Central Montana foundation

Community Foundation Works Year-Round to Make Wishes Come True

People may be more spread out on the eastern half of the state, but they’re coming closer together. Group after group are working on community-level solutions to some of rural Montana’s most complicated problems. Check back this winter to find inspiration for your own community. 

By guest contributor Carrie Mantooth

The holidays are a time for giving. But here at Central Montana Foundation (CMF), we enjoy the spirit of the season 365 days a year. In fact, it would be easier to find that proverbial needle in a haystack than to find someone in the five-county region at the heart of Montana whose life has not been impacted by CMF.

Harlo students

During its nearly 35-year history, CMF has granted millions of dollars to Central Montana organizations and projects, providing medical and essential services, educational projects, and scholarship awards that benefit youth, the needy, the elderly, and everyone in between.

All the good feels.

CMF is the “one-stop” shop where donors can give to nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations in Fergus, Garfield, Judith Basin, Petroleum and Wheatland that hold permanent endowments and pass through funds under the CMF umbrella. It’s also where many of those same organizations go to request grants to assist their projects.

As executive director of CMF, and its sole employee, I have a front-row seat to the generosity that Central Montana is known for. Every day, I witness the can-do attitude of volunteers and staff of nonprofits who identify a need to improve and enrich our lives, then map out a campaign to achieve it. Being in a position to see the giving side of humanity makes coming to work every day a joy and a privilege.

One of my favorite responsibilities is writing the CMF quarterly newsletter: The Roundup. Learning the motivations behind all the generous giving is truly inspiring. Recently, I spent an afternoon with the anonymous donor featured in the winter edition of the newsletter. She is a former professional who is increasingly tethered to her home from the effects of a debilitating chronic illness. The irony of her story is that she chooses to support local nonprofits with missions to help the needy. These are the type of people I get to surround myself with: passionate, grateful and inspired to do good works.

Take the new nonprofit Glitz, Glam & Gowns, for example. This CMF grantee loans or rents dresses to area teens who can’t afford them on their own. At our last annual meeting, Linda Wier, the group’s volunteer organizer, read a thank you from a teenage girl who wrote, “I appreciate your help in finding me the perfect dress. I never feel correct or comfortable in a dress, but when I tried on that beautiful, long, glamourous dress, I felt like an outgoing, gracious girl…That one dress did what I thought was impossible. It made me, me.”

A tradition of giving.

When a group of visionary businessmen established CMF in 1984, it was Montana’s first community foundation. Two of our founders—Don Pfau and Fred Schell—are well into their 90s now. But, they continue to serve as unofficial advisors for CMF and are the superheroes of the Foundation.

Don and Fred

CMF has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past 35 years. We like to tell the story of how an estate gift of $3,500 from local character Col. Joe Montgomery, who died at the age of 107, was a boost that got the fledgling nonprofit going. CMF has grown exponentially since then. The more than 200 funds under the CMF umbrella include about 50 scholarship funds awarding nearly $200,000 annually to about 100 students pursuing their higher education. Other grants go to programs that benefit the entire community. CMF does not charge administrative fees to any of the organizations it holds funds for. All of its overhead is covered by the unrestricted endowments that fund the grantmaking program.

Recently, Central Montana Medical Center EMS Manager Rick Poss expressed his gratitude for CMF funds that enabled him to purchase a portable CPR device. Through actual footage shot through a police officer’s chest camera, we watched the device being used on an unresponsive patient. The patient wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, but thanks to the CPR device, EMS personnel revived him and he made a full recovery. Witnessing this dramatic, real-life event left our hearts full of gratitude to the donors who make these grants possible.

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch swing and slide

CMF’s unrestricted permanent endowments provide the income for its grant program, which typically adds up to around $200,000 in grants each year. Grant requests are double or even triple that, so it falls upon CMF Board of Directors to decide the best use of funds from a limited pool of dollars. CMF Directors take that responsibility to heart, realizing that donors to those funds entrusted them to be good stewards.

At CMF’s last meeting, directors awarded a grant to Spirit of Christmas to provide groceries, mittens, and hats to more than 300 people in need in Central Montana. For the 39th year, Spirit of Christmas volunteers will gather and distribute gift baskets to area families. According to organizer Penny Horan, this may be the only Christmas gift many of these folks receive. Horan said the organization, which has received several CMF grants throughout the years, relies on CMF funds to continue this program.

As we get set to welcome a new year, I look forward to working with CMF President Dean Comes and the other CMF Directors to continue to increase our grantmaking programs so we can meet the needs of even more Central Montana organizations. All donations to CMF funds are tax deductible. You can learn more at centralmontanafoundation.com. Better yet, stop by my office in the First Bank of Montana building, 224 W. Main Street, in Lewistown. I welcome the opportunity to share more stories about how CMF is improving the lives of Central Montanans.

Carrie Mantooth is the executive director of Central Montana Foundation. She was born and raised on a ranch near Lewistown and is a graduate of Old Dominion University in Virginia. She and her husband returned to their hometown to raise their family nearly 27 years ago and reside on a little piece of paradise near Denton.

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