Since the Long Beach Rotary Charitable Foundation was established in 1991, it has distributed more than $1.5 million to at least 50 local organizations benefiting youth and education. The Rotary Club of Long Beach, now approaching its 100th anniversary, has been giving to these causes since its formation, according to Greg Burnight, president of the foundation.
“Long before I was in the club, back at the start in 1917, they initiated what was referred to as the Good Samaritan Fund,” Burnight, a partner with the Long Beach law firm of Curtis & Burnight, said. “And the tradition was, prior to ’91 anyway, that the president during their year would be able to raise money and then designate a charitable purpose for it.”
Greg Burnight, president of the Long Beach Rotary Charitable Foundation and partner in Long Beach-based law firm Curtis & Burnight, reads to children at the Long Beach Day Nursery, a long-time beneficiary of the Rotary Club of Long Beach’s philanthropic giving. The nursery recently received a grant from the foundation that will help fund its early literacy program. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
The first president of the club, a local mortician named J.J. Mottel, started this tradition by humorously fining members when they were recognized for their birthdays or other occasions, Burnight said. “Someone would make a contribution in exchange for being recognized,” he explained.
Under Mottel’s leadership, a major beneficiary of the club’s Good Samaritan Fund was the Long Beach Day Nursery, a nonprofit that provides childcare to children of working parents. “We contributed $20,000 to the purchase of the Day Nursery site, which, back . . . when they purchased the site, was a more substantial piece of a purchase than today,” Burnight said. The organization still benefits from Long Beach Rotary, he noted.
Long Beach Rotary’s donations worked this way for about seven decades before the club decided to create a formal structure for its philanthropy through the creation of the foundation.
“In conjunction with the notion of making a difference in the community, we thought the perpetuity of a foundation would give us the ability to grow a corpus but also to receive other support from our members who wanted to make legacy-type gifts,” Burnight said. Additionally, he noted, “One of the impetuses to forming the foundation was probably just legal compliance.”
Following the formation of the foundation, Rotary members have created bequests and lifetime gifts to help sustain ongoing Rotary programs like Reading by 9 and Camp Enterprise, according to Burnight. Started in 1999, Reading by 9 is a program that funds the purchase of books for local schools. “To date, I think we have raised over $500,000 in 17 years,” Burnight said of the program. He estimated as many as 230,000 books have been donated through Reading by 9.
“Literacy is one of the core missions of Rotary and, in particular, Long Beach Rotary. Youth and education are two of our cornerstones,” Burnight said. Each year, the foundation allocates a portion of funds raised for Reading by 9, as well as grants for teachers, he explained. “Then the balance of it gets poured back in to the community, the nonprofits outside of Rotary [efforts].”
Long Beach Rotary’s Camp Enterprise program has also been funded by gifts from members over the years. “Camp Enterprise started back in ’92. It is a business entrepreneurial boot camp run by Rotarians in Long Beach,” Burnight said. “We take about 50 to 60 high school students up to Big Bear to camp out and do a two-and-a-half day program on entrepreneurialism and teaching them skills and business acumen,” he explained.
“We ask the high school counselors for recommendations for B students – good students that may have other challenges in their life,” Burnight continued. “We had a member pass recently who has made a bequest that is going to be extremely substantial. So it will allow that program to be sustained in perpetuity and probably expanded.”
Greg Burnight, president of the Long Beach Rotary Charitable Foundation, presents a check to Whitney Leathers, executive director of the Long Beach Day Nursery. The nursery, which provides early childcare and education for children of working parents, applied for the funding through the foundation’s annual grant program. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
In addition to funding ongoing Long Beach Rotary programs, one of the foundation’s primary functions is to gift grants to organizations that benefit local youth and education initiatives. This year, 19 Long Beach-area nonprofits received grants for initiatives like after school programming, school supplies, scholarships, arts education, tutoring, early literacy and more.
The Long Beach Day Nursery’s grant this year is going directly to programs and services related to literacy, Whitney Leathers, the organization’s executive director, said. “It allows us to restock our libraries, not only for the children in each of our classrooms but also for our lending libraries so that the children can take books home with their families and practice literacy activities at home,” she explained. “If it wasn’t for Rotary’s support, not all of our families would have access to books in their home.”
Leathers added, “I think what’s also really special about the Rotary is their commitment to our community. They have been around for 100 years and the Long Beach Day Nursery has been lucky enough to be a recipient of their support that entire time.”
Another recipient of a grant this year is the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach, which is using the funds for educational programming. “The grant will help towards our diplomas to degrees program where it helps youth graduate from high school,” Don Rodriguez, the organization’s executive director, said. “We’re just thankful that all the members of Rotary have been very supportive of the community, and especially the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach.”
The foundation implements a cap on the amount of funds that can be donated per grant – this year, that cap is $2,500 – and also has a rule that one group cannot receive a grant three years in a row, Burnight said. “Because you could easily give to . . . organizations repeatedly to the exclusion of others,” he explained.
The president of the foundation board rotates each year, with the position given to the previous year’s Long Beach Rotary president. “The concept being that I am giving away the money that I raised during my year as president,” Burnight said. The club’s current president is also on the board, as is the past president of the foundation from the prior year, plus about 11 at-large members.
Applications for the foundation’s grants are available on its website. Once they are received and the application period closes, the board reviews the applications and collectively decides which organizations to give to, Burnight explained. Key in their decision is how much of an impact the grants would be able to make on local youth, he said. “We don’t fund events, and we don’t fund PR materials for the organizations,” he noted.
“The best services the foundation can provide through our grants is to augment things that have been cut back within the schools, or services or programs that supplement what’s available for lower income parents or kids from lower income families,” Burnight said. “To the extent that we can seek those organizations out and provide them with whatever support we’re able to, I think that’s kind of our calling card.”