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HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Scott Eisenstein and Fred Johnson of the Hillsboro Community Foundation pose with a tree that started as a $1 donation from a young boy. The tree will be planted this fall.  What do the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, the Glenn and Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center and the parks at Noble Woods and Rood Bridge have in common?

They were all constructed or developed, in part, with help from the Hillsboro Community Foundation — the conduit through which philanthropic dreams become tangible projects in Hillsboro.

“For years, we have referred to ourselves as Hillsboro’s best-kept secret,” said foundation president-elect Fred Johnson. “We are trying to change that.”

Since 1986, the foundation has helped promote local philanthropy by bringing to life visions for community developments designed to enhance the quality of life for Hillsboro’s growing populace. Sometimes that’s done through charitable donations and sometimes it’s done through partnerships with like-minded local organizations.

The results, however, are usually the same: “A lot of public-private collaboration to make projects happen,” Johnson said.

Through community fundraising and a $1 million donation from the Walters family, the foundation opened the Cultural Arts Center’s doors in 2004.

A year earlier in September 2003, it joined residents to celebrate the public opening of the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, following the wildlife sanctuary’s extensive and costly redevelopment.

And more recently, it had a hand in the McKinney Park playground project, which is set to hold its grand opening Aug. 11 after being furnished with a new playground structure through design company KaBOOM! and The CarMax Foundation.

The Hillsboro foundation’s members come from all walks of life, Johnson said, “but they all have deep roots in the community.”

From the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce to the city council, and from business owners to long-time Hillsboro residents, members are expected to have an invested interest in improving the city they call home.

Two years ago, the foundation set goals for the following few years. A goal for 2015, for example, was to accumulate more than $500,000 in endowed funds by 2017. With help from 175 individual donors, the foundation surpassed that goal in one year.

And it’s all thanks to mostly small donations from several community members, said Johnson, who stressed a desire to increase the number of people involved with the organization, regardless of age or income.

At a recent event, Johnson said, “We were making visitors to our booth aware of the foundation and its work. I talked to many people ... across all spectrums of life.”

One encounter stood out, however.

Johnson ended up spending some time with a young Latino boy, he said, “I’d guess 10 or 12 years of age. I explained the work of the foundation and showed him pictures of projects the Foundation had been involved with. He kept saying things like, ‘Oh, I’ve been there’ — just a very polite young person. I concluded my presentation and he left.”

Yet moments later, the boy returned with a $1 donation, “which was just as sincere as any donation I think I’ve ever received,” Johnson said. “He wanted to contribute … to the community.”

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