WESTFIELD – In it’s 35th year, the Westfield State Foundation has circled back to its roots, according to Executive Director of Advancement Michael Knapik.
The Westfield State Foundation was established in 1980 to raise money to build an interfaith center on the university’s campus. Since then, it has become a non-profit, which raises money for student scholarships and campus projects, as well as sponsors on-campus events.
This year, the Interfaith Center that started it all got an “extreme makeover” and brought a Roman Catholic chaplain, a rabbi, an imam and a Protestant minister on board.
“[The center] had gotten run down a bit. It had been shabby and fell into some disrepair and neglect. Based on wise and prudent investments, we had the resources available to do a complete interior renovation, replace the roof, do exterior painting and tuning the magnificent organ in there,” Knapik said. “We were able to bring some life back to the building that was the inspiration for the Foundation … The place has become a nice spiritual oasis on campus and the programming has gotten very supportive of the students’ spiritual growth and that’s what was envisioned 35 years ago.”
While the Interfaith Center was the base on which the Westfield State Foundation has grown, Knapik said the university began to utilize it to raise money for other areas, as well.
When Knapik took over the role of executive director two years ago, the fundraising aspect of the foundation had taken a hit.
“I don’t want to say the Foundation fell on hard times, but based on some of the fundraising metrics, I don’t think the attention was paid on the power of fundraising for a number of years,” he said.
That has since changed. This year alone, the Foundation has raised about $220,000 in scholarship aid for students. It has also started providing paid internship opportunities for students at the university.
“That’s a program that the Commonwealth shares with us, and for every dollar that a private sector individual, company, business or we raise, every dollar that comes in is matched. We’ve provided, in three years, about $475,000 in paid internships and most of them are here in the Pioneer Valley,” Knapik said. “That’s all part of the obligation and responsibility of creating real workforce opportunities for our students and connecting them to a place of work with paid internships so they don’t have to worry about how to juggle college finances, then they have a part time job and an internship.”
Knapik said that many alumni and friends of Westfield State have been eager to give to the Foundation, but hadn’t in the past because they simply were not asked. He and the board of directors have sought to change that.
The Foundation has implemented donor appreciation events, like its Sweet Success dessert reception, which connects those who have given to the university with students who receive the scholarships. There are naming opportunities for rooms in the new Science Center and an initiative to create 35 planned gifts from donors.
The Westfield State Foundation took another step in fundraising on Nov. 17 when the university received the single largest gift in its history. Dr. Catherine Dower, a retired professor and former chair of the university’s Music Department, donated $1 million to help establish the Catherine A. Dower Center for the Performing and Fine Arts.
Juniper Park Elementary School will be transformed into the performing arts center and will be the first building on the campus to be named after a woman.
As an “economic engine” for the city, Westfield State University has the means to provide students with all they need for their futures, Knapik said. The Foundation helps across all fronts of the student experience, as well.
“It’s really a magnificent college here in Westfield, in a real New England tradition of a local college. We know that it’s a matter of outreach to the alumni, connecting them to their alma mater. We know when asked they will be there to help us,” Knapik said. “The Foundation is going to be the umbrella leading all of those efforts. It’s a lot, it’s ambitious, but it’s also exciting. I think in this short year of recovery for the Westfield State Foundation in its 35th year, not only have they come a long way but they also see the potential of what the future can do if everyone sort of focused on the university, on the students and supporting the faculty and staff.”