Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga's Pres Jack Murrah firmly believes that non-profit, private organizations such as the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) enable the foundation to continuously operate in generous ways. Murray stresses that CNE's growing accomplishments in providing better yet affordable housing draw the foundation to fully support CNE's housing initiatives. Murray also discloses that CNE magnifies the foundation's committment to improve quality of life in the city through social service.
Faced with cutbacks in public funding for social programs, community groups are increasingly looking to private foundations for crucial financial support. Few foundations have answered a city's call so generously and with such impact as has the Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga.
The handsome red brick building that houses the Lyndhurst Foundation s headquarters in Chattanooga is down a one-way street, tucked behind another building, and hard to find. But evidence of the Lyndhurst Foundation's presence in Chattanooga is everywhere for all to see.
There's the Tennessee Riverwalk, the Walnut Street Bridge Restoration, and Ross's Landing Park and Plaza - all part of the ambitious Tennessee Riverpark project that will include development of parks, trails, attractions, housing, and commercial space along the 20-mile stretch of the Tennessee River winding through downtown Chattanooga. The Lyndhurst Foundation supported planning of the Riverpark, committed $3 million for development, and matched $1 for every $4 given by other sources.
The $28.5 million Finley Stadium under construction received Lyndhurst funding. So did the Creative Discovery Museum, the Bessie Smith Performance Hall, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, the Tivoli Theater, and numerous other restoration projects. The Lyndhurst Foundation and its chairman Jack Lupron, son of the man who created the Lyndhurst Foundation, donated nearly one-half of the $45 million in private funds that built Chattanooga's most spectacular riverfront attraction, the Tennessee Aquarium.
Of equal significance are the Lyndhurst Foundation's contributions to Chattanooga that can't be seen. At a time when Chattanooga was down on itself and uncertain of its future, the Lyndhurst Foundation provided leadership and financial resources that played a key role in the city's recovery. Ask any community leader in Chattanooga to list the reasons for Chattanooga's comeback and the Lyndhurst Foundation's role is likely to be prominently mentioned.
The Foundation was created in 1938 by Cartter Lupron, the son of one of the three Chattanoogans who first bottled Coca-Cola. Originally the Memorial Welfare Foundation, the name was changed in 1978 to Lyndhurst, the name of the Lupton family home in north Chattanooga. In 1996, the Foundation awarded approximately $9.8 million in direct grants and $1.1 million in prizes, stipends, and funding. The Foundation's fund balance in 1996 was $138.3 million.
Jack Murrah, president of the Foundation since 1989, talked with Business Perspectives about the Foundation's development, its commitment to Chattanooga, and its continuing support for Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise.
Business Perspectives: Why has the Lyndhurst Foundation become so involved in efforts to improve the city of Chattanooga?
Jack Murrah: Because this is home. Four generations of the Lupton family have not only lived but thrived in Chattanooga. There's a sense of gratitude and a deep fondness for this place.
For years the Foundation operated as a general-purpose charity supporting social service and educational endeavors, primarily in Chattanooga. When Cartter Lupron died in 1977, he left one-fourth of his estate to the Foundation. So the Foundation's asset were magnified considerably. After his father's death, Jack Lupton became chairman of the Foundation. Jack understood that a much larger foundation had both the opportunity and the responsibility to do important things. So he took about a year to study what other foundations were doing and to consider what this foundation could do.
Business Perspectives: So, did the Foundation begin immediately to look for opportunities to address community needs?
Jack Murrah: Well, it wasn't necessary to look far. In 1978, the year I joined the Foundation, Chattanooga was in a free fall. The city was losing manufacturing jobs and population. Chattanooga had been named the city with the dirtiest air in America. As Chattanooga's fortunes shrank, so did the city's' self-esteem. Everything we thought we knew about ourselves no longer applied; we lost our confidence.
Foundations don't necessarily have anything to do with that. They can ignore it. The Lyndhurst Foundation was still getting many proposals, and we could have gone right on providing funds to museums, private schools, and institutions of various kinds. But it was Rick Montague, president of the Foundation at that time, who best articulated a question that kept haunting the Foundation. "How can it be," Rick said, "that a city can have flourishing institutions but as a community feel as though it is in decline?"
The Foundation came to believe that a community is more than isolated entities, and that what Chattanooga lacked was some sense of wholeness. That thought drove a lot of our actions. The Foundation determined that, if we wanted to be part of a great place to live, that goal could not be served by simply granting funds to individual organizations. We needed to look at the city as a whole. So we invited someone from the outside, a consultant, to help us gain perspective on what a foundation might do.
Business Perspectives:. And from this came "Vision 2000"?
Jack Murrah: In time. We pursued other initiatives that spoke to community wholeness, such as sponsoring a series of free concerts to bring people together downtown in the summertime. Then, after a couple of years, the consultant pointed out that Chattanooga needed a vision of where it wanted to go so we weren't constantly focused on our limitations.
At that time, civic and business leaders were investigating how other cities with problems had recovered. They reached the conclusion that we should have a community-generated vision so as many people as possible would have a stake in it. So in 1983, the Lyndhurst Foundation funded the cost of a new organization, Chattanooga Venture, that managed the process of holding a series of community-wide meetings. More than 1,700 people participated. Out of the meetings came "Vision 2000," a list of 40 opportunities to make Chattanooga a better place. It was one of the first and most comprehensive community-wide goal setting processes in America.
Business Perspectives: Was increasing affordable housing one of the opportunities identified for improvement?
Jack Murrah: Some general concern about better housing came up, among lots of other things. But housing is a hard animal to grapple with. In the past, private philanthropy has viewed housing as a public sector or a marketplace issue. There was no consensus on how to move forward on that.
Following "Vision 2000," the Lyndhurst Foundation sponsored a series of inspirational speakers who came to Chattanooga to encourage and motivate the community. One of the speakers was James Rouse, the shopping center developer who had turned his attention to revitalizing America's cities. He talked about how neighborhoods in which houses are deteriorating become deteriorating neighborhoods. Rouse was charismatic, and when he told Chattanooga that we would never be a great city if we didn't pay attention to housing, people listened. Eventually, the Lyndhurst Foundation, along with the City of Chattanooga and a private developer, put together the money needed for Rouse's Enterprise Foundation to do a study of the state of housing in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise came out of the study. It was to be a private, non-profit organization but with a public sector commitment to it. In truth, it took us probably three to four years to get things worked out so that all the parties necessary got into CNE to the degree necessary. There was some dipping of the toe in the early stages. You can't expect these things to be born full-blown. But as a result of working together, what we got was not the city's or the business community's or the Lyndhurst Foundation's housing initiative, but Chattanooga's housing initiative. It belongs to the whole community.
Business Perspectives: Did the fact that this was a public/private partnership encourage the Lyndhurst Foundation's support?
Jack Murrah: Without a non-profit, private organization involved, the Lyndhurst Foundation sits on the sidelines. We are not going to provide grants to local government to operate a bureaucracy. With CNE, the Foundation believed that this was an organization to which you could commit philanthropic dollars and have some reasonable sense that actual housing would come out the other end.
A second reason why the Lyndhurst Foundation supported CNE was we were inspired by the fact that this was an attempt to make the American system work for poor people. CNE does not make grants; this is not a giveaway. Credit and lending are at the core of CNE. When people are spending the money they work for on a home mortgage, they come to have a stake in the community. Owning a home increases one's sense of ownership in the whole neighborhood.
In addition, the fact that there has been such a low default rate on CNE loans says to others that lending to the poor does not have to be high-risk if you take the steps to prepare people for responsibility. So CNE has helped remove some stereotypes about people who are in the margins economically.
CNE enables the Lyndhurst Foundation to be generous in a way that inspires people's sense of responsibility rather than being generous to take people off the hook. In American society today, we lack models of how to be generous and tough. We know how to be generous, but often not wisely. And we know how to be tough, but not productively. Very little public policy has bridged those two extremes.
Business Perspectives: The Lyndhurst Foundation has continued to support CNE with a grant of $1 million most years. As CNE matures, will this level of support continue?
Jack Murrah: Our support has continued because CNE continues to accomplish so much. You know, there aren't many ambiguities in CNE's track record. CNE can show you the houses, show you the neighborhoods, show you the people whose lives have been changed. Over 3,000 individuals and families have gained access to better housing over the past 10 years because of CNE's work. So, CNE is a success in terms of having a strong, positive impact on people and on the community as a whole.
The Lyndhurst Foundation's commitment to CNE is indefinite. We knew when CNE was founded that this was going to be a long-term partnership. We knew that one way to keep the City of Chattanooga at the table was for us to stay at the table. And we knew that the goal of providing the opportunity for all Chattanoogans to have decent, fit, and affordable housing wouldn't be accomplished overnight. But we did not say we will invest in CNE forever. We said as long as it produces fruit, we will fertilize it. And CNE is still producing fruit.