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Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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The Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, a charitable endowment in South Bend, Indiana, has a straightforward mission: to improve the quality of life for the citizens of St. Joseph County and their succeeding generations.  The endowment comprises 400 funds established through gifts, invested in perpetuity, from individuals and organizations interested in helping the community. Earnings go to charitable programs ranging from arts and education to the environment.

The Foundation’s largest fund, now totaling about $8 million in assets, comes from a donation by Robert P. and Clara I. Milton. The couple had no children, and in their will, they left their estate to create and maintain a home for elderly women. The Milton Home opened in 1951 on East Marion Street, across from Memorial Hospital in South Bend. Wells Fargo became the agent and custodian for the Trust.

Over time, increases in life expectancy, health care costs, inflation, and operating expenses made it impossible to maintain the home. In 1981, no more residents were admitted, and in 1982, the Milton Home was sold. The trust continued to support those still residing at the home at the time of sale until the last such resident passed away in 2000. In 2001, half of the funds were moved from Wells Fargo to the Community Foundation. Wells Fargo maintains a similar fund (sister fund) to support senior housing. The Milton Fund at the Community Foundation began to distribute in 2004.

Through proactive grantmaking, the Foundation has been able to utilize half of the fund to take on large issues such as home modifications and nursing homes, while it retains the other half for responsive grantmaking.

“We have some ideas on potential independent living [options], a model prototype home or even a Green House,” says Chris Nanni, Vice President, Program. “We’ll do different things depending on what we see the need in the community is.”

In 2004, the Foundation conducted a needs-assessment using the AdvantAge Initiative survey to help identify areas most in need of financial assistance. They found significant deficiencies around home modification of older adult housing, most notably in the African-American community.

In 2009, the Foundation provided matching funds for a grant from the Weinberg Caregiver Initiative (Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation), a three-year program that awarded grants totaling $8.1 million with matching requirements totaling an additional $3.3 million to 14 nonprofits in nine states. The grant supports innovative and evidence-based community projects that help family and friends care for chronically ill or disabled low and moderate income older adults. The Community Foundation contributed $400,000 to a $1.2 million senior housing grant to a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Although the Weinberg grant concluded in the summer of 2012, the Community Foundation has continued to sustain the AAA initiative with a further $1 million endowment. Half of the reserves came from the senior fund and the other half from a sister fund at Wells Fargo.

Over the last year and half, the Foundation has additionally been conducting a nursing home initiative, which consists of two phases. In phase one, two consultants from B&F Consulting, based in New England, worked with the administrator and director of nursing of each participating home for nine half-day professional development workshops. They also went on site visits. During each of their three-day stays, the consultants would also take time to assist individual nursing homes in addressing issues that ranged from crisis management to strategic planning.

Phase two of the Initiative produced a curriculum, called Nurses as Leaders, based on the consultants’ experiences. Much of the idea for the curriculum stemmed from dialogues with Directors of Nursing (DONs), which revealed that, while the DONs may have the necessary technical skills to run a nursing home, they had never been taught the necessary administrative skills. The consultants reviewed several national programs before developing a 20-hour curriculum for the DONs, co-owned with the Foundation, which offers two-hour sessions over 10 weeks at the local community college. The first session began in October of 2012. The Foundation currently offers the course twice a year and shares the cost equally with the nursing homes in order to get as many nurses through the program as possible.

The final facet of phase two began in August 2012. A local AAA began holding quarterly meetings for administrators to identify areas in which they needed training. They then received Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) to begin half-day training sessions. Unique to these learning opportunities is the chance to convene and listen for what is important and essential for success.

The Foundation is also piloting a Nurses as Mentors initiative, modeled on a similar Robert Wood Johnson grant on the East Coast. The initiative includes six different eight-week courses for certified nursing assistants (CNA’s), each of which will undergo evaluation in a separate homes.

Among the Foundation’s next efforts is implementation of Care X, a new software package, developed in partnership with the University of Notre Dame, which manages shift changes. Two nursing homes will test pilot the program to assess the impact of the software.

The Foundation began working with GIA when Nanni attended his first conference. “I came seeking out assistance because we had a new fund,” he says, “and I wanted to connect with experts in the field. So I went to one of the conferences and was really impressed with the quality. I asked to be part of the mentoring program and was linked with a couple of mentors. I was with one of them for a couple of years. That was really helpful, to have someone to bounce ideas off of. GIA has been great to work with.”



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