Akron Organizations Receive More Than $10 Million at Knight Foundation 50th Anniversary Celebration

AKRON – At a 50th anniversary dinner celebrating historic ties to the Akron community, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced 17 grants totaling more than $10 million to an array of local nonprofit organizations Monday night (June 12).

A crowd of more than 250 at the John S. Knight Center watched as representatives of educational, cultural and community organizations received envelopes from Dr. W. Gerald Austen, chairman of Knight foundation's board of trustees. The combined total of more than $10 million is the largest commitment to any one community in one evening since the independent philanthropy was founded in Akron in 1950.

The night's largest award was a $4 million grant to the Akron Art Museum's capital campaign for the planning and construction of a major addition and for endowment to enhance its role as a community cultural center. The award contains some strenuous matching conditions designed to help the art museum, located in the historic post office on East Market Street, leverage Knight dollars into additional contributions toward a multimillion-dollar capital campaign. Knight will pay $1 million outright, and $3 million when an additional $9 million in other commitments have been secured.

"We recognize the quality of the museum's collections and exhibitions, the extent and impact of its programming and its position as one of Akron's most valued community assets," said Hodding Carter III, Knight's president and CEO. "We are also aware that much has been accomplished despite the museum's physical limitations. We hope all of Akron will get behind the campaign to raise funds to meet the Knight challenge."

The Foundation also announced a $1.25 million commitment to an initiative led by the GAR Foundation designed to provide local nonprofit agencies with the programs and training they need to improve and strengthen themselves. The capacity-building effort will offer nonprofits help in such tasks as strategic planning, program evaluation and board governance. The Akron Community Foundation will put $1 million of the Knight grant into an endowment fund and place the remaining $250,000 in a separate, non-endowed fund available for nonprofits who participate in the capacity-building initiative.

A $200,000 planning grant goes to the University of Akron as lead partner in an ambitious effort to develop an urban renewal strategy for the 40-block University Park neighborhood bordering the university's campus. The university is working in partnership on the nascent project with the City of Akron, Summa Health Systems, the University Park Neighborhood Association and others.

The Summit Education Initiative, the broad-based organization focusing on the vital need to improve schooling and learning for students and teachers throughout Summit County, received a $1 million grant allowing it to concentrate $200,000 a year over the next five years to pay for its programs and operating expenses. SEI has worked since 1996 toward becoming an effective education reform coordinator, incorporating educational interests from preschool through college. Knight Foundation has previously supported SEI with more than $1.2 million in program and endowment funding.

A $1 million grant to the Musical Arts Association will help the Cleveland Orchestra in its $9 million capital campaign to make improvements to its summer home, the Blossom Music Center. The grant will help Blossom, one of the nation's leading summer arts centers, improve its facilities, expand programming and provide a better experience for its audiences.

Another challenge grant of $1 million will help the Community Hall Foundation renovate the historic, 2,200-seat Civic Theatre in downtown Akron. A major campaign is under way to upgrade the theater and increase its operating endowment.

"The Civic is an important part of Akron's history, and we believe it is worth saving," said Carter. "The theater's trustees face a big challenge in raising the dollars needed to do it right, but we hope our grant underscores to everyone that restoring the Civic is in Akron's long-term interests."

Other grants announced at Monday's dinner included:

  • $500,000 to the Ohio and Erie Canal Coalition to help construct the 2 ½-mile Cascade Locks Bikeway section of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath. The new section will link Cascade Locks with downtown Akron and allow residents to take advantage of the recreational and educational resources of the entire towpath trail.
  • $350,000 in support for the Coming Together Project, which has played a vital role in continuing to build understanding among different races and cultures in Akron.
  • $245,000 to Family Services of Summit County to continue and expand its Family Independence Initiative, an effort that links family literacy to welfare-to-work programs to move whole families off welfare roles. As a result of the efforts, such local families would hope to increase their literacy, job readiness and parenting skills.
  • $231,500 to the Akron Community Service Center & Urban League to refurbish its building, expand its job skills program, continue a summer day camp for children and examine local child-care needs. The Urban League is celebrating its 75th year of providing services for Akron's disadvantaged, poor and minority residents.
  • $200,000 to help the Summit County Community Drug Board acquire and fix up a building to serve as transitional housing for recovering substance abusers and their children.
  • $100,000 to Inventure Place to plan and design the reinstallation of the Inventor's Hall of Fame exhibitions as part of a renovation project.
  • $100,000 over two years to the Cuyahoga Valley Preservation and Scenic Railway Association to help repair and upgrade equipment, enhance marketing capabilities and expand programs for schoolchildren.
  • $100,000 to the Boy Scouts of America, Great Trail Council, to repair camping facilities severely damaged by fire in September 1999.
  • $50,000 to support the endowment campaign of the Magical Theatre Company, helping it increase the ability to partner with schools and other organizations to bring live professional theater to children and families across Northeast Ohio.
  • $50,000 to the Western Reserve Historical Society to restore and reinterpret the 1827 Jonathan Hale House at the Hale Farm and Village.
  • $40,000 to Leadership Akron to establish an endowment fund.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.