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Roxbury Trust Fund looks to continue grantmaking

Yawu Miller | 11/22/2011, 8 a.m.
Bruce Bickerstaff, president of the Roxbury Trust Fund, is exploring ways to find new capital for the fund. Yawu Miller

When the Roxbury Trust Fund was established in 1990, its success was far from certain.

The plan called for a $2.5 million, community-controlled fund to be established as a community benefit generated by a yet-to-be-built downtown skyscraper and the Ruggles Plaza office building.

The One Lincoln Street office tower was built in 2004 and the trust fund began making grants the next year. Now after distributing $2 million to dozens of community-based organizations operating in the Greater Roxbury area, Roxbury Trust’s board is contemplating its next steps.

“Some members of the community, including many folks from the Roxbury Oversight Committee, started talking about how we could sustain the trust fund over the long term,” said Bruce Bickerstaff, president of the board.

With just $500,000 remaining in its coffers, Bickerstaff says the board is looking at the possibility of transforming the trust into a community-based foundation that would continue to make grants into the future, rather than spending down its principal.

“We have the opportunity to continue support for youth development, family services, community economic development and civic engagement for the residents of Roxbury instead of simply spending down the endowment and ending our highly successful grants program permanently in 2012.”

Trust fund members are exploring a number of options to obtain capital for the foundation, including linkage with large-scale development projects, individual donations and foundation and corporate donations.

The trust fund traces its history back to the grassroots movement to stop the extension of Interstate 95, which state officials planned to extend through the Southwest Corridor to the center of the city.

The Commonwealth cleared thousands of housing units along Columbus Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard during the ’60s and ’70s to make way for the proposed eight-lane highway and its cloverleaf junction that would have been sited at the intersection of the avenues.

After 25 years of grassroots organizing and protest, state officials scrapped the plan and agreed to make community input a part of decisions regarding the future development of the state-owned land along the Southwest Corridor.

During the building boom of the 1980s, community groups were benefiting from a city program called parcel-to-parcel linkage, whereby developers building on city-owned land downtown would dedicate a portion of their profits to community benefits in Boston’s residential neighborhoods.

The development of  One Lincoln Street, on the site of a city-owned lot in Chinatown, was linked to the development of Ruggles Plaza in Roxbury and the development of the Roxbury Trust Fund.

In its six years of grantmaking, the trust fund has made grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to organizations including The Freedom House, Mass VOTE, United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Sociedad Latina and the Somali Development Center.

The grants have helped fund programming that includes community organizing, youth development, civic engagement and work force development.

Bickerstaff says the grants fill a niche in the Roxbury area, operating with a board that has an intimate knowledge of the community.

“We’ve given grants that allow these institutions to maintain, sustain and create new programming,” Bickerstaff says. “Sometimes small, community-based organizations can’t afford a grant writer to raise the funds for them. The Roxbury Trust Fund has helped these organizations sustain themselves to have a long-lasting impact on the community.”