Macon, Georgia. Sean Pavone/shutterstock
While many of our conversations about philanthropy in Georgia naturally center on Atlanta, there are other regions of the state where local foundations are playing crucial roles that deserve attention, as well.
Take the Peyton Anderson Foundation—it backs a wide variety of community causes in Central Georgia and has invested more than $103 million there since it was founded in 1989, after Peyton T. Anderson, Jr.’s death. In his will, Anderson said: “The money I have is not mine. It’s not mine because this money was made in the community, and it was made because the community flourished. Therefore, I was able to flourish and this money rightfully should go back into the well-being of the community.”
We recently checked in with Chenza L. Stokes, project manager, about how Anderson’s legacy is affecting the Macon area today.
Who Was Peyton T. Anderson, Jr.?
Anderson was born in Macon in 1907 and worked in his family’s newspapers, The Macon Telegraph and Macon News, as a teen. After serving in the Navy in World War II as a decorated public relations officer, he re-entered the publishing trade and in 1951, bought back his family’s papers, which had been sold. He owned them for the rest of his career, and reportedly had a reputation for nourishing unbiased local journalism. In 1969, he sold the papers and retired to concentrate on managing his investments. The Telegraph remains the primary print news-source in Middle Georgia and is the third-largest paper in the state.
According to the foundation, Anderson was known to have a “larger-than-life persona” and also as someone who would quietly help out neighbors in need. The foundation named for him awarded close to $7 million in 2018 to 34 local projects working in its core interest areas of art and culture, community development, education, health, and human services.
“Our best investments continue to focus on our future—and our youngest residents,” Stokes tells Inside Philanthropy. On that note, let’s look at how the foundation is backing local education.
Funding Education at Many Levels
Stokes describes overcoming barriers to quality education as “a major objective of the community.” The foundation casts a wide net of support for teachers and students in its focus region. It supports programs such as Read United, which helped more than 500 students in kindergarten through third grade reach grade-level reading sufficiency in the 2017-2018 school year.
In 2017, the foundation created the Teach to Inspire initiative to award microgrants to local teachers. Grants ranging from $250 to $10,000 each have added up to over half a million dollars. Mini-grants can play a crucial role for teachers, boosting their ability to innovate and reach students in new ways.
Earlier, in 2009, the Peyton Anderson Scholars program was created to commemorate 20 years of the Foundation’s work. High school students from Bibb County who “demonstrate academic promise, strong character, community involvement, and financial need,” and who plan to attend a selection of Georgia colleges and universities, are eligible. This scholarship initiative has given out more than $2 million to-date, and recipients have performed in excess of 10,000 community service hours as part of the program. We’ve seen how local grantmakers like the Peyton Anderson Foundation can play a vital role for a limited amount of higher education students as the national school debt dilemma continue to worsen.
Shoring up Local Health Care
The foundation backs organizations like River Edge Behavioral Health, Macon Volunteer Clinic, and the Navicent Healthcare Foundation “to ensure the best local care can be given in the best facilities possible,” Stokes tells us. In 2018, River Edge Behavioral Health was a major recipient — it’s going to build a new recovery center facility. The Macon Volunteer Clinic, which provides the local un- and underinsured community with health and dental care, received funding for essential needs including diabetes testing supplies and staffing expenditures like an enhanced role for a staff medical director. And, with a gift that combines the foundation’s interest in both youth and health, the largest gift of last year was a $2 million grant for the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital.
Invigorating Downtown Macon
It’s not surprising for such a deeply rooted local foundation to have a strong attachment to and vested interest in the area’s economic and civic centers. It is committed to utilizing the power of collaboration to “reclaim and reinvent Downtown Macon as the vibrant urban hub of Central Georgia,” Stokes tells us. It’s currently engaged in a three-year initiative that launched in 2016 called the Downtown Challenge Fund. It partnered with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation out of Florida—an appropriate partner, given both foundations’ established ties to news media—to fund $3 million for the Downtown Challenge. The challenge is administered by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, a group the Peyton Anderson Foundation helped to launch. Earlier, in 1996, it also led the establishment of NewTown Macon, a cross-sector downtown-improvement program that has since raised hundreds of millions.
The current Downtown Challenge tasked the community to bring forth ideas to transform its urban core, so it “can grow with grace, build upon its good bones, dance to its local rhythm, care for its heart, and coordinate and focus for maximum impact.” A notable project was the creation of a Christmas lights show on Poplar Street, a formerly blighted thoroughfare. An early goal to string 250,000 lights nearly tripled in size by the second year. Stokes reports it has attracted thousands to the downtown area and created a huge economic impact, with surrounding local businesses reaching record sales.
“This new community tradition is now sustainable through sponsorship support, a network of dedicated volunteers and downtown development organizations who will continue to collaborate on this project for years to come,” she says.
The Peyton Anderson Foundation has supported many other good works in Georgia over the last 30 years, all of which we cannot explore here. Learn more on their site, where you can also check out their online application procedures. Funding is issued annually in two grant cycles, with the first cycle usually opening for applications in January.