Foundation announces new disability fund

When Katherine Schneider of Eau Claire attended a presentation at a local library several years ago, she found she couldn’t fully enjoy it.

The speaker presented a slideshow without any commentary, and for a blind individual such as Schneider, that created a problem.

Challenges like this are what encouraged Schneider to approach the Eau Claire Community Foundation and propose a new fund dedicated to providing nonprofit organizations with funds to support the inclusion of disabled community members.

“I’ve lived in Eau Claire over 20 years and I worked at the university for 14 years and as I went around the community, I became aware of all these access needs,” Schneider said. “Some were big, some were little, and as a person with a disability, I knew I could do something about this.”

In the spring, Schneider sought help from the Eau Claire Community Foundation, a grouping of donors throughout the community who then give to nonprofit organizations.

“The Eau Claire Community Foundation acts as a bridge connecting donors and charities,” said Sue Bornick, executive director of the foundation. “Donors contribute to the Eau Claire Community foundation and in return we can either establish a family fund for them or we can invest all those dollars and then give those dollars out as grants.”

Schneider’s fund, called the Access Eau Claire fund, could go towards nonprofits such as soup kitchens, museums, libraries and senior centers. These nonprofits could then use the grants received from the Eau Claire Community Foundation to provide staff training, inclusive materials like adapted equipment, sign language interpreters and materials in other formats, like Braille.

“If I wanted to go take a yoga class at the senior center, listening to the instructor speak about yoga wouldn’t cut it for a blind person like me,” Schneider said. “So the senior center could apply for a grant to provide an aide to help blind individuals use the offered programs.”

The Eau Claire Community Foundation has 129 funds people can donate to. For the Access Eau Claire fund, their goal is to reach $10,000 by Sept. 30 so they can begin the grant process in 2014. They have raised $3,500 so far.

“Before we start handing out these grants, we make sure these nonprofits are in good standing and will use the money the way they should be,” Bornick said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21.9 percent of people in Wisconsin reported having a disability in 2011.

Although this may not seem like a hot topic for college students, Schneider believes it’s important for young people to get involved and spread the word about people with disabilities.

“If they learn about it here, they might donate a few dollars,” she said. “When they leave here, they could start something similar somewhere else and really expand this idea.”

Scott Morfitt, Grants and Public Relations Specialist for the Eau Claire Community Foundation, also believes it’s important for students to know about this population of people.

“The purpose of college is to develop a well-rounded worldview and to develop thought processes where you’re thinking beyond just your own life way,” Morfitt said. “Even donating $5 will exponentially help the fund, so college kids who are on a tight budget can still contribute.”

If people want to donate, they can visit and click the Donate Online button on their homepage. The fund will always be open for donations.

“Disabled individuals need to be included in the community so they can offer their talents to better the life in Eau Claire,” Schneider said. “These may be small grants but they can bring big results.”