Our Introduction to the Harvest Foundation – 2006

Our Introduction to the Harvest Foundation

It was the winter of 2006; we needed to renovate the lower level in order to bring in rentals. We needed money in order to renovate in order to bring in rentals. We needed a $200,000 plan in order to bring in money in order to renovate in order to bring in rentals. Clearly, we were facing a seemingly insurmountable chain of one-thing-must-lead-to-another.

Ideas to bring in money were just basically pennies and dimes compared to the money we needed. At every meeting, members suggested, "Get a grant. That's easy money!" But realistically, why would any funder take a chance - a big chance - on an organization less than two years old, with no history (but with no debt), with the goal of renovating an old school? (How many failed projects like that had they seen?)

Meanwhile, the Harvest Foundation, which had been created in 2002 from the sale of Memorial Hospital, with the mission of researching and responsibly investing in programs and initiatives to address local challenges in health, education, and community vitality, seemed like a possibility. So, here we go! President Harry Cerino and Allyson Rothrock agreed to meet with out rag-tag group's reps: Shirley Flippen (who was the expert in writing grants) and Mary (who had no experience whatsoever, but would defend Shirley if she were kicked out.)

Mr. Cerino and Ms. Rothrock were very polite, but it was clear that they did not share our enthusiasm about renovating an old building, especially a 39,000 square foot old school, into what? A community center? It has been tried and 99.9% of those have failed. And we need how much? A half million dollars? (Can you hear the laughter?) But - Mr. Cerino assigned Allyson the task of visiting Spencer-Penn and off she went to Spencer - on the coldest day of winter - with no heat in the upper wing. (We had a coal furnace, and no one wanted the job of starting a fire, and we didn't want to burn oil at $1.65 per gallon.)

Mary: "Harvest was coming to take a tour and physically "see" what Shirley and I had tried to explain. The building was cold but I had on multiple layers including my good old thermal underwear! I looked like a "bag lady" but was fairly comfortable working. Allyson arrived looking like Barbie with her long coat, cashmere scarf and her leather gloves. (I remember she kept pulling on her gloves...) I have Allyson the tour. At first she was skeptical (hey, I would be also!), but she kept asking questions. One question I will always remember, "If Harvest doesn't give you a grant, how will you accomplish your goal?" I replied, "We will sell more hotdogs!" Since then, the group has always referred to a cost of a project by the number of hotdogs: The new carpet is going to cost 834 hotdogs!"

Allyson: "Mary Jordan was the first potential grantee Harry and I met with once the Foundation was in operation. She came to our meeting armed with a laundry list of needs, and an energy and exuberance that lit up the room the second she appeared in our doorway. Her list of needs included everything from a new parking lot, to HVAC, to the kitchen sink (literally!), all for a huge old school building that Harry and I had never seen, in a community we barely knew. At the end of a long and intriguing meeting, Harry told Mary and Shirley that I would work with them to figure out potential next steps but that the full $2M they were requesting was not an option.

As it happened, my first visit to Spencer-Penn was on an extremely cold and dreary day in the beginning of January. There was no electricity, which also meant no heat, and all I could see was a dark empty building. But there stood the invincible Mary Jordan, filled with even more energy than she had at our meeting. She talked a mile a minute about all of their well thought out ideas to transform this old school into a lively hub for programs and community gatherings, a place that would be both a physical and metaphorical pillar for the Spencer-Penn community.

Several months later, during one of what would become many visits to Spencer-Penn that year, I showed up and there, hard at work, were no less than 25 volunteers, or what Mary referred to as her "Jacklegs." They were painting, doing plumbing, refinishing floors, repairing ceilings, all the while talking about the grand vision they collectively had for a community theatre, a music venue, a community kitchen, technology classes, dance classes and the like. With the number of volunteers increasing with each visit I made, and the clear, realistic plans Mary had developed for making their vision a reality, Harry and I and the Harvest Board determined it was a prudent time to make an investment in the amount of $137,000, which, thanks to the hard work, steadfast commitment, and vision of Mary and her crew, has since been leveraged into hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, and for the community as a whole."

Our heartfelt gratitude to the Harvest Foundation and the two visionary and trusting souls who believed in us there! We couldn't have done it without you!