In the summer of 1999, the founders of the Gay Community Endowment Fund were certain of two things.
First, that there was a clear need to support LGBTQ+ programs in Akron, and second, that there were many generous people who were interested in providing that support. The only question that lingered in their minds was how they could connect the two in order to raise money and awareness for the LGBTQ+ community.
"There was a tremendous amount of philanthropic opportunity and goodwill in the gay, lesbian and allied communities that had not been tapped very well," said co-founder Steve Schmidt. "Many community organizations and activities were under the radar."
Upon meeting with a few friends, the group of men began orchestrating an annual fundraising event to benefit programs and services for the LGBTQ+ community.
However, they soon realized the need to create a more permanent source of funding and decided to start a fund with Akron Community Foundation.
"Everyone felt there was a need to put together an endowment fund," said co-founder Rick Krochka. "Akron Community Foundation was so well-respected and so integral to the community that it was overwhelmingly supported." Plus, he added, the community foundation already had an established history of support for the Out in Akron festival.
After making the decision to affiliate with Akron Community Foundation, the group set out to raise money to start the fund. In 2001, nearly 60 founding donors collectively gave or pledged over $70,000 to establish the fund. Since then, the Gay Community Endowment Fund has changed the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people in Greater Akron through its annual grants to a wide range of artistic, educational and social service programs.
"Akron has always been a very welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community," Krochka said. "But I really believe that since creating the fund and doing the fundraising, there has been even more acceptance and awareness."