DOVER — A few years ago, this editor enjoyed telling the story of Benjamin Potter.
It involved the will of Col. Potter, a Milford merchant who died in 1843, leaving some money to family and friends but even more to the poor.
Likely, he had no idea that his gift would continue to help distressed people in Kent County more than 170 years later.
“No part of my bequest shall be applied to the use or benefit of any of person or persons residing within the walls of the poor house, but to be distributed amongst only such of the poor who by timely assistance may be kept from being carried to the poor house and becoming subjects thereof,” his will said.
For years after his death, trustees parceled out a little at a time from the small trust. But in 1963, it grew immensely after 2,600 acres of Col. Potter’s land were auctioned.
In 2012, the CenDel Foundation took over the trust, now valued at nearly $5 million.
Since then, the foundation has awarded about $900,000 in grants in Kent County in a managed distribution so the trust remains healthy.
The focus is on crisis/emergency assistance funding, access to food and homelessness.
Jeanine Kleimo, chairwoman of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, was one of the first to recognize the good that could come from the grants.
Her organization, which operates the men’s shelter in downtown Dover, was able to use a 2013 grant to renovate a long-term housing facility and support business ventures to employ homeless people.
She recognizes, though, that the community’s nonprofits have similar, but separate missions to serve the community.
“I was talking informally with Kathleen Hawkins and said, ‘Have you ever taken a bigger look at what the Potter Trust might be able to do in terms of making a dent in poverty in Kent County?'” she said.
Ms. Hawkins heads the Potter Trust committee for the CenDel Foundation.
Her reply to Ms. Kleimo was, “Not really, but let’s do that.”
“Many nonprofits are at a point where we are competing with each other and not achieving larger and long-term goals. And I think we need to do that.”
The informal question turned into a new community effort this year that will bring together representatives from various nonprofits to figure out how to best work together.
“The whole idea is to create an environment where these people can talk to each other and see what happens,” said Ms. Hawkins.
The first time the CenDel Foundation announced the awards, there were about 80 people from the 25 organizations that were recipients.
“We hadn’t intended for this to happen, but what came back to us was that a lot of these people had never sat down and talked to one another before,” said Ms. Hawkins. “Just sitting there in casual conversation, they were finding ways to work together.
“When Jeanine came to me and asked if we could do something like this on purpose, I thought it was a fantastic idea.”
The nonprofits and faith-based groups gathering are those that provide services to the homeless, crisis funding, medical care and access to food to low-income residents of Kent County. Many had already applied for grants from the Potter Trust, making it somewhat simple to identify the players.
So far, more than 40 groups have joined in at the invitation of the CenDel Foundation.
The goals of the effort will be to understand what services each nonprofit is providing, identify potential gaps in services and come up with ways to work together.
Ms. Kleimo said she and Ms. Hawkins have already discussed some of the potential gaps.
From the Dover Interfaith perspective, she said there is a need for an affordable drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. She said they also discussed programs for at-risk youths and homeless teens.
“There’s an emerging list,” said Ms. Kleimo.
“I don’t work for the Potter Trust but it’s a wonderful resource and all of us in the county might spend available resources that would achieve the goals we all have. I think we can get there if we are sincere in our efforts to collaborate.”
For Ms. Hawkins, she reflects on the man who made so much possible with the trust.
“I really wish that Benjamin Potter was still around,” said Ms. Hawkins, “so he could see what we have done with the money and get his reactions to see if this is what he meant or if he had no idea what would happen.”
We’ll never know if he was truly being benevolent or maybe just a bitter man giving his money away to charity as a way to thumb his nose at others.
Either way, Kent County is enjoying his legacy.
Says Ms. Hawkins in closing, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we can turn this into something even more phenomenal?”
For more information on the CenDel Foundation and the Potter Trust, visit www.cendelfoundation.org.
In recent weeks, this editor has enjoyed some of the feedback from readers and sources we used for our recent series on hunger in Delaware.
Last weekend, Carolyn Frederick of the Modern Maturity Center mentioned that the Delaware State News’ story on Meals on Wheels was helpful in educating the public. And, she requested that we also reach out to the community for volunteer drivers.
Be sure to check out the article about that in today’s edition.
Ms. Kleimo also mentioned to this editor that the series was helpful in shining light on the issue.
As a footnote to the Potter Trust discussion above, she noted that there isn’t any one organization leading the way, Ms. Kleimo said.
“That’s what needs to emerge — some kind of community entity,” she said.
As an example, she said there isn’t one source for dealing with coordinating food for the influx of people in Code Purple shelters. Dover Interfaith, she said, has a walk-in freezer where the sanctuaries can come to get prepared meals.
“That’s just one little part,” she said.
Reach editor Andrew West at firstname.lastname@example.org