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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, November 03, 2019 1:00 am

Foellinger helps shore up community's foundation

Cheryl Taylor

On May 31, 2020, I will step down as president and CEO of the Foellinger Foundation.

Foellinger Foundation invests in the excellence of nonprofit organizations in Allen County that serve children and their families, particularly those with the greatest need and least economic opportunity.

The foundation is a private charitable foundation created in 1958. Our assets hold a market value of more than $200 million. Last year, our grant payments topped $8 million.

I've been proud, and privileged, to serve the foundation for three decades. I worked in various positions under the leadership of Carl Rolfsen and Barbara Burt. And, in 2001, I succeeded her as president.

One of our founders, Helene Foellinger, said: “Whatever may be said about human beings, they are – as a whole – a family.” Miss Foellinger's words and actions have motivated and inspired me. The foundation has diligently worked to support organizations and initiatives that make a positive impact on Allen County's residents – our own “family.”

My position at the Foellinger Foundation has given me the opportunity to be part of the solution – oar in hand, ready to row – when our community has faced dire straits: the times when our hope needed to shine brightest, and when our grit needed to prove most resilient.

As I reflect on my time at the foundation, I recall where our community's narrative was in 1990. Fort Wayne entered that new decade like many Rust Belt cities – facing urban blight, increased crime and fewer manufacturing jobs in the wake of the deindustrialization of the 1980s.

How could we have known, or prepared, for what was ahead of us – the victories we would celebrate, and the challenges we would endure – and overcome – together?

Look to the nonprofit community.

Nonprofit organizations embody Allen County's spirit. When run well, they anticipate our community's needs and develop new approaches to address them.

In trying times, their steadfast commitment propels us forward. And when our community flourishes, their purposeful devotion to their missions persists, ensuring we all rise together.

The Foellinger Foundation's assets are invested with a philosophy of long-term stewardship. This ensures that, as long as there are strong organizations with adaptive, committed leaders working to solve our community's most daunting issues, there will be a source of support.

The foundation does this by identifying and funding mission-driven, well-governed, results-oriented organizations.

In 2016, to further strengthen and inspire nonprofit leadership in our community, we introduced the Helene Foellinger Leadership Development Initiative. Of all the investments we've made, this investment in the development of individual leaders is, for me, the foundation's most important.

Through this initiative's rigorous programs, executive and rising nonprofit leaders build adaptive skills that allow them to lead like no other – today, and tomorrow, as they prepare our community to overcome challenges we've yet to even uncover.

All the while, the foundation remains committed to our donors' values of integrity, accountability, responsibility and results. For three decades, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work alongside a board of directors and staff who are driven by these same values and intent.

Thirty years on, we find this community on the rise, nationally recognized for its positive momentum and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

For this, we should all feel a great sense of pride, and we should celebrate the difficult, visionary work that led us here.

And yet, social challenges persist.

The foundation's vision and mission endure.

As a nonprofit community, we still have much work to do, and many rivers to cross.

I have an oar in my hands. I'm ready to row.

Cheryl Taylor is president and CEO of the Foellinger Foundation.