This story first appeared in the Winter 2019 Newsletter
For Michigan families, the Blue Water Area of Port Huron and St. Clair County has a lot to offer.
For starters, there’s the shoreline — dozens of miles of waterfront that provide recreation opportunities for boaters, fishers, swimmers, and more. There are also plenty of cultural draws, from theaters to music venues to history museums celebrating the region’s Great Lakes history.
But beyond the tourist attractions, Port Huron, like any community, has its share of needs. Low-income families in the area often seek services ranging from food to health care, and hundreds of children seek educational opportunities and services to address mental health, substance abuse, and other issues. The Stebbins Family Fund — a donor advised fund with the Community Foundation — has been addressing those needs for nearly 15 years.
The Power of a Donor Advised Fund
The Stebbins family established the fund with the Community Foundation in 2005, after a family member won the lottery and chose to devote a portion of their winnings to community development in the Port Huron area. Mary Stebbins, the original donor, came to the Community Foundation with a goal: to grant money to public charities that benefit children and families — especially those from modest means.
Since then, the Stebbins’ original mission has translated into more than $7.5 million in grantmaking (about $650,000 annually) in a wide range of sectors, including education, youth recreation, and capacity- building for area nonprofits. The fund has led to fruitful partnerships with dozens of groups throughout St. Clair and Lapeer counties, including the City of Port Huron Recreation Department, Literacy and Beyond, and Blue Water Habitat for Humanity.
Over the past few years, those partnerships have led to a $30,000 grant made earlier this year to support the Port Huron Museum of Arts and History; an annual grant ($18,500 in 2018) to benefit food pantries in St. Clair and Lapeer counties; and the establishment of two splashpads in Port Huron designed to provide safe, fun places for children to enjoy the summertime.
Achieving Goals with a Donor Advised Fund
For the Stebbins family, developing affordable, accessible community spaces like the splashpads for area youth satisfies a personal goal. According to Debbie Post, sister of Mary Stebbins, who oversees the Stebbins Family Fund as its primary advisor, the Stebbins family’s approach to philanthropy was shaped by their own experience of childhood poverty.
Experiencing those challenges firsthand served as the driving force behind the Stebbins’ wish to improve the quality of life for children and families in their home county. In fact, in 2008, the Community Foundation assisted the Stebbins Family Fund in partnering with United Way of St. Clair County to establish a dental clinic directly across the street from the low-income housing where members of the family grew up.
Helping the Stebbins family discover and grow projects that align with their giving goals has long been a strength of the Community Foundation and its donor advised fund program. As primary advisor for the fund, Post has been able to work directly with Foundation staff to develop a satisfying giving strategy that maximizes the Stebbins family’s impact in their hometown and provides support to initiatives that make improvements in the lives of youth and families.
Looking forward, the Stebbins family seeks to continue to support initiatives and causes that bring about positive change. In the coming years, the Community Foundation and the Stebbins family will continue to help the community.