February 18, 2022

Sean Duval

by Sean Duval, AAACF Vice Chair

That common challenge is thrown down by parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, teachers, and mentors. I certainly have heard it enough in my life.

So, I am pretty jazzed about how the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) is stepping up to answer that question. As COVID threatened so many families, businesses and organizations, the Foundation, through its grant making resources, was able to do something about it. The AAACF Community Investment Committee of Trustees, staff and community volunteers was able to deploy the most grant dollars in its history, more than double previous years, specifically designed to help people impacted by the insidious virus. We were able to touch so many people’s lives because of the flexibility we were given by our donors who decided to provide AAACF with funds to address changing community needs.

My time at the Foundation has been incredibly rewarding as I have watched the positive impact they have had on Washtenaw County by working alongside other local organizations in partnership. Having served on county boards and committees such as Destination Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Community College Foundation, the A2Y Chamber, and many others, I have come to realize how AAACF is an overarching organization that connects to so many others. The Foundation’s ability to collaborate, connect missions and leverage various philanthropic funds is what makes AAACF’s grantmaking so powerful.

This past year, my partner Alina and I opened an endowed fund at AAACF and I was surprised to learn that we could start one for as little as $5,000. In fact, I was kind of incredulous that the Foundation could really make a difference with that small amount of money. What I learned, however, is that, combined with the generosity of others who have made similar and larger gifts, the power of my small fund is that it is an unrestricted gift. Along with other donors who have started unrestricted endowed named funds (that AAACF calls Community Impact Funds), the Foundation has been able to deploy the combined resources with nimble precision and maximum, immediate impact. I am convinced that the collective permanent endowed funds given as unrestricted gifts are among the most powerful tools in the Foundation’s toolbox to continue their mission to support the people of our county.

With so much happening in our community, you likely ask yourself, “What can I do about ______?”. You fill in the blank with whatever the challenge is that you feel passionate about. There are many. Housing, homelessness, food insecurity, childcare needs, wealth generation, seniors, education attainment, water safety or any of the massive challenges facing our community can be solved by asking yourself that simple question. My experience has been that by answering it first at home, and then in ever growing circles, you make a significant impact at a grassroots level that will travel quickly and start creating solutions as people come together.

Again, what are you going to do about it?

Start small, start local, get involved, be passionate, and support those that are doing good work!

I challenge you to learn more about AAACF and to consider starting a permanently endowed, unrestricted fund, secure in the knowledge that you are among many others who have entrusted the Foundation to break down barriers and silos, and bring the missions of the many to bear for one united Washtenaw community.

While baby steps are small and cover less ground, they are still moving forward, and those tiny steps will eventually grow into large strides that will reach the goal we are all striving towards—a place where every citizen has a fighting chance to improve or change their lives which will create opportunities for their families and the community.

Okay, so what are you going to do about it?