Jim and Jean

Jean Bixby Smith and Jim Worsham, founders of the Long Beach Community Foundation, stop for a picture.

Long Beach Community Foundation will kick off a several-month celebration of 25 years of service this Thursday, March 25 with an hour-long webinar featuring five of the LBCF founders.

Today, the foundation handles about $60 million in assets, according to president and CEO Marcelle Epley. In the last year alone, the foundation has distributed about $1.3 million in coronavirus relief from the Long Beach Disaster Relief Fund.

But in 1996, organizers essentially started from scratch. Founding president and CEO Jim Worsham had done his homework and was prepared to create a community foundation, but the community had to be educated. Worsham brought a group of philanthropists and business community members together to launch the endeavor.

"The first donation was $1,000 from Mr. Worsham," Epley said. "It was a slow and steady growth from there. It reached $10 million in 2003."

The foundation relies on two primary forms of individual investment for its livelihood. The first is known as donor-advised funds, where the donor directs where money goes. The other is estate gifts and/or endowments.

Founders had used a connection with the California Community Foundation to launch the Long Beach effort. By 2006, they were ready to strike out on their own, and became an independent nonprofit with 501c3 certification. 

While individual accounts provided the base for the foundation, the group began reaching out to offer more help to the community. In 2008, the group won a multi-year grant from the Knight Foundation and spear-headed what became known as the Connected Corridor project, trying to make improvements and bring the community together along Atlantic Avenue, from downtown to north Long Beach.

Worsham continued as president and CEO until 2014, when the asset pool reached $25 million. When he retired, Epley was chosen. While the foundation's base continued to grow, community efforts grew as well. The relationship with the Knight Foundation continued, and a Community Impact Fund was developed to the point it currently is a $2.5 million endowment fund, provided more than $100,000 in grants each year.

Staying true to the Community Foundation philosophy, the board decided to create a three-part webinar series instead of a big anniversary party. The series is called "A City That Philanthropy Built: Celebrating the Past, Present and Future of Charitable Giving in Long Beach."

The first webinar is set for 1 p.m. Thursday, March 25. The panel will include Worsham, and founding board members Jean Bixby Smith, Jane Netherton and Frank Newell being interviewed by Epley and current board chair Gary DeLong (who also is a founding board member).

It is free to watch the webinar, but registration is required. Go to Gazettes.com/go/lbcf. The event will be recorded and sent to those who cannot watch the webinar live.

Part 2 will take place at 1 p.m. June 25. It will look at the history of philanthropy in Long Beach with Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the Long Beach Historical Society; Cheryl Perry, president of Long Beach Heritage; and Rich Archbold, public editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The final session will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 25, and talk about the future of giving in Long Beach. Panelists haven't been confirmed yet.

For more information about the Long Beach Community Foundation, go to longbeachcf.org

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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