Do you have a good cause aimed at helping the Walton and Bay County communities?
If so, April Wilkes would like to hear from you. And if your organization qualifies, she would like to provide you with the money to make your endeavor a success.
For nearly a quarter-century, the St. Joe Community Foundation has done just that, providing more than $34 million in grants to scores of community organizations in Bay and Walton Counties. Wilkes, executive director of the foundation since 2018, says it wants to expand its roster of recipients.
“We are always looking for great nonprofits that we haven’t helped before,” she told Life Media.
As the largest landowner in Bay and Walton Counties, the St. Joe Company has long played – and continues to play – a major role in the development of the area. Its 50-year sector plan anchored around the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport promises to transform the Bay-South Walton region by 2045 into a community of over 350,000 people anchored around new town centers, retail centers, major employers and recreational sites.
In addition to land donations for projects as varied as the Northwest Florida International Airport, Publix Sports Complex and major medical facilities and schools, St. Joe Company officials have long been involved in direct support of local charities, other nonprofit organizations and educational programs, Wilkes said.
Established in 1999, the St. Joe Community Foundation is funded exclusively by a 1/2-percent transfer fee on the sale of real estate in certain communities and resorts the company has developed, Wilkes said. This fee applies the first time a property is sold, and on each resale. In recent years, the foundation has received around $2-3 million it can reassign for community grants annually, but with the spike in real estate values since 2020, officials anticipate this year’s intake might top $6 million.
Grant outlays are approved by the foundation’s board of trustees, who meet every two months or so to consider applications, Wilkes said. Current trustees include St. Joe CEO Jorge Gonzalez, Senior Vice President Rhea Goff and company General Counsel Lisa Walters.
Thus far in 2022, the foundation has awarded grants to 75 organizations throughout Bay and Walton Counties. Grants are awarded in four general categories: education, health care, the arts and environmental stewardship. “We’re already up to $2 million [in grant outlays] this year,” Wilkes said. “I have another $2 million in requests before the board.” If the current transfer fee projection holds, the foundation anticipates it will have an additional $2 million available for grants this calendar year.”
Wilkes said she is particularly proud that the St. Joe Community Foundation has been able to assist organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for local residents.
The roster of 2021 grants covered a wide spectrum of activities throughout the two-county area. Last year, the foundation issued $1.9 million in grants, with that largest share — $1.06 million – targeted for educational programs. Grants also included $424,077 for healthcare projects, $276,600 for community programs, $141,700 for cultural arts, and $26,500 for environmental stewardship.
For the Panama City Beach area, grants included $6,000 to Arnold High School for theater costumes, $10,000 to Keep PCB Beautiful, $10,000 for PCB Turtle Watch, $10,000 for West Bay Elementary School, and $10,000 for the Arnold High School library. Larger grants for area educational and health care programs included $40,000 for startup supplies for the new Walsingham Academy and $150,000 for the Frank Brown Park Aquatic Center.
Wilkes said the most unusual grant she recalls the foundation approving was five years ago for the Future Farmers of America program at Bozeman High School. The students had raised a prize-winning heifer but had no way to transport the animal to other FFA events around the state. The foundation awarded the school an $11,000 grant for the club to purchase a covered trailer, she said with a smile. (The trailer has since proved quite valuable in other ways; after Hurricane Michael devastated many local farms, it was used to move livestock to less-damaged farms where the animals could be fed and cared for.)
Wilkes urged local organizations to consider applying for grants if they have a genuine need. The only requirement is that it be currently recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
To acquire tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for purposes recognized by the law, including charitable, religious, educational, scientific, amateur sports and literary purposes. The organization cannot be structured to benefit private interests; no net income can benefit any private shareholder, and there are strict limits on any political activity and legislative lobbying.
How to Apply
Grant applications can be submitted online. Funding requests are reviewed according to the foundation’s guidelines, and then reviewed for approval by the St. Joe Community Foundation board of trustees at pre-scheduled meetings. The amount granted is dependent upon the availability of foundation funds during the grant year. Organizations with ongoing programs can re-apply for funding annually.
Grant guidelines: www.joe.com/community-foundation/grant-guidelines.
Online application (found at the foundation web site): www.joe.com/community-foundation.
Other contact information: St. Joe Community Foundation, Attn: April Wilkes, Executive Director, 130 Richard Jackson Blvd. Suite 200, Panama City Beach, FL 32407.