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Wednesday, January 10, 2018  – Missoulian

POLSON — Ten years ago, Penny Jarecki happened upon a newspaper article about the good work a community foundation was accomplishing in Bigfork.
It made her wonder why the same kind of thing wasn’t happening in Polson.
So, after some research and an encouraging visit with folks from the Montana Community Foundation, Jarecki began reaching out to men and women who cared deeply about Polson to see if there was an interest in creating a new organization focused on improving the lives of people who called it home.

In 2007, a half-dozen or so began the necessary paperwork to establish a new nonprofit they would call the Greater Polson Community Foundation.
It didn’t take long to learn that Polson area residents were willing to step forward financially to help make this dream a reality.
At the time, the Montana Community Foundation provided seed money to new community foundations that were able to raise $10,000 as a match. In 2008 — the same year the stock market tanked — the fledgling Polson organization held its first fundraiser and began to spread the word through local civic organizations.
“Even though it was a scary time with the stock market, we were able to raise about $50,000,” Jarecki said. “That was the evidence that we needed to show, how the community would respond right from the very beginning.”
Fast forward a decade and the Greater Polson Community Foundation is now considered one of the top five community foundations of the 74 established in the state. Its permanent endowment currently stands at $650,000.
Since 2009, the Polson foundation has awarded $473,000 in grants for community projects that range from $53,000 to help with the development of soccer fields to a $15,000 grant for informational signs along the interpretive trail at Sacajawea Park.

The foundation also was instrumental in helping to jump-start the effort to establish an international film festival in Polson six years ago.
“At its beginning, the motivation was to do something in the winter time that would help support Polson’s economy,” Jarecki said. “The film festival started absolutely from scratch. It’s now recognized as one of the best winter film festivals in the country.”
David King, the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest’s co-chair, said the $15,000 the foundation has provided over the past six years has played an important role in the festival’s success.
“Film festivals don’t just pop up without an enormous amount of support from the local community,” King said. “The Greater Polson Community Foundation and other generous local sponsors … have been the bedrock beneath FLIC from the very beginning some six years ago. FLIC is now its own nonprofit. Its sixth annual film festival will be held Jan 29 through Feb. 1. This year it will feature 68 films from 15 countries.
“We’re proud that we not only were able to encourage them in the beginning, but also have been there along the way as they have evolved into something that’s good for our community,” Jarecki said.

The Polson foundation has one fundraiser in August. Last summer, the foundation raised about $30,000 at the event. Funding also comes from a variety of grants as well as memorial and legacy gifts. Jarecki said it’s too early to know for sure how changes in federal tax law will affect nonprofits like the foundation.The new tax law increases the standard deduction, which could mean that many taxpayers won’t be itemizing their deductions, including charitable donations to nonprofit organizations. “People may not be as incentivized under the new tax law,” Jarecki said. “The old way encouraged charitable giving. That could create some new challenges for nonprofits in the future”.

The foundation’s public relations chair, Dorothy Ashcraft, decided to offer her help after retiring from a teaching career.
“This is really a way for me to give back to my community,” Ashcraft said. “We do live in a wonderful little area that’s filled with people who want to do the same. The members of our board of directors come from all walks of life.”

Jarecki is encouraged by the progress the foundation has made in its first decade.
“There have been dozens of organizations in our community that have been positively impacted by the generosity of the people who live here,” Jarecki said. “Nonprofits allow individuals to accomplish something they couldn’t do by themselves or do for a profit.
“We have all kinds of organizations in our town working to do good things, but we also have a lot of needs,” she said. “We have a lot of good things going on in this town and I like to say the foundation has its finger on many of them.”