High-adventure Haven for Boys
The Boy Scouts of America had a problem. Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia had for nearly two decades been home to the Scouts’ national jamboree, which draws 45,000 boys and up to 300,000 friends and family from across the country. But throwing up the temporary infrastructure needed for each quadrennial jamboree cost the Scouts as much as $16 million every time, and the Scouting leadership realized that they needed a more permanent fix.
That solution came in the form of a 10,600-acre site in the rugged Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, near the deep and wild New River Gorge. (The gorge is cut by the only river that rises east of the Appalachians yet manages to find a slot through the mountains and reach the Ohio River Valley.) The location was perfect: 70 percent of Scouts would be within a 10-hour drive of the site, and it would provide not only a jamboree location but also an eastern “high adventure” base to supplement Scouting’s famous Philmont ranch in the west. The site is surrounded by more than 70,000 acres of federal recreation land that Scouts may explore.
The BSA has long relied on generous giving (see Philanthropy, Fall 2010), but acquiring and developing the West Virginia property was an extraordinary philanthropic lift. Starting in 2009, a long string of individual donors plus some corporations lined up with more than $300 million of quiet gifts. Stephen Bechtel donated $50 million. Walter Scott gave $25 million. Mike Goodrich funded creation of a man-made lake. Consol Energy offered $15 million.
A major amount of “terraforming” was needed to create useable sites on the rugged topography. Camping areas and a high-adventure base had to be built. The large lake was created. A 9,000-square-foot warehouse was needed on the grounds. A landmark “wingtip” pedestrian bridge was designed to cross the gorge dividing the eastern and western halves of the property. Bike trails had to be built.
In addition to hosting jamborees, this spectacular facility, known as the Summit, will allow 88,000 Scouts each year to enjoy whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and rappelling, swimming, fishing, and shooting sports. The Summit is projected to host 1.5 million Scouts within its first decade; by comparison, Philmont took 70 years to reach 1 million visitors.
Most of the lead donors to the Summit are Eagle Scouts. “We want to have donors who have honorably lived the Scout Oath for long periods of time,” states Perry Cochell of the BSA. Together, these men have created a remarkable place that will thrill boys for generations in the future. And they have solved Scouting’s national jamboree problem. When 45,000 Scouts arrive at the Summit this summer for its first jamboree, they will find themselves at a pinnacle of American philanthropy. —Evan Sparks
Bringing Parks to the People
In 1891, Frederick Law Olmsted—the visionary American landscape architect—designed three new parks for what were then the suburbs of Louisville: Shawnee to the west, Cherokee to the east, and Iroquois to the south. Olmsted also designed a series of then-novel “parkways,” tree-lined boulevards with wide medians, to connect the three parks. Horse-drawn buggies, and then horseless carriages, plied the parkways and whisked Louisvilleans to their Olmsted oases.
As the city grew in the twentieth century, the parkways became more like regular avenues, and the population grew steadily away from the original parks. But the Olmsted parks left an indelible mark. “Everybody understands parkland because of the Olmsted legacy that we have here,” says David Jones, co-founder of the health insurance company Humana, Kentucky’s largest public company. So David and his son Dan got involved in a plan to refresh the Olmsted parks—and to build on that legacy for the next generation. The first phase opened earlier this year, and eventually the project will involve thousands of acres and create a new ring of parks around the city that echo the Olmsted predecessors.
Hundreds of private donors are paying more than $70 million of the $120 million that the effort will cost. The Jones family offered the biggest gift, at $15 million. A permanent endowment will cover the maintenance on the parks, and annual memberships are now being offered ($35 for individuals, $50 for families) that will raise operating funds.
“I’ll tell you how excited people are,” David Jones says. “Seventy-five percent of the money came in cash. I’ve never had a project like that—ever.” —Evan Sparks
A Sevier Success
A generous country-music singer began by encouraging nearby children to stick with school. That eventually led to measures that now put millions of books into the hands of preschool children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Dolly Parton’s philanthropy (much of it anonymous) was built on efforts to help her neighbors, raise their level of education, and lift her local community’s economy. She has provided college scholarships in her home county since the 1970s, and through her Dollywood Foundation offers incentives to reduce high-school dropout rates in the region.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends 700,000 children a book every month.
In 1996, Parton launched her Imagination Library as an even earlier intervention. Her goal was to capture young hearts and minds and teach children to love reading from infancy. The mechanism: allow any child to have his or her own collection of books by kindergarten, at no cost to the family, regardless of income level. The program sends a child one book per month, every month, from birth until his or her fifth birthday.
Parton began the Imagination Library in her home county of Sevier in east Tennessee. In a 2006 interview with the Washington Post, she explained that in encouraging a love of reading and boosting childhood literacy, she wanted to give children opportunities that had been rare for many in her family. “My mother was married when she was in the seventh grade, so a lot of my people didn’t get a chance to get an education. Imagination Library was born out of my need to try to help people, knowing what a handicap it was with a lot of my relatives.”
The program quickly became enormously popular, and Parton opened it beyond Tennessee in 2000, offering to replicate the library in any community willing to help support it financially. The service is now active in 1,600 locales, sending books to nearly 700,000 children every month. —Kari Barbic
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