By LARRY PEJEAU, guest columnist
Let me tell you a story.
I first arrived in beautiful Brown County with my wife in December 1975. I had completed graduate school in Washington state, where I studied ceramics. We had been on the road for four months exploring the United States and found ourselves that December in Indiana.
We enjoyed hiking and found the rolling hills of Brown County very beautiful. We were running low on travel funds, however, and after witnessing folks shopping in Nashville, we decided to join the thriving craft scene of that time. We decided to stay for awhile with the idea that we would make and sell a few pots and then move on down the road.
So, we rented an A-frame cabin on Somerset Lake to live in and a little log cabin storefront on East Washington Street with no heat or running water for $85 per month to establish our business, Nashville Clayworks. We purchased Nashville business license No. 105 and started trying to turn mud into money.
We settled easily into the welcoming community of crafts people and artists, made many friends and with the arrival of our first son, started our family. We worked that little retail shop for eight years, cultivated a loyal customer base, grew a nice small business and welcomed another son to our family.
During those years, we realized we needed more space for our sons and a building where we could produce pottery year-round with a few more amenities like heat and water. After much searching, we moved to a little house on State Road 45 that included an old auto garage that we converted to our studio and continued our adventure. We ran Pejeau Pottery there for another 15 years or so until our older son was ready to go to college.
But alas, a man’s got to sell a lot of coffee cups to send a son to college, so I transitioned to the private sector and decided my pottery would have to be more of a hobby.
I eventually found a position at Stone Belt working with adults with developmental disabilities in their sheltered workshop program. I grew to love that population and found the workshop a great and rewarding challenge. The funding for that position eventually dried up, and I applied for and was hired as the CEO of the Brown County Community Foundation in December 2012. Yes, full circle back to Brown County in only 37 short years.
I have been fortunate and blessed to hold the position of CEO, and I am truly amazed at what an important organization our community foundation has become in the last 25 years.
The BCCF has been an effective partner in almost every major community project, including the library, the YMCA, the History Center, the Playhouse and the Project Helping Hands building, to name a few. During my tenure, the BCCF has continued this tradition of supporting our local nonprofit partners as they have worked to build capacity and deliver on their missions.
I will confess that it was a steep learning curve to understand the legal responsibilities involved in cultivating philanthropic dollars, managing 200 endowed funds and engaging with and understanding the critical needs of the community to most effectively deliver grants. I could not have done any of this successfully without the help of a very able staff and a wonderful and generous group of volunteers that have been members of our various committees and the board of trustees.
Together we have refined internal policies and procedures, and we are certified to be in compliance with the standards established by the U.S. Council of Foundations.
We have grown our scholarship programs for our pre-K students and our high school graduates.
We have strategically budgeted 50 percent of our unrestricted dollars for larger impact grants that we believe are moving the needle in areas of shared concern.
We have focused on building the internal financial resources and efficiencies to be sustainable.
We have promoted the importance of volunteerism in the community and have been fortunate to have many new volunteers join us in our efforts to be a collaborative leader for positive impact by building on the spirit of philanthropy.
Thanks to the generosity of the Howard F. Hughes Trust, we purchased and moved to our new facility in the north end of Nashville. We are proud to report that in 2017, the Howard Hughes Community Room hosted over 200 meetings and events.
The BCCF also has become involved in regional initiatives. We have played a leadership role in the 11-county Regional Opportunity Initiatives economic development project, which has been supporting Brown County Schools with a number of innovative grants including the Ready School Initiative.
We have also become the Indiana Arts Commission’s Region 8 Arts Partner, advocating for the arts in an eight-county region and annually managing $145,000 in grants to local artists and arts organizations.
Thanks to the vision and dedication of many people, starting in 1993 and up to today, our community foundation has become an indispensable asset for the Brown County Community. I am proud to have been in the CEO chair during a portion of this evolutionary process of growing a successful community foundation. I am honored that you have allowed me to play a small role in that journey.
I believe that the time is right for me to finally move on down the road. I am ready to pass the CEO chair to someone with fresh energy and vision. I will retire in 2018, and I am looking forward to new opportunities to volunteer, to embrace new challenges and finally getting back to my studio.
I know I will stay active in Brown County and will be a strong advocate for the BCCF. I am very confident that our community foundation will continue to evolve into a more robust and successful community partner under new leadership.
Your BCCF is now 25 years old, and it has matured into a strong, organized and focused institution with a very bright future.
I ask you to continue to hold this invaluable organization to ever higher expectations, and to continue to nurture and support our Brown County Community Foundation to deliver on its important mission.