The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians is honoring another milestone this year — the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation is celebrating 20 years of service to southern Oregon communities.

“Giving back to the community and the people is the heritage and the way the tribe has always operated, and the foundation is the modern way of being able to do that,” said Carma Mornarich, the executive director of the foundation for the last 10 years.

After the tribe was recognized by the federal government in 1982, the tribe received about a $1 million settlement that it placed in an endowment fund. It used the interest to begin a bingo parlor and later a casino.

At that time, the tribal board of directors saw an opportunity to partner with the community. So tribal chairperson Sue Shaffer went before the governor to ask if the tribe could enter into an agreement with the state of Oregon to initiate a foundation.

“We wanted to be the first tribe to start a foundation and give back a portion of its proceeds to the community,” Mornarich said. “Now all the tribes in the state of Oregon with casinos have similar agreements.”

Today, the Cow Creek foundation is funded by 6 percent of the net proceeds from Nevada-style gaming at Seven Feathers Casino Resort. “It’s part of our history, it’s part of our tradition, it’s part of our giving,” Mornarich said.

Mornarich recalled historic events of tribal giving dating back as far as the pioneer days when tribal members helped wagon trains that needed repairs and settlers who needed food in the Canyonville community.

“The giving nature of the Cow Creek tribal people has been there for generations and it hasn’t stopped,” Mornarich said.

For the last 20 years, the foundation has been awarding grants to nonprofit organizations within seven southwestern Oregon counties: Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Lane.

The foundation awards grants in five primary categories of interest: Basic needs, abuse prevention and intervention, education, health and wellness, and community support for projects and activities, the Roseburg splash pad being an example.

“The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians believe that food is important,” Mornarich said, explaining that numerous grants have been made to food banks and kitchens like St. Joseph’s Community Kitchen and the Sutherlin Oakland Food Pantry.

On average, the foundation distributes up to $450,000 in grants twice yearly. Those grants have helped about 250 organizations in Douglas County in the last 20 years, with many organizations applying more than once. The foundation reviews about 100 grant applications per grant cycle or 200 per year.

“In 20 years we’ve given away $16,030,127, to all counties,” Mornarich said. “Douglas County has received $4,972,280 in the last 20 years.”

Broken down that’s $248,614 a year going directly to Douglas County nonprofits, or $20,718 per month.

Foundation awards are disbursed in January and in June during a ceremonies held at Seven Feathers Casino Resort. Up to 50 organizations may receive awards, ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 apiece, at a ceremony.

In Douglas County, some of the organizations receiving grant money are Battered Person’s Advocacy, Camp Millennium, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley, the Family Development Center, FISH Food Pantry, South Douglas Food Pantry, Umpqua Community Health Center and local school districts, to name a few.

Nonprofit organizations that would like to apply for a grant can access the application information on the foundation’s website. Mornarich suggests that organizations speak with the foundation before filling out an application to ensure grant requests qualify. The deadlines are March 1 and Sept. 1.

Today, the foundation’s board of directors is made up of 11 members who meet twice a year to make grant decisions and to attend the two award ceremonies. The board is made up of community members, tribal members and the members of the tribal board of directors.

Mornarich, with the help of about four contracted program officers, enjoys gathering information about the work of nonprofit organizations applying for grants. “These people are dedicated to making the world a better place,” she said.

The United Community Action Network of Roseburg received $10,000 last spring. It has been a longstanding partner with the foundation, with grant money supporting UCAN programs like the food pantry and Head Start.

“The foundation is a strong advocate for early childhood, kids and food, that is a real need in our community,” said UCAN executive director Mike Fieldman. “The foundation provides resources to help make the community better.”

In 2016, the Cobb Street Children’s Learning Center in Roseburg received $9,000 to subsidize expenses for students from low-income families attending Cobb Childcare. The center has received multiple grants over the years that help up to 20 families monthly.

“Without the grant, we would have to turn away families on the lower income scale because we wouldn’t be able to enroll their children at full cost,” said April Alleman, the assistant director of Cobb Childcare.

The Umpqua Actors Community Theatre also received $5,000 last spring for a new lighting system in the Betty Long Unruh Theatre. The lighting system was installed last August.

“The grant helped us meet our goal for the purchase of all new LEDs and a new electrical system in time for the season opener,” said UACT executive director Melody Schwegel.

For more information, visit the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation website at www.cowcreekfoundation.org.

Reporter Vera Westbrook can be reached at 541-957-4216 or vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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Education and Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Vera Westbrook is the education, nonprofits, and arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4216 or by email at vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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