Harvest Foundation gives $2.5 million to 14 groups

August 27, 2003

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

Assistance for displaced workers, economic development, funding for the arts and public health and safety were among the recipients of grants announced Tuesday by The Harvest Foundation.

The 15 grants, which total more than $2.5 million, range from $8,500 to $384,639 for projects spanning anywhere from six months to three years. They represent a percentage of the earnings on the foundation's investment of the $150 million in proceeds generated from the sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County.

The largest grant award, totaling $384,639 over a two-year period, was awarded to the YMCA of Martinsville and Henry County for construction and development of a therapy pool, which will connect to the facility's existing pool. According to the grant proposal, the pool will be designed to provide physical therapy for up to 15 people at a time suffering from arthritis, multiple sclerosis or other joint-related problems. The grant also includes funding for a staff physical therapist.

"I'm sitting back in my chair now after I fell on the floor," YMCA Director David DePriest said in response to the news. "I thought we had a good shot, but you never know. That's a pretty good size of money."

DePriest added that the foundation helped the YMCA with the grant process and called Tuesday's grants "great for our community. It gives people hope."

Unemployed workers also received assistance from the foundation through a $200,000 grant award to the United Way, which will distribute the money to area nonprofit organizations to help those displaced during the closures of Pillowtex, VF and other companies.

The money will be disbursed to agencies, not individuals, according to Kathy Rogers, executive director of the United Way, who said that interested organizations should apply for special-needs grants.

By coincidence, the foundation approached the United Way to apply for a grant at the same time that the United Way was considering an application, Rogers said.

"Hopefully the United Way is seen as an organization that can help get money to where it needs to go the most," she added.

Economic development was another area targeted by the foundation's grants. C-PEG, which raises private funds for economic development, received $250,000 for a comprehensive economic analysis and plan for development options for the area's future.

The idea for the study grew from a discussion between C-PEG and foundation representatives, according to Edward Snyder, president of C-PEG. It will analyze what the area needs, how to pursue those needs and how to market the area to businesses, industries and possibly health care facilities.

A firm that specializes in targeted economic development marketing will be chosen to do the study, Snyder said, adding that the study's higher cost will separate it from previous studies done of the area.

The study will be "parallel" to the Coalition for Economic Progress, the Henry County-Martinsville combined effort on development, so that both the coalition and other groups can use its findings, Snyder said.

He added that he hopes the study will start in two months and be completed in six to eight months.

Snyder said the foundation has worked countless hours since the hospital was sold in May 2002 to get to Tuesday's point of awarding grants.

"My personal feeling is they're going to be here for many, many years and if they can do their best to get off to a good start" it will bode well for the foundation's future, he said.

Additional foundation grants also will target arts, education and public safety.

Piedmont Arts Association received $137,989 for a lighting and sound system at the Martinsville High School auditorium, where most of its performances are staged.

Toy Cobbe, executive director of PAA, said the award is a challenge grant, which will require the Martinsville schools to raise $50,000 in matching funds for the project.

Each time PAA brings in a performance, it has to provide specific lighting and sound requirements that can run $5,000 to $10,000 per production, Cobbe said. The new system will eliminate that cost and also give the high school state-of-the-art systems that the school can use for training as well as performances, she said.

Other grants will be used as matching funds or leveraged to get other funding. For instance, the Henry County Department of Public Safety received $250,000 to cover part of the cost of constructing a burn building for use by area fire departments. The award will enable the area to receive $300,000 in funding from the state to complete the project, according to Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin.

The project involves building a pre-engineered metal building with ceramic-lined rooms where propane or natural gas can be burned in a controlled setting, he said. The building can be used for firefighting training in confined spaces and other techniques. The use of special props, such as a stove to simulate a grease fire, can increase training options, Summerlin said.

Summerlin said he and public safety Director Steve Eanes have been working on the project since 1989. "It's a worthwhile project but beyond the county's resources to implement without assistance," he said.

Summerlin said Harvest Foundation representatives visited a similar burn building in Danville, saw it in operation and talked to the training staff there.

"They wanted to make sure the money was being put to good use," he added.

Harry Cerino, executive director of the foundation, said the foundation met with representatives of applying agencies several times and visited their operations to learn what they were doing before approving the grants.

The first round of funding reflects all of the foundation's priority areas of health, education and welfare. Cerino said the foundation board will meet again in early December and he expects more education-related grants to come up at that time.

Grant applications are reviewed by the board's grants committee, which makes recommendations on them to the full board. The 12-member foundation board then votes on each grant.

All but about four of the applications received by the foundation were approved Tuesday. Allyson Rothrock, interim director of the foundation, said those four might be reconsidered if more work is done on them.

The foundation plans to award grants totaling about $3 million this year. Next year it will award $3 million to $4 million, and the following year that amount will rise to between $5 million and $6 million, Cerino said.

That will establish a three-year period which the foundation can use to determine its required distribution of funds. It must give out 5 percent of its net investment assets over a rolling three-year period, Cerino said.



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