OLEAN — Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation officials on Friday joyfully marked 25 years of operation — but that celebration won’t be the last.

“We’re going to be highlighting through the year that we have been here for 25 years,” said Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit, one of 19 CRCF stakeholders who gathered at the Bartlett Country Club for the board’s annual meeting. “Community foundations have been around for over 100 years … they say it’s one of the fastest growing forms of philanthropy in the country so we’re proud to be part of that trend.”

After reviewing this year’s progress at the meeting, members gathered to pop confetti in celebration of the organization’s milestone.

The foundation currently manages over $20 million in assets and donors have trusted CRCF to faithfully steward over 175 funds. Last year, CRCF scholarship funds made possible 100 scholarship awards for 83 area students for a total of over $150,000. The scholarship program has been one of CRCF’s biggest areas of growth over the years and now more than 50 scholarship funds.

Their celebratory efforts will include events throughout the year. For more information, visit cattfoundation.org and or their Facebook page.

“September is the actual month of our incorporation so we’ll do something but we’ll have 25th anniversary events all through the year so people become more aware,” said Wendy Brand, president of the board. “We still struggle to let people know we’re here and what we do.”

Brand also pointed out that they’re a regional foundation — far beyond the geographical limits of Olean.

“We have funds in Ellicottville, Franklinville, Salamanca, Portville, Allegany, Limestone … we’re just about in every community,” Niemic Buchheit said. “We’re trying to reach out into those areas where we don’t have as much of a presence.”

Brand noted how much more diversified the institution’s funds are now then when they started.

“We have a lot of smaller funds that are very specific that the donors want this to be done with their money and they want us to manage it because they don’t want to think about it,” she said. “They want to accomplish their purpose but they don’t want to deal with the details … we make it possible for those groups, most of which are small and don’t have paid staff.”

Board members are quick to credit Niemic Buchheit for their diversification.

“She’s been amazing,” board member Beth Palumbo said. “The way she runs the organization and the way she cares. She has real passion for people.”

Niemic Buchheit credits the foundation’s recipients.

“We give out the grants but the actual nonprofits that get the grants, they’re the ones that do the work, whether it’s the SPCA helping the animals or Mercy Flight taking patients … it’s just being that supportive arm that’s there,” she remarked.

IT ALL STARTED in 1994 with Joe Higgin’s idea for an Allegheny River Trail.

“We had been talking for years about doing something,” he said, “… but we needed a way for people to donate and have it tax-deductible, and that’s how it really got going.”

Michael Kasperski then set up the financial underpinnings of the new organization.

“At the time that Joe proposed this, I was a member of the (Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce) board and we needed a vehicle for donations” and matching grants.

That’s when the Greater Olean Community Foundation, the original name for CRCF, was founded.

They started with nothing and for the first couple of years, not much happened, Higgins said. Once they garnered approximately $40,000, they realized they needed a full-time director and Carol Stitt volunteered her time to organize the fledgling organization.

“She really kicked it into high gear because there was nobody really running it,” Higgins said. Kasperski agreed, saying that she “saw the vision of what it could be and what it is today.”

Stitt said when she started with the foundation, she was retired and staying at home.

“There were so many people willing to help and there was lots of community support … I had fun with it. It was almost like another child,” she laughed.

Stitt is now back on the board and finds it surprising it’s been 25 years.

Doug Price, owner of the Hunter Agency, has been a member of CRCF’s board of directors for about 20 years.

“The foundation has really come into its own,” he remarked. “Over time, it’s become a trusted organization.”

Brand is also a longtime board member and has been on the board since 2010.

“I was originally involved when I first moved here with development of the Allegany River Trail with Joe Higgins, so I was aware of the foundation being formed in order to have a place to put our donor money,” she said. “I always thought it would be a really good board to be on so when they asked me to join I was happy to.”

So was Palumbo. While she’s a new board member, she’s not new to CRCF. Upon arriving in Olean from Orlando, Fla., where she enjoyed a marketing position with Walt Disney World, she was introduced to the foundation by Niemic Buchheit.

Palumbo, who is currently marketing director at St. Bonaventure University, joined the marketing committee at CRCF in Jan. 2017.

“It seemed like such a great organization,” she said. “It impacts a lot of variety of needs in the community.”

After two years of committee work, she was invited in December to join the board of directors and didn’t hesitate.

“All the people on the board are highly respected, busy people,” Palumbo said. “I’ve had opportunities to engage with board members … there’s a lot of professionalism in what they do. All the people on the board are highly respected, busy people.”

Price agreed and likes that the board has “included people from all walks of life with different perspectives and levels of experience.”

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