In 1994 Olean area community leaders gathered to explore the concept of a community foundation to improve local social and economic conditions and allow people and businesses to donate to community charitable projects, scholarships and other betterment activities.
Thus the seeds were planted for the creation of what would become the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation (CRCF).
With support from the staff of Greater Olean Inc. – the community’s chamber of commerce – the Greater Olean Community Foundation was approved as a not-for-profit corporation September 20, 1994. Nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization was granted on September 20, 1995. The name of the Foundation was changed in 2000 to the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation to reflect the wider geographic area to be served.
The first board of directors included Walter Nye, president; Carol O’Connell, vice president; John Stevens, secretary/treasurer; and board members Nancy Walsh, Joseph Higgins, Grey Fitzpatrick, Ed Selee and Nicholas DiCerbo.
The first fund established at the Community Foundation was for the Allegheny River Valley Trail – a fund that remains active today and supports maintenance of the completed 5.6- mile multi-use recreational trail that traverses Allegany and Olean. One of the early visionary leaders, Joe Higgins, was also a driving force for the trail project. He saw the advantages of a community foundation early on.
Soon several other community leaders would join the board – including Ward “Skip” Wilday, Mike Kasperski and Doug Price – all of whom served the board until at least 2016 and as executive committee members as well.
It soon became apparent the Foundation needed an executive leader staffing the office on a daily basis and in 1996 Carol Stitt was tapped to be the Foundation’s first executive director – initially a part-time, unpaid position. Mrs. Stitt researched best practices by visiting other community foundations, formalized Foundation operations, promoted the Foundation to prospective donors and nonprofit organizations, helped establish numerous funds and implemented the Foundation’s donor/grantmaking software system. She retired as the first paid executive director nine years later, but shortly after was elected to the board of directors. In 2007 she became board president, a position she held until 2014.
Throughout its organizational life CRCF has partnered with Greater Olean Inc. – now known as the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce – through a shared services agreement which provided infrastructure support as well as office space.
The Foundation slowly began adding funds and increasing its asset base, which hovered around $700,000 by 2000. Then the Foundation’s biggest fund to date came with an anonymous donation worth over $6 million in 2001. It was later revealed that organization-changing contribution was from Olean philanthropist Mildred Milliman and was used to establish a donor-designated fund that annually benefits 35 charities.
By 2004, about 10 years after its creation, CRCF had an asset base of $7.2 million and managed about 30 funds and six scholarships. That year the Foundation disbursed more $320,000 in grants from its endowments and scholarship funds to students.
In 2010 the total of grant and scholarship awards from the Foundation increased to more than $475,000. By the end of 2010, CRCF had total net assets of more than $9.5 million.
After Mrs. Stitt’s retirement Bob Busan was hired as the next part-time executive director, serving in that position for about five years. At the same time Ryan Michelle Wilcox was named part-time assistant executive director; in 2014 she was appointed to the full-time position of director of donor services and communications.
Late in 2010 as part of a strategic initiative to grow the Foundation, the board hired its first full-time, paid executive director, Karen Niemic Buchheit. During the next four years the Foundation experienced significant growth and diversity in funds and assets and expanded its leadership role in the community.
Today (2018), after more than 20 years in existence, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation has grown from about $40,000 in assets and a handful of funds to more than 150 funds with more than $21 million in assets. Those funds now generate more than $800,000 in grants annually, including over $100,000 from more than 50 scholarship funds.
The Foundation continues to provide community members with significant opportunities to make a difference in the region where they live and for causes they care about most. CRCF has the resources and support to continue “Growing Good” for decades to come with the help of its leaders and their passion to help the community.