Legacy Foundation connects people with knowledge, funding
Today’s investments determine a brighter future. That is exactly what Lake County-based Legacy Foundation does through its grant making and programming to support students, nonprofits and changemakers.
The Legacy Foundation is a community foundation, a distinction that matters in terms of the nature of its impact. According to the Council on Foundations, about 900 of these organizations serve every state. Of those, about 350 are accredited by the council, including the Legacy Foundation.
A community foundation typically focuses on supporting a geographical area, primarily by securing funds to address community needs and support local nonprofits. Community foundations offer numerous types of grant-making programs and are funded by donations from individuals, families, businesses and sometimes government grants.
More important than the definition, however, is being part of a culture of giving in the state, according to Legacy Foundation President and CEO Kelly Anoe.
“In Indiana, we’re really fortunate to have so many strong and active community foundations,” Anoe said.
Institutions like hers reflect the area’s values and commitment to bolstering people and organizations.
“In 2022, we gave out just over $3 million in grants, and we awarded $1.36 million in scholarships,” she said.
While both types of gifts contribute to the vitality of Lake County, Anoe said that scholarships help on the individual level. Students who wish to pursue various areas of study and career paths are urged to apply. Eligible students may be awarded a scholarship from one or more funds.
She said that in 2022, they had more than 30 scholarship funds and awarded scholarships to more than 100 students. Volunteers help review the applications and make determinations on selection. This process can be a tall order at times.
“We get over 500 applicants each year,” she said. “And it’s a really difficult decision because we have so many amazing young people in our communities. And we’re really excited to be able to help support them in their educational achievement and future of our community.”
Anoe said their five-year strategic plan, released in August, serves as a guidepost in setting and honoring the foundation’s priorities. One focus area is strengthening nonprofits and helping them build capacity. A second is helping to facilitate giving locally.
“We’re looking at how we can foster the well-being of our communities and support community groups and residents,” she said. “So that could be through resident leadership development and helping our local communities build capacities.”
Beyond the philanthropic angle, Anoe said they have also identified other opportunities to fill gaps. For instance, Rise NWI is a nonpartisan program focused on community and civic engagement. According to Anoe, its purpose is to encourage residents to be able to become engaged in their local communities in terms of voting and advocacy. Foundation leaders determined there was a need for such an initiative, especially after seeing recent voter turnout data.
“When (we) looked at Indiana, Lake County was toward the bottom of the state for voter turnout,” she said. “That number was really low, especially when it came to local elections. And so, we wanted to do something to get people more involved and engaged in local civics and understand why it’s important that they become involved in their community.”
The organization’s leaders also are looking at how they can help their grant dollars have the most significant impact. In 2022, the organization reflected on 30 years of service, including the retirement of longtime board chair Greg Gordon and leader Carolyn Saxton. This year’s was “building community” and a challenge to “think local” by current leaders Carey Yukich, new board chair, and Anoe.
One organization that has benefited from the Legacy Foundation’s grants is the St. Jude House, a violence prevention center and shelter in Crown Point. Executive Director Ryan Elinkowski said he is grateful for the grant, which has helped them advance a culture of what he calls “trauma-informed care.”
“We had very old small lockers for our clients that had kind of like the high school combination locks that were challenging sometimes when clients are coming from highly traumatic situations,” he said. “So, we wrote a grant for these really nice lockers that are now in the client’s bedrooms in the closet. Clients now have the autonomy to set their own passwords by numbers. That gives them a sense of security and dignity.”
Other grants, Elinkowski said, were earmarked for walk-in coolers for food storage. He also acknowledges another type of support his organization has received, outside of the monetary kind. The Legacy Foundation has forged connections with other nonprofit leaders who have helped the organization and others unite around common causes.
“When we work together collaboratively, we’re more impactful for all those who need us,” he said.
Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.