This article appeared in Florida Weekly on May 5, 2022.
Winsome McIntosh will never forget her first visit to Belle Glade, the often-overlooked agricultural city where sugarcane is grown on the western edge of Palm Beach County.
It was the early ’70s, and as a new South Florida resident, she was struck by the stark differences between wealthy Palm Beach and the widespread poverty of Belle Glade. She remembers seeing the barracks where people lived and the impoverished workers who toiled in the fields all day, struggling to feed their families.
“We were appalled. It bothered us a lot,” Ms. McIntosh said of the trip that helped inspire her and her late husband, Michael, to found the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties. “We knew we wanted to do something that would have a long-lasting effect on our greater community.”
The pair had just moved to Palm Beach from New York to help care for Ms. McIntosh’s aging father-in-law. She was in her 20s and her husband in his 30s, with a new baby in tow. Her mother-in-law had been one of the last remaining individual stockholders of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, commonly known as the A&P, and after she died, Ms. McIntosh and her husband soon found themselves deeply engaged in the work of the foundation originally started by her in-laws in 1949: the McIntosh Foundation, which focuses on environmental issues.
But despite the tremendous impact made through the McIntosh Foundation — where Ms. McIntosh, 77, still works daily as president and trustee — the McIntoshes knew they also wanted to directly help transform their new community. They founded the Community Foundation in 1972 with an initial gift of $50,000, managing it themselves with an independent board for the first 10 years.
A community foundation was important because it would be able to support a variety of local needs, McIntosh said. The structure benefits philanthropists because it allows each donor to set up an individual fund without the trouble of setting up their own private foundation, and it benefits the community because it allows the money to go where the needs are greatest.
“There was nothing like it in Florida at the time that we knew of,” Ms. McIntosh said. “We believed it could bring about systemic change in philanthropy.”
After a decade, the McIntoshes hired a staff, led by former CEO Shannon Sadler Hull, who remained with the Community Foundation for 28 years and who is credited with bringing the organization from a small nonprofit to one of the largest in Florida. Among numerous initiatives, she raised the money for the Community Foundation’s landmark building to be built in downtown West Palm Beach, which today serves as a symbol for the prominence the nonprofit organization has played in the community through the years. The 33,000-square-foot Center for Philanthropy provides a permanent home for the Community Foundation’s offices as well as other nonprofit organizations.
To date, the Community Foundation has provided nearly $200 million in grants and scholarships over its 50-year history. It has helped nearly 3,400 local organizations and provided 2,500 scholarships to students in need. Through the support of its donors and fundholders, the Community Foundation has been able to address some of the community’s most pressing needs. The foundation has long focused specifically on unmet needs in the community, such as mental health, food insecurity, housing and education.
Its current president and CEO, Danita DeHaney Nias, said she’s consistently inspired to see the ways that the McIntoshes’ dream of helping the ever-changing needs of the community has manifested through the Community Foundation’s work. Notable examples include organizing and founding the Palm Beach County Food Bank in 2012, as well as raising over $4 million in emergency funds and issuing over 185 grants to organizations and programs when the pandemic hit in 2020.
And the Community Foundation’s model is truly exceptional in its approach, she said.
“We are the only local organization that is singularly focused on our community and its most pressing needs — and the only entity that brings together the donor base and nonprofit ecosystem to address these issues,” Ms. DeHaney Nias said. “We’re uniquely poised to provide grants to the nonprofits that are in our community doing the work. And we’re also uniquely poised to serve as the convener to bring together various entities to address some of our community’s most pressing needs.”
At 14 locations throughout the county, a focus on mental health for underserved children has changed thousands of young lives this school year. Through the Community Foundation-funded program Rebound and Recovery, students ages 4 through 8 enrolled in afterschool programs with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County have been taught a lauded social-emotional curriculum based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy developed by Florida State University. Young children learn how to identify their emotions, develop coping mechanisms and gain social skills, enabling them to emotionally thrive.
“It’s incredibly moving to watch these young children learn how to identify what they’re feeling and how to talk about it,” Ms. DeHaney Nias said. “It’s equipping them with lifelong skills that will help them in school, in work and for the rest of their lives.”
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, the Community Foundation’s leaders hope to play an even more important role in strengthening the communities of Palm Beach and Martin counties. The organization’s greatest current need is attracting philanthropic dollars that are unrestricted, which will enable the Community Foundation to develop a pool of resources that will allow the organization to be responsive to needs as they emerge. Instead of losing valuable time when a need is identified, it would allow the foundation to recognize and immediately fund a community need to get assistance started, then obtain additional funding once donors are aware of it.
“Unrestricted funds are an invaluable gift because they enable us to be nimble and flexible,” Ms. DeHaney Nias said. “We feel a sense of obligation to our community to be very intentional about our plans for the future. I hope when someone looks back 50 years from now, they’re able to see the pivot we made and how we amplified our impact and attracted even more support to help where the needs are greatest.”