In a quiet, dignified and meticulous manner that bears a striking resemblance to its namesake, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust is transforming the everyday lives of East Valley residents while investing in their future.
Now in its third year of competitive grant making, the Scottsdale-based trust has distributed more than $20 million in the East Valley since bestowing a $15 million gift in December 2000 that established the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital.
Piper’s endowment feeds the homebound elderly, helps parents care for premature newborns, expands schools and hospitals, and creates opportunities for writers and actors.
Research and planning grants seek breakthroughs in teaching struggling students, improving child-care quality and reconnecting thousands of baby boomers to their communities.
The trust’s workshops, classes and technical assistance help agencies win grants, spend the money wisely and evaluate its effectiveness.
The Piper trust is the largest philanthropic organization in the state and among the top 100 in the country, with assets hovering around $525 million. Unlike other larger philanthropies, however, this "place-based" foundation keeps the money close to home, with all but a handful of grants going to nonprofit organizations within Maricopa County.
Virginia Galvin Piper, widow of Motorola founder Paul V. Galvin, established the trust in 1995 and managed it until her death in 1999. The grants continue the late Paradise Valley resident’s commitment to programs supporting children, the elderly, arts and culture, health care, medical research, education and religious organizations.
The focus in these first few years of grant making is early childhood, youth, elderly, and arts and culture.
"She wanted a community that was wholesome, creative and inquiring," Jewell Parker Rhodes, artistic director of Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, said of Piper.
"To think of her, thinking about our well-being, I find incredibly touching and incredibly inspiring," Rhodes said. "I take very seriously her charge, so we’ve been working very, very hard."
A $10 million grant from the Piper trust in September 2003 created ASU’s creative writing center, as well as an international writers exchange program, an endowed chair to attract distinguished authors for residency programs, a scholars program to recruit students from around the world, an enrichment program to support faculty fellowships and renovations to the former president’s house which will open in the fall as the Virginia G. Piper Writers’ House.
"I see my job as making the Phoenix metropolitan area a literary, cultural destination on par with Chicago or New York," Rhodes said.
A series of $15,000 planning grants last November is helping Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale and Chandler and other metro cities plan Life Options Centers, community-based programs to meet the needs and channel the abilities of retiring baby boomers.
Life Options may help seniors find second careers, financial planning, volunteer opportunities, classes or social events. Retirees might get information from a Web site, library, community college or neighborhood center.
"It’s always nice to be able to get funding for projects that we have, but it’s even more exciting when somebody brings a new initiative and says, ‘here’s some money to plan,’ " said Dan Taylor, executive director of Mesa Senior Services, which has a Life Options planning grant.
The Piper trust also is matching two years’ worth of fund-raising for Mesa Senior Services, totalling $130,000. Taylor said the matching grant encouraged donors and helped the center exceed its fund-raising goal and hit an all-time high of $74,000.
"It’s due mainly to Piper matching it, and us telling people they were going to double their money," Taylor said. "They provided a spark to move our fund-raising to a new level."
A $50,000 Piper grant two years ago boosted outreach programs for Mesa’s homebound and isolated elderly.
Elizabeth Schneider, 69, learned about Meals While You Heal last year before her first cataract surgery, and on Friday received two weeks’ worth of frozen meals to get her through her second surgery Tuesday.
"It’s a wonderful thing," Schneider said, as outreach worker Linda Starr loaded individually packaged lasagna, chicken casserole and meatloaf into the freezer at her Mesa apartment. The meals are packaged from lunch leftovers at the senior center, then quick frozen. Starr also delivered 14 small cartons of milk and a package of rolls.
Tiny Jacqueline Willard came into the world several weeks early on April 13, but has been growing steadily in Banner Desert Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit in Mesa and was scheduled to go home this weekend.
Jacqueline and her parents, Nicole and Jeff Willard of Mesa, would be candidates for Banner Desert’s new Healthy Steps, a nationally known child development program funded in March with a $228,250 grant from the Piper trust. A child development specialist helps parents learn what to look for in their growing baby and survive the bumps of being a new family.
The only Healthy Steps program for premature babies, it will start this month and grow to include 150 families in the first year and hopefully build to include all newborns in the hospital, which delivers more babies than any other in Arizona.
"We’re going to be pretty much right there with the family every step of the way," said Pam Klatt-Michael, child development center manager. Healthy Steps also will train East Valley physicians and nurses, and have a hotline for all new parents who deliver at Banner Desert.
Nicole Willard said she looks forward to taking baby Jacqueline home, but will miss having the nurses nearby. Healthy Steps could provide peace of mind, especially since the baby is still quite small.
Nurse Nancy Simpson said early intervention for premature babies can catch developmental problems between doctor visits.
"This baby has been well all along," Simpson said, gazing at a sleeping Jacqueline. "But some babies have a lot of problems."
Sometimes the foundation has plugged holes left by shrinking government funding or declining corporate and private donations to nonprofit groups.
In addition to programs and planning, the trust has invested in several East Valley capital projects, including $200,000 to expand the Marc Center for adults and children with developmental disabilities, $425,000 to expand the Thomas J. Pappas Schools for the Homeless in Tempe and $500,000 for the Mesa Arts Center. A $3 million grant to Seton Catholic High in Chandler will help expand the school, increase enrollment and strengthen its academic programs.
The trust accepts grant applications year-round, but awards them quarterly. Applicants must be in existence for at least three years, have demonstrated leadership, a strong board and a solid business plan. About one-third of all requests are granted.
Unlike a for-profit business or government program, the foundation can take some risks and its grantees can make some mistakes.
"We don’t have a bottom line," said Val Osowski, communications director. "If you can’t test the feasibility or pilot something, you’re never going to know whether it’ll work."
The 50-year trust distributes interest on the endowment, at a rate of about $25 million to $30 million a year so far. In another 40 years or so, the trustees will decide whether they want to continue, or whether to spend down the principal and dissolve the foundation.
In the meantime, trustees will evaluate nonprofit organizations with Virginia G. Piper’s values in mind, and her legacy will leave a huge mark on the East Valley and its residents.
"It’s really not our money, and we’re well aware of that," Osowski said. "We’re giving money to good organizations to do good work . . . and we want to help them succeed."
• Virginia Critchfield Galvin learns about philanthropy from her first husband, Paul V. Galvin, the founder of Motorola. They lived in Evanston, Ill., and focused their giving in the Midwest.
• After Galvin’s death in 1959, Virginia continues his philanthropic work. In 1969, she marries Kenneth M. Piper, a Motorola vice president, and they move to Paradise Valley. She begins looking for opportunities to expand her giving in her new home state.
• Kenneth Piper dies in 1975, and Virginia devotes herself to philanthropy. She keeps the focus on causes Paul Galvin held dear --health care, medical research, the elderly, children, education, arts and culture, and religious institutions.
• She creates the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust in 1995 and appoints four lifetime trustees, including her nephew, Paul Critchfield, and former county supervisor Jim Bruner.
• Virginia Galvin Piper dies in 1999 at the age of 87. The trust receives more than $500 million when her estate is settled the following year.
• To honor Virginia on her birthday, $41 million in "cornerstone" grants were awarded on Dec. 7, 2000, to eight organizations of which she was especially fond, including $10 million to Scottsdale Healthcare, $1 million to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Scottsdale, and $10 million to the Roman Catholic Church of Phoenix.
• Over the next two years, the trustees find office space, hire a staff and begin "community conversations" with hundreds of community leaders to plot the course of their grant making.
• The first Piper Fellows, to recognize exemplary executives of nonprofit organizations, are announced on Dec. 7, 2001. The trust begins active competitive grant making in 2002.