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Westerville North alumni create Cultivating Success Fund for causes

Marla K. Kuhlman/ThisWeek group

Published November 6, 2020

Several 2005 Westerville North High School graduates have partnered to create the Cultivating Success Fund as a way to fundraise for worthy causes. Over the past several years, Laura Hazzard said, she and former classmate Donny Murray have talked multiple times about the importance of philanthropy in their lives. “We knew we wanted to make a more meaningful impact together,” Hazzard said. “In recent years, Donny took on the Save the Crew and Green Columbus initiatives, and I became a foster parent, serving the Los Angeles community. This year, we were hit with both the pandemic and a powerful movement for racial justice and equality. We decided we couldn't wait any longer and founded the Cultivating Success Fund in the summer.”

Hazzard said the goal was to form a donor-advised fund with closest friends, who are all 2005 graduates from Westerville North, and their spouses. “The reason we chose to form a donor-advised fund was so we could merge our finances and have the opportunity to fundraise while also having our money invested to grow over time,” she said. “While our grants for the first several years will be more modest, we are excited to be able to grow and donate more and more in the years to come.”

Looking far into the future, Hazzard said, the group hopes the fund will live on with the next generation of philanthropists. “The Columbus Foundation has made it easy for us, as they manage the investments and the accounting of the fund,” she said. Hazzard said the group’s advisory board comprises 12 Westerville alumni and their spouses who live in California, North Carolina or Ohio. “The bulk of us met at Westerville North High School,” she said. “Some of our advisers even married their high school sweethearts. We all work in different fields and have unique perspectives and expertise we bring to the fund.”

While making an impact is the primary goal, Hazzard said, the friends also really like the idea of teaching each other, sharing in the giving and using fund meetings as an opportunity to catch up. “We have always been close in our lives, attending college together, being in each other's weddings and having play dates with our kids, but this was a new way for us to deepen our friendship and to learn even more about each other,” she said.

Hazzard said the friends all thought it was important to return to their roots for the first grant, giving back to the community that fostered their friendships and planted the seeds of success in each of their lives. “We owe a lot of our success to the teachers, mentors and coaches from Westerville City Schools,” she said. “So it's no surprise that we found ourselves looking at the Westerville Education Foundation. Their history and reputation made us confident they would be the perfect partner for our first grant.”

The Many Voices: Diverse Classroom Library Project is the beneficiary of the first Cultivating Success Fund grant of over $2,000. Colleen Moidu, executive director of the Westerville Education Foundation, said the project is a partnership among the foundation, Westerville Partners for Education and Westerville City Schools educators to supply K-12 teachers with books to expand their classroom libraries. She said a goal is to promote discussions about racial and social diversity and provide students access to books representative of contemporary families and inclusive of culture, history and diverse perspectives. Moidu said the goal for the project is $40,000, and with the donation from the Cultivating Success Fund, more than $20,000 has been raised thus far.

“This contribution is so meaningful, coming from a group of Westerville graduates giving back to the school community in this way,” she said. “One teacher described this project as a warm hug for educators and students.” Hazzard said books that feature underrepresented ethnicities, disabilities, varying cultural and religious backgrounds, gender nonconformity and LGBTQIA+ orientations are so important. “As many of us are now parents, we are constantly searching for ways to open our children's world and teach them about acceptance, equality and compassion towards others,” she said. “I am hoping that we can inspire others to donate to the Many Voices project or even consider starting their own donor-advised fund with the Columbus Foundation. By working together, we can learn and accomplish more than we would alone.”

Since Cultivating Success wasn't launched until July, the yearly grant cycle occurred later in the year. In the future, Hazzard said, the group will fundraise on '05 Day and then distribute grants. “We plan to do a larger-scale fundraiser every ‘05-Day,’ a term that was coined our senior year in high school, May 5, 2005,” she said. After each year's fundraiser, we will select a few local nonprofits from around the country through a voting process among the advisers.” The next '05 day will be May 5, 2021. @ThisWeekMarla

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