Many of us have had friends and family visit the Texas Panhandle and as we drive them out to Palo Duro Canyon, we see their faces light up with surprise when they see the different colors and formations that unexpectedly come into view. This wonderous site is the result of millions of years of sediments layering upon themselves. The geological phrase for this is “stratum”: one of a number of layers, levels, or divisions in an organized system.
65 years ago, a group of our community members had the forethought to see we needed a regional medical center to be a thriving community in the future. This was the first layer for the Amarillo Area Foundation. In 1971, the A.A. Bush Scholarship Fund was opened, and another layer was added to the Foundation’s work. Over the years, additional layers settled in:
- The Don Harrington estate bequest of $2 million to AAF, allowing for the first professional staff member and the beginning of a grants program.
- In 1988 The Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation became a supporting organization of AAF, enabling many new initiatives and a more robust grants program.
- The ACE program began in 1994 and has since opened higher education opportunities to thousands of students.
- The Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund was established in 2006 in response to area wildfires, though AAF realized in 2020 that disasters come in many forms and distributed over $864,000 in COVID relief to area nonprofits in 2020 and 2021.
- The Nonprofit Service Center expanded with a new conference center in 2007, allowing it to support area nonprofits with hundreds of training and networking opportunities.
- The Women’s Philanthropy Fund was established in 2008 and continues to provide grants to nonprofits that care for our community’s women and children.
- No Limits, No Excuses was established in 2010 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and continues the work of workforce/post-secondary alignment today as The Panhandle Community Partnership.
- The CNS Pantex Community Investment Fund was established in 2016 as an employee-driven, corporate grantmaking fund.
- The Panhandle Gives’ first campaign began in 2017 and has since helped raise over $20 million for our regional nonprofits.
- In 2018, the Equity Fund was established to focus assistance on traditionally underserved communities.
- In 2021, the Arts & Culture Fund was established, and the first grants were distributed. This fund and grant cycle allows arts and culture organizations a more equitable and focused opportunity for funding. To date, the fund has distributed $600,000 to 21 organizations across the Panhandle.
- In 2021, AAF began to implement a new strategic plan that will prioritize discreet focus areas for the next 8-10 years in order to make concentrated changes for our community through grantmaking, partnerships, and convenings. These focus areas include Education (early childhood literacy, workforce alignment), Health (mental health, food insecurity), and Economic Opportunity (access to childcare, digital equity).
As these “layers” have been added over the years, the Foundation’s original work in regional health has continued through partnerships and grants with local organizations such as Harrington Cancer Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and it’s supporting organization, the Harrington Regional Medical Campus.
In 2023, we are taking this strategy and expanding it to our donors and community members by introducing Stratum Funds. These community and donor-driven funds will allow donors to identify areas they want to support with their philanthropic dollars, as well as allow the Foundation to be responsive to community needs beyond the traditional grantmaking process. These funds will be overseen by community member-based committees that will assist in the granting recommendations. As other areas are identified, more “layers” will be added. As of January 2023, the Stratum Funds include:
- Arts & Culture Fund: Strong arts and culture organizations are vital to the economic health of our region. They nurture creative thinking in our children and provide quality of life to our residents. Your donation to the Arts & Culture Fund will support performing and visual arts organizations across the 26 counties of the Texas Panhandle through grant funding.
- Education Fund: In an effort to improve quality of life for current and future generations of Texas Panhandle residents, Amarillo Area Foundation is using a data-informed approach to address early childhood literacy (with a 2-generation approach) and college enrollment/workforce alignment.
- Economic Opportunity Fund: Economic opportunity can mean different things to different communities, but there are some commonalities in our current economy. Without access to affordable, quality childcare, many workers cannot enter the workforce – leaving employers struggling to fill vacancies. Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but vital for economic parity. This is a unique challenge in our most rural areas. In addition to access, digital literacy will be key to our communities having fair, safe, and educated access to the current economic drivers.
- Equity Fund: The purpose of The Equity Fund is to support Black, Hispanic, Latinx, Refugee, and other communities of color in meeting the specific needs of their communities and to encourage greater awareness and understanding of their rich history in the Texas Panhandle.
- Health Fund: Healthy communities are strong communities. The pandemic of the last few years has made two areas of health concerns very evident – mental health and food insecurity. Mental health requires not only access to practitioners but also creating easy ways for people to talk about their mental health struggles early in the process. More and more of our neighbors struggle to have regular access to healthy foods. AAF is working with other organizations to address these crises in new and proven ways.
- The Panhandle Community Partnership: Panhandle Community Partnership is a community impact initiative with more than 26 community partners committed to creating accessible pathways to postsecondary credentials that lead to living-wage employment. Our mission is to make pathways to postsecondary credentials and living wage employment accessible for all individuals through a community collaboration.
- The Panhandle Gives Amplification Fund: The Panhandle Gives is an annual event hosted and coordinated by the Amarillo Area Foundation (AAF). The event begins on the Monday before Thanksgiving and ends on the global day of giving known as Giving Tuesday. The Amplification Fund is made up of gifts given from foundations, corporate sponsors, and individual donors and was established by AAF to AMPLIFY the amount of gifts participating organizations receive during the campaign
- Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund: Wildfires are perhaps the most dreaded natural disaster in our area. Since 2006, when Amarillo Area Foundation opened the Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund (PDRF), residents have experienced the accumulated loss of millions of dollars in homes, businesses, out-buildings, vehicles, livestock, grazing land, and fencing. Unfortunately, we have also experienced the most painful loss – lives of cherished family members. PDRF also supported local organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including healthcare facilities and social services organizations, and supports communities when other natural disasters occur.
- The Whitney Kelly LGBTQ+ Empowerment Fund: The purpose of The Whitney Kelly LGBTQ+ Empowerment Fund is to empower the LGBTQ+ community of the Texas Panhandle through education, healthcare, community engagement, and fostering belonging. Whitney Kelly was a long-time advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. His work and friendship empowered, uplifted, and inspired countless lives in our region and beyond.
- Women’s Philanthropy Fund: In 2008, Amarillo Area Foundation and a group of community-minded women established the Women’s Philanthropy Fund (WPF) to address the needs of women and children in the Texas Panhandle. In 2022, the WPF moved from a membership-only model to the opportunity for ANY individual, family, or business with a passion to support the critical needs of women and children in our region, to contribute and have a direct impact on the well-being of women and children in the Texas Panhandle… in all areas of life.
Interested in supporting these funds or learning more? Visit our website:
The Texas Panhandle is a special place for many reasons, but my favorite reason is the way we come together to support each other – in good times and challenging times. Thank you all for being our good neighbors!
Senior Vice President