November 2, 2012 12:12:36 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
One of the state's largest community-giving organizations announced a partnership with a local endowment group Thursday.
Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation, Inc. has expanded its service area to include the Lowndes Community Foundation, and it's a partnership CREATE Chairman Tommy Tomlinson hopes will positively impact both quality of life and economic development for the area.
"This is only the second time in history CREATE has extended beyond its original 15 counties," Tomlinson said. "Oktibbeha County joined our group in 2008. This partnership will both increase quality of life through charitable giving and help regulate development."
Lowndes Community Foundation President John Jones said the partnership will also bring increased visibility for the organization.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to become more visible." Jones said. "The Lowndes Community Foundation has been a pass-through for projects such as the Lee Park renovation, the Columbus Air Force Base airplane displays and we have helped with grants for projects such as the American Wind Symphony. We look forward to working with CREATE."
CREATE will oversee the administrative end of the Lowndes Community Foundation and provide assistance and guidance. Money given to the Lowndes foundation will be specifically used for local projects. The partnership can be dissolved if deemed necessary.
The announcement comes on the heels of Starkville and Oktibbeha County's commitment to a three-year interim agreement with the Golden Triangle Regional Development Link. The partnership is a newly-formed tri-county coalition with the specific goal of industrial development. Lowndes County and Columbus, as well as Clay County and West Point, have already pledged membership to the alliance. Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Link CEO Joe Max Higgins said the new partnership with CREATE will help strengthen the industrial authority.
"I knew about CREATE before I even knew where Columbus was," Higgins said. "When I got here, (former Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association Director) Charleigh Ford said we need to become a member of CREATE. We in the Golden Triangle don't take this lightly: This is a great honor. It's some big-time leadership in North Mississippi realizing we have something to bring to the team."
Robin McCormick, secretary/treasurer for the West Point Community Foundation, said the new relationship comes at a good time for the region.
"With the Lowndes Community Foundation joining the CREATE umbrella, it can only strengthen the new regional development organization," McCormick said. "The West Point Community Foundation has had a prosperous, long-standing relationship with CREATE. I think this is great for Columbus and Lowndes County as well as the Golden Triangle."
When Lowndes Community Foundation board member Jim Davidson started the non-profit organization, his goal was simple but ambitious -- to help Lowndes County residents improve their quality of life through tax-deductible donations.
"We put it together as a community chest, just like in the game Monopoly." Davidson said. "At the time, it was the third community foundation in the state. We went through several growing phases where we had different board members, including elected officials. We want to do things for the citizens the government can't do. We sponsor 'The Messiah' and Wings Over Columbus. We have also brought the Mississippi Boys Choir to Columbus, and we sold the bricks as a fundraiser for Leadership Park.
"One of the more successful things we do is the police academy. We helped with the fundraising for the children's playground at Baptist Memorial (Hospital-Golden Triangle)."
Davidson said the foundation is a way for private citizens to donate money tax-free for a specific project. The foundation invests the money until the funds are needed to complete the project.
"It's a lot easier for someone to let us do the work for them," Davidson said. "Filing for a 501(3)(c) with the Secretary of State's office can be very complicated, and keeping one up requires a lot of time. We are a 501(3)(c), and we can invest this money for the person and then write their organization a check when the funds are needed."
Building an endowment
While the foundation hasn't yet filled its community chest, Davidson said he and other members hope to continue to educate local residents on the how to use the foundation.
"We haven't had a huge endowment yet, and that has been disappointing," he said. "The community foundation in Jackson has been able to do a lot of things for its residents. We hope to be able to continue to improve the quality of life for our residents."
CREATE, which has $64 million in total assets, also agreed to some creative fundraising for the Lowndes Community Foundation, starting with a generous donation during Thursday's announcement at the Lions Hill Golf Club.
"The CREATE Foundation is making a $100,000 challenge grant to encourage unrestricted endowment giving for the Lowndes Community Foundation," CREATE President Mike Clayborne said. "This will be a two-to-one match. The Lowndes Community Foundation has to contribute $200,000. This will be great seed money for something larger."
Higgins wasted no time in expressing his wishes for the seed money.
"I'm most excited about this grant challenge," Higgins said. "We may ask for this to help put some data together for our three-county coalition.