George Stevens Fund
In 1930, George Stevens was looking for a way to make a lasting gift to his community. The Akron native had spent much of his life climbing the ranks at a paper company in Hartford City, Ind., and was known for his quiet kindness and dedication to helping others.
The son of former slaves, Stevens grew up in Akron after his parents escaped on the Underground Railroad. He quickly befriended two boys, both of which grew up to become household names in the area: C.W. Seiberling, the co-founder of Goodyear, and hardware magnate J. Edward Good, whose name inspired Good Park.
As an adult, Stevens worked as chief engineer at Portage Strawboard Co. and became Barberton’s first fire chief. After the death of his wife, Eva, Stevens moved to Indiana and took a job as a consultant for the Fort Wayne Corrugated Paper Co. His strong work ethic and business sense soon propelled him into the director’s chair.
As his career grew, so did Stevens’ reputation as a generous community leader. He joined several local societies, including the Rotary, Elks and Masons, and often made donations to improve his fellow citizens’ quality of life.
The residents of Hartford City were so enamored with Stevens that it wasn’t until his funeral that they discovered his African-American roots. Stevens’ light-colored skin and quietness about his family had allowed him to make a name for himself in an era characterized by discrimination.
To preserve his legacy in the community and support his family, Stevens created a trust that would provide income for his relatives during their lifetime. Following their deaths, the remainder of the trust would be used to help people in Greater Akron by supporting the "mental, moral, and physical improvement and betterment of the inhabitants of the city of Akron and Summit County … regardless of race, color or creed."
Today, that philanthropic mission is being fulfilled through the George Stevens Fund at Akron Community Foundation. Stevens’ initial gift of $651,057 has grown to more than $1.2 million and has awarded more than $870,000 in grants to benefit the community.
As a board discretionary fund, the George Stevens Fund helps the foundation meet the community’s most pressing needs as they arise. One such need is being met through north Akron’s Good Shepherd Athletic Club, which has received more than $100,000 in grants from the George Stevens Fund since 1999.
Good Shepherd teaches boxing as an alternative activity to teens who might normally engage in risky behavior. The club provides a positive, uplifting environment for young adults and uses the sport to build kids’ self-esteem.
"Not every child has someone to tell them that they are appreciated, and not every child has someone tell them that they are valuable and that they can succeed in this society without negative behavior," said Executive Director Gary Arnold.
Each day, the club serves approximately 30 low-income youth, 80 percent of which Arnold said are African-American males.
"These at-risk youth need our help and leadership. (Without Good Shepherd), they would have nowhere to go for positive reinforcement and guidance," Arnold said. "We teach acceptance of everyone and work on building a positive image daily."
Such values are ones George Stevens felt strongly about during his life. Now, thanks to his fund at Akron Community Foundation, he is able to pass those values on to a new generation.