Season of Giving: Donations are changing lives in Utah
Editor's note: This is the fourth story in a series profiling people and organizations helping those in need during the holidays and year-round.
During his career as an engineer at the Utah Department of Transportation, Jim McMinimee was a bridge builder, acclaimed for inventing an accelerated construction technique. In his private life McMinimee built bridges, too.
He was active in his Catholic parish, supported Judge Memorial Catholic High School and devoted himself as a youth football and basketball coach, where he mentored dozens of young athletes. McMinimee, who had a brief career as a walk-on football player at the University of Utah, was passionate about team sports and wanted every kid who was interested to have the opportunity to play. He also believed that when someone offered help, it came with an obligation to return the favor.
McMinimee was in the midst of setting up a foundation that would focus on both those ideals helping kids play sports and inspiring them to be charitable when he died suddenly in May, at age 51. His family decided to carry forward his goal by setting up the James McMinimee "Pay It Back Fund," which has a particular focus on helping low-income youth participate in sports.
"He thought when you were on a team and you were part of something, it wasn't just about you, it was about doing something for a team, and there were lessons learned that were transferable to scholastics and to life in general," said his wife, Sally McMinimee. "You keep trying, you don't give up, you move on to the next play."
Donations poured in from people around the country who knew and admired McMinimee. The first awards will be made in August, at the start of the football season.
"These memorial funds are a way to really honor and carry on the things that were of importance to the person," said Fraser Nelson, executive director of The Community Foundation of Utah, which manages the fund.
They also are a way for like-minded individuals to give to good causes and help make Utah a better place not just at the height of the giving season, but throughout the year.
With these funds, it's "not a seasonal thing," Sally McMinimee said of the Pay It Back Fund. "Whenever the donation is made, it is going to be used to assist with youth athletics, particularly high school age."
In all, the foundation manages and administers nearly 75 philanthropic donor-advised funds, memorial funds, endowments, fields of interest groups and scholarships that are as diverse in size as they are in purpose.
"We feel very strongly that everybody can be philanthropic, and our job is to help," said Nelson. "We can really link donors with programs they really care about. The joy for us is helping them find a cause that really meets their philanthropic interest."
That help is especially critical now given the continuing financial strain on individuals, families and community agencies, which has yet to lessen following the Great Recession. Last year, Utah nonprofits reported flat or declining revenue despite increased demand, according to a survey conducted for the foundation.
And while many nonprofits focus on emergency or temporary aid, some funds managed by the foundation are aimed at providing potentially life-changing opportunities from paying for sports lessons to covering college application fees.
Sally McMinimee said the foundation's help was crucial for her, especially since she wanted to do something but didn't know how.
"It's such a rough time anyway," she said. "The community foundation they made it so easy."
The foundation also is making it easy for others to join in good causes, and donations of all sizes help.
Individuals might consider giving to the Utah Fund, through which the foundation provides grants aimed at helping nonprofits become efficient and self-supporting. Last year, the fund made its first round of $500 individual grants to 20 different organizations. Among them: HawkWatch International, New Frontiers for Families and Allies for Families in Panguitch, and the Grand County School District's BEACON After School Program in Moab, which lets elementary and middle school students participate in such activities as a golf club, rock climbing and Japanese drumming.
They could create or give to a "field of interest" fund, which allows individuals to come together to support a cause such as at the LGBT Community Endowment Fund, the Utah's Natural Heritage Fund, the Alta Community Enrichment Agency Endowment, and the Women's Giving Circle.
The circle, thanks to contributions from approximately 100 donors who ranged in age from 8 to 90, handed out $16,000 to three community groups last year that focus on women's issues; it is on track to have an even bigger impact this year, Nelson said.
The LGBT Community Endowment Fund used a portion of its donations to give a $50,000 gift to establish a shelter for homeless youth.
The Alta Community endowment program helps support that small town's arts and education program, including its annual wildflower festival, avalanche education programs and arts programs for children who attend its one-room schoolhouse.
The Community Foundation oversees four active scholarship programs that target specific geographic areas, fields of study or need. The Ostergar Scholarship Fund, for instance, was set up by an anonymous individual who graduated from Escalante High School. Now, a successful entrepreneur, the founder wants to encourage high achievers at Escalante High School to apply to top- tier universities outside Utah.
"He went to Escalante and was never told about the options out there," Nelson said.
The scholarship, being offered for the first time this year, covers application fees, which can range from $50 to $90 per school, and may cover some travel costs to visit schools. About five of the 20 students set to graduate from the school this school year are likely to be eligible for the award.
Chances are you didn't know Robin Mueller, a senior marketing director at Sorenson communications who died Nov. 4 of a massive heart attack after finishing what friends described as a "great set of tennis." She was 48.
But you may like what her friends did to keep memories of Mueller alive: They set up a scholarship in her name for young people who can't afford tennis lessons.
"She picked it up when she was in college," said Donna Sindorf, Mueller's mother. "She loved it so much, she just wanted everybody to play."
"Please take time to give someone a big smile and imagine her wonderful inner light shining through you," reads a notice posted on the Utah Tennis Association website about the fund. "Hug your family and friends. Get a check-up. Make sure you are in good health. Enjoy every day that you have a chance to get out on the court, especially on those beautiful fall days when the heat has left the court and you are blessed with a beautiful blue sky above you."
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How you can make a difference
A donation in any amount to the all-purpose Utah Fund will help support community nonprofit organizations working on such issues as youth, hunger, the environment and domestic violence.
A $50 contribution to the Ostergar Scholarship Fund, for graduates of Escalante High School, will cover most or all of an application fee for a top-tier, out-of-state college. The fund was set up by a former graduate of the school who wants qualified students to broaden their educational ambitions.
A $60 contribution to the Robin Mueller Memorial Fund will buy a tennis racquet and shoes for a child. A $96 contribution will cover the cost of eight 1-hour, semiweekly tennis lessons for a child at Coach Mike's Tennis Academy. Mueller loved tennis and wanted everyone to play.
A $165 contribution to the James McMinimee Pay it Back Fund will pay for one kid to participate in the Ute Conference Football league. McMinimee believed participating in team sports taught life lessons.
Donations to either The Utah Fund or a specific fund may be sent to The Community Foundation of Utah, 6550 S. Millbrook Drive, Suite 125, Salt Lake City, UT 84121, or made at http://www.utahcf.org.