IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG to give away $107,500. Less than two hours, to be exact, and that included refreshments and informal conversation among the roughly 100 people who attended the report and reception by the HRBT Foundation at Columbia-Greene Community College Monday evening.
The foundation was created in 1998 when a local savings bank went public and became, briefly, the Hudson River Bank & Trust Company. The new banking company donated $5 million in stock for a foundation and it’s been a good investment ever since.
The bank was absorbed in a merger years ago, but the original $5 million has grown… by a lot. Over the last 20 years the foundation has made grants to local non-profit organizations totaling $15 million with $18 million more to spend on all kinds of projects in the years ahead.
The biggest beneficiary of the HRBT Foundation over the last two decades has been Columbia Memorial Health. That would be at the top of any list made by people who live here. Hospital CEO Jay Cahalan said the money had “transformed” the hospital, referring to the medical arts building and other improvements. But he knows the financial pressures on all hospitals, especially small ones in rural areas. So at the very least the foundation has bought the hospital time to adapt and to outlast the hostility of the president and the U.S. Senate toward guaranteeing healthcare for everyone who lives here.
The second biggest chunk of funding since the foundation was launched has gone to libraries. If you want a test for which institutions signal that a community embraces a love of learning and the preservation of our collective knowledge, look at local libraries first. Think about the expansion of the libraries that serve the Roe Jan Towns of Copake, Hillsdale and Ancram; Hudson, Kinderhook and Claverack too, and the less dramatic but significant changes in Valatie, North Chatham and New Lebanon. Libraries throughout the county have received direct assistance from the foundation that allows the libraries to add services and programming, with each one energized and encouraged to more by the success of the others. If any of our libraries still face woefully small budgets, it speaks of a library that has not yet found a way to engage with its taxpayers, holding them responsible for library service. It is not a shortcoming of the foundation or any other donor.
Columbia-Greene Community College has also benefited from HRBT Foundation grants. Former college President Jim Campion listed several programs that have helped financially stressed students pay for gas to travel to and from class as well as for books and meals. Meals?
Why does the foundation have to help cover those types of expenses? And why do food pantries in the county need private support? Isn’t it the job of a nation to see to the welfare of its citizens?
The generosity of the HRBT Foundation, individual philanthropists and charitable organizations in this county is breathtaking when you begin to add it up. And there’s no telling how much goes on anonymously or simply overlooked. But no matter how many dollars private charities supply in this county of fewer than 60,000 residents, the need is greater than private charities can or should handle.
What’s remarkable about the HBRT Foundation is the scope of its giving. Beyond the capital projects and the safety net support, its grants have assisted Habitat for Humanity, the Hawthorne Valley Rolling Grocer mobile store, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Perfect Ten girls program, Sean’s Run, the Columbia Land Conservancy, the Chatham Area Recreation Program, the Hudson Boys’ and Girls’ Club and many other City of Hudson programs like Winter Walk and the city’s skateboard park. And then there are the cultural organizations like the Concerts in the Village and the Crandell Theatre and the FilmColumbia festival. That’s just the most recent round of grants. The foundation has contributed to 400 organizations since 1998.
This good work deserves praise. It also reminds us that successful communities cannot survive on charity alone. The HRBT Foundation makes life better in Columbia County. We are grateful for that. But we should not let their generosity obscure our obligation to hold all levels of government accountable for essential services to the public. These grants tell us how great that need is.