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The Erie Community Foundation President Shares Thoughts On Service, 2024 Erie Gives

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Today, employers are no longer judged solely on their bottom line. The role they play in the community also can have a major impact on their brand and business. Here, Karen Bilowith, president and CEO of The Erie Community Foundation (ECF) and guest speaker for the MBA’s IMPACT Luncheon & Nonprofit Fair on July 24, shares her views on community involvement and service, and the impact that one of the most successful giving events in the region, Erie Gives, has on nonprofits, employers and the community.

As one of the region’s most high-profile nonprofit leaders, you have a unique perspective on philanthropy and the importance of giving back.

The Erie Community Foundation, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year, has a unique perspective on philanthropy because we work with donors, nonprofits and community leaders who have the common goal of improving our community. We are in the middle of where generosity meets good work and that’s a special place to be.

Every day, community members are impacted by a nonprofit. Our mission is to inspire, engage and empower donors and communities across the region. Thanks to grantmaking, you can see and feel the difference in Erie.

Erie’s educational attainment is better than ever because of the Erie County Community College. Neighborhoods are thriving. Our West Bayfront and Eastside Task Force have leveraged more than $7 million in outside funding to make positive change. Our health care is world class due to a $6 million historical grant to expand the Pittsburgh-based, Magee Women’s Research Institute to Erie.

From our perspective, we see community leaders collaborating regularly and everyone has a voice at the table. That results in forward- thinking, growth and impactful change.

Three years since you joined ECF, you’ve made great strides in leading the Foundation. What achievements are you most proud of?

I am proud of the strategic direction of the Foundation under the vision of our Trustees. I am also proud of our greatest asset, our staff, who through teamwork connect nonprofits and donors.

We have also built on the successes of The Erie Community Foundation established by previous Boards and my predecessor. We continue to convene, collaborate and create open dialogue to move our work forward.

One example is our work with Infinite Erie, a collaboration between public, private and civic leaders. Infinite Erie resulted from the Investment Playbook, and already just two years into the leadership, you can see its work making a difference.

I am also really proud of the success of our regional affiliate foundations in Corry, Findley Lake, North East and Union City. They continue to grow through our support as well as through the work of their volunteer board of directors.

Of course, I admire how our affinity funds inspire others to give by offering an opportunity for collective giving towards a shared purpose. In 2023, the Erie Women’s Fund, the LGBT Fund and the Emerging Erie Fund collectively gave $187,000 to local nonprofits.

What are some exciting initiatives under way for ECF in 2024?

We are excited about our work with Infinite Erie, which was paramount in the groundbreaking for Grow Erie last summer at Joyce Savocchio Park. Inspired and led by the Minority Community Investment Coalition, our grant will transform the Eastside by providing good jobs and a food oasis in a desert.

We are also excited about the Housing First Erie. As part of the overall comprehensive strategy, the goal is to address homelessness in our community. We are working with many partners on this initiative that will empower 150 people by providing them with housing and wrap-around services.

One such partnership is the Construction Trades program at Erie High School. During the evening hours, Erie Center for Arts & Technology leaders are teaching skilled trades such as electrical, plumbing and building. Well-trained workers are the pipeline to build homes to house the chronically unhoused.

Of course, we are excited for the 14th annual Erie Gives, which will take place on Tuesday, August 13. We have strong support from corporate partners for the Bonus Bucks pro-rated match pool and from smaller community partners for the $500 hourly grants, which we will announce later this summer, closer to Erie Gives.

Tell us more and what’s in store for Erie Gives this year.

New this year, we are excited to announce that the Erie Gives website will be open from midnight to midnight. Our goal was to make giving convenient for donors who work second or third shift, live in a different time zone or are just night owls. Our friendly staff will still answer phones from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 13.

Besides the new Erie Gives logo, we are also excited about our new partnership with Country Fair. From now through August 13, customers who pump gas using their Loyalty ID number and a CIGO gift card, will save .13 cents a gallon AND Country Fair will donate .02 per gallon to all the Erie Gives nonprofits! Whatever is raised will be divided evenly, and to date, over $40,000 has been raised.

Our regional affiliate foundation friends have voted to donate an extra $30,000, $25,000 and $10,000 to Erie Gives nonprofits in their respective communities.

What’s the best way to learn more about ECF, Erie Gives and ways to get involved?

Visit ErieCommunityFoundation.org, ErieGives.org or attend the MBA’s IMPACT Luncheon & Nonprofit Fair on July 24.