Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund tops $1 million in grants awarded

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Jim Buckner founded the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund in 1999 with his attorney and Black Mountain mayor at the time Mike Begley. In its 20th year, the fund has now contributed over $1 million in grants to philanthropic organizations throughout the Swannanoa Valley.

In 1999, as the world prepared for the arrival of a new millennium, Jim Buckner was thinking further into the future. The Black Mountain native, who passed away in 2010, recognized growing needs in his community and had an idea to help meet them in the years to come.

Twenty years later, as the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund awards grants to 17 area nonprofits and community organizations, Buckner’s foresight laid the groundwork for more than $1 million in funding for philanthropic endeavors throughout the Valley.

“In all he did, he was a visionary,” said Buckner’s brother John, who sits on the BMSVEF advisory board. “He was a smart guy and he tried to look into the future and see what needs might exist.”

That kind of forward thinking may be what drew Jim to a Community Foundation of Western North Carolina newsletter, where he read about the organization’s regional affiliate programs. The Community Foundation, founded in 1978, works to build a permanent pool of charitable capital for the 18 counties in the region through investing and managing contributions.

The CFWNC had several of what is now nine regional affiliates in place at the time, according to vice president Sheryl Aikman.

Each affiliate fund is guided by an advisory board consisting of members of the communities they support. The board raises money for the charitable endowment fund and reviews applications on an annual basis to determine grant recipients.

Bounty & Soul executive director Bruce Ganger works alongside staff and volunteers to prepare for a market at Owen Middle School on May 9. The Black Mountain-based nonprofit is one of 17 organizations to receive grants totaling more than $100,000 this year.

Aikman and former CFWNC president Pat Smith met with Jim and and Black Mountain attorney and then-mayor Mike Begley about establishing an affiliate fund for the Swannanoa Valley.

“I remember Jim had the newsletter in his hand, and he said ‘our part of the county needs this,’” Aikman said. “He was passionate about it.”

A steering committee to establish a community endowment fund for the Swannanoa Valley was formed and in September of 1999 the CFWNC presented the concept at the Red Rocker Inn and committed $35,000  in matching funds.

With $10,000 needed to establish the BMSVEF, the event raised over $11,000.

The launch of a public campaign to recruit 200 charter members, each making a contribution of $250 or greater, by 2000 was successful and the BMSVEF awarded nearly $32,000 in grants to five nonprofits the following spring.

This year, the fund made 17 grants totaling $100,850, bringing its total to $1,031,290 in contributions since it was established.

The 2019 recipients represent the diverse needs of the community, according to advisory board chair Chip Craig.

“It really gives us a unique view of the needs in the community,” he said. “We see the issues associated with poverty, and the needs of our seniors and children. But a lot of it really comes back to poverty.”

The Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund has supported organizations like Bounty & Soul with more than $1 million in grant money since the fund was started in 1999.

The 13-member board looks for the grant applicants with the potential to have the biggest impact on the community, Craig said.

Black Mountain Counseling Center, a nonprofit that offers mental health services to uninsured and underinsured clients and those struggling financially, received $10,000 this year. That amount was also awarded to Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels of Asheville and Buncombe County, Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry and United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Black Mountain-based nonprofit Bounty & Soul, which supports whole-person health in the community in part by providing fresh produce to those who may not otherwise have access to it, received a $10,000 grant to establish a farmer’s outreach program.

“We go out to local farmers and growers and ask them to, what I call ‘plant a row’ for Bounty & Soul,” the organization’s executive director Bruce Ganger said. “Those who agree to do that allow us to come in and glean, so it’s not really a row, but things like ugly sweet potatoes or stuff that’s not retail quality.”

The program will help Bounty & Soul serve the increasing number of people who attend their four weekly mobile markets, which provide food and other health-related resources to the public.

“Increasingly, we’re relying farmers and growers for food to meet the demand of the community,” said Bounty & Soul executive director Bruce Ganger. “This seed money from the endowment fund will allow us to get the organization and materials for that program in place.”

The mobile market program received $20,000 in seed money in 2014 from the BMSVEF, which has been key to Bounty & Soul's ability to develop programs that serve the community.

"We saw a 30 percent increase in 2017 and almost a 30 percent increase again in 2018, the lines are getting longer and the needs greater," Ganger said. "(BMSVEF) has been insightful and terrific community partners. They get it when it comes to program funding, and they're a joy to work with. Many of the people from the advisory board are volunteers for us, so they don't come as an absentee funder, they are part of the community and want to see their work be sustainable over time."

The growth of the fund has been fueled by community support, according to Craig. 

"We have people who give annually, and we do solicitations in the summer in the fall through a letter to people who have given in the past," he said. "Most of our dollars have come from people who have died, who donated the money through their estate. It's a great way to have a lasting impact on this community."

The Buckner Family Endowment Fund, which works in conjunction with the BMSVEF, was established with a "substantial gift" from Jim's estate following his death, Aikman said. 

"He created that fund so that his family's name would continue to be associated with the (BMSVEF)," she said. "He wanted that fund to have the same purposes as the BMSVEF and he wanted the advisory board to advise the grants from his fund as well."

Jerry Newbold established the Helen S. and Jerry M. Newbold, Jr. Endowment Fund in memory of his late wife. He committed that fund to the BMSVEF a few years ago.  

John was invited to join the advisory board several years ago. 

"There are a lot of organizations that we've helped out, ranging from the women's prison to the Swannanoa Valley Museum," he said. There are so many hard-working people doing important volunteer work and a lot of these organization need support to realize their goals and visions."

Support of the fund represents "a small town at its best," Craig said. 

"People are really taking care of each other through these organizations," he said. "And we have a lot of very talented people involved in so many of these nonprofits."

Similarly, community backing for the CFWNC has continued to strengthen as well, Aikman said. 

"The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina has grown and thrived, in what I would say is out of proportion for the region we serve, because people care so deeply about our place," she said. "People are passionate about it whether they're born here or just got here. They come here for a reason and that sense of place is something we're fortunate to be associated with."

In the Swannanoa Valley, where needs continue to evolve with the community, it was Jim's vision for the BMSVEF to grow with them. 

"I'm proud of Jim and his vision," John said. "I think he would be extremely proud of everything this fund has done."