Foundation Director discusses the Foundation's grant program

June 22, 2003

Article Source:  Martinsville Bulletin

When Harry Cerino came here from Philadelphia last month, he noticed something strange. Strange to him, at least.

"I had a hard time getting used to people waving," he said.

Now he's hoping that some of those friendly people won't be throwing rocks at him in the not too distant future.

With about $7 million to give away, it might seem that Cerino would be as revered as Santa Claus, at least with his beneficiaries.  On the other hand, he's aware that he might not be so admired by those who did not fare so well when he was handing out that money.

"We'll be criticized for turning folks down," he said, "and we'll be criticized for some of the grants we give."

As executive director of The Harvest Foundation, Cerino is more or less in charge of administering the proceeds from the sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County.  The hospital was sold in May 2002 for a profit of $150 million, and the profit was turned over to the newly formed Harvest Foundation.  The idea is to invest that money so that it will earn about $7 million annually. That money will be given out in grants to local organizations involved in health, education and welfare projects.

Cerino said the plan is for the foundation never to touch the $150 million so that it will be there forever.  So, depending upon how the stock market behaves, this area can count on the Harvest Foundation handing out $7 million or so every year.

He pointed out that the annual income from the sale proceeds "will fluctuate with the economy. We hope to be wise stewards of that money."

Cerino, who had done this same kind of work for more than 20 years in Philadelphia, said he is aware that some people who are turned down for grants from the foundation may not be pleased with him.  He said that although an applicant might not qualify for a grant from the foundation, Cerino still will try to help that organization.

"My M.O. (method of operation) is to try to figure out alternative approaches to help good people do good things," he said. "A lot of times this starts to open up other types of funding."

To qualify for a grant from the foundation, the applicant must have tax exempt status granted by the Internal Revenue Service.  The foundation, Cerino said, is focusing on agencies that work in the areas of health, education and welfare.  Initially, the applicant will fill out a one-page form that will include a thumbnail sketch of its proposal for a grant.

"That will be reviewed by me," Cerino said, "and I might contact the applicant and have them send in a full proposal."  And, he added, "We might make a site visit."

In the end, Cerino said, "A subcommittee of the board will review all grants and then the full board will make the decisions. The board will meet quarterly."

Cerino said applicants will have to be accountable for any grants they receive.

"We want to make sure that people use the money for the purpose it was given," he said, "and we want to learn from the grants we give. We'll go back and look at the grants and assess them for impact."

One goal of the foundation, he said, is to create "a sense of possibility in town. We want to promote a feeling that positive things can be done.

"When we make a grant, the story should be about the organization that got the grant and what that money will enable the organization to achieve."

Name: Harry Cerino
Age: 60
Residence: Martinsville
Family: Wife, Jan; son, Tim; daughter, Cricket
Occupation: Executive director, Harvest Foundation
Education: Psychology degree from Villanova University; Masters in City Planning from the University of Rhode Island; Masters in Sociology from Temple University; a Masters in Business Administration from La Salle University


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