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Leading Locally: Ste. Genevieve County Community Foundation

Missouri’s first French settlement came to be nearly a century before Missouri began — and decades before the area was even part of the United States.

Affiliate foundations

Helping fill community needs

The town of Ste. Genevieve was founded in 1735, a reality that signs proudly proclaim in the quaint Missouri stop along the Mississippi River. There are other signs of community pride — like the look and feel of the town’s buildings, style and spirit — that tie ethnic heritage to the present and future.

That spirit and heritage is also reflected by the Ste. Genevieve County Community Foundation. Founded in 2003, the SGCCF has distributed more than $4.9 million back to the community and holds assets of more than $1 million as of June 2023.

“There are many original buildings built in the 1700s still standing,” says Sandra Cabot, president of the SGCCF, giving French vertical log construction as a locally unique example of French heritage.

“Amazing as it may seem, they built with logs vertically and either into the soil — ‘en-terre,’ in the dirt — or on a sill, which to us would be like a stone foundation. There are still five of those you can tour here, and the next closet place you can tour that sort of thing is in Louisiana.”

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Ste. Genevieve is the name of both a town and county along Missouri's eastern boundary.

In addition to the town of Ste. Genevieve, the SGCCF serves the wider county, which includes small historic communities — such as St. Mary, Coffman, Zell and Bloomsdale — that dot the largely agricultural landscape.

“A lot of our smaller communities were all founded as farming communities around a church and school,” says Cabot. “Now they’re pretty much either ag or a bedroom community for some of the major industries in the area, but several still have small schools. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of direct grants to schools for items including textbooks.

"Whatever the need is, if it’s a not-for-profit, 501(c)3, they are welcome to apply at any time, and just tell us what their needs are.”

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The town of Ste. Genevieve dates to 1735, and is Missouri’s first French settlement.

One of the foundation’s key efforts is to support the next generation who live within its hills. Two scholarships are distributed each year — one to each of the county’s two high schools. Both are renewable for three years, leading to $16,000 in scholarship distributions annually.

“We’ve sent students to some of the best colleges in our state, and across the country,” Cabot says, sharing the renowned Johns Hopkins University as an example. “I’m sure they’re excellent students, and they probably received scholarships from the universities that they applied to, but I think supporting our youth is probably one of our strongest efforts.

“To me, that’s one of the most important things, and it’s something that we’ve identified as an issue: The need to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs and philanthropists and business leaders. There are several local organizations who have actually started scholarship programs through us with the CFO. To me, that’s just bringing more opportunities and the ability for us to kind of take a leadership role and set an example for others who might be interested in doing that.”

Instead of having a set grant round each year, the SGCCF supports local needs how and when requests are made. There are two primary funds from which distributions are made: Its general grant fund, as well as one directed towards economic development.

“Sometimes we give out grants that are kind of a grant and loan combination,” Cabot says. “If that’s to a business, maybe we help them with something that they’re struggling with, whatever it might be, then they pay back a portion of that, and a portion of it is forgiven. But the amount that comes back then goes into the revolving fund for development.”

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A settlement served by the Ste. Genevieve County Community Foundation is the small town of St. Mary.

The foundation also holds funds for local nonprofits including the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve, the Ste. Genevieve County Library, the Ste. Genevieve Memorial Cemetery Preservation, the City of Ste. Genevieve and the Community Center Foundation of Ste. Genevieve County.

The latter actually ties to the SGCCF’s start in the first place.

“We were established and our fund was started with that original donation,” says Cabot of money that remained after local benefactors – the Bussen family – contributed to the construction of the community center. “Then over the years, we’ve gotten various types of additional donations, and had some very generous supporters in the community, which we’ve been very thankful for.

"When we affiliated with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, one of the chief reasons was to invest our funds through their management methods. It also took some of the burden off of the early board members regarding needs – like annual IRS filings – that would be difficult for a volunteer board to keep up with."

Looking forward: Connect and inform

As local needs evolve, an ongoing effort is to share information about what opportunities there are for planned giving through the SGGCF and giving donors the chance to share their resources to make a difference for the community.

“When people are considering what to do with the assets they will leave behind, we want to let them know that this is a safe haven, and that it is professionally managed,” Cabot says. “You can decide if you want to give to a homeless shelter, or if you want to give to animal protection, or if you want to give to scholarships.

"Whatever the donors' wishes are, we will respect those.”

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