HARRODSBURG — During the 45 years they’ve been married, Pete and Barbara Chiericozzi have shared 28 different addresses.
Pete, a retired Lt. Col. in the Air Force Reserves, was happily unemployed and living in North Carolina when he was recruited to come to Harrodsburg in 2003 to serve as an executive for Wausau Paper. That commitment was for five years and the Chiericozzis planned to move on once again when it was fulfilled.
But the more time they spent in Mercer County, the more enamored they became of the people, the pace, the landscape and the potential, and they decided to settle in for the long haul. They bought 115 acres off Oregon Road that backs up to the Kentucky River, built a house that Barbara designed on the top of a hill with a commanding view in all directions and christened the place Bella Vista Farm. They fully expect it will be their last address.
At this stage in their lives — Barbara is 65, Pete 69 — the couple began thinking about their legacy and the best way to share the fruits of their successes. Their three children and five grandchildren were first in their thoughts.
“All our kids are college grads with good opportunities in front of them,” Pete Chiericozzi explained. “We’ve taken care of the grandkids’ education. That is our legacy to them.”
The Chiericozzis also, as Barbara put it, “saw a responsibility to our community” and wanted to go beyond their support of St. Andrews Catholic Church, where they are members, and the various other charitable and community-minded organizations that they contribute time and money to. They started thinking big-picture, long-term, something that would keep giving even after they were gone.
It was during the Mercer Chamber of Commerce banquet in November that Pete Chiericozzi announced the couple’s plan during his keynote speech: they would contribute $10,000 to create the Mercer County Community Endowment and match donations up to $5,000 for each year for the next five years.
Endowments are set up to last in perpetuity. The principle investment grows with each contribution and only the interest generated by the principle — expected to be between 5 to 7 percent annually — is spent on worthwhile projects in the community. An addition to Anderson-Dean Park, for example, or new sidewalks in a section of town, or college scholarships, or volunteer fire departments, or seed money for a new organization that needs help getting off the ground.
A¿board of advisors, independent of any government involvement, determines how the money will be allocated. The first group of advisors for the Mercer endowment includes former judge-executive John Trisler, Vicki Reed of Haggin Hospital, Pastor Pam Sims of St. Barnabas Church, James Dunn of Burgin, attorney Linda Huston, Carol Conover and Judge-Executive Milward Dedman. Neither Pete nor Barbara Chiericozzi serve on the board.
“We did not want this to be the Chiericozzi Fund,” Pete said.
A¿public relations campaign for the endowment, including radio, newspaper and direct mailings explaining how the fund works and what its goals are, will begin later this month. It will not only target wealthy members of the community with large chunks of money at their disposal, but also work-a-day folks who might pitch in smaller amounts.
“Obviously, the bigger the better, but we’re looking for a lot of $25 and $50 contributions, so you can participate without breaking the bank, so to speak,” Pete Chiericozzi said.
Though the endowment has yet to be widely publicized, it has already grown to $27,000 from the Chiericozzi’s initial $10,000 seeding. Michael and Carol Conover of Harrodsburg and Mercer Transformation, a faith-based group dedicated to anti-drug messages and mentoring kids, have made contributions, which the Chiericozzis have matched.
Pete Chiericozzi said he hoped to raise the endowment’s principle investment to $100,000 within a year, at which point the interest money generated will be begin to flow back into the community.
“Endowments are created to grow and last forever. You want to get them up to a higher level quickly so you can start dispersing the money,” said Paul Elwyn,
Elwyn was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Wilderness Trace Community Foundation 10 years ago. That endowment serves non-profit organizations in Boyle, Mercer, Lincoln and Garrard counties. Since starting from scratch in 2002, Wilderness Trace now has $2.8 million in assets and has awarded more than 500 grants totalling about $730,000 over its history.
Elwyn serves on the Wilderness Trace advisory board, along with Sims and Dedman. Pete Chiericozzi is chairman of that board. Elwyn said the Mercer Endowment is the model for what he hopes will be similar funds established in Boyle, Garrard and Lincoln to serve the specific needs of those counties.
The timing is good to build up an endowment. The state Dept. of Revenue set aside $500,000 last year for tax credits for people and businesses that contribute to community funds and nearly $200,000 of that money is still available. Elwyn explained that the credit can be used to offset, dollar for dollar, any tax liability, up to the $10,000, owed to the state.
For example, if you owed the state $5,000 in taxes, you could contribute that amount to the Mercer County Community Endowment and your tax burden would be erased. Contributions can be spread out to cover tax liabilities over the next five years, Elwyn said. But the program expires at the end of June, so the opportunity to take advantage of the tax credit won’t be around much longer.
The role of community funds is expected to grow increasingly important in the coming years as government budgets continue to shrink and less public money is available to support charitable endeavors.