FIRST Foundation named CREATE’s affiliate of the year

Local non-profit group Itawamba FIRST — represented by, from left, Brian Quinn, Joey Cox, Jason Wallace, Dixie Wallace and Michael Nanney — was recently presented with the CREATE Foundation’s James Hugh Ray Community Affiliate Award. Since its creation in 2008, the FIRST Foundation has built an endowment fund of more than $565,000, which the group uses to bolster the efforts of numerous local non-profit projects. (Photo by Thomas Wells/Daily Journal)

In its short lifespan, Itawamba FIRST Foundation has helped do some amazing things: Feed the hungry, introduce kids to the symphony, ensure classrooms are healthy and send hundreds of Itawamba County students to college.

Not bad for a four-year-old.

In recognition of its efforts, the local non-profit group was recently presented with the CREATE Foundation’s James Hugh Ray Community Affiliate Award. This award is presented annually  to a single organization based on several factors: an affiliate’s visibility in the community, its leadership role and amount of growth.

The award was presented as part of the non-profit organization’s annual fall summit, held recently at the BancorpSouth Center in Tupelo.

Itawamba FIRST Foundation leaders couldn’t be happier with the award … or the support that the foundation’s seen over the years.

“We are very excited that CREATE is taking notice of the positive movement that FIRST has taken during the past four years,” group head Jason Wallace said. “Winning this award is a direct reflection of the hard work of our Board of Directors and the generosity and support of the citizens of Itawamba County.

“We would like to thank everyone that has supported FIRST during these four years and maybe winning this award will motivate more Itawamba County citizens to think of FIRST for their charitable giving,” he added.

“We are extremely proud of FIRST and its achievements and are honored by this recognition,” said the organization’s founder, Bryan Wilson. “We look forward to continued growth and a great future in supporting Itawamba County citizens and community needs and projects.”

“Our school district is very thankful to have FIRST in our county,” said Superintendent of Education Michael Nanney. “FIRST has funded grants that have benefitted many projects for the schools in our county.”

Since its founding it 2008, the group has built an endowment fund of more than $565,000. This money, which is used to invest in numerous local projects, was garnered through donations from Itawambians — people interested in building a better community.

CREATE Foundation is the region’s premier philanthropic resource regarding comprehensive charitable planning and is the owner of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, as well as The Itawamba County Times.

Growing up fast

Wallace said the foundation’s growth has been astounding. Itawamba FIRST is the youngest affiliate in a 12-county area, and yet is ranked fourth overall in funding.

That level of support, he said, is no surprise. The people of Itawamba County have a deep affection for their community and want to see it flourish.

“I believe the community support has been so strong for this organization because every cent that someone gives, the money is there forever in the endowment fund,” Wallace said. “The interest earned through investments is the only funding given away every year for grants.”

Plus, all of that money is used to bolster local programs that aid local people. It’s Itawamba County’s money through and through.

“We don’t award any grants that aren’t for the people of Itawamba County,” Wallace said. “There is not one penny that leaves our county. This way, people know their contributions are working to improve the quality of life where they live.”

When people contribute money to FIRST Foundation, it goes into an endowment fund. As its name implies, this fund grows perpetually and will never be spent. Instead, FIRST Foundation awards grant money each year by spending a portion of interest earned on this fund but never from the fund itself.

Funds raised by the FIRST Foundation have been used to provide grants to Itawamba County’s two food pantries, the ICC Guaranteed Tuition Program, Itawamba Symphony Society, the Fairview Archery Team, and in support of Pilot Club projects and the purchase of hygiene kits for grade school children.

As time goes on and the endowment fund grows, the foundation will be able to contribute to more and more causes.

“We hope to see the FIRST Endowment Fund growing to over $1,000,000 over the next few years,” Wallace said.

It’s a lofty goal, but considering how much growing the organization’s been doing lately, it’ll likely be within arm’s reach in no time.

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.