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Covington Foundation promoting preservation

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By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Promoting historic preservation throughout North Carolina will be the focus of a new website and distance-learning initiative that Preservation North Carolina is creating.

The undertaking, believed to be the first comprehensive effort to use technology to aggregate and share resources about historic preservation in the state, is the outgrowth of work begun a year ago by the Marion Stedman Covington Foundation in Greensboro to determine the most effective use of its dollars to promote preservation.

Formed in 1986 by the daughter of the founder of Stedman Corp. in Asheboro, the foundation until last year made modest, low-key grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and human services, and historic preservation.

With just over $6 million in assets, the Covington Foundation has distributed roughly $200,000 a year, typically making grants ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to 50 to 60 organizations a year.

But in February 2006, the foundation’s board decided to limit the focus of its grants to historic preservation, or to projects involving arts and culture, or education, if they involved historic preservation.

Historic preservation was the favorite philanthropic cause of Marion Stedman Covington, an Asheboro native who lived in Greensboro and died in January 2005.

The board also decided to make fewer grants and increase their size, which is likely to grow even more when the foundation receives additional funds from Mrs. Covington’s estate.

“The trustees felt they could have more of an impact if they narrowed their focus and made larger grants, on average,” says Alexa Aycock, the foundation’s grants coordinator.

Also in February 2006, the foundation asked Preservation North Carolina to convene historic-preservation leaders from throughout the state to talk about needs in the field and identify the most effective use of funds to promote preservation.

The result was a $297,000 grant the foundation is making to Preservation North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro over five years.

While it always had made grants in response to requests from nonprofits, the grant to Preservation North Carolina marks the first time the foundation actively has sought input to help it focus on the most effective use of its funds in the field of preservation, Aycock says.

J. Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, says the new website will replace his organization’s current site and will serve as a clearinghouse for “anything you want to know about historic preservation in North Carolina.”

The site, to be launched in spring 2008, will include information and resources ranging from the importance and impact of preservation to strategies and tactics for preserving historic properties.

Preservation North Carolina is working with UNCG and other schools with graduate programs related to preservation to develop the website, which will include case studies and other materials generated by students enrolled in those graduate programs.

“We find that websites are the best way to communicate to the general public about historic preservation, and this is the best way we know of to answer the many questions that are out there, as well as serving as an advocate,” Howard says.

Preservation North Carolina also will work with UNCG to develop distance-learning programs that likely will be launched in two years.

“We really want it to be comprehensive” Howard says, “and we want to use technology to get the message out.”

He also credits the Covington Foundation for championing preservation.

The foundation, he says, “is certainly the most preservation-oriented foundation in North Carolina.”

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