After 15 years of supporting local nonprofits and businesses, the Hyde/Jackson Square Community Benefits Trust Fund recently gave away the last of its $500,000 and shut down.
“We’ve enjoyed a good run,” said trust fund board member David Worrell. “We’ve reached the end of the road. We knew it wouldn’t last forever.”
The Trust Fund was established in 1997 as part of a community benefits package from the Jackson Square Stop & Shop supermarket development. Its three remaining board members said they hope Stop & Shop or another donor will come forward to create a new community trust fund—and they would be willing to help run it.
Those board members—Dave Kenyon, Jorge Martinez and Worrell—recently met at the Gazette office to recount the trust fund’s history and impact.
They also spoke of the funding gap it leaves in Hyde/Jackson, where there are few funding sources for the likes of college scholarships, youth dance troupes and small-business security upgrades.
“Some of those [groups]…are probably going to go out of business, and that’s a shame,” Martinez said.
The Trust Fund started giving grants in 1998 and recently gave its last $35 as a largely symbolic donation to a group it has long supported, the Jamaica Plain Regan Youth League sports program.
“It has a huge impact. It’s definitely a loss,” said Regan League President Harry Smith. “We’re proud to get literally the last dollars from the Trust Fund. And we’re scrambling now to replace [those funds].”
The Trust Fund was an unusual creation established as an independent community organization. Developer Mordechai Levin donated the $500,000 with no strings attached and no input into how it would be spent.
“I’m delighted that it lasted as long as it did to do as much good as it did in the community,” Levin told the Gazette.
The fund came out of community controversy over the early 1990s creation of the Stop & Shop, a debate similar to the recent one about Whole Foods Market coming to Hyde Square. A major motivation for the fund was to subsidize local Latino markets that supposedly were threatened by the giant supermarket. But none ever applied for assistance and most of them are still in business today.
The three core board members all had prominent local roles at the time. Worrell was a top official at the Bromley-Heath housing development’s Tenant Management Corporation (TMC), a partner in the Stop & Shop project. Martinez, who now runs Grove Hall’s Project RIGHT, was a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member with family ties to local businesses. Kenyon was a community investment official with the former BayBank.
The Trust Fund was intended to run forever. But it was unable to build self-sustaining interest income because the donations came in installments and it committed to giving out large amounts of grants each year. Economic downturns also impacted the fund’s value. It still earned enough interest to give away about $540,000 over the years.
The Trust Fund had no administrative overhead, and board members paid most expenses out of their own pockets.
“So literally every single penny went to the community,” Martinez said.
Some of the grants went to such well-known local nonprofits as the Hyde Square Task Force and Bikes Not Bombs. Others went to smaller efforts, such as a “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” program, that used larger nonprofits as fiscal agents, leading to new collaborations.
The board members had many debates over which of the many worthy local efforts to fund.
“We’ve had a lot of fights,” Worrell said.
“We’re here all these years later because we’re very passionate people,” Martinez said.
“By passionate, he means stubborn,” Kenyon joked.
There were some outside controversies as well. Some activists wanted the Trust Fund to widen its scope to subsidize affordable housing. Others wanted large lump-sum grants to big efforts, but the board remained committed to spreading the wealth with smaller grants. There were also questions about Worrell’s TMC role, which led the Trust Fund to make that organization ineligible for grants, though it could act as a fiscal agent for others.
The board members said they would like to see a new fund established on the same model of local control by people with detailed knowledge about easily overlooked community needs and efforts. They indicated they would be happy to run it, or to see someone else do it. Worrell said a relatively small-scale contribution of $50,000 a year could make a huge impact in the Hyde/Jackson area.
“An opportunity was lost, maybe, with Whole Foods,” said Kenyon.
The JP Neighborhood Council last year attempted to negotiate some type of community fund with Whole Foods, but the effort failed, apparently in part because the council also opposed the grocer’s entry into JP. Whole Foods makes its own donations to well-known nonprofits.
“The success of the Community Benefits Trust Fund should continue. I would hope somebody somewhere would step up,” said Worrell. “There needs to be something in [the area] to help the little guy.”