SYCAMORE – Anita Zurbrugg is a lifelong DeKalb County resident, but she still is learning about the nonprofit organizations that exist around her.
As the program director for the DeKalb County Community Foundation, Zurbrugg helps award grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the county. The foundation, which is the seventh largest in the state in asset size, awarded more than $1.1 million in grants and distributions this year.
"It's pretty humbling to work in a community where you see so many people doing so many wonderful things through their organizations and individually," Zurbrugg said.
The foundation's work began two decades ago. The DeKalb County Community Foundation has awarded more than $15 million in grants to more than 400 organizations in the past 20 years. As its leaders celebrate this important anniversary, they are creating an online application process and considering a new community indicators program.
Executive Director Daniel Templin said the foundation is part of the legacy of Charles and Mary Roberts, who had the vision and made an initial $3.6 million investment in 1993. They brought together key leaders in the community to help establish the foundation, he said.
"I think there's quite a significance there and it reflects the spirit of philanthropy in DeKalb County," he said.
Another asset of the foundation is its 21 board members, who come from all corners of the county and connect with donors who help build the funds within the foundation, Templin said.
Many board members sit on a grant committee that reviews 40 to 50 grant applications twice a year and decide how to allocate grant dollars, Zurbrugg said. There are often three to four times more requests for grants than there are dollars available.
"They have to make some tough, critical decisions," she said.
Grants that have been awarded to area organizations include $10,000 in building renovations for Safe Passage and more than $31,000 to support arts and culture organizations.
The foundation started with the Roberts' donation in 1993, but its assets have grown to $41.9 million in September. Distributions dipped after the recession in 2008, but this year represents a reversal of that trend.
Besides celebrating its 20th anniversary, the foundation also celebrated its first year in its new location at the Sycamore Train Depot, 475 DeKalb Ave. The historic building provides a permanent home for the foundation and also gives area organizations a meeting place in the Freight Room. Templin said about 75 events, which attracted roughly 2,800 people, have been hosted in the room since January.
In 2011, Sycamore city officials donated the building to the foundation as part of a renovation agreement. They dedicated $100,000 in tax increment financing funds, and foundation members agreed to cover the rest of the costs. Other organizations also contributed.
The foundation also plans to move to an online grant application system next spring, which will hopefully allow for a better grant reporting system, Zurbrugg said.
Toward the middle of January, the foundation expects to complete a study through Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies to determine if it wants to pursue a countywide community indicators program. The program would measure the progress of the foundation's mission with indicators based on key community issues.
Barb King said she thought she had a good handle on what the community foundation did and why they existed. After working for four months as the administrative manager, she said she is finding there is more to learn.
"Most people don't know or understand how much good work and how much is involved in doing that good work," she said.
By the numbers
Grants, scholarships and agency fund distributions by year
Source: 2012 Annual Report, DeKalb County Community Foundation