AKRON, Ohio — Akron Community Foundation reached a milestone in December, surpassing $200 million in total grants made to the community. 

The total was reached during the foundation’s quarterly grant distribution in the health and human services sector, which awarded nearly $3.2 million for an array of programs. Grants are geared for programs in the civic affairs, arts and culture, and education sectors during the other three quarters.

What You Need To Know

  • Akron Community Foundation reached $200 million in grantmaking during its health and human services quarter

  • The foundation was launched in 1955 with a $1 million bequest by Edwin Shaw, an Akron industrialist

  • Shaw established the foundation to be agile to quickly meet the community’s changing needs

  • The foundation has awarded grants that have brought about long-term positive change for the broader community

The foundation was launched in 1955 with a $1 million bequest by Edwin Shaw, an Akron industrialist. Nearly 60 years later, in 2012, the foundation awarded its first $100 million in grants, but it took less than a decade to double that amount, said Akron Community Foundation President and CEO John Petures Jr.

The foundation typically conducts its work without fanfare, but the effects can be profound.

Recent examples include distribution of pandemic relief funds. The county partnered with the foundation to ensure $5.1 million in CARES Act funding was distributed as quickly as possible to 180 area nonprofits that deliver services thousands of residents rely on.

The foundation’s fund holders and its board added to the CARES Act funds creating the Community Response Fund for Nonprofits, which brought pandemic-response funding to over $6 million distributed to more than 300 nonprofits, Petures said.

The foundation’s agility and ability to quickly meet the community’s changing needs speaks to Shaw’s foresight when he established the organization, Petures said.

“Who would have ever have dreamed that a pandemic would hit? Who would ever have dreamed that there would be something called food insecurity?” he said.

But Shaw’s will stipulated the foundation should "meet the changes in the community needs brought about by the passage of time and the variance in circumstances."

The foundation awarded $20,000 toward construction of Blossom Music Center. (Courtesy of Akron Community Foundation)

While the foundation was making grants to help the community through the crisis, the community was also stepping up, Petures said.

In its last fiscal year, the foundation awarded more than $21 million in grants and brought in $22 million in new gifts and donations. In addition, 52 new donor funds were established. Donor funds enable fund-holders to direct their giving to causes they care about.

“Who would have thought during the pandemic?” Petures said. “Or maybe we should have expected during the pandemic that there's nothing more powerful than the human spirit and this unique American thing.”

That spirit is being witnessed now through the outpouring of support for the tornado victims in Kentucky and other states, he said.

The American spirit is evident locally as well. When the U.S. announced it would leave Afghanistan, throwing that county into chaos, many Akronites reached out with offers of assistance to the local organization that resettles refugees, the International Institute of Akron (IIA).

The foundation proactively offered a $50,000 grant over two years to help IIA resettle the refugees, Petures said. Through the health and human services distribution, an additional $16,200 was awarded to IIA for legal support for refugees.

So far about 160 Afghans have been resettled through IIA under the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, an emergency program created during the evacuation of Afghanistan, said Kevin Walter, IIA’s advocacy and community outreach coordinator.

“The Afghan evacuation took place so quickly, so it's a different process and a different program than the traditional refugee resettlement program,” he said. “That grant specifically for us has been really to help build out capacity to make sure that we have the staffing and the resources available to carry out that program.”

The first grant on record was $10,000 to underwrite a University of Akron effort to study what the university needed to meet community needs over the next decade. (Courtesy of University of Akron)

The foundation was positioned to proactively respond in another crisis 20 years ago following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Greater Akron Fire Truck Fund was created at the foundation at the request of the Akron Beacon Journal and FirstMerit Bank, and raised nearly $1.4 million. That enabled the Akron community to buy two EMS vehicles, three police cruisers and a 95-foot ladder truck for emergency-response departments in New York City.

“What a monumental achievement and an outpouring in a relatively short period of time,” Petures said. The fund is believed to have been the largest gift New York City received from any community.

Over the years, the foundation has supported many initiatives that brought about long-lasting, positive change for the Akron community.

In 1964, the foundation awarded $2,732.78 to start a pre-K program, which became a model for the federal Head Start program, the foundation said. 

In 1957, the first grant on record was $10,000 to underwrite the University of Akron’s Committee on the Educational Forecast. That effort studied what the university needed to meet community needs over the next decade in areas like enrollment, faculty, curriculum and finances.

According to then-university President Norman Auburn, that forecast set the stage for the university’s conversion from municipal to state status.

In 1968, the foundation also awarded $20,000 toward construction of Blossom Music Center, which remains a popular concert destination.