In 1995, following a suggestion from John T. Oliver, Jr., Pat Willingham and the Community Health Systems Board set aside $6 million in proceeds from the sale of the Walker Regional Medical Center to begin an endowment for the Walker Area Community Foundation. This donation has served as the nucleus for funding worthy causes that might otherwise go lacking.
Other community leaders involved in the formation of the foundation were the late J. George Mitnick and Larry Drummond. Together, Oliver, Willingham, Mitnick and Drummond created a foundation that will forever serve as resource for solutions to our community’s greatest problems.
Since 1995, the Foundation’s endowment has grown from the original $6 million to more than $26 million due to wise investments, the creation of new Donor Advised Funds, but mostly because of the faithfulness of our donors.
The first two years were a time of growth for the endowment. In 1997, the first seven grants were awarded in the amount of $289,300. Since then, the foundation and its funds have awarded over $18 million in grant money to more than 150 nonprofit organizations in our area. In addition to awarding grants where warranted, the Foundation staff is dedicated to developing the internal capacity of nonprofit organizations. We provide training sessions to assist with business operations and to further assist in their receipt of out-of-county funds from state, federal, and private sources.
The Foundation made its biggest and most impactful gift yet with the opening of the Bankhead House & Heritage Center. Purchased, renovated and maintained by the Foundation because of the generosity of a few special donors, the Bankhead House & Heritage Center is here to serve our community as a treasure trove of information, artifacts, cultural events and varied forms of art that connect our proud past to our optimistic present while showcasing our bright future.
In 2011, disaster struck our county in the form of tornados. From those first days, a different kind of relationship was brokered between the foundation and Walker County nonprofits involved in disaster relief. We quit being just the funder and became a partner. We forged stronger bonds with local donors as well as regional and national funders. Because of our leadership, we became known throughout the state as the ones to call with questions because we were “getting it done in Walker County”.
In 2014, the Foundation created its own strategic plan, and began to lead the way in planning for Walker County as a whole with partners including the Walker County Commission, Chamber of Commerce of Walker County, Jasper Industrial Development Board, Walker County Economic Development Authority, Senator Greg Reed and all of the municipalities in our county. While robust, the plan is moving our community forward in positive ways.
The Foundation was fortunate to receive substantial, financial gifts in 2018, tripling the size of our endowment. Through all the gifts the Foundation has received over time, we now have the ability to fund the dreams of our nonprofit organizations - expanding their scope of influence - in addition to meeting their operational needs.
We celebrated our 25th Anniversary in 2020, as well as fought a pandemic and dealt with the aftermath tornado. Foundation staff will tell you, it’s been our strongest year in terms of serving our community and making things happen in Walker County.