When two recent college graduates from Columbia wanted to start a camp emphasizing values for middle-school boys last summer, they turned to the Columbia Foundation for financial support.
Though Dan Forester and Vince Guida Jr. were young and lacked experience running a nonprofit program, the Columbia Foundation liked their idea of fostering self-esteem in young people and granted $7,500 in start-up money.
"That got the wheel rolling with [other donations]," said Mr. Forester, co-founder of the Each One Reach One camp, praising the foundation, which celebrated its 25th anniversary of incorporation last week. "For nonprofit organizations that want to give back to the community, it really helps get a foot in the door."
Over the years, the nonprofit Columbia Foundation has awarded $3.1 million in grants for start-up costs and annual operating funds to many nonprofit programs similar to Each One Reach One. Its most recent round of semiannual grants, announced in November, awarded $161,000 to 28 local charitable groups.
The foundation's executive director, Barbara K. Lawson, said the foundation is unique for a community of Columbia's size.
"You generally find these in large cities," Ms. Lawson said. "Not many small communities have one."
The foundation was formed Dec. 29, 1969, by Columbia founder James W. Rouse and other planners of the new town. Its mission was to improve the quality of life in the county by making grants to agencies offering educational, cultural or human services. It zTC also has focused attention on community problems. For example, the foundation last summer organized a countywide conference on issues affecting children.
The foundation, which has a 29-member board of directors, made its first grants, totaling $5,000, in 1971. It has given out between $200,000 and $400,000 annually since 1989 as its endowment fund -- currently $2.7 million -- has grown.
Minutes from meetings during the foundation's early years indicate that the founders "had no sense of how it would take off and grow and the power and impact it would have in the community," said Ms. Lawson, the director since 1989 and one of two full-time foundation employees. "They did have a vision to bring new and innovative ideas to a community wider than Columbia."
For example, the foundation helped launch the Howard County Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center at Howard Community College with a $25,000 grant in 1993.
"This community was founded on great principles, but it's not immune from hate incidents, violence and domestic violence," Ms. Lawson said.
Pam Grady, director of administration for Voices for Children, said the Columbia Foundation's $10,000 grant in 1991 enabled the new agency to receive state matching grants and begin providing services.
Voices for Children trains and supervises volunteers who work one-on-one with abused or neglected children who have been referred by the juvenile court system.
The foundation has continued supporting Voices for Children's operating budget as the agency's caseload has grown from 12 to 60.
"Without the Columbia Foundation money, we couldn't continue to serve the kids referred to us constantly by the court," Ms. Grady said. "We haven't had to turn any away."
Ms. Lawson, the director, said the foundation is more willing than governments to risk supporting start-up organizations. A foundation grant helps give a new group legitimacy when it seeks additional contributions from businesses or government, she said.
The foundation uses interest income from the endowment fund and annual donations from individuals and businesses to make two rounds of grants annually.
About 75 percent of groups applying to the foundation receive grants, Ms. Lawson said. The board evaluates the community's need for a particular service and an applicant's goals and staffing in determining grants, she said.
The Family Life Center, a Columbia counseling agency, is just one organization that has been helped. The center has received contributions from the foundation since the early 1970s, including seed money for new programs.
"One thing the Columbia Foundation has been able to do is respond quickly to changing needs," said Connie Adamson, Family Life Center director of volunteers and public relations. "I think Columbia is a much better community because of it."