From the Start: The Valley Community Foundation

For more than six decades, The Community Foundation's work in the Lower Naugatuck Valley has honored the intent of the Gates brothers' Fund, most notably through the Valley Community Foundation.

The Valley Community Foundation is located at 253-A Elizabeth Street in Derby, Connecticut. Photo Bob Grier Photography.

Not everyone knows that a Cleveland banker started the first community foundation in 1914. He did it because bank practices for handling bequests could be improved, in his opinion. He believed that bankers knew more about investing money than giving it away. He thought that a local group of citizens would be better at fulfilling the aspirations of a donor. And, everyone could be a donor and create a permanent legacy — not just the wealthy.

While community foundations were sprouting up in cities across the country, two Derby Connecticut brothers — Ross and Frank Gates — were starting their careers. With a father who served as a Derby selectman and county High Sheriff, the young men understood the importance of championing people and their community.

In 1938, the brothers created trusts in the family name at the then-called New Haven Foundation. Ross and Frank passed in 1952 and 1954, respectively, and their legacies became known as the Gates Fund. The Gates brothers left broad directions for how their donation was to be used — "to support broad charitable purposes with consideration that a portion of the income benefit residents of Derby and vicinity."

For more than six decades, The Community Foundation's work in the Lower Naugatuck Valley has honored the intent of the Gates brothers' Fund with grants to health, economic development, and humanitarian organizations and projects. In 2004, generous Valley community leaders and The Community Foundation came together to create the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) enabling The Community Foundation to continue honoring the Gates' wishes through a new philanthropic entity. Upon its creation, VCF became an affiliate of The Community Foundation in New Haven and its partner in philanthropy in the five towns of Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour and Shelton. Approaching its 15th anniversary, the Valley community's endowment stands at $25 million in assets with over 180 funds.

Both community foundations have been able to generate impact that not only continues to carry out the intention of the Gates' brothers, but also helps to unleash the philanthropic spirit in others who wish to champion causes and issues just like Ross and Frank. The two charitable endowments are themselves like two siblings, one older and one younger. Both making connections with others and acting as catalysts for new approaches to grow philanthropy in the region.

"The latest Affiliation Agreement [between the two foundations] underscores the strength and bond of our relationship and has been instrumental in making it possible for [VCF] to grow and build community philanthropy for the Valley," says VCF President & CEO Sharon Closius. Closius, who is the third president to lead VCF, is appreciative of The Community Foundation, fund holders and nonprofits for VCF's early success. "The journey has not been ours alone."

Did you know?

Twenty-one community foundations operate in Connecticut. They range from small foundations with no staff that generally serve one town, to foundations that serve many towns in a region and are among the largest of their kind in the country. Source: CT Council for Philanhtropy

This article is part of a series of stories celebrating The Community Foundation's 90th Anniversary.