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Foundation presents $50K to local programs to alleviate impacts of economic downturn

Charles Anderson of the San Juan Island Community Foundation listens as DVSAS Executive Director Anita Castle accepts a grant to extend adult English-language classes, Wednesday in Friday Harbor. The $4,800 grant was one of several grants presented to meet critical needs in the community.  - Richard Walker
Charles Anderson of the San Juan Island Community Foundation listens as DVSAS Executive Director Anita Castle accepts a grant to extend adult English-language classes, Wednesday in Friday Harbor. The $4,800 grant was one of several grants presented to meet critical needs in the community.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Pamela Gross opened with a story that set the tone for what was to happen that evening.

A writer walking on a beach came upon a man picking up starfish from the sand and tossing them into the ocean. When the writer asked why he was doing that, the man responded, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

The writer responded that there were miles of beach and starfish along every mile. "You can't possibly make a difference," he said.

The young man picked up another starfish and tossed it into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one."

And so, on July 15, the San Juan Island Community Foundation presented about $50,200 in grants to address what more than 300 volunteers have identified as critical needs in the community. The event was held at the San Juan Community Theatre's Steele Garden.

The funds will be used to support children's programs, bolster food and meals programs, pay for prescription medication, and connect people with jobs, among other programs. Some of the grants will fill funding gaps; some grants will fund pilot programs which will be assessed in late fall.

"In October, we'll get a comprehensive report on how the money was used and whether the pilot programs were successful," foundation chairman Charles Anderson said. "Whatever the outcome is, we will review reports from each program and, if it was successful, we'll look for additional funding and organizational help. If the program was not successful, we'll turn our attentions elsewhere."

Anderson envisions a "sustainable safety net" that can lessen the local impact of national or state economic downturns. He said the foundation is working with the Orcas Island Community Foundation to spread the safety net over all of the islands.

The grants are the result of several months of study by the Critical Needs Task Force, which consisted of 13 separate work groups formed early this year under the sponsorship of community foundation. The work groups studied local needs from February to May and developed a list of short-term funding priorities which will, in Anderson's words, "help lessen the impact of the economic crisis and support the process of local economic recovery."

Participants say proof of need is indisputable. The Food Bank is serving twice as many people as last year. A fund established by the Town of Friday Harbor to help residents pay their water bills was exhausted by mid-year. At a Town Council meeting in May, Cathaleen Cavanagh of the Economic Development Council said local retail sales were down 40 to 60 percent, and that construction was down at least 50 percent. Pastor Joe Bettridge said his Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church is helping an increasing number of people meet their food, medicine and utility costs.

The community foundation rose to the occasion July 15, presenting the following grants.

— San Juan Access: $2,500. Partner organizations: San Juan Island Community Foundation and San Juan Island Library.

According to the Critical Needs Task Force, current information about non-profit organizations and services is scattered and/or incomplete or outdated. A new countywide services database will profile all organizations and services.

Information will be accessible through a Web browser interface. Client access will be text-based and simple to use and navigate. The service provider interface will allow instant updates of service profiles and keyword access to services. Cross links between providers and services will be incorporated to aid client navigation.

— Hot Lunch, Meals-on-Wheels, Hospice Expansion: $5,000. Partner programs/organizations: Senior Services, Meals-on-Wheels, Hospice.

Utilization of the Senior Center hot-lunch program has doubled from 2008-09. This grant will expand existing programs from two days per week to three days, coordinate for efficient service with Meals-on-Wheels and Hospice, and broaden the recipient base to include every person in need of a healthy meal.

A three-month pilot program, known as Wednesday Lunch for All, begins July 22.

— Increased Service Capacity for Food Bank, $2,500. Partner programs/organizations: Food Bank.

The San Juan Island Food Bank served about 10 percent of island households in 2008. Usage and demand have nearly doubled. Additional shelving is needed to stock and supply extra food.

— Community Health Services Information and Education Campaign: $2,000. Partner programs/organizations: Senior Services, Family Resource Center, San Juan Island Community Foundation, San Juan Island Library.

According to the Critical Needs Task Force, the Health Care Task Force and other work groups have been surprised to learn how many programs and services are available at Mullis Community Senior Center and other specific local sites. A number of these services and programs are open to the entire community but publicity has been limited.

This campaign will consolidate the wide spectrum of information about existing medical and social services programs into one easy-to-use and understand resource. The layout and printing of the publication will be managed by the San Juan Island Community Foundation. Distribution will be selective — through schools, public health department, senior services, library, online news sites, service organizations, Food Bank, Family Resource Center.

— Prescription Drug Support, $3,000. Partner programs/organizations: San Juan Island Family Resource Center, schools.

Basic Health Insurance has stopped accepting applicants until its state-subsidized rolls are reduced by 40,000 participants. This will eliminate this valuable low-income option for many people for years to come. Medicaid is only available to those who are aged, blind or disabled, leaving out most low-income people.

According to the Critical Needs Task Force, "Prescription drugs are the highest-value tool to allow those with chronic illness to function in the community and remain independent outside medical institutions." This is a three-month pilot program to provide temporary funding of prescription medications when other resources fail.

— Preschool Scholarships, $5,000. Partner programs/organizations: San Juan Island Family Resource Center, Lighthouse Preschool.

This program will offer a pre-school opportunity to every child. This is an expansion of existing scholarship opportunities to low- and middle-income families. Parents will pay at least half of tuition.

— Summer School Scholarships, $4,000. Partner programs/organizations: San Juan Island Family Resource Center, public schools.

This program will support a three-week, half-day summer school program at Friday Harbor Elementary School. Program is tuition-based but most are anticipated to be unable to pay. This program is expected to serve 25-35 children.

— FerryPass: Financial Assistance for Off-Island Transportation, $1,500. Partner programs/organizations: San Juan Island Family Resource Center.

This program will provide funds for off-island transportation for those needing to visit the mainland for health care and unemployment services. This is a three-month pilot program to be administered by the Family Resource Center.

— Adult English-language classes, $4,800. Partner programs/organizations: Family Resource Center, DVSAS.

This program will expand existing English-language classes and daycare program to those who are not necessarily DVSAS clients.

— Jobs Bulletin Boards, $500. Partner programs/organizations: Family Resource Center, Food Bank.

This program will locate a bulletin board at the Food Bank and the Family Resource Center, and will explore utilization of the Kiwanis Club bulletin board at the Post Office for use as a job board.

— Create a San Juan Volunteer Corps, $7,000. Partner programs/organizations: Schools, friends and neighbors, Senior Services, Family Resource Center, etc.

This program will expand and coordinate existing volunteer programs to support local schools, seniors and others in need. Includes financial and legal services hotline and other programs. To be coordinated with the library.

— Scholarship support for Camp Eagle Rock, $2,400. Partner programs/organizations: Family Resource Center, Island Rec.

Existing scholarships do not meet the needs of many families. Additional finances will provide for up to 29 children to participate in a safe and enriching environment during the summer.

— San Juan Island Family Resource Center capacity building, $5,000. Partner programs/organizations: San Juan Island Family Resource Center, community.

This program will support increased use and expansion of programs, and create and coordinate new programs supported by the Critical Needs Task Force process.

— Critical Need Program Reserve, up to $5,000. Grantee: San Juan Island Community Foundation Healthy Community Fund.

Many of the programs are pilot programs which, if successful, will require long-term funding. The reserve has been created to help fund these during the transition period while permanent funding is secured.

A Preschool-to-Kindergarten Transitions Program was scheduled to receive a grant, buy received adequate funding from another source, Anderson said.

In the coming months, the Critical Needs Task Force will be studying possible long-term initiatives, among them a private investment for return in local projects, a community development corporation, a public benefit jobs program, a local financial and legal services information hotline, a local health insurance co-op, and pay-as-you-can healthy lunch programs for all ages, all year round.

The community foundation is a non-profit philanthropic umbrella organization helping donors, non-profits and public organizations "to achieve their goals through direct grants, organizational assistance and philanthropic resource management." The Critical Needs Task Force grew from the foundation's desire to address the immediate critical needs in the community as a result of the economic downturn.

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