Outgoing board members reflect on time at Harvest

Outgoing board members reflect on time at Harvest
Pictured (from left) are Cynthia Ingram, Jim Muehleck and Larry Ryder.

December 27, 2017

Achievements have been made in education, health care and other areas of the community in the past nine years thanks to investments by The Harvest Foundation, according to three local residents who are retiring from the foundation board.

Also during that time, the foundation has grown financially and adopted a policy to grow its assets to meet present and future needs but also to respond in case of a community crisis, they said.

The three board members, Cynthia Ingram, Jim Muehleck and Larry Ryder, are ending their third, three-year terms on the board this month, which is the maximum amount of continual board service allowed by the foundation.

The Harvest Foundation was created in 2002 with the $150 million proceeds from the sale of Memorial Health Systems. In the past 15 years, its portfolio has grown to $222 million, and the foundation has put more than $113 million (as of Nov. 30, 2017) back in the community through grants in the areas of health, education and community vitality, with an emphasis on job creation.

Ingram, Muehleck and Ryder came onto the board in 2008, each with an area of expertise and/or interest. For Ingram, it was higher education. For Muehleck, it was health care, dental care, education and youth. For Ryder, it was finance, business and education.

For instance, Ryder’s business acumen helped the foundation focus on long-term growth. He and Ingram “were devoted believers in the power of education and they both were really passionate about what education can do to change lives,” Rothrock said.

Muehleck “has been in the community for a long time and believes in the community,” Rothrock said. He is especially passionate about dental care in the community and he understands the power of youth, she said. Muehleck was instrumental in having the Kiwanis Club help support the Harvest Youth Board. “He’s a great partner,” she said.

All three directors were always comfortable voicing their opinions, Rothrock added.

The three retiring directors all said such diverse interests and backgrounds among board members serve the foundation well. They say the members spend a tremendous amount of time researching, studying and discussing issues to ensure they reach decisions that are in the best interest for the community as a whole.

The Harvest staff gives directors mounds of material on each issue coming before them so they can debate the issues and make decisions.

“I have a strong staff … who are dedicated to this community,” Rothrock said. “They do as much of the due diligence as possible to provide the board with solid information from which to make decisions.”

Board members are nominated by Harvest’s Governance and Nominating Committee, and others can make suggestions as well, Rothrock said. They look to fill gaps in the board of directors when selecting members, such as appointing an educator after another educator’s term expires, she said.

Good board members are well-rounded, think independently and look at the big picture long-term, she said. They should be willing to listen to others, consider opinions that differ from their own and have no personal agenda, she added.

Because board members are so involved in the foundation’s work for as many as nine years, it is difficult for Rothrock when they leave. “It is hard every year to say goodbye,” she said. “You become dependent on their leadership and voice.”

Fortunately, she said, former board members still can serve on Harvest committees, and many frequently call and ask what is going on and if they can help.

In the articles that follow, Ingram, Muehleck and Ryder reflect on the accomplishments of The Harvest Foundation over the past nine years, its strengths and some challenges it faces in the future.

Cynthia Ingram

A Harvest Foundation grant that will provide free tuition for qualified students at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) could be a game-changer for the community.

“We’re working with our future,” said Cynthia Ingram, who is completing her third, three-year term on The Harvest Foundation Board of Directors. That is the maximum allowed time of continued service on that board.

In November, the foundation announced that it had awarded a three-year, $3.1 million Student Excellence in Education (SEED) grant that will make the first two years of college at PHCC free for all Martinsville-Henry County residents who graduate from high school starting with the 2017-18 academic year.

“The community has embraced that. I’m hopeful young people will do the same. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to get that kind of privilege,” Ingram said in a recent interview.

Ingram retired in January 2008 as dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development at PHCC, concluding a 26-year career with the Virginia Community College System. She now works part-time as lead teacher/administrator for the Martinsville Public Schools Adult and Career Education Program, which helps adults continue their educations to post-secondary or career/job improvements..

As an educator on the Harvest board, she raised her concern that students entering the SEED program might not be prepared for college. She had seen that happen years earlier with some Trade Act students and she worried that if SEED students needed developmental courses, such as for math and English, it could eat up the SEED funding. Such remedial work should be done at the high school level, she added.

“If we’re going to award scholarships, they should be for college-level classes,” Ingram said. “I want them to understand what it is to be a college student” ready to advance to a four-year university or college after attending PHCC.

Ingram said she raised that concern with the Harvest board when it was considering the SEED grant, and she is confident it is being addressed. It also illustrates how Harvest directors’ varied expertise helps them raise questions and issues that others might not be aware of.

Ingram considers the SEED grant, construction of the Smith River Sports Complex in Henry County and funding for the New College Institute as the key projects of The Harvest Foundation during her tenure on the board.

Harvest also announced a new focus on job creation, when considering grants in its three traditional areas of health, education and community vitality, during Ingram’s time on the board of directors.

“The reason we are looking at job creation now is that we want to improve employment possibilities. If you don’t have people working and making living wages, some other things don’t matter,” she said. “Some people are working two or three jobs to make up one job. We had to do something to look at that picture and improving jobs. That’s why we are so supportive of the EDC (Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.).”

Harvest recently awarded the EDC a three-year, $5.7 million grant to support job creation and tax base increase locally. It was part of six grants that totaled nearly $11.9 million and made up the foundation’s 2017 grant funding “puzzle.”

Health issues also may be tied to the jobs issue. For instance, if people do not have insurance and cannot afford to go to a doctor “their health falls by the wayside because they are dealing with work and trying to support their families. They don’t take care of themselves. A health crisis can wipe a family out,” Ingram said.

Each Harvest board member has an area of expertise and a passion for a particular subject or issue. Ingram said hers was higher education, and she relied on others who had expertise in financial matters and related areas.

But that does not mean they leave decision-making to others. Ingram said members spend a lot of time on due diligence, reading and researching to learn about subjects so they can make smart, informed decisions.

“The staff is extraordinary in giving us information,” she said. “It has kept this board out of a lot of trouble by making sure we did do our due diligence. We could have gotten swayed by public opinion or trying to please people instead of being objective. We cannot get sidetracked by sidebar conversations.”

Ingram said foundation President Allyson Rothrock “has set the bar high. Her level of expectation and professionalism for the staff and herself is extremely high. … As president, she doesn’t vote with us but she voices her opinion and we value her opinion.”

“I can’t say enough about the staff, how they carry themselves” and work for months to vet issues before bringing them to the board, Ingram said. “They work hard to get it done and get it right.”

“Doing it right” is important for the board, she said.

“We are all volunteers because we care passionately about the community and want to make sure things are done right and investments are appropriate, and things are happening for the greater good. That’s why I’m so passionate about the board because what we do is for the larger community.

“I shudder to think what this community would look like if we didn’t have Harvest. The things it’s done have been transformative,” she said, citing the EDC, walking trails, sports complex and NCI. “Money has been invested and whether or not people agreed with us, we did it with the right mindset” of job creation and moving the community forward.

The foundation’s strength is what Ingram calls its “collective think-tank ability to really research,” debate and discuss issues to reach decisions. Its challenge is “trying to keep that level of expertise here. We have to make sure people coming on board keep an open mind and want to serve,” she said.

Ingram is hopeful for the future when she looks at the Harvest Youth Board, a 13-member group of local high students who can award grants, create initiatives or develop projects related to youth issues. The board members also advise the full Harvest Board of Directors on youth and community issues.

The young people are learning about leadership, budgeting and how an organization such as Harvest works, Ingram said. “It’s a lifetime course,” she said of the experience the young people are gaining.

Serving on the Harvest board is time-consuming, Ingram said. “You have to be willing to give up a lot of time but it’s so worthwhile you feel compelled to do it. You want to make sure all viewpoints are heard, that you hear it all and that you’re doing what is right,” she said.

For that reason, her advice to new board members is to be prepared to serve, not to suffer hurt feelings if their point of view is not always accepted and not to be ego-driven.

“I’ve met some of the best people in this community that I could have met, who are extremely caring and desire to serve this community,” Ingram said of her time on the board. They all are driven by one mindset, she added: “We’re Harvest and we’re doing what this community wants us to do, what it needs us to do.”

Jim Muehleck

Martinsville dentist Jim Muehleck has volunteered at the Community Dental Clinic since it opened in 2006. During those 11 years, there have been more than 41,400 patient visits at the clinic and more than $9.3 million in dental services have been provided to unemployed and uninsured adults and children in the Martinsville area.

“You see a different side” of the community, people who have lost their jobs possibly through no fault of their own, Muehleck said.

That was why he championed a grant request for the clinic when it came before The Harvest Foundation recently, Muehleck said, adding that he became emotional in defending the funding.

Ultimately, the foundation board approved a three-year, $603,195 grant for indigent dental care. It was one of six grants totaling nearly $11.9 million that made up the foundation’s 2017 grant funding “puzzle.”

Muehleck believes that the dental clinic support is one of the key achievements of the Harvest board during his nine years on the board, he said. His final third, three-year board term expires this month.

He also cited the foundation’s continued support of K-12 education in Henry County, Martinsville and Carlisle School; the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, which operates a clinic in Bassett and is about to open one in Ridgeway; and facilities such as the Smith River Sports Complex and the Dick and Willie Passage as critical achievements.

Funding for long-term initiatives are challenging for Harvest, even though they are meaningful programs with considerable impact throughout the community. Muehleck hopes the new direction of the foundation, increasing its focus on job creation and grants that support those endeavors, will ultimately have the most positive outcomes for area residents. 

“It doesn’t help if you continue to give food ... You’ve got to give a job,” Muehleck said.

The EDC is the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., which received a three-year, $5.7 million grant in the latest Harvest funding “puzzle” to support job creation and increase the local tax base.

Commonwealth Crossing Business Center, developed in southern Henry County by the EDC, “is going to be our savior, I believe,” Muehleck said. “The training center (set for construction to serve companies locating in the business center) is going to be something additional that a lot of undeveloped properties don’t have.”

Another piece of the recently approved grant “puzzle” was Harvest’s three-year, $3.1 million Student Excellence in Education (SEED) grant that will make the first two years of college at PHCC free for all Martinsville-Henry County residents who graduate from high school starting in the 2017-18 academic year.

Muehleck said since that grant was announced, about 10 of his dental patients have told him it is the best thing Harvest has done. He also heard of a high school student who said “now he’s got a chance” to attend college.

“Long-term, that could be one of the biggest effects, the best money we ever spent as far as return on investment,” he said.

Education and young people have been long-time interests for Muehleck. He has served on various boards and organizations in the community, many of which are related to serving children and young adults, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Martinsville-Henry County, Piedmont Youth Soccer League and Patrick Henry Community College Educational Foundation.

He also helped win the Kiwanis Club’s support for Harvest’s Youth Board, a group of 13 high schoolers who can award grants, create initiatives or develop projects related to youth issues.

“It is a wonderful experience to see these kids that are so smart, so dedicated, and care about their community,” he said, noting that they recently planned and served more than 2,400 meals to area residents at the W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve dinner. The late Dr. Prince was a long-time Harvest board member.

“These youth board kids will be leaders in their community wherever they go,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got 10 percent of them back” after they complete their educations?

Muehleck also thinks the public perception of The Harvest Foundation has improved in recent years. When he joined the board he thought it was “a little secretive,” but now he said people can learn what it is doing and how it is spending its money through its website and other means.

The board is a diverse group which includes doctors, lawyers, educators, bankers, people of all ages and races, he said.

“Everybody gets along,” he said. “It is a good, very smart (and) intelligent group. … They all have different perspectives, which is good.”

Muehleck said he thinks Harvest’s strength is in its diverse board and staff, including President Allyson Rothrock. “She loves this community; she loves The Harvest Foundation; she loves what The Harvest Foundation has done. That’s the strength — the staff and Ally. And for a small community to have that kind of foundation that can draw $10 million” a year to invest in the community is a tremendous asset.

The foundation’s challenges continue to be creating jobs and improving education, he said. “If everybody had a job that paid well and they could support their family, we wouldn’t have a lot of social issues. We wouldn’t have a need for the Community Storehouse, Grace Network, Christmas Cheer, all the things people donate to.”

His advice to new board members is to not be afraid to ask questions or be passionate about an issue that is important to them. “Be a good voice for Harvest in the community,” he said.

Muehleck said serving on the Harvest board “was a good learning experience. I really enjoyed it. … I was proud to be asked to sit on that board.”

Larry Ryder

The financial growth and future of The Harvest Foundation are two main points of pride for Larry Ryder during his nine years on the Harvest Board of Directors.

The Harvest Foundation was created in 2002 with the $150 million in proceeds from the sale of Memorial Health Systems. Today, its portfolio has grown to $222 million while at the same time it has put more than $113 million (as of Nov. 30, 2017) back in the community through grants.

“The success of that growth is the result of a corporate effort of a group of men and women, board and staff, who share a passion for Martinsville and Henry County,” said Ryder, who also served as chairman of the Harvest board in 2011 and 2012. “To be entrusted with the opportunity and responsibility to materially affect the community is both humbling and exciting. I am proud of what Harvest has accomplished. Yes, mistakes were made, but lessons have also been learned and we will be better from the experiences.”

Ryder worked for Hooker Furniture Corp. for 34 years before he retired in January 2011. At that time he was executive vice president of finance and administration as well as the chief financial officer. He remains on Hooker’s board of directors as well as the Patrick Henry Community College Foundation Board and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. He previously served on the King's Grant Retirement Community's Regional Board, the Memorial Hospital of Martinsville & Henry County's Board of Trustees and the boards for the Safetynet Foundation and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Ryder said his financial experience was a key asset he brought to the Harvest board in 2008. That expertise was put to the test immediately as the nation plunged into the Great Recession that year and Harvest’s portfolio — like everyone else’s — suffered.

“It was scary but there is no doubt in my mind we did the right thing,” he said. “As someone who has been involved with investment decisions personally, corporately and with other nonprofits for over 50 years, I learned a single overriding principle early on. That is: Create an investment philosophy that is attuned to your need, diversify your investments and stick to your plan,” even when others choose to cut their losses and get out of the markets in an effort to preserve what they have left.

That, Ryder said, “has been proven time after time to be the worst course of action. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t fearful during the downturn — not that we weren’t doing the right thing by staying the course — but doing it with such a large amount (of money) that our community depended upon. We had a good plan, a good advisor and a seasoned Investment Committee (at Harvest). I’m just glad that the finger crossing didn’t result in finger pointing!”

The other board issue in which Ryder’s financial acumen was critical was in 2013 when Harvest adopted a policy on perpetuity and spending.

“Like other permanent institutions, Harvest has a fiduciary duty to strike an appropriate balance between providing sufficient current support to the community and preserving the purchasing power of its assets for future generations,” he said. “The board had very lengthy, deliberate and soul-searching discussions regarding perpetuity and spending. Not all the board members were like-minded at the outset, but we were able to fashion a policy that all could adopt and hopefully will serve Harvest well in the future.”

That means the board makes sure that growth in its investments exceeds its spending to ensure there will be funds available for the future, Ryder said.   

“We have to manage assets to grow but also to protect” those assets, he said. “You don’t want to be too aggressive, but you don’t want to not take risks,” he added.

Ryder also said he has a passion for education in general and the New College Institute in particular. He envisioned that NCI’s success would have a lasting positive consequence on residents and the economic well-being of the community. He said he was disappointed that efforts to make NCI a branch of an existing state university failed, as did a later move to make NCI part of Longwood University.

“On the flip side, I think we have one of the best community colleges in the system,” he said, adding that he is pleased with Harvest’s recent three-year, $3.1 million Student Excellence in Education (SEED) grant to provide free tuition for at Patrick Henry Community College for all Martinsville-Henry County residents who graduate starting with the 2017-18 academic year.

That program is a shift from Ryder’s long-held belief that students do better in school if they have a stake in their education, such as helping to pay for it.

The need in the community is monumental, “so it’s the right thing to do,” he said of the SEED program.

Since its inception, Harvest’s mission has been to improve the community through investments in health, education and community vitality. Those areas still are important, but they now are tied to job development, Ryder said.

“We honestly believe jobs are the salvation of the community. The things we do for education are for jobs. The things we do for the community, whether it is soccer fields or walking trails, are to make the community more welcoming,” he said. The same is true for Harvest grants for health initiatives such as the Community Dental Clinic and the Smith River Small Towns Business District Revitalization Project, he said. “They all are tied to job creation in some form.”

In November, Harvest awarded grants of $603,195 to the dental clinic and $500,000 to the Smith River Small Towns Business District Revitalization Project. Those were part of nearly $11.9 million awarded in six grants which made up the foundation’s 2017 grant “puzzle.”

Another change at the foundation is that now most grant suggestions come from within Harvest, from staff and board members who see needs and solutions in the community, rather from outside groups, Ryder said. Most requests Harvest receives now are for its smaller PUP! (Pick Up the Pace) grants, he added.

Looking back on his nine years at Harvest, Ryder said the foundation’s strength is its staff and board members.

“They are people who are passionate about the community, passionate for education, passionate for jobs, things we believe make this community grow and prosper,” he said.

Its challenge is to educate the community about its efforts and mission, he said, adding that it is difficult for some people to understand why the foundation is supporting new walking trails when people are hungry or why it is helping fund a new industrial park that has no tenants yet.

Ryder offers this advice for new Harvest board members.

“Tell them to take their time. There’s a lot to assimilate. Learn about our history, where we’ve been, the mistakes we’ve made and things we’ve done right. Try not to repeat the mistakes if you can. Tell them to consider the universe of the community when they’re making decisions. Consider the single mother struggling to put food on the table for her kids …, and make sure we don’t forget that some people in this community are not as well off” as others.

But Harvest’s mission sets it apart, Ryder added: “We have the ability to say there are wonderful organizations doing a great job helping people get through the week, through the month, through the year. We (at Harvest) have the ability to take a higher position and say what we can do is give them a better future, a path out of poverty. There is help for those in poverty. How do we help them get out of poverty?”


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