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Leaving a legacy

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Priscilla Cantrell retiring; built Henderson County fund to $65 million.

By Eden Foster

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – Eighteen years ago, when offered the job as the first executive director of the Community Foundation of Henderson County, Priscilla Cantrell “told them I didn’t know anything about planned giving.”

The board president quipped she did not need to worry, Cantrell recalls, because “they didn’t have any money to pay me anyway.”

Cantrell retires this month, leaving an organization barely recognizable from the one she joined in 1987.

A fledgling organization with barely $1 million in assets its first year, the foundation today has more than $65 million and has distributed over $18 million.

“The most generous, caring people in the world live here in Henderson County,” Cantrell says.

Formed to manage two local scholarship funds, the foundation today manages more than 250 permanent endowments that provide funding to improve educational and healthcare opportunities, protect the environment, strengthen the arts, and provide services for people in need.

Priscilla Cantrell

Job: Executive director, Community Foundation of Henderson County; retiring in March 2005

Raised: Winston-Salem

Education: B.A., Wake Forest University

Most looks forward to after retirement: “Having breakfast with my husband.”

Inspiration: Parents and grandmother. “If a neighbor needed something, you make sure they got it.”

“I think of that founding board of directors and I realize that they had the vision, the passion and the commitment to build a firm foundation for the community foundation, and for that reason it will continue to thrive long after I leave,” says Cantrell.

She points with particular pride to the development of the Children and Family Resource Center in 1994.

Under her leadership, the foundation hired a facilitator that brought together representatives from all of the family service providers in the county.

They recommended that funds be raised to house all of the agencies under one roof, providing “one-stop shopping” for day care, parenting-skill classes, mental health, plus a local office of the state Division of Social Services.

The Children and Family Resource Center has been such a success that this year they launched a fund drive to build a new, larger building, with the help of the Community Foundation, of course.

“It’s our role to bring people together, to act as a catalyst, and to initiate new programs that help people in need,” Cantrell says.

After retiring and resting for a few months, Cantrell says, she plans to take on a new challenge.

“I’m old enough to retire but young enough to have one more something in me,” she says. “I don’t want to be idle, I would go nuts.”

The foundation’s board of directors recently developed a five-year strategic plan for the foundation that calls for doubling the endowment in four years, a goal that Cantrell says would require a full-time development director.

The board will continue to build on the groundwork Cantrell has laid, says Jan Shefter, board president.

“Much of the foundation’s success is attributable to Priscilla and her hard work,” she says. “She deserves all of our thanks and gratitude.”

Cantrell says she has accomplished she set out to do.

“Making a difference in the community and knowing I helped people,” she said, “well, there’s no describing how good that makes me feel.”

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