations like ours. So, I am recruiting everyone reading this article to be advocates for community philanthropy. Help us tell the world about the vision and work of our founding fathers. When you receive the annual report book, do read our history, beautifully written by program officer, Derek Vance, and use it to tell our story.

Let us start a community philanthropy movement. Tell the world about our longevity, impact, and commitment to making West Virginia an even better place to live, work, play, and raise a family. Tell them to keep their philanthropy local, as we are culturally aware of the region we serve. Tell them we understand the needs of our community and have the agility to respond to them quickly. Tell them that assisting donors in finding impactful grantees is at our core. We need your assistance and support. We are all in this community together. Whether you give to them directly or with our assistance, we have the opportunity to magnify the impact of our nonprofit partners. 

Thank you to everyone who made The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation possible – our founders, donors, leaders, staff, and volunteers. Thank you also to our grantee partners who work tirelessly for positive community impact. Let us stay the course; our best is yet to come.