At the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation’s annual report to the community Tuesday afternoon, leaders of the foundation encouraged people to step out of their comfort zones to help the people in their communities.
The message Michelle Foster delivered to the crowd in the Clay Center came after leading the nonprofit organization for just more than a year.
“For us to affect change, we cannot just sit in our comfortable, plush offices and homes and command for community-level change to occur,” said Foster, the foundation’s president and CEO. “No, we’ve got to step out of our comfort zones. That is, we have to be willing to challenge ourselves to do that which is uncomfortable and fully appreciate the plight of the marginalized individuals and families we seek to serve.”
Foster said that means physically visiting troubled parts of a person’s community to get to know people not in one’s usual social circles.
“Friends, there is power in proximity,” she said.
As Foster delivered this message, she also gave attendees an overview of how the foundation has managed its $221 million in assets to invest in the local community. Last year, the foundation distributed more than $680,000 in scholarships and distributed almost $5.5 million in grants, according to unaudited information from the foundation.
Last year alone, the foundation received more than $3.5 million worth of contributions.
As the foundation charges ahead with its goals to invest in the community to grow community wealth, Foster said that the greatest challenge for West Virginia as a whole to overcome is its narrative — how the world sees the Mountain State and how the people of the Mountain State see themselves.
“If we don’t appreciate our state, then who will?” she asked the crowd.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee had a similar message.
Gee, the keynote speaker for the foundation’s report this year, said that the state is at a tipping point. With a shrinking population and a budget for next year still yet to be decided upon by lawmakers and the governor, Gee said.
“We have to learn to have the power and the belief that this is a state worthy of investment,” Gee said. “We need to have our people believe that we believe in them.”
At one point, Gee joked that he’d like to build a fence around West Virginia to keep all the talented young people from leaving the state.
“I just visited with [Ohio] Governor John Kasich and told him, ‘Ohio’s going to build the fence, how’s that sound?’ ” he said.
Gee used his own university as an example of how great West Virginia can be. Thanks to a strong vision and courage to achieve greatness, Gee said, the profile of WVU’s medical school has risen in the past year. So too, Gee said, can other state institutions and the reputation of the state as a whole.
“We as an institution and we as a state, none of us can do it alone,” Gee said. “We have to do it together.”