By Peg Lopata, Contributing Writer
WOBURN – Bill and Joyce Cummings of Winchester began making donations, many to organizations dedicated to elders, a long time ago. But they wanted to create a different kind of foundation.
So, for example, unlike most foundations, the majority of trustees here have no family or employment relationship with the entities and none of these non-family trustees have ever been asked to donate.
Joyce Vyriotes, deputy director of the Cummings Foundation, which was created in 1986, explained further. “Of the Cummings family members who do sit on the board, none has ever taken any salary or other monetary benefit from the Foundation,” she noted. “In addition, the decision-making process for grant awards sets Cummings apart from other foundations. In an effort to ‘democratize philanthropy,’ we currently have about one hundred and fifty enlisted volunteers who determine more than half of the Foundation’s grant awards.”
Helping Elders Keep Things Stable
Keeping things democratized is part of the philosophy of two senior not-for-profits communities owned and operated by the Cummings Foundation: New Horizons at Marlborough and New Horizons at Choate in Woburn.
Because these communities are owned by a foundation, not benefitting any group of shareholders or individual, these facilities provide high quality living environments at affordable rates.
“The backing of such a large foundation provides a high degree of stability,” said Vyriotes, “for the community as a whole and for individual residents. Even during the pandemic, residents and their families never had to worry about New Horizons’ long-term viability.”
Part of that stability comes from knowing the Cummings Foundation keeps the facilities in tip-top shape. Though the communities have maintenance staff, major repairs, renovations and other such needs are taken care of pro-bono by the Foundation.
“They’re the support system,” explained Christine Coakely, executive director, New Horizons at Choate in Woburn.
In addition, these two communities had remarkably low incidences of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, Vyriotes feels her work is very rewarding.
“I feel so good about our work to provide warm, welcoming, engaging residential communities for elders,” said Vyriotes.
Grants for Groups Supporting Elders
For 2021, one of the groups who was awarded a grant was the Andover Senior Community Friends. Their grant will be used to provide adaptive equipment and more to ensure the newly renovated and expanded Andover Senior Center is fully accessible to everyone.
The Alliance Health at Marie Esther in Marlborough received a grant to purchase and operate a new van to drive elder residents wherever they need to go. The Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham will use its grant money to replace outdated kitchen appliances.
In prior years some of the recipients of Cummings Foundation grants that support elders were the Friends of Marlborough Seniors, Minuteman Senior Services in Bedford, which provides support services for elders and the disabled, and SeniorCare in Gloucester, which helps elders to live independently at home or in a setting of their choice while remaining part of their community.
Being Different is Best
Bill and Joyce were donating a substantial amount―ten percent of Cummings Properties profits every year to the Foundation, but they wanted to donate on an even bigger scale. They did so by donating actual buildings to the Foundation.
“The large majority of the eleven million square feet of commercial buildings managed by Cummings Properties is now owned by―and operated for the sole benefit of the Foundation,” explained Vyriotes. “These substantial real estate donations not only increased the Foundation’s assets, but also serve as an ongoing, stable source of income, which is generated by rental profits.”
The Cummings’ focus on what they know best―not fundraising, but developing and managing commercial real estate―and keeping the who-gets-what process as democratic as possible. The has made the Foundation into one the largest corporate charitable contributors in Massachusetts, donating some $29 million in 2020.
As noted on the Foundation’s website: “This place-based philanthropic initiative will annually support 140 Massachusetts nonprofits based in and primarily serving Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties.”
For more information: https://www.cummingsfoundation.org/grants/index.html.