In early December, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF) announced their fall grantees. In this round, the foundation awarded 87 grants totaling $204,075.
It is a significant disbursement, all the more impressive because CHCF is not a foundation in the typical sense. There is no multi-million-dollar legacy family fortune behind it. Instead, grant funds come from residents and businesses of the Capitol Hill community. There are no paid staff; everything is done by volunteers. The 28-member Board covers all administrative costs.
A Community Organization
CHCF uses funds to support activities, projects and groups that enrich the lives of residents and celebrate the history and beauty of the community.
The foundation was founded by the late Steve Cymrot in 1989 as the philanthropic arm of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals (CHAMPS). Cymrot served as the first President of CHAMPS, the Hill’s chamber of commerce. Initially, each business made a small contribution to the foundation that, added together, was distributed as grants throughout the community.
Later it was decided that there was more potential to grow the philanthropic effort as a stand-alone organization, which became the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Many members of the business community continue to serve on the board, said current CHCF President Nicky Cymrot. “The contributions of businesspeople in this community have been enormous to the growth of this foundation,” she said. The foundation now invites local businesses to join in the efforts as Foundation Business Partners.
Since its founding, CHCF has donated more than $13 million to a broad range of local organizations and initiatives, providing grants to support projects and work around the arts, schools, youth, neighborhood beautification and community building. Hundreds of grants, ranging up to $2,500, are disbursed twice annually in fall and spring. In addition, CHCF annually awards two $25,000 grants, the John Franzén Award for the Arts and the Arnold F. Keller Jr. Grant, for larger projects. They also award microgrants of less than $350 throughout the year, often to teachers for special programs or projects.
This is only possible because of the number of neighbors who want to give where they live, Cymrot said. CHCF proves every gift, no matter how small, counts.
“We pool the resources of everyone in the community to make big things happen,” said Cymrot. “In the beginning, we were receiving donations of $25, $50. We were only giving away five or six thousand dollars a year.” Today, individual donations are still relatively modest, but come from a relatively large number of people. Gifts of $250 or less count for more than half of donations received by CHCF. Still, in 2021 year, CHCF gave away nearly $400,000.
In some ways, it’s been an atypical year for CHCF. An October Washington Post story led to more than $200,000 in donations earmarked for the Eastern High School Blue and White Marching Band, all contributed over one month. CHCF will help the Eastern High School PTO manage and account for those funds.
In other ways, dealing with surprises is typical for CHCF. Capable of responding to needs in real time, CHCF has stepped in to help after emergencies, channeling community support to those most affected by the 2007 fire at Eastern Market and the fire that destroyed Frager’s Hardware in 2013, and funding grants to organizations supporting those impacted by the pandemic in 2020.
Wide Variety of Grantees
The 2022 fall grantees reflect the wide variety of projects and community work that the Capitol Hill community is capable of supporting.
CHCF Grants Committee Chair Mark Weinheimer said that a little more than half of all CHCF funds go to support youth and education, through both the school and youth program grant categories. For instance, one grant will put one book featuring protagonists with disabilities in every classroom of Two Rivers Public Charter School; another will restore the garden that was paved over during construction at School Within a School at Goding (920 F St. NE). The garden was the site of the school’s FoodPrints nutritional program.
In addition to in-school programming, CHCF supports after school activities. CHCF funds will also allow 25 students from Capitol Hill to attend Serve Your City’s Free School for Unlimited Youth (FSFUY) Summer Camp program. Through the FSFUY Summer Camp, students will have the opportunity to participate in programs to support their academic advancement as well as activities such as rowing, trapeze, and horseback riding.
Other grants fund the arts. CHCF is sponsoring creative theatre: Dissonant City, the third season-long project in the Rorschach Theatre’s Psychogeographies program. Each month participants explore a location, receiving a box with instructions, a map and handcrafted materials that forward the story. It’s a journey through 100 years of DC music; the program’s fall chapter is set in Congressional Cemetery, celebrating the life of John Phillip Sousa.
Another grant, to Guerrilla Gardeners of Washington DC, will help fund unity walks along the One Beautiful Mile promenade that extends from Potomac Circle to Garfield Park. This series of events will bring residents along the route together to build connections, civility and good health. Elected officials, faith and civic leaders will be invited to join this citizen-led effort to strengthen the Capitol Hill community.
Everyone Home DC, which provides a range of services aimed at supporting the holistic needs of individuals and families at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Capitol Hill and the District, is the recipient of two grants.
One grant supports their drop-in center, Shirley’s Place (1338 G St. SE), which gives those experiencing homelessness a safe and welcoming space off the street and access to meals, showers, laundry, mail services, and government social services referrals. Another award will help establish a new Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Program for single adults.
Everyone Home DC said the Capitol Hill Community Foundation has been steadfast in its commitment to ending homelessness by consistently and generously supporting its programs. “We are incredibly grateful for the Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s generous support, as well as that of our many caring Capitol Hill neighbors whose contributions to the foundation fund so much important work in our community,” a representative said.
The CHCF proves that every gift, no matter how small, can make a huge impact —if the community works together. “There so many wonderful organizations doing terrific things in our community,” said Weinheimer. “Their great work helps make Capitol Hill the terrific neighborhood it is. The generosity of our neighbors helps the foundation support a lot of that work.”
You can give back to your community by giving to CHCF. CHCF will award spring grants in April 2023; applications will be accepted in March. Learn more, apply for a grant —and donate at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com