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First of its kind in W.Va., African-American ‘giving circle’ launches in Kanawha

F. Brian Ferguson | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Melvin Jones, president of African American Philanthropy in Action and vice chair of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, said the AAPA giving circle is designed to give back to the Kanawha Valley’s African-American community well into the future.
F. Brian Ferguson | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Becky Ceperley, president and CEO of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, said she is excited for the foundation to be a part of the African-American giving circle, the first of its kind in the state.

Last August, more than a dozen businessmen, lawyers, entrepreneurs and community leaders from the Kanawha Valley came together to create a new initiative with a singular goal.

Everything from organizing the group to establishing its name was tough, but once they’d started, donations began pouring in, and a little more than a year later, African American Philanthropy in Action (AAPA) is ready to give back.

“We kind of floated the idea of a giving circle where we could combine our resources, time, talent and money and see if we could make an impact on the community at large,” said Melvin Jones, vice president for business and finance at West Virginia State University. Jones is also vice-chair of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and AAPA president.

AAPA is a “giving circle,” its 17 members pool their money and collectively decide where their philanthropy is most needed in their community. The idea came from a national conference, where Jones was introduced to the idea and met members of another African-American giving circle from Colorado. He brought the concept back to Charleston and soon began his research and outreach.

“There was a perception that African-American groups are not very philanthropic, and we wanted to dispel that, because nothing could be further from the truth,” Jones said. “There was always giving with our community and among ourselves when I was growing up. There was no African-American child in our community that was ever adopted, because no matter what happened, somebody in that community stepped forward and took care of that child — always. And not necessarily relatives. And of course, we always gave through our churches. This is merely a continuation of this same giving, just in a new venue.”

Less than a year after it began fundraising, AAPA, the first African-American giving circle in West Virginia, has accrued more than $16,000 —an amount that would often take two or three years for a similar organization, according to Becky Ceperley, president and CEO of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, the facilitating organization for the AAPA.

“For an organization like this, and in the short time period they’ve had, that’s really great,” Ceperly said. “It’s very impressive.”

Now, AAPA plans to make its first award — a $5,000 grant to an area non-profit to fund a project of their choosing. The giving circle has already begun accepting applications, and will continue to do so until Nov. 1. AAPA will consider any proposal that promises community improvement, whether it focuses on health, wealth, education or prevention.

“The African-American community here is not much different from many other communities in Appalachia; it suffers from the same ills. The only difference is that those problems are often magnified two or three times,” Jones said. “When we talk about unemployment in the general community, the number is always twice as high in the African-American community. Same thing with poverty, dysfunctional homes, and so forth, and it’s not just true of West Virginia — it’s true across the nation. Those are the kinds of disparities we hope to address.”

AAPA will work to grow and manage its remaining capital through the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, which manages more than 490 philanthropic funds in the region, so that it can continue to enact change well into the future, Jones said.

“We are proud to promote the first African-American giving circle in West Virginia,” Ceperley said. “Our community is so fortunate to have so many generous people who are willing to give back and pay forward.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must have an annual operating capital of less than $1.5 million and must have 501(c)3 status or a fiscal sponsor with 501(c)3 status. To apply, visit

Reach Lydia Nuzum at, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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