CEL Matching Gift Challenge!

CEL ArtTis the season

While there is no shortage of energy and commitment among volunteers in Lexington, often it is a struggle for nonprofit organizations to secure funding for programs that fall outside of the regular town operating budget.

The Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) which is focused on educational initiatives and the Dana Home Foundation, which addresses senior needs, have been successfully increasing funding in their targeted areas for many years However, there are programs that fall outside of the mission of these organizations and for these deserving community-building programs it is too-often impossible to thrive because of funding issues.

To address these unmet needs, a small group of determined volunteers got together and rolled up their sleeves. The result: The Community Endowment of Lexington (CEL), a community fund that provides grants to worthy nonprofit projects in Lexington.


The Community Endowment of Lexington was established in 2013 by three Lexingtonians:  Stephanie Lawrence, Pauline Benninga and Amy Garbis.

Stephanie says, “I was introduced to a couple of women who had children in the schools and they were hearing from their school principals about the increase in requests for holiday assistance from families.” Alarm was also growing in the community about homeless families being housed at a Lexington motel.  At the time Stephanie was also serving on the Lexington Human Services Committee which was experiencing a sharp uptick in requests for emergency services—needs that are addressed through The Fund for Lexington.

It was a challenging time in Lexington and many other communities. Middle class families were under continuous pressure from the financial meltdown and subsequent business failures, personnel trimming and corporate reorganizations. Mortgages were under siege. The insecurity in the economy had a double-whammy effect on non-profits simultaneously increasing need and decreasing resources as donations crashed from both private and corporate sources.

“I knew that most Lexingtonians would be surprised to hear about the significance of the need,” Stephanie says. “We started to talk about what sort of initiative could be put into place that could be effective for Lexington.” They wanted to act quickly. That’s when Stephanie thought of the Foundation for MetroWest. As a nonprofit professional she was familiar with their work. “I thought if we partnered with the foundation we could really hit the ground running,” she says.  They had some “very promising” discussions with the with the folks at MetroWest that increased their enthusiasm for the project. Their first consideration was making sure that any new resource would not be stepping on the toes of existing organizations. “There are public agencies and nonprofits doing wonderful work for the town of Lexington,” Stephanie says.

The women met with Selectman Norm Cohen and the Director of Lexington Human Services, Charlotte Rodgers to learn more about the various programs run through the Human Services Department like The Fund for Lexington, which responds to emergency requests from individuals and families in Lexington for rent, groceries or fuel.

Rather than duplicate effective programs like this one, the women wanted to identify gaps—local nonprofits that might be struggling. “So many organizations frequently struggle to raise the funds necessary to develop their programs and services,” she says.

For organizations that are struggling to thrive in a difficult funding environment, it can make the difference between continuing their important work, or having to surrender when the money dries up leaving their constituencies to scramble.

“The Community Endowment of Lexington is an excellent vehicle to provide grants to local groups that benefit the Lexington community as a whole.  The Fund for Lexington is primarily for individuals and families impacted by financial crises,” explains Norman Cohen.

Left to right are CEL board member Stephanie Wolk Lawrence, current board chair Leslie Zales, and CEL board member Nancy White.

Left to right are CEL board member Stephanie Wolk Lawrence, current board chair Leslie Zales, and CEL board member Nancy White.


After meeting with Norm and Charlotte, the women became convinced that they could create something that would have meaningful impact in the community and they decided to broaden their mission giving them latitude to consider grant applications from a wide variety of organizations. This is the mission statement from their website:

The Community Endowment of Lexington supports programs and services that help make life healthier and more enjoyable for all members of the community in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, ecological well-being, and community building. It encourages grant applications from nonprofit organizations and public agencies that bring innovative thinking to big issues and small ones.

They ultimately partnered with the Foundation for MetroWest to take advantage of their structure which provides financial management, legal counsel and the guidance of a highly qualified board of directors.

As an endowed fund of the Foundation for MetroWest, CEL is designed to be a permanent, steady source of funding for the town of Lexington. Each year, spending is limited to a designated percentage of the fund, leaving the rest to build for the future. While the Foundation for MetroWest provides fund administration, grants are reviewed and awarded by the Community Endowment of Lexington Community Board.

CEL has so far raised over $300,000 from its Founding Members—34 individuals, businesses,  family foundations and community groups each who have contributed $5,000 or more. The goal of the fund is to build the endowment to $1 million and to concurrently identify and award grants as it is growing.

According to Lexingtonian Janet Kern, Director of Development and Community Relations for the Foundation for MetroWest, the initial goal is to build the fund to $1M as a starting point to be able to deliver $50,000 year of impact annually. “That felt like a very achievable goal in Lexington,” she says. “We certainly hope to grow the fund beyond the $1M mark with future fundraising programs enabling even greater impact.”

CEL has awarded over $50,000 in grants in just two years to nine ono-profit organixations serving Lexington across a diverse spectrum of needs. (Check out the quotes from several grant recipients on pages 16 and 17.)


This season—between now and December 31st, CEL has a very exciting opportunity to increase the size of their fund thanks to two of CEL’s founding members, Leslie and Colin Masson. The Massons have very generously offered to match all gifts made to the Community Endowment of Lexington dollar for dollar up to $100,000!

Current CEL board chair Leslie Zales hopes this short, but significant opportunity will inspire the entire community to come together to help grow this fund and keep it healthy into the future.

“We are incredibly thankful to Leslie & Colin for their ongoing commitment to CEL and this exciting challenge,” Zales says. “This campaign will bring us to the halfway mark of CEL’s ultimate fundraising goal.  The time has never been better to support CEL.  Every dollar counts.”


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