Creating Aha Moments

by Jim Burwitz

Two CFCI fundholders are making a creative impact in economic development and the arts.

Above: Sharon and John Amdall spoke at CFCI’s 2017 Annual Meeting, announcing the creation of the Local Jobs Fund and The Arts Mean Business Fund.

It is an honor for the Community Foundation of Central Illinois (CFCI) to support the 2018 Local Legends reception. Numerous past honorees have worked alongside the foundation over the years as fundholders, donors, or board and committee volunteers—including Byron DeHaan, Bob Gilmore, Lowell “Bud” Grieves, Gene and Harriett Swager, Jay Vonachen and Glen Barton. We appreciate the opportunity to help celebrate those individuals who have had a lifetime of impact on the Peoria-area community.

Destination: Peoria
Two individuals who are currently making a legendary impact on the community as CFCI fundholders are John and Sharon Amdall. In 1974, John and Sharon were a young married couple looking for a community to call home. As recent graduates from the University of Missouri, they were blessed with many professional opportunities to consider, but Caterpillar and central Illinois became their final destination.

“When we came to interview, that was the first time we had ever visited the Peoria area,” John remembers. More than 40 years later, it’s safe to say that he and Sharon are here to stay. Although they have retired from Caterpillar, the Amdalls have no plans to leave the home they love. They have a passion for the Peoria area, so John and Sharon are encouraging like-minded residents to join their efforts to invest in the future of central Illinois.

“Sometimes something is in plain sight, but you have to have an ‘aha moment’ before you can see it,” Sharon says. “That is why we are working so hard to promote Peoria as a destination.”

The “aha moment” for John and Sharon is centered on two of their passions: economic development and the arts. In collaboration with CFCI, the Amdalls created the Local Jobs Fund and The Arts Mean Business Fund. Both grant opportunities are intended to drive innovative approaches to community problem-solving.

“How can you take a few dollars and turn them into something much larger? That is how you need to approach community issues,” John says. “Through collaboration and creative thinking, you can find answers that you would never discover on your own.”

Planting a Seed
The first grant opportunity, the Local Jobs Fund, is designed to equip individuals with the necessary skills to earn a living wage by focusing on jobs that are not easily sent out of the area. Examples of specific projects that may be funded include career centers for local educational institutions; programs that teach students how to work with their hands; collaborations with area businesses and skilled trades groups to increase career opportunities for graduates; and repair or purchase of the necessary equipment to support qualifying programs.

“There are organizations in central Illinois that cannot find qualified candidates with the necessary hands-on skills,” Sharon explains. “We want to help create local jobs that cannot be outsourced or replaced by technology. Modern society cannot function without the trades or employees who like to work with their hands as well as their minds.” The second grant opportunity, The Arts Mean Business Fund, will help generate economic growth through arts tourism, new arts-related businesses, integration of the arts into urban planning, and expansion of current community arts programs. The fund was created as a vehicle for individuals who share the vision of making central Illinois more attractive to residents and visitors who love the arts.

As long-time arts enthusiasts, John and Sharon understand that local arts are much more than a source of entertainment. They are an important part of a community’s fabric and play a vital role in educational and economic development. “Peoria is an arts destination,” Sharon explains. “We have an amazing amount of visual arts, performing arts, theater and poetry. Now we need our community advocates to take an integrated approach and make sure we are sharing all of our resources so we don’t miss business development opportunities.”

John and Sharon view local artists as small businesses, which are critical to the local economy, of course. Recent economic studies note that for every dollar spent with a small business, 67 cents return directly to that community. “John and Sharon have planted an important seed with these two funds," says Mark Roberts, CFCI’s chief executive officer. "Their generosity has created exciting, new opportunities for growth throughout the region. Anyone who has a passion for creating jobs or developing the arts can help us make an impact right here at home.”

One Plus One Equals Three
Making an impact at home is what drives John and Sharon to find what they call “1 + 1 = 3” opportunities. In other words, how can our communities better collaborate to think differently and leverage our resources in new ways? “Look at it like playing chess,” John says. “We have to start thinking five moves ahead. When we see community challenges, we need to look for strategic, creative alternatives. Making a specific donation to a specific cause is good—but how can we turn our giving into better opportunities for community investment, new programs and strategic thinking? Sharon and I believe in the Peoria area. If you do as well, please join us.” iBi

Jim Burwitz is a volunteer member of CFCI’s Marketing committee. To learn more about the Local Jobs Fund and The Arts Mean Business Fund, call (309) 674-8730 or visit communityfoundationci.org.

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