PUNXSUTAWNEY — Although the Punxsutawney Area Community Foundation can be considered a “community savings account,” it is much more than that to its members — it’s a thriving future for Punxsutawney and its people.
Trustee and board member Shirley Sharp said she has been with the organization since its beginning. Sharp’s motivation for a community foundation was a vital part of its initiation.
Sharp, who was formerly a member of the Harrisburg Rotary Club, said the group became aware of the Ben Franklin Endowments in the 1970s, which would later be used to help establish community foundations by the Pennsylvania Legislature. A friend challenged Franklin to save his money and invest it in the future, to which Franklin agreed, after part of the money was invested in Philadelphia and Boston projects. For the following two years, the money had to stay in an account and gather interest, then be used to support the good of the public.
The Pennsylvania Legislature offered money to each county, Sharp said, if it would develop a community foundation and projects that benefited that county.
“I saw that foundation be able to build an Art Center in Harrisburg and what that money could do for the community,” she said.
However, a lot of counties didn’t understand the concept or get on board right away. Sharp proposed the idea for a community foundation to Punxy PRIDE (Punxsutawney Revitalization: Investing, Developing and Enhancing) in 2000, but it wasn’t until a meeting in 2013 that plans were put into motion to organize it. And it wasn’t until July of 2015, that the PACF was officially proclaimed. It was a long road for community foundation enthusiasts.
After the organization was created, it raised money for the Punxsutawney Area Endowment Fund and became an affiliate of Bridge Builders Community Foundations.
“A community foundation is for those people who grow up in a community and appreciate it and want to see the community continue and provide resources to it,” Sharp said.
It’s important to preserve resources in a community so that they can be used and put back into the organizations and businesses of the future, Sharp said. People can give back to a community and support it through supporting the organizations within it.
Sharp said her son participated in a youth theatre group in the community and really enjoyed it, and its important for youngsters to have those opportunities and avenues in which to participate.
PACF contributes to causes like the Coal Memorial Project, which aims to preserve the history of the area, Sharp said. The organization contributes to economic projects that will benefit the entire community as a whole to keep it thriving, since more job opportunities bring in more population.
“I see the community as a whole needing to create some new avenues of economic development,” she said. “We can’t rely on industries of the past. We want to make a climate where business can thrive — where a community structure has the ability to accommodate the new. We want a quality of life for business, but for people who work in the businesses.”
Like Ben Franklin’s endowments, Sharp hopes that in 100 years, the PACF can do something amazing for Punxsutawney.
PACF member Katie Donald said one of the organization’s goals is to promote nonprofit organizations and “provide community input, ideas and connection. PACF takes great pride in educating donors and fulfilling donor intent.”
In March of this year, PACF was part of the “Week of Giving” – an online philanthropic initiative. More than 10 local nonprofit organizations and area funds of PACF received donations that week, totaling a $37,169.85 raised between all the groups, Donald said.
It took about 10 years of planning and development to get the PACF up and running, Donald said, but it is important to have because of its positive possibilities and advancements, as well as funding for local scholarships.
The PACF has given grants to the Punxsutawney Memorial Library for computers and supported hunger initiatives for local students.
“We are always in need of volunteers and contributors,” Donald said. “The community can get involved by supporting various events we have throughout the year, considering planned giving, or learning more about the potential impact that a donation of any amount can have on a community.”
To learn more, visit the Punxsutawney Area Community Foundation on Facebook or call 814-952-1611.