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Community Foundation an enduring gem

November 21, 2017 GMT

It started Oct. 27, 1982, when four area residents, Donald McCann, Les Horrell Jr., William Holmes and Don Green incorporated the Community Foundation of Kankakee River Valley.

The foundation celebrated its 35th anniversary at a gala banquet Friday night at the Kankakee Country Club. More than 150 people attended.

The foundation started slowly. It did not reach $1 million in assets until 1999. It hired its first executive director, Norma Strasma, in 2002. Throughout its history, it only has had three executive directors, Strasma, Rick Manuel and the current director, Nicole Smolkovich.


Today, the foundation is approaching $9 million in assets. Those assets continue to build. Meanwhile, the interest is dispensed to improve the community. About $600,000 has been spent in the past year. It has become one of the great charitable engines of the community.

The foundation has successfully tapped into matching grants. It also has taken the long haul, relying on donations, including many donations from estates. It also casts a wide net, administering 26 different funds. By using the Community Foundation, you can donate to a wide number of worthwhile community activities: the Helen Wheeler Center for Mental Health, Hospice of Kankakee Valley, the Kankakee Public Library, the Kankakee County Museum, the Kankakee Valley Park District, the Kankakee Area YMCA, Zonta and Wright in Kankakee, among others.

The Community Foundation especially targets three problems: kindergarten readiness, through a program named Success by Six; workforce development to prepare people for jobs; and recreation, notably support of the Riverfront bike trail program.

There is an annual banquet/luncheon tradition, but for the most part, the foundation quietly goes about raising money and doing good. No dinner/auction, 5K run or golf outing is held. It also consciously works patiently, steadily building a balance, rather than reacting to a crisis.

It is an approach that has worked. Give people lots of choices. Aim to do good for years. Where would we be without it?