Ninilchik establishes first community fund through Homer Foundation

Ninilchik has established its first community fund, and with it the Homer Foundation has further strengthened its service base in the southern Kenai Peninsula.

According to the Homer Foundation’s July newsletter, Ninilchik already has an active civic population and several nonprofits caring for the community. The newly founded Ninilchik Community Fund, intended to provide further resources for the Ninilchik community, was established by leading donors Lara McGinnis and ARCHES Alaska executive director Jim Stearns.

“This is the fourth community fund, and we think it’s a great addition,” Homer Foundation Executive Director Mike Miller told the Homer News in a Saturday interview. “We hope other communities will see the value in that as well, because there’s a lot of people out there in the communities who just want to give back.”

Funds created under the Homer Foundation are considered active — or able to begin grantmaking — when they meet a $10,000 minimum threshold. The Homer Foundation is currently the parent organization for community funds established for Anchor Point, Kachemak City, Homer and now Ninilchik, according to the newsletter.

“Our job really is to facilitate an opportunity for people who love the Ninilchik community and want to give back, and we’re really excited because they’re excited, as a group,” Miller said. “It’s great to see the community embracing that and seeing the value in that.”

Stearns, representing ARCHES (arts, recreation, conservation, humanities, education, science) Alaska, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designated to support community-oriented organizations and individuals in the state of Alaska, invited the Homer Foundation to a community meeting in Ninilchik last month to provide information on how community funds — and particularly the then-prospective Ninilchik Community Fund — operate.

During the meeting, McGinnis came forward and offered to donate the first $5,000 toward the minimum threshold.

“We’re excited that we got started so quickly, from idea to reality in a very short time,” Stearns told the Homer News on Saturday. “(Lara) showed up (at the meeting) and said that Ninilchik has done so much for her that she was going to throw the first $5,000 in, and it kind of took me by surprise, so I said ARCHES would match it and we’ll just get this thing launched right now.”

McGinnis told Homer News in a separate Saturday interview how, when she came to Ninilchik in 2002, the community embraced her and her family completely, and when she suffered a car accident in 2015, the community came together to provide support in numerous ways.

“There’s some things you can just never pay back. … So this was my way to say ‘thank you,’” she said. “If this fund establishes the way that I think it will, there’s no stopping the benefits that can come to help. I’m just really excited about the possibilities. It’s been on my wish list for over 10 years.”

In order for the fund to grow and become sustainable in the long term, there is a two-year requirement from the fund’s establishment before grants can be awarded and money begins to flow back out to the community.

“It’s modeled exactly how the Homer Fund (or the Permanent Fund) is — the principal is invested and then the earnings get distributed,” Stearns said.

During that two-year period, a committee will be formed from a blend of Homer Foundation board members and Ninilchik community members that will manage the Ninilchik Community Fund and establish criteria for reviewing applications and dispersing funds, according to McGinnis.

“This isn’t a short-term vision; this is a long-term plan,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis and Stearns will also focus on raising money to increase the fund’s principal balance.

“The Homer Foundation takes care of all the legal and financial parts of this, and we just have to oversee it and help raise the funding, which we’re doing,” Stearns said. “Our goal is to raise the money and then basically step back and let the established community members decide where that money’s going to go. Both Lara and I have made a (verbal) commitment that we’re going to continue to donate money to the fund every year. If nothing else, we’ll be putting money into it so it will grow every year.”

Stearns and McGinnis are also planning to host a second community meeting with another presentation by Miller in October in order to discuss further details and next steps for the fund.

“There’s a lot of community interest, and the more clarity that I think we can get, the more questions we can answer for the community, and I think we’re going to be able to raise money after people realize that the money can stay in Ninilchik,” Stearns said. “I think we can do quite well here in Ninilchik, in terms of raising money.”

For more information on how to donate to the Ninilchik Community Fund, contact Lara McGinnis at 907-398-4468.