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Austins commission a unique needs assessment to guide local giving
Ken Austin is no stranger to philanthropy, having spent much of his adult life giving back to the community after co-founding A-dec Inc. in Newberg and growing it into a global leader in dental equipment manufacturing.
Austin, who lost his wife and partner in philanthropy, Joan, in 2013, has long considered how to ensure their legacy of giving would outlive them.
That was the impetus for the establishment of the Austin Family Foundation (AFF) in 2015, but just how the foundation will fulfill the couple's vision became clearer last month when it released a needs assessment for Newberg and Yamhill County.
The assessment, facilitated by the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF), is the first of its kind in Oregon in that it will guide the foundation's philanthropic investments.
"This town, this county, and the people who live and work here have given so much to our family that we want to give back to them and ensure a better future for their children and our communities," Austin said.
OCF hired Portland-based consultant Program and Policy Insight (PPI) to conduct the assessment, which was tasked with identifying both the strengths in Yamhill County and challenges its communities face, what gaps exists among services provided by nonprofits, and what organizations and partnerships are currently addressing local needs.
The assessment focused on five particular areas of need when evaluating the county: demographic and social profile, economy and employment, education and training, health and human services, and arts and culture.
Austin Industries and Austin family spokesperson Brett Baker noted that most of the findings in the assessment should come as a surprise to many, like the existence of shortages in primary care and psychiatric providers or the need to facilitate more family-wage jobs, but he stressed that the assessment is just the beginning of the process.
In addition to giving the foundation a place to start when evaluating investment options, the assessment was also intended to be a resource for organizations in the county and serve as the catalyst for collaboration moving forward.
Baker said the assessment will be updated every few years, but noted that many stakeholders have already reached out with helpful feedback after the foundation held an event to unveil it Nov. 6.
"I think the more that we can find out about the needs and interests of our Yamhill County residents the better," said Jeff Sargent, president of nonprofit Yamhill Community Action Partnership (YCAP).
He said the assessment will have overlap with other evaulations, like a recent one from Yamhill County Health and Human Services or the one YCAP is currently researching, but the foundation's effort comes from a different perspective.
"We're very fortunate to have the Austin family call Yamhill County their home and to have invested what they already have so far into what we expect will be a legacy foundation," Sargent said. "We're fortunate that they've been very generous to YCAP in the past and we look forward to partnering with them."
At least to start, Baker said the foundation won't be openly accepting grant applications. Rather, it will approach organizations, through OCF, with the intent of providing funding to support a particular area of need and give them the opportunity to write a grant proposal.
That was the case with the foundation's first round of grants this year, which included a $50,000 grant to Newberg High School to create a "makerspace" and boost curriculum and capacity around the design thinking approach to teaching and learning.
"One of the reasons we've done all this work is we don't want to be reactionary," Baker said. "We want to be very focused and figure out some specific things they want to get done in this community."
The AFF is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years, as it will be the beneficiary of the proceeds of the Austin family's planned sale of 261-acre Springbrook property located in northeast Newberg.
That will increase the scale and sustainability of the foundation's work and hopefully, in accordance with Ken Austin's hopes, make it a peer of leading philanthropic organizations in the state, like the R.J. Murdock Charitable Trust or the Ford Family Foundation.
"Philanthropy is the ultimate act of kindness whether you're giving your coat to somebody that doesn't have a coat or you're giving food to somebody or giving your money to a good cause rather than spending it on yourself," Austin said. "Our family is very dedicated to helping others and I just think it's a real blessing that we can give back."