Community Fund ready to take its next steps

By John Kovach, Stratford Star on December 22, 2010


Like most 21-year-olds, the Stratford Community Fund has reached a new level of maturity, and is ready to take thenext step in its existence.


So said past and current leaders who recently sat down to reflect on a charity that allows Stratford to take care of Stratford.


In the late 1980s, a group composed primarily of Stratford Rotary Club members decided there were community needs that the process prevented from being fully met.


The Rotary could not do certain things for the town. Certain gifts could not or would not be given to the municipality, in part out of fear that the money would be used to balance the budget or be funneled elsewhere.


A community fund could direct individual gifts and make grants to benefit local projects and people.


"If New Haven had a community fund, and Bridgeport had a community fund, I thought Stratford was big enough to have a community fund," Lewis Chaplowe, then an attorney, said.


A client, Chaplowe said, wanted to leave $75,000 to the town. There was no way to do so, however.


Joining Chaplowe at a July 20, 1989, meeting of the group that was to form the Stratford Community Fund were Bob Dains, Helen O'Brien, George O'Connor, Richard Slater, and Constantine "Gus' Chagares. Richard Brew and Gary Jacopian were not able to attend but were at other sessions.


On Jan. 10, 1990, the Stratford Community Fund was incorporated in accordance with Connecticut law. The board of directors was Brew, Ann Compton, Dains, Frank DeLuca, Mary Hardy, Jacopian, Carol Lovell, O'Connor, Polly Pass, Robert Sammis, and Slater. O'Connor was chairman. Despite initial Rotary involvement, six of those members were active residents of Stratford and not Rotary members.


The fund was formed, but few knew about it. Donations trickled in and grants were awarded, but relatively small amounts were coming in and going out.


Founders also needed to put in place guidelines for both donors and grant applicants.


"It took a long time to get going," said Billie Chaplowe, Lewis's wife.


Then, on Dec. 29, 1999, a resident who wished to remain anonymous donated $40,000.


"That enabled us to do a lot of things we wouldn't have been able to do," she said.


Much of the Stratford Community Fund's work is in the form of grants that support existing programs or allow residents to participate. But there is one physical manifestation: Peck's Pond, a waterfront access park on town-owned land created and maintained by the fund.


Bill O'Brien, current president of the Stratford Community Fund, said a group of seventh and eighth graders got together to spruce up the site starting in 2009.

"They had a ball," he said.


Indirectly, the Stratford Community Fund's mark is found throughout town. New Alliance Bank needed to use the nonprofit as an intermediary in a grant toward the Greenway project.


Louis Perno, executive director of Sterling House Community Center, where the Stratford Community Fund has met for the past two years, said grants have helped children attend programs such as summer camp that they might not have been able to afford.


The board is all volunteer, and looking for "new, young and energetic" members, O'Brien said. There are currently nine members; the limit is 15.


Billie Chaplowe said three-year term limits were originally in place. But many members ended up on again, off again, back on again.


As it moves forward, the Stratford Community Fund is striving to make sure people know what it is and what it does.


Lewis Chaplowe said recognition has been a major problem.


"If we had more funding we'd be able to help more people," he said.


Programs have put the name into the community. The annual Lighthouse Awards recognize those who have served leadership roles in Stratford, Vice President Stephen Kennedy said.


The town itself is in the spotlight in the annual photography contest.


"Our goal for the first quarter of 2011 is to rebuild and relaunch our Web site (," Kennedy said, "so the community can understand who we are and what we're doing."


Donors, he said, need to believe in the fund's values, and its board in theirs, to keep donations coming in.


More money has been needed recently, Kennedy and others said, in a difficult economy. More people are in need, more requests for grants are anticipated.


It may be time, Stratford Community Fund leaders said, for the nonprofit to take more of a role.


"In many ways we're coming out of our teenage years," Kennedy said. "It's time to take the next step."