It's been 20 years worth of giving and helping the community for the Kern Community Foundation, but the organization's work is far from over.
Current and former board members and individuals who have set up funds with the organization came together Wednesday night to celebrate past successes and future endeavors.
Over the last 20 years, more than 160 funds established by community members and local agencies have generated $24 million in grants to local nonprofits, ones across the country and even some internationally. Those funds also make $25 million in assets at the foundation. With almost $50 million going toward the community, it's definitely something to be proud of, according to organization leaders.
"I have to think in this giving community that we live in that that trajectory is going to continue," said Kristen Beall Watson, Kern Community Foundation president and CEO.
A big surprise revealed during Wednesday's celebration was that Judi and Rob McCarthy — who gifted $2.5 million to the Kern Community Foundation earlier this year — are gifting $1 million from their fund to put into the foundation's community endowment which will allow it access to discretionary money.
Kern Community Foundation began in the mid-1990s with a vision shared by Curtis Darling and Morton Brown to establish an organization that would be dedicated to encouraging philanthropy in Kern County.
James Simmons, the foundation's first president, said Wednesday it all began with four funds totaling between $200,000 to $300,000.
As times changed and the organization mastered its original intent, leaders decided to consider other ways they could help their community.
Over the years, Kern Community Foundation’s initiatives have evolved to respond to important community needs. That's being done through two strategic initiatives:
- Nonprofit strengthening, which helps local nonprofits increase their visibility, capacity and sustainability through collaboration and networking, training, marketing, outreach and fundraising support, grant-making, online resources, and participation in community events such as Give Big Kern.
- Educational attainment, which works to create a cradle-to-career pipeline of college and job readiness success through scholarships and convening every level of education and community leaders to commit to improving educational outcomes through the Kern Education Pledge.
One-fourth of Kern’s residents live below the poverty line, and closely related to that is 22 percent of adults have an associate's degree or higher in the community, compared to the state's average of 39 percent, Beall Watson explained. By lifting up students and giving them "every opportunity to pursue their dreams, we’ll end up with a large percentage of a community" with some type of postsecondary degree, she said.
"The work is very commendable," said Simmons. "They didn't have to do that ... but they did. I'm very proud."
So what can the community expect in the coming years? More of the same work to help local organizations and individuals, and new opportunities to proactively transform the community.
"I don’t think there’s anything stopping us," Beall Watson said.