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Jan Leach
Former Akron Beacon Journal editor Jan Leach

In 1999, the Millennium Fund for Children was just a glimmer in the eye of former Akron Beacon Journal editor Jan Leach.

The paper had just published a series of articles on the needs of local children, most notably those affected by shaken baby syndrome.

The topic lay heavy on her heart.

"I always felt newspapers should pay close attention to the children and the underserved in the community who don't have a voice of their own," she said. "We were very interested in the well-being of children in the area."

Around that same time, former Beacon Journal publisher John Dotson and then-Akron Community Foundation President Jody Bacon attended a conference designed to encourage the exchange of ideas about local philanthropy.

In the midst of all the discussions, one simple idea stood out: Ask people to donate their last hour's pay of the 20th century to benefit children in the 21st century and beyond. Then and there, the Millennium Fund for Children was born.

"It became very clear that it was a great idea," Jan said. "We really liked it, and we thought we could do it with the resources of the community foundation."

Jan and John's unique insight from years working in local news led the group to a single deserving focus: grassroots children's causes.

On Thanksgiving 1999, the Akron Beacon Journal and Akron Community Foundation announced the establishment of the Millennium Fund for Children, a permanent endowment to improve the lives of children in the Akron Beacon Journal's six-county circulation area.

One of the first donors was Art Minson, a longtime children's advocate and volunteer in the community. Minson read the paper that November and sent in his contribution the same day.

"I thought about the work I was doing with kids in the neighborhood, and I thought collectively, we can do this," Minson said at the time.

Minson's donation was pooled with those of hundreds of other people in the community, many of whom sent in letters explaining why they wanted to support the area's children. Three of those donors were Jan's own daughters, Cara, Natalie and Monica, who, at the time, were all under the age of 10.

"When we started the fund, I remember telling my kids it was going to help children like them who don't have the opportunities they do," Jan said.

More than two decades have passed since the fund was created, but its core purpose remains the same: using small grants to make a big difference. These grants have fed hungry infants, provided beds to children in foster care, engaged young students with live theater, and much more.

"Some of the issues we wrote about in 1999 are the same today; they may even be more acute," Jan said.

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