Alice Yoakum

In Her Own Words: Alice Yoakum

As BTCF marks its 30th anniversary, we salute the Blum family of Salisbury, Conn. Here, Alice Yoakum—daughter of founder Robert E. Blum—reflects on our origins and the unique role of community foundations.

“My father sent invitations to people he thought would be interested in his idea. They met around his dining room table one day in 1987. He wanted to start a community foundation for the Northwest Corner and Dutchess, Columbia and Berkshire counties. He believed it would stimulate support for local charities, encourage cooperation among nonprofits, and help start-ups.

The foundation began life as the TriCounty Community Division of the New York Community Trust (with which my father had connections as a past board member). Our office was a couple of second floor rooms in downtown Lakeville, as I remember. Contributions came in, some grants were made and it slowly grew. Soon, the foundation, by then called Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, obtained its own designation as a separate nonprofit.

Like other supporters, I started a donor advised fund early on for making contributions to local organizations. Right now, I seem to be more concerned with health issues, since unlike every other developed country, we don’t have universal health care. But there are many important causes to support through BTCF, including affordable housing, protecting the environment, childcare and education.

I was on the BTCF board when fellow board member Don Warner said the way to put BTCF on the map was to sponsor a new project. In 1994, SPARC (Sickness Prevention Achieved through Regional Cooperation) became that project, initially financed by a grant from BTCF. We were having annual flu epidemics. SPARC worked with the visiting nurse services and doctors to increase the use of preventive medical services, including vaccinations, mammograms and blood pressure monitoring. It really took off. SPARC invented Vote and Vax, which provides flu and pneumonia vaccines to people when they go to the polls, and has now spread to many, many other states.

In my view, BTCF provides a way of assessing the needs of the community, and enlisting people who are knowledgeable about these issues to figure out how the community can best respond. It’s local and it’s community-based, meeting needs using mostly local resources. And I think that’s appealing because people can connect with their neighbors and say, ‘We’ve got to do something about this problem. What is your idea, your take? Who can we get who knows something about this? How can we help?’”

Yoakum

Photo by John Dolan