Monday, March 5, 2018

New Directions

Using all our resources for Athens County!

We have a new strategic direction at the Athens County Foundation. After studying the results of the recent Athens County Report and looking at other community foundations’ models for impact, we are expanding our toolkit of resources for greater outcomes for our community! First, some background on the foundation.

The Athens County Foundation was started by Ohio University first lady Claire Ping nearly 40 years ago. Mrs. Ping and her friends were looking for a way to keep wealth local and build resources for our future. The community foundation they formed has been serving Athens County ever since by providing grant support to local nonprofits.

The Athens County Foundation was built on the donations and bequests of local citizens who trust us to carry out their passion for supporting our community through shared vision and resources.
Last year we published the Athens County Report highlighting the challenges and opportunities currently facing the County. After careful consideration, the board of directors of the Foundation decided to engage directly in tackling some of these challenges facing people in Athens. This year, the Foundation will focus its resources on developing a deeper understanding of what the needs are and who is doing good work in three areas.

The first, creating economic vitality, is the way forward out of poverty. Our challenges include: Athens County has the widest income gap in the state between the “haves” and the “have-nots”; wages for women fall far below that of men and; only about 50% of people in the county have access to broadband.

It is for these reasons that we have chosen to support work to increase broadband breadth and connectivity in Athens County. There are several initiatives and many people working on this problem. More to come on our progress!

In addition to getting people connected, the Foundation aims to nurture startups in Athens County that align with our Mission Related Investment policy. As an endowment based foundation, we have the potential to unlock capital for slower returns, but more immediate impact on our local economy. We look for projects that offer a double or triple bottom line, that is, they return income to the foundation, employ more local residents and contribute to improving the lives of our citizens. As the board finalizes policies guiding our mission-related investment work, we will seek local opportunities to invest in startups that align with our mission and values. To that end, the Athens County Foundation Women’s Fund will be working with Appalachian Growth Capital to establish a new micro loan fund for women of the region.

We are also interested in supporting a shared vision and opportunities for economic development of Athens County. With upwards of 10 organizations who state economic development as one of their missions, generating a clear, marketable and unified vision is tough. It is our hope that these hard-working groups will come to the table to start a conversation about collaborative outcomes.
We see specific opportunities on the horizon for local entrepreneurs including the Bailey’s Trail in the Wayne National Forest and the repurposing of Maryhill Hospital in Nelsonville. Both of these new endeavors will drive more people through our county for adventure or healthcare. What will they need in the way of food, services, shopping, and lodging? Who is poised to benefit?
Our second focus, individual health and wellbeing, is based on the belief that everyone deserves access to a healthy life. Locally, we are faced with not enough dental providers, especially ones who take Medicaid. With this new initiative, we hope to increase access to dental care as well as prescriptions for people who do not have Medicaid or private insurance.

There is also a growing substance abuse epidemic in our communities. We could increase access to information and programs that seek to combat addictions. Many groups are working on this problem from all angles and we could possibly help amplify and communicate their work.
Athens County has a lot of children who are not prepared to enter school. We see that families need assistance in preparing children to enter P, K or 1st grade through better access to food, clothing, reading, and health.

Our last focus is creating Vibrant Communities. In addition to some of the challenges mentioned earlier, we also see limited housing stock, especially for seniors and limited access to transportation options. Yet, we have vast recreation and natural environmental resources that can be used as an economic driver making Athens County a tourist destination. To this end, we hope to reconvene the Senior Housing Task Force, help Mt. Zion Church shape a vision for the future and continue talking about broadband for all.

We hope to invest time, talent and money into these key projects over the next few years. While we continue to make grants to projects throughout the county, three new task forces will look for deeper impact in these three focus areas. Look for significant investment this year in a few key projects.
Bringing people together to work on issues, share ideas and inform investment has been an important tool used by the foundation and we will continue to host community conversation around key issues. Most recently, we were contracted to help with the school facilities community task force.
We believe we have the resources to move forward together.

We are passionate about this work. We hope you’ll join us by continuing to support our work in Athens County!