February 29, 2024
A Community Foundation is Born

ECCF’s first home was at the Stone House, located on the grounds of co-founder David Tory’s Topsfield home.

By Michelle Xiarhos Curran

Like many origin stories, the story of how Essex County Community Foundation came to be is filled with challenges and opportunities, obstacles and perseverance. And, just like many worthwhile origin stories, it began with a group of people who believed in something bigger.

For ECCF co-founder David Tory, one of those believers was Betty Beland.

Tory met Beland through the Essex Art Center in the 1990s. Tory, a retired IT executive, was brought on to help advance the art center’s board and organizational development. Beland, an energetic and much-loved philanthropic fixture in Lawrence, knew he could do the same for other nonprofits in the area, many of which also lacked the critical support needed to effectively meet their missions.

Tory recalls Beland telling him to “get off your backside and help these people.”

Beland, who passed away in 2015, was a longtime administrator of The Stevens Foundations and founder of the Greater Lawrence Summer Fund, one of ECCF’s first Field of Interest funds. According to published accounts of her contributions to the local nonprofit sector, she was referred to as the “Mother Theresa” of Essex Art Center and was known as the “den mother” of the Greater Lawrence nonprofit community.

“She drove me to help others,” said Tory.

As a result, in 1998, Tory partnered with friend and former colleague, Lorriane Astle, to form Broadhow, the small, nonprofit capacity-building organization that would eventually become Essex County Community Foundation.

During that first year, Broadhow – named for Tory’s home back in the UK – operated out of a fieldstone carriage house on the grounds of his Topsfield, MA, property. Throughout 1998, Tory and Astle worked with 30 area nonprofits, assisting them with board and staff development and technical training. They helped people, just as Beland had suggested. And it was much-needed work that had not been done on this scale in Essex County before.

But area nonprofits needed more. Tory and Astle soon learned that these organizations were in dire need of financial resources to grow, expand their impact and meet emerging challenges in local communities. However, much of the region’s philanthropic funding was already being tapped by organizations outside the county.

Tory and Astle saw this challenge as an opportunity – not only to continue the work they started with Broadhow, but also to connect local wealth with local need, increase collaboration among people and organizations working towards common goals, and to create an organization with the capacity to bring Essex County together.

At the time, in communities across the country and right here in Massachusetts, community foundations were successfully acting as catalysts for change in the regions they served. In December of 1998, with overwhelming support from key stakeholders, Broadhow publicly announced its plans to establish a new community foundation to support the nonprofit sector in the 34 cities and towns of Essex County. In early 1999, Essex County Community Foundation was officially born.

“Fostering connections; building community,” was the foundation’s first tagline, announced in a June 1999 newsletter, the first published under the new ECCF banner.

Today, 25 years later, the values and visions of that emerging foundation – collaboration, cultivating relationships and growing charitable resources for the betterment of Essex County – are the same things that ECCF stands for today. And unsurprisingly, many of the social issues ECCF focused on in its early years – the environment, youth in philanthropy, youth development and arts and culture – are central to ECCF’s current work.

“The way we do things may be constantly evolving, but as a community foundation, those core values have remained steadfast,” said ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis. “We are so grateful to David and Lorraine and to every single person who saw what Essex County needed and what ECCF could be.”

Throughout 2024, ECCF is celebrating 25 years of service to Essex County. This is part of a series of stories looking back on the people, places and organizations that have shaped the foundation and our work.

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ECCF Logo in White Overlay


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    Danvers, Massachusetts 01923