The Fairfax County Park Authority, looking to benefit from the adage that charity begins at home, has established a nonprofit foundation that accepts donations of cash, land -- whatever.
The Park Authority, which oversees 450 sites, funds more than half of its operations through user fees and other non-tax revenue. The Fairfax County Park Foundation, which in its first full year of operation last year raised $480,947, is an extension of that effort.
Foundation spokeswoman Jean White said its creation stemmed from "looking at the bigger picture and saying, 'If we're going to continue to grow . . . and tax dollars are not going to pay for it, what are some alternatives?' "
In fact, it was a donation of land -- 15 acres given more than half a century ago -- that launched the county's vast park system, which is utilized by 4 million visitors a year.
Charitable foundations are becoming a trend among municipalities looking for ways to raise revenue without resorting to tax increases. In tough economic times, agencies such as parks and recreation departments often find that their budgets are the first to land on the chopping block.
One of the most successful ventures is the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, which has raised more than $4 million since 1991. Closer to home, Winchester, Va., launched a foundation in 2001 that has raised $48,000, according to its president, Tom Oliver. The group spent $17,000 on a playground for special-needs children and a memorial park in the city.
Fairfax is not the only local park group seeking donations. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is setting up a nonprofit to accept donations.
"Giving isn't something new for the Park Authority," said spokeswoman Carol Ann Cohen, noting that the agency has received numerous donations over the years. "It's just we're trying to make the opportunities better known."
The regional group has a "wish list" of services and equipment it could use. The list includes 1,500 feet of steel cable (to block off a field in Fountainhead Regional Park that's turning into a garbage dump) and a digital camera for a nature program at Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington.
For more information, visit the groups' Web sites: fairfaxcountyparkfoundation.com and nvrpa.org.
Now that the Iraq war no longer fills the news 24 hours a day, attention may be turning back to the threat of terrorists here at home. A Fairfax County nonprofit agency, the Stargazer Foundation, has a Web-based emergency preparedness tool for families looking to ready themselves for what fate has in store.
StargazerNet FamilyLink (www.stargazernet.net) has a 28-page questionnaire to help organize personal data, such as your emergency meeting place, names and addresses of relatives and friends, and information on medical conditions and family doctors, for use in a crisis. It can be filled out online (for privacy reasons, it's stored on your computer, not Stargazer's server) or printed out and completed.
The site includes links to government Web pages and other information that might be useful.
Stargazer Foundation chief executive Art Bushkin said the idea is to help people who want to heed officials' warnings about being prepared for a crisis but are at a loss on how to get started.
"We got to thinking, what if we created a place that assembled all the right tools for them?" said Bushkin, whose staff met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to make sure the information it posted is helpful.
Oh, and if you're tapped out from buying all that bottled water and duct tape, you'll be glad to know this: FamilyLink is free.
Oracle Corp., a software company with offices in Herndon, Reston and Vienna, has received an Award for Excellence in Corporate Community Service from the Points of Light Foundation and the Volunteer Center National Network.
Oracle employees have volunteered thousands of hours to such Fairfax County causes as the Embry Rucker shelter in Reston, the Salvation Army and similar groups. They've also cleaned the trails at River Bend Park in Great Falls and sorted food donations for local groups that feed the hungry.
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