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Town of Westbrook to Honor the Westbrook Foundation

Published July 23, 2019

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From pickleball courts to library laptops, from educational scholarships to grants to non-profits, the Westbrook Foundation, which began as a single scholarship fund in 1984, has grown to be a major underpinning of the town it serves.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, the town will have a chance to show its appreciation at a community-wide event in the foundation’s honor. The celebration, which will include a picnic sponsored by the Westbrook Fire Department, is open to the entire community.

Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop estimates that “more than $100,000 over the last two years has been given to the town” by the foundation, including the resurfacing of the Ted Lane basketball court, the erection of a new playscape near the firehouse, and a $40,000 grant to build pickleball courts.

And that doesn’t include the grant to the Westbrook Public Library (WPL) for 20 laptops—10 Macbooks and 10 PCs—that will equip its future tech room. According to WPL Director Lew Daniels, nearly all the library’s technology equipment has been made possible by foundation grants, as well as the furnishing of the Barbara Spencer Children’s Room, funded with $150,000 from the foundation as part of the library’s 2007 renovation.

“When we joined LION [the Libraries Online consortium], half the money that we had to buy in was from the foundation,” said Daniels. “That made all the difference.”

The foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that now contributes roughly $146,000 each year in educational scholarships to Westbrook residents and, in 2018, awarded around $117,000 to community programs and projects, according to its annual report.

Foundations of a Foundation

Barbara Spencer was a long-time teacher at Daisy Ingraham Elementary School who came from a prominent Westbrook family. In 1984, she spoke to friends, including then-first selectman Donald P. Morrison, about establishing a scholarship in honor of her father, Elliot Spencer, for a Westbrook High School senior who was heading to college. Essex attorney Judd Carr is credited with counseling her to invest the principal and use the funds it generated for annual scholarships. Following his advice, Spencer set up a board of directors to manage her initial donation of $20,000, according to the foundation’s website. Donald Morrison served as its first chair.

Spencer died suddenly in 1993, bequeathing several million dollars to the foundation with instructions that use of the money should benefit the residents of Westbrook.

The Westbrook Foundation board grew over the years from a small group consisting of Spencer and her friends to nine members today, who serve staggered terms. New board members are “self-selected” by current members, said Westbrook Selectman John Hall, who joined the foundation board in 1997 and later became its chair.

“You want a person who is of course very involved in running Westbrook, knows how Westbrook works,” said Hall. “Someone who has a history of being involved, civically at least.”

“And it’s not political,” added Daniels. “It’s always interested people, committed people. Of course, that’s the way Westbrook is. It’s all volunteers.”

With the exception of hiring attorneys, an accounting firm, and a communications professional, the foundation consists only of the nine unpaid board members, who meet monthly at the John P. Riggio Municipal Building.

“Our administrative costs are well below other foundations,” said Paul Winch, current board chair. “How do we do that? Well, we aren’t paying rent anywhere. Simple as that.”

Over the years, as members of the community have grown to admire the foundation’s investment strategies and use of its funds, more donations have come in.

“The Westbrook Teachers Association put a sizable amount of their money into the hands of the foundation to invest,” said Jim Crawford, a former teacher who has also served as chair of the foundation’s board. “So that money was available to the teachers to give scholarships.

“It’s a beautiful thing because...with the teachers’ group, we had a significant amount of money,” he continued. “It was sitting in a bank in a CD [account]. So you put that money into the foundation and...you’ve got professional people handling [it].

“It grows at a much larger rate than anything you could have done on your own,” Crawford said.

The celebration in honor of the Westbrook Foundation will take place on Thursday, Aug. 8 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the fire station at 18 South Main Street, adjacent to the parking lot behind the Riggio Building. RSVPs to shelchowski@westbrookct.us are requested no later than Thursday, July 25.


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