Kern Community Foundation Hits 15th Anniversary Wednesday
Nov 14, 2014

By: Ruth Brown, The Bakersfield Californian

Fifteen years. Thirteen million dollars. One hundred-twenty individuals, families and corporations with good will to sow -- and the money with which to sow it.

Kern Community Foundation's first decade and a half of uniting a unique assortment of disparate philanthropists with the people and organizations that need them has been quietly memorable.

In those 15 years, the foundation continually boosted its donations. This year the foundation's grant output reached a record level -- nearly $2.5 million.

The foundation focuses on two types of giving: sustainability aid for nonprofits and college access aid to those who'd otherwise be unable to afford it.

More than 120 funds created by individuals, families and corporations exist within the foundation for those purposes. In addition to cash donations, the KCF accepts appreciated securities, real estate, life insurance and IRAs.

These funds represent a much greater commitment than the average $25 donation, said Jeffrey Pickering, president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

Donors take time to consider how they want to improve the quality of life in Kern County and what is important to them.

"It's changing your attitude from being a donor who just responds to whoever asks, to being a true philanthropist who considers this as an investment in the community," Pickering said. "I believe giving through that Kern Community Foundation allows people to carry out that moral obligation."

Stockdale High School graduate Matthew Whittaker, 18, was one of the recipients of the Oscar and Libbie Rudnick Scholarship.

He received a $1,000 scholarships and is studying fire technology at Bakersfield College. He hopes to pursue a career as a firefighter and fire investigator.

Whittaker, now a freshman, said his school books alone cost $400 this semester, and the scholarship helped chip away at that expense.

"I knew that my mom doesn't make a lot of money, so I knew if I wouldn't be able to get help (with scholarships), it would be hard to afford," Whittaker said.

In his scholarship application essay, he described the hardships he had growing up, including drug and alcohol abuse at ages 15 and 16.

His grandfather, a longtime Bakersfield firefighter and his role model, inspired Whittaker to stop his substance abuse and attend college.

"I would say as a student it helped just (with funding) and as an individual it made me feel proud," said Whittaker.

One of the nonprofits granted money this year from the foundation's Women's and Girls' Fund was Dress for Success, which received $7,000.

The Women's and Girls' Fund, created 10 years ago, is an initiative of Kern Community Foundation that awards funding to nonprofits benefiting women and girls.

In the last 10 years, the fund has given away $168,000 from nearly 500 donors. Of those donors, more than 300 donated more than $1,000, said Judi McCarthy, founding chair of the fund.

Dress for Success is an organization helping women find employment. Women are referred to them by the Kern County Department of Human Services, Garden Pathways Inc., the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and other agencies.

Some clients have recently been released from prison or rehab and about 70 percent are single mothers with an average of two to three children.

They supply women with appropriate interview attire, help them create resumes and teach skills to use during a job interview.

Elaine McNearney, executive director of Dress for Success, said that, most importantly, they help women help themselves.

"We can't get them the job. But we can get them all the tools and training and support, (and) we help them tell their own best story," McNearney said. "That helps them get a job, change their lives, get themselves and their children off of welfare, start to pay taxes and we help pull them out of that life."

McNearney's grant and Whittaker's scholarship are two of the many grants awarded through Kern Community Foundation.

"Community foundations across the country really represent a promise to the community that charitable resources will be in the community forever," Pickering said. "That's our mission."

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