Brienne Hooker, executive director of the Jasper Newton Foundation, sat down again with her counterpart at the Jasper County Economic Development Organization, Stephen Eastridge, this time to celebrate 30 years of JNF’s work in the community: administering community giving to benefit neighbors in Jasper and Newton Counties.

Hear what Brienne had to say about JNF operations and learn where JNF hopes to be headed for the future:

What even is a Community Foundation?

A community foundation invites multiple donors to contribute to a public charity, and isn’t dependent on one large donor. Community foundations do not manage funds on behalf of religious organizations or distribute funds to advance any church’s goals.

The foundation’s job is to match community needs with donor wishes.

In 1991, the founders of the Jasper Foundation met and decided to create a destination where people could go and give their money, knowing it would be distributed according to their wishes. This group behind Jasper County’s community foundation understood the value of endowed funds. These are established so that the value that is built can be distributed back out years later to address the changing needs of the Jasper County community.

Brienne Hooker, executive director of the Jasper Newton Foundation

Brienne Hooker, executive director of the Jasper Newton Foundation

The group of people who worked tirelessly to start the foundation began with nothing to create what has become an almost $24 million organization today.

“There is documentation of the board members being asked to contribute $300 each to keep the lights on in the office,” JNF Executive Director Brienne Hooker said.

Early Foundation Work: Preserving Jasper County’s Carnegie Library

In addition to providing financial services to benefit the community, one of the Jasper Foundations’ initial goals was to preserve the Carnegie Library. After reaching out to the community for support, preserving the building, and securing its spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, a new library was built nearby and the rechristened Carnegie Center became the home the foundation. Today, the Carnegie Center houses the Prairie Arts Council, and also serves as a meeting place for many other community organizations.

Newton County Grows the Community Foundation’s Mission

As the need for community change was recognized in Jasper County – Rensselaer, more specifically – it became clear to some that surrounding areas would benefit from support similar to that promised by Jasper County’s new community foundation

In 1995, a man from the Kentland area approached the Jasper Foundation in the hopes of building a collaborative effort to better both communities. The Jasper Foundation board agreed to a proposal that in which the two counties would share the foundation’s operational costs and the salary of its director.

Give Back Your Way to a Community Foundation

There are several ways to set up a fund with a community foundation. Endowment funds are created when a donor gives a large sum of money and the foundation invests that into the stock market, its earnings distributed at a later date. Money moves through pass-through funds, however, with the foundation collecting donations intended for distribution the following year. Batton Park revitalization fund and Parks for People are two examples of JNF pass-through funds.

Funds for Community Improvement Today and Tomorrow

Currently, the Jasper Newton Foundation is home to around 175 funds. Fund earnings are distributed monthly, but the foundation is empowered to adjust the percentage being put to work in the community to provide a financial cushion within each fund.

“It’s our job to make sure the donors are spending money in our community every year,” Brienne said.

She added that donors are encouraged to give now to see the benefits of their gifts during their lifetime.

“You don’t have to be a $10,000 check-writer to participate,” she said.

JNF’s Top Priority is Transparency

Each year the Jasper Newton Foundation is audited by the IRS and submits all required documentation to be officially certified in the transparency of its accounting and management of donor gifts.

“Everything the foundation does comes back to donor intent,” Brienne said.

JNF Looks Ahead From 30

Brienne happily acknowledges the significance of JNF’s 30th-anniversary milestone. In the organization’s lifetime, assets have grown, and more than $15 million has been directed back into the community.

She says she’s most excited about what lies ahead, though.

While the foundation will continue to provide small grants to address projects in the community, Brienne looks forward to JNF tackling significant projects to meet greater needs within both communities. The Driving Home campaign is already underway to identify and provide planning services to meet community needs. And JNF’s work to promote a better understanding of mental health issues is also moving ahead, with a guest speaker slated for fall to provide community education opportunities.

And collaborating with new board members may be part of her ongoing work as JNF executive director, but Brienne believes it is one of the most vital aspects of JNF’s day-to-day operations because this, too, serves the wider community.

Board members are essential partners to community foundations. They are afforded a first-hand look at whatever projects JNF assists with or participates in. Brienne says this is why having different board members is essential.

Through the volunteer service of young board members, JNF helps build leadership skills and train the next generation of community stewards. After serving on the JNF board, Brienne hopes members will go on to become involved in other community nonprofit organizations.

Why Love Where You Live?

Foundation executive director Brienne Hooker believes there will always be people or places you don’t love, but these are everywhere, and you cannot fix all of them. This is why, she says, it’s vital to love where you live and show up for the people around you.

“Wherever you are in life, you should take personal responsibility for making that place better,” she said. “Investing in your community, giving back, and knowing that we are the only ones who can change our community. There is no one who’s going to do it for us.”

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