Donors get to say who their money helps

Foundation helps pioneer teachers give back to schools.

Another in a series of short historical reminiscences to mark the 30th anniversary of the Homer Foundation, Alaska’s first community foundation. The series has been produced by the foundation and written by board member Tom Kizzia.

When Dave Schroer came to Homer in 1953 to be a teacher, there were no school sports. Schroer signed up to be coach for a ski team, though his students had to teach him how to ski. When he retired 30 years later and found his pension included an extra $1,200 annually for all his years of coaching, he decided to donate the money annually back to programs at the Homer Middle School.

Despite a busy retirement (Schroer built the golf course out East Road, which opened on his land in 1986), Dave and his wife, Beth (a former home economics teacher in Homer), soon expanded their annual gifts to all Homer schools and enlarged the amounts. Finally in 1999, they turned to the Homer Foundation, Alaska’s first community foundation, to set up an endowment that would extend their largesse.

“We wanted a way to do it in perpetuity, even after we’re gone,” Dave Schroer explained recently.

Today the Schroers’ nest egg is the biggest single fund in the Homer Foundation’s holdings. They have continued to add to it from their own carefully invested pensions — as well as by selling their home-grown carrots and apples at the local farmers market. They have directed the fund’s earnings to many favorite causes, including the Pratt Museum and school programs ranging from middle-school volleyball uniforms to a comfy rug for the reading corner in the Paul Banks Elementary library.

“Alaska has been good to us,” Dave Schroer said.

The Schroers’ fund is an example of more than a dozen “Donor-Advised” funds held by the foundation, in which donors are consulted over possible grants and sometimes bring suggestions of their own to the foundation. The foundation also has a number of “Field of Interest” funds, in which donors point their money toward certain causes without getting so involved in the specific distribution decisions.

An example of the latter is the Bluegrass Fund, set up by North Fork residents Lisa Climo and Michael Mungoven in 2017. After nearly three decades in the area, the couple said they wanted to give back by supporting local social service and health organizations. The foundation’s grants distribution committee keeps that in mind when nonprofits request money. Over the past three years, earnings from their Bluegrass Fund has helped buy or upgrade trucks for the South Peninsula Haven House Thrift Store, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and the Anchor Point Food Pantry.

There are field of interest funds dedicated to many different purposes: social services, arts, conservation, music, youth, and, of course, scholarships.

Today, field of interest funds like the Bluegrass and donor-advised funds like the Schroers’ make up much of the Homer Foundation’s holdings. Donations made to the foundation itself, rather than to specific funds, go into a third category for general use, where they supplement the other funds in making community grants and support the foundation’s operations. The foundation’s assets, whose investment is managed by Vanguard, also include more than a dozen funds set up to benefit specific non-profits.

Adding all these pieces together, the endowment of the Homer Foundation, as it marks its 30th year of operation, has grown to more than $5 million.