The Elkhart County Community Foundation Wednesday unveiled its plans for the $150 million gift it received from late millionaire and Elkhart native Guy David Gundlach.

Gundlach was an entrepreneur who passed away in 2011. In his will, he left Elkhart County his money and no rules on how to spend it.

The foundation's president Peter McCown recalled what Gundlach told him before he passed away.

"He patted me on the knee, and said, 'Kiddo, as I understand, you have the best grasp of Elkhart County. I believe you and your board are better qualified to make those decisions than I,'" McCown said.

So over the last year, the foundation has talked to more than 1,000 Elkhart residents from all walks of life, listening to their suggestions on how the money should be spent.

"Every ethnic stakeholder group, every gender group, every age and socioeconomic class," McCown said. "Bishops of the Amish church, we spent time with the clients on Council of Aging, students in many of our high schools had a chance to share their perspectives."

The foundation announced Wednesday it will focus on two key areas to improve Elkhart County: investing in children and making the "quality of place" better.

The board approved opening a college scholarship fund and giving more money to local youth-serving organizations such as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club with some of Gundlach's money.

Ryon Wheeler, associate executive director for Elkhart County's Boys and Girls Club, said the foundation's plan is an accurate assessment of the county's needs.

"It's a direct correlation, kids and quality of life," Wheeler said. "Elkhart Community Schools has 13,000 kids. One in four kids live in poverty in Elkhart."

Right now, the local Boys and Girls Club only serves three of the 21 Elkhart Schools.
Wheeler said he hopes the grant money can help change that.

"Hopefully, it can help us expand. Hopefully, it can help us reach more kids. Hopefully, it will help us have a deeper impact," he said.

The second-highest priority, improving the quality of life in Elkhart, could mean more bike trails, more festivals, parks, or health clinics for underprivileged residents, McCown said.

"People hope we will make the kinds of grants and investments that will make Elkhart County one of the most remarkable places across the country to live and raise a family and live and play," he said.

The foundation will decide which groups will receive money and how much they will receive later this year.

McCown said the foundation plans to leave Gundlach's actual gift of $150 million untouched. Instead, it will spend only the interest it earns.

The grant budget for 2014 is $4.5 million, which will increase to $7 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016.