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Foundation:  A basis upon which something stands or is supported. –

George Mickelson had a dream that one day, communities all across South Dakota would  have a way to pay for some extras – call them wants instead of needs – and that the money would be there forever and not at the whim of politicians and taxing authorities.

It was a novel idea for our state, especially since Mickelson himself was the state’s politician-in-chief at the time. However, the governor knew all too well that just about every city and town at some point seeks to reach beyond what sales and property taxes will provide.

Mickelson’s solution? A “foundation” that would help pay for such things as after-school programs for kids, a theater for community players, or a ball diamond.

The word “foundation” has many meanings, but they all involve support of a larger structure or purpose. I read somewhere that the Empire State Building’s “foundation” extends more than 50 feet into the ground. Every builder knows that a solid foundation is critical to the long life of the structure above it, and Scripture advises us to build our homes on foundations of rock, not sand, if we wish them to last.

Today, nearly 30 years after Mickelson launched his concept in 1987, more than 65 communities statewide have “foundations” that are part of the South Dakota Community Foundation, a public non-profit funded by donations from those who want to give back to their communities.

Places like Britton, or Aberdeen, or the Greater Lyman Foundation have something in common: They all have an endowed fund – call it a savings account – with the South Dakota Community Foundation. Proceeds from these savings accounts go back to the individual communities and are spent however the local boards want to spend them.

Some foundations, such as Britton’s, have been around since the 1990s and have built up large accounts, thanks to the generosity of many donors. Britton has nearly $1 million in its fund, which means it has about $40,000 a year to spend on local projects.  Greater Lyman is approaching $400,000 and has planned its annual event on May 9 to take its fund to an even higher level.

Chamberlain has been fortunate to benefit from two foundations over the years – the Schoenhard Foundation, affiliated with the SDCF, and the Barger Memorial Foundation – both of which support charitable causes in that community and in the region.

Mickelson’s idea has paid real dividends. You might say that local “foundations” are indeed the “cornerstone” of these communities. But that’s a word for a different day.

May 6, 2015