Maynard DeWitt's dream of starting a community chest came one step closer Monday when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave the concept a vote of confidence by designating this week as Northern Virginia Community Foundation Week.
DeWitt, a McLean insurance underwriter, says he conceived the idea of a community fund five years ago after talking with an old friend involved in a similar plan in Rochester, N.Y.
"It would provide the best opportunity for Northern Virginians to solve their own problems," DeWitt says.
The community fund will solicit donations from private citizens, DeWitt said, and will use the money for a variety of projects in Northern Virginia.
The purpose of the fund, he added, is for local citizens to be able to contribute to a charity that will use the funds locally.
One of the advantages, according to DeWitt, is that the fund can be activated immediately in case of an emergency in the community -- whereas government programs often take an agonizingly long time to react.
"If there is an emergency situation in the community -- such as a family is burned out of its house or someone is experiencing catacylsmic medical expenses -- the community fund can appeal for donations and get help to the people quickly," DeWitt says.
The concept behind giving to a community fund is simple: it is an opportunity for citizens to give back to the community some of the wealth they have been able to earn there. Additionally, citizens are able to get a tax break on the money they contribute.
But DeWitt says the fund, as he envisions it, will not be used for emergencies only. Contributors will be able to give gifts to the fund earmarked for specific charities.
For example, DeWitt says there is a great deal of interest locally in the hospice movement. He says people will be able to contribute to the fund and stipulate that their contribution must go toward some aspect of the area's new hospice plan.
Three priority categories have been established by the board of directors and DeWitt, who is president of the foundation: assistance for victims of crime and catastrophe, help in providing health care and creation of scholarship programs for local colleges.
To date, DeWitt has raised about $2,500 from 45 contributors. The money is being used for organizational expenses. If DeWitt is able to convince the Internal Revenue Service that this is a public -- not a private -- foundation, the Northern Virginia Community Foundation will receive tax-exempt status and, hopefully, De Witt says, the contributions will start coming in.
There will be several ways, each with tax benefits, to contribute to the foundation. Contributors may make designated contributions for general contributions to be used as the committee sees fit. Deferred contributions also may be made: contributors -- especially the elderly -- can stipulate that part of their estates go to the foundation upon their deaths.
In an attempt to lend credibility to the community fund concept, DeWitt has enlisted the aid of prominent Virginians to serve on the board of directors. Included in the list are: William F. Blocker, former president of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and George W. Johnson, president of George Mason University. The list of politicians on the board spans the political spectrum: former Virginia governor Linwod Holton, state representatives John Rust, Wiley Mitchell, Clive DuVal and Vince Callahan.
Also included on the board are the county executives of Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William, and the mayors of Middleburg, Herndon and Vienna.
Lending yet another stamp of approval to the community foundation was a commendation entered in the Congressional Record on Aug. 26 by Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va).
"All of us can rejoice that Northern Virginia citizens are bringing to reality such a worthy concept," Fisher concluded.