Larry Pejeau, Foundation CEO
by Bill Weaver
photo by Bill Weaver
“I’m thrilled to be back,” Larry Pejeau says of his return to Brown County to take over the helm of the Brown County Community Foundation. “The biggest challenge is how big the job is,” he continues. “I give a lot of credit to the people in the county for keeping it going all these years.”
Like most community foundations in Indiana, Brown County’s began with a Lilly Endowment. “Lilly decided the best way to exert their philanthropic muscle was locally,” he says.
Matching the Lilly seed money with the contributions of local citizens, the Foundation supports everything from Salt Creek clean-up and the eradication of invasive species, to the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, and Humane Society. “Government isn’t going to take care of a lot of things,” Pejeau observes. “It’s nice that we can pool our own money in the county and take care of the things we think are important.”
Larry wants to help people understand what the Foundation is doing, while attracting money to the endowments people care about. “I’ve got a job I really love and feel I can make a difference. This is a great community organization that has been supported by a large number of donors, board members, and volunteers; wonderful people who have impacted this county in a lot of ways.”
Larry moved to Brown County nearly forty years ago after a holiday visit with his wife. “I didn’t have a lot of money, it was December, people were shopping, and nobody was open,” he says. “So I thought if I opened a store I could sell my pottery.” For the next decade he ran a shop downtown, eventually moving out on State Road 45, “right across the county line,” to expand his wholesale pottery business.
“When my kids started going to college, I made the transition to the real world,” he laughs, “working for PTS Electronics in Bloomington and Stone Belt, (a not-for-profit based in Bloomington helping people with developmental disabilities find productive labor). As funding changed, I looked for something more challenging and here I am.
“A community foundation’s strength is its knowledge of the community,” he continues. “The endowment is the means to an end. We focus on things that have the biggest impact and use these community initiatives as our framework—not only to run our grants process, but to determine who to build stronger partnerships with. That’s a big change for the foundation—going from the idea that we’re a charitable bank to focusing on a small number of community initiatives, issues we feel will make the county a better place to live and to work.
“Building the endowment is the important thing but it’s what you do with that endowment that matters. That’s how you get people to understand what you stand for, what you believe in, what things are important, and what things need to be done.”
When you set up an endowment—minimum $5,000—the money is invested and the profits go to support your charitable cause. You can start an endowment for anything—as long as it’s a not-for-profit cause or a scholarship. “We have an endowment to support the neutering of animals and six endowments supporting Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, which serves 200 meals a day,” he says.
Over time, you enable the use of more than you’ve contributed to an endowment. One endowment, established in 1996 for $16,000, has given away $9,000 while keeping the original contribution intact for the future. “It’s a very sustainable concept,” he says. “Permanence is a big part of what we’re doing here. We’re thinking long term.”
With 162 endowments, there are a lot of causes that are supported, started by donors who care deeply about those issues, such as the scholarship program. This year Connor Guingrich was awarded the Lilly scholarship—four years tuition and money for books. “On May 6 we’re announcing the scholarships that our endowments support. We’ll be awarding about $30,000 to 21 different students.
Scholarships have a big impact, education has a big impact.”
Composed of local volunteers, the scholarship committee spends weeks going through applications, interviewing students, and making their decisions. The Grants committee works the same way, last year giving away $55,000 to local not-for-profits. Winners will be announced in June.
The Brown County Community Foundation helps citizens help themselves. “One of the great aspects of the job is that I can get out and talk to people. I enjoy that. I go to every meeting I possibly can,” Pejeau says. “The Foundation has a good history and we’re trying to step up to the next level, become more independent, more successful financially, so we can have a greater impact. My hope—as the person who is running the foundation—is to clearly define what the Foundation is trying to do, where we think we can have the biggest impact, and what our resources are best able to address. We’re here to support the whole county.”
“If anybody wants to come visit us,” Larry says, “the doors are open. I’d like to talk to everybody.”