Charities, social services make Effingham County better place to live

Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation President and CEO Amanda Lessley stands near the foundation logo inside its office located in Effingham.

There is no shortage of citizens in Effingham County who "give where they live," according to Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation President and CEO Amanda Lessley.

The foundation aids in cultivating philanthropy through local donors to benefit charities, organizations and individuals in the county. It's one of many factors in the social service sector that keeps residents in the county -- or entices them back after they've been away.

One way the foundation hopes to retain Effingham County citizens is a proposed post-graduation scholarship program that would help college graduates pay off their student loans in exchange for living and working in Effingham County.

"The idea is that many times you've got your front-end scholarships that help people get their start in education, but then what about when someone's graduated ... and they want to come back here but many times they have student debt," Lessley said. "We found that the money's important, but when you invest in people like that, then they feel more connected to the community and they're more likely to stay."

Lessley said the scholarship program is in the works, and the foundation is working with state and federal legislators to make it possible.

The Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation's Effingham County fund was established in 1999 and has sinced accumulated over $13 million in assets. Lessley said the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation provides $18.5 million in grants and scholarships in Effingham County.

The regional nonprofit public charity has over 150 charitable funds, each with their own donors and own purposes. Lessley said the funds vary in type from endowments to spendable funds to project-based funds to fiscal sponsorship and more.

Lessley said with project-based funds, the foundation assists Effingham County in making it a more attractive place to call home. The foundation has worked with the fundraising portion of the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex, Harmony Playground and is assisting Effingham County citizens in creating the "Bark Park" for dogs.

In addition to those fundraising efforts, the foundation is working with Lake Sara Forever's Pearson Peninsula project, the Effingham County Fair, Krops4Kids, the Giving Circle, 100+ Women Who Care and more.

"The people who are best to make sure Effingham County is continuing to grow and thrive are the people that live and work here," Lessley said. "A lot of nonprofits are doing great work. It's how can we then support their efforts."

Another organization helping the charitable and social sectors of Effingham County is the United Way of Effingham County.

Chief Professional Officer Linda Hemmen said the United Way is servicing 22 local partner agencies in its 2019 campaign. Hemmen said each year these agencies reapply and make requests for specific programs within the county, and the United Way's grant committee then looks at the funds and programs to determine the number of people being served by these programs and the number of people served by the prior year's funds.

Hemmen said an organization like the United Way is vital to the county because it aids those county resources that assist those who are often marginalized or are in great need.

"United Way is here to help people to community resources and help those in need," Hemmen said. "United Way is here to help raise money and make the community a better place to live and work and could not do it without volunteers and individuals who donated to United Way."

Hemmen said 99 percent of funds raised through United Way stay local. She said those funds help people of all ages and walks of life, from birth to the elderly.

One out of three people will use services provided by the 22 local partner agencies, Hemmen said. The United Way aims to help the community "live united."

"You never know when you'll be helping a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor," Hemmen said.

The 22 partner agencies in the 2019 campaign include the Altamont After School Program; Andrew Gobczynski Big Heart Foundation; Big Brothers Big Sisters Mid-Illinois-Effingham County; Boy Scouts of America Greater St. Louis; Catholic Charities; CEFS Literacy and Retired Senior Volunteer Programs; Child Advocacy Center of East Central Illinois; Effingham Child Development Center; Effingham County FISH Human Services; Effingham County Search and Rescue; Fellowship of Christian Athletes Greater Effingham Area; Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois; Heartland Human Services; Meals on Wheels of CEFS; One Hope United; Oneighty; SAFE; Senior Services of Effingham County; STAR; SWAN; and the Unit 40 Mentoring Program.

For more information on the United Way, visit www.effinghamunitedway.org or call 217-342-3824.

To find out more on how to donate or apply for a scholarship or grant with the Southeastern Illinois Community Fund, visit www.enrichingourcommunity.org or call 217-342-4988.

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