Thirty Years of Philanthropy
The History of the LaGrange County Community Foundation
Photographer / Kari Lipscomb
Since 1991, the LaGrange County Community Foundation has been a charitable partner in LaGrange County, helping connect donors to their charitable dreams and building permanent community funds.
A community foundation is a tax-exempt public charity serving thousands of people who share a common interest – improving the quality of life in a geographic region. Individuals, families, businesses and organizations create charitable funds that help meet those local challenges.
The foundation began with a group of community leaders who believed in the importance of building long-term permanent funds for LaGrange County.
Governed by volunteer committee members from across the county, the Board of Directors oversees strategic planning, establishes policy and sets priorities.
“Our responsibility is to be a wise steward of the assets entrusted in our care,” says Octavia Yoder, executive director. “The foundation works on behalf of donors who want to do charitable good in LaGrange County.”
The foundation began humbly in the basement of Farmers State Bank in LaGrange. The first director, Elsie Willard, donated her salary back to the foundation, and under her direction the team encouraged the start of a community arts fund.
Today, the foundation manages 150 unique funds and has grown to $24 million in assets, with three full-time staff members. While the foundation focuses on building permanent funds for charitable efforts, the organization also supports funds for short-term community projects.
After occupying the old Bir Hotel near the intersection of State Road 9 and U.S. Highway 20 in LaGrange for nearly 25 years, the foundation moved its offices a few miles outside of LaGrange in April of 2021, to a location near the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and 250 West. The facility includes a community room available to nonprofits for meetings, trainings or events.
In 30 years, the foundation has granted more than $3.3 million from its unrestricted funds to support local charitable needs. The foundation’s Caring Community Fund provides grants to local agencies seeking funding through its Community Impact Grants program. Nonprofits apply and a committee reviews the applications.
The Caring Community Fund is an unrestricted fund, which allows it to be used for any community need. “Some donors create funds for a specific nonprofit or a type of cause,” Yoder says. “The flexibility of an unrestricted fund is important because the needs in LaGrange County can change over time. When a donor supports the Caring Community Fund, they are supporting grants to local agencies. Donations of all sizes are pooled together in the fund and support a robust grant program.”
Nonprofits such as Elijah Haven, LaGrange County Trails, and Rainbow Years Learning Ministry are just a few of the beneficiaries.
In 2019, the foundation awarded LaGrange County Trails $25,000 to support the development of the Hawpatch Trail. The 17-mile bike and pedestrian recreation trail will connect Wolcottville, Topeka and Millersburg. The grant supported operational startup expenses, which included legal fees, title research and appraisals.
Connecting donors to charitable opportunities like LaGrange County Trails is changing the landscape of the community in a positive way.
“The foundation recognizes the power of community philanthropy and what can happen when a generous community gives,” Yoder says. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”