Susan Urano, The Athens Foundation

How did you get involved in philanthropy?

There’s a personal story behind my move to the Athens Foundation. After 20 years as an arts administrator, the Founder of the Athens Foundation, who was a tremendous advocate for community development as well as a mentor, called me and asked me to consider applying for the director position at the Athens Foundation. I was grateful to her for the opportunity to have an impact on our region. There’s a high level of poverty in Athens County and to start to move the needle, we need to understand the significance of economic development in the region.

The Athens Foundation doesn’t have a specific economic development focus; we fund community improvement and quality of life projects in education, health, community improvement, arts and recreation, the environment, human services, and animal welfare. We also collaborate with economic development groups in the area.

What prompted you to get involved in the Funders Network?

We have been curious about the Network for a while. A board member went to one of the Gatherings and other colleagues have been involved in some of the Network’s other activities. The Appalachian Ohio Funders Group is also very interested in the work of the Network and wanted to know more about how to get involved and partner in some way with the Network. The Athens Foundation has benefitted from the network of Ohio funders, and looks forward to expanding the conversation beyond Ohio with the Appalachia Funders Network.

We all bring a specific knowledge base to the table and benefit from learning and sharing collectively and collaboratively. One of the great benefits we’ve had working with the AOFG is our pooled resources and collaborative funding projects. We’ve learned along the way how to approach the co-funding process. We learn from our less successful initiates and try to revise and improve our collaborative process as we move forward in our work. Our work has been in the areas of food security and hunger, after school enrichment programs and oral health. More recently, the AOFG has been working with the Finance Fund to establish a loan fund for health facilities to expand rural healthcare. The AOFG has stayed together because of the conversations and collaborations to improve the Appalachian region of Ohio.

What potential do you see in working with the Funders Network?

We hope to engage partners from outside Ohio in our collaborative work in Southeast Ohio. For us, it’s also about the fellowship of coming together, to share our knowledge and experiences, to support each other in our work as we struggle to improve the quality of life for people living in our region. As an Athens based Community Foundation, we’re excited to welcome the Gathering here to showcase the major initiatives and unique assets of our community. Hopefully attendees will leave energized by their new connections and relationships with other funders.

When you think more broadly about your role in philanthropy, where do you look for inspiration?

I get my inspiration from collaborating with other people, sharing ideas, and having conversations. The Athens Foundation is a small foundation, and if we only looked within our own sphere, it would be isolating. The people I take the most inspiration from are other people in the philanthropic field. Philanthropy Ohio, the statewide association of funders, is where I received my training in the philanthropic field.