40 and Forward: Midland Area Community Foundation

By Sharon Mortensen, MACF President & CEO

Midland Area Community Foundation celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2013, ushering in a new era of giving and philanthropy. The foundation grew out of the basic human desire to positively impact the world knowing that changing the world starts with changing where we live. It grew out of the belief that individuals can change the community through philanthropic giving.

Through the foundation, many dreams have become realities. Area treasures like the Tridge, the Fun Zone, the Rail Trail, and the Santa House have been established. Nonprofit organizations have started, developed new programs and expanded services. Students have been able to access education beyond high school. Projects such as violence prevention in our schools and cultural awareness forums are underway. Celebrations like RiverDays and the courthouse lighting have brought people together. Putting their money together, donors have given the community greater vibrancy as their gifts have enriched and improved quality of life.

Why was Midland Area Community Foundation Established?

On October 2, 1973, twenty-five Midland leaders and volunteers came together to establish a community foundation. Their idea was to allow people to join together and establish a public foundation. Described as “by the people, for the people,” the stated purpose of the organization was to improve the quality of life in Midland.

Carl and Esther Gerstacker both grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Cleveland Foundation had been undergirding the community and accomplishing major tasks like downtown renovation. Inspired by this example, the original founders believed that great improvements could take place by soliciting the contributions of local people and using them for specific projects to benefit Midland.

Esther Gerstacker, one of the early presidents, later wrote that the Midland Area Community Foundation is “a combination of many gifts, large and small, from many people, managed as a public fund for the long-term benefit of the community. Its purpose is to make Midland ….. a better place to live – not just now, but to enrich the lives of all future generation of Midlanders.”

What Is a Community Foundation?

The mission of the Midland Area Community Foundation is to strengthen our community by providing leadership, fostering collaboration on local needs and issues, and encouraging a legacy of giving through grants, scholarships and events. Through leadership, collaboration and a legacy of giving, the foundation continues to enrich lives and make Midland a better place to live.

The essence of a community foundation is many people putting their money together to address the diverse needs where they live. Gifts enable people to dream bigger, to see the many possibilities. As money is endowed, the gifts grow forever, providing ongoing support to help the community prosper.

Community foundations reflect and support donors’ wide array of interests and help them address all aspects of community need including arts and culture, economic development, education, environment, health, human services and recreation.

What Does a Community Foundation Offer?

Grants – The Midland Area Community Foundation provides grants for nonprofit organizations. The foundation is concerned about the community as a whole and supports a wide variety of community programs. Grant applications are accepted four times each year. The basic principle is receive gifts, grow funds and give back. Grants total over $2million on an annual basis.

Scholarships – Promoting education beyond high school is a priority for the community foundation. Scholarships are offered to help students continue their education. Last year over $300,000 was given to nearly 150 students. Scholarship applications are accepted annually between February 1 – March 1. Scholarships provide an investment in the community’s future and help students achieve their dreams.

Projects – The community foundation allows project funds to be established for specific purposes. Individuals, corporations, and family foundations may all be a part of a project. While often not the largest donor, the community foundation provides a vehicle for the project to take place. The Tridge epitomizes a project that brought Midland together with generous support from family foundations.

Giving Options - The community foundation idea is simple: anyone may use it to give something back to the community. Individuals can start a fund in honor of someone they love or to celebrate a special event. Donors can direct their gifts broadly or narrowly to issues they care about or to wherever the needs are greatest. However an individual gives, the gift can change lives today and in the future.

What Has the Community Foundation Done Over the Years?

Looking around Midland, it would be hard to find a nonprofit or community gem that has not been touched by the foundation “of the people.” Over the upcoming year, a series of articles in the Midland Daily News will highlight some of the community projects championed by the Midland Area Community Foundation.

Some of the organizations and projects that received funding in the first few years included:

• The Greenbelt Beautification Project

• Whiting Overlook Park

• West County Community Center (now West Midland Family Center)

• United Community Fund (now United Way of Midland County)

• Salvation Army

• Midland County Council on Aging

• Midland Hospital Center (now MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland)

• Midland Center For the Arts

• Chippewa Nature Center

• Northwood Institute (now Northwood University)

• Midland Area Homes

• Shelterhouse

• Riverfront Beautification

• Midland County Child Protection Council

• Midland-Gladwin Community Mental Health Services

• Midland Community Center

• Midland Sheriff’s Department

• City of Midland Police

• Pine Haven Recreation Area

Over the past 40 years, the list of organizations benefitting from the community foundation has grown significantly with tens of thousands of individuals touched by the foundation’s work in the Midland area.

How Does One Become Part of the Community Foundation?

The community is the heart of Midland Area Community Foundation. Every individual, family, business and organization has the opportunity leave their own legacy with a gift of any size. Those who donate to the community foundation are called “members.” These philanthropists are embodying the meaning of the word; they are extending goodwill to their neighbors as they actively promote human welfare in the Midland area.

As the community foundation celebrates 40 years and moves forward, the Midland community will continue to be transformed by the giving of all of us – past donors, current donors and future donors yet to be born. As Esther Gerstacker stated, “Most of us need an ‘enabler’ – a vehicle to help us bridge the gap between dream and reality. The Midland Foundation can be that enabler.”

MACF is celebrating 40 years of leadership, collaboration and giving in Midland County. Since 1973 we have provided an avenue for individuals and organizations to change the community through philanthropic giving. MACF awards grants and scholarships, offers the ability for individuals and families to invest in the community and serves as a catalyst for collaboration and change by leading community dialogue and action on critical issues.