On Monday, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation launched a multimedia oral history website dedicated to documenting the history, evolution, and progress of a special fund it created — and how the fund helped the organization rethink the way it does business.“The story of the Heal Charlottesville Fund is about hope, love and generosity. And about reckoning with our region’s difficult history,” said CACF President Brennan Gould. “It’s not just thinking about the events of Aug. 11 and 12, [2017,] but about the history that brought us to that place and about where we go from here.” Three summers ago, Charlottesville became a national hashtag as white nationalists and neo-Nazis flocked to demonstrations at the University of Virginia and the city’s Confederate monuments downtown — resulting in the death of activist Heather Heyer and injury of more than 30 people. In response, the CACF set up a special fund — the Heal Charlottesville Fund — to aid survivors on their physical and mental recoveries.

Typically, community foundations pool donations to support charities and nonprofits, but in the aftermath of the deadly rally, CACF searched for ways to help affected individuals and later developed grants to support residents’ projects, businesses and organizations that aimed to serve the community in various ways. 

“The Heal Fund was established in 2017 with the intention of serving as a bridge between the immediate needs of survivors and more sustainable sources of support,” Gould said.  “In fact, it paid for a dedicated navigator, whose job was to help survivors make that transition.”For a time, Charlottesville resident Matthew Christensen served as the navigator, guiding survivors through not just accessing the Heal Fund, but various state funding as well. But as Christensen’s job was to help survivors navigate the bureaucracy of various available financial aid, the concept of the Heal Charlottesville Fund helped CACF navigate new ways it could engage the community.  

Credit: Credit: Charlottesville Area Community Foundation Credit: Credit: Charlottesville Area Community Foundation

Overall, the Heal Fund alone has dispersed $2 million amongst survivors whose lives were altered by the events, with some undergoing various surgeries and being out of work for long periods of time. $900,000 has gone towards a special grant round that provided support for more than 40 community initiatives while $320,000 was directed towards trauma counseling. With more than 3,000 contributors to the fund, a large portion of the fund stemmed from Dave Matthews Band’s Concert for Charlottesville.

While the initial Heal Fund has run its course, Gould said the fund taught her organization the importance of making its grants “as accessible as possible.”“The Heal Fund has expended all the funds it has received but we have integrated many of the innovative direct-aid and grantmaking precedents it established throughout our organization,” Gould explained. CACF’s 1967 foundation was composed of bankers or people associated with banks, and as such, its philanthropy had a “top down-approach” often dispersing funds to nonprofit organizations in the area. With the Heal Fund, CACF began to seek ways to direct funds to individuals or for-profit businesses  — which typically are not categories community foundations give to.Examples have included grant money bolstering Latino education and leadership development nonprofit, Creciendo Juntos; collaboration with Community Investment Collaborative for entrepreneur Yolanda Coles Jones; funds for a documentary by local filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson; funds for security equipment at the University of Virginia’s Brody Jewish Center; and journalist Jordy Yager’s Mapping CVille project which documents racial covenants and infrastructure in local land ownership. Money from the Heal Fund, by way of The Women’s Initiative, also helped support the Central Virginia Clinicians of Color Network. 

“We want to lower the barriers and even find ways to help organizations in non-monetary ways, through capacity-building,” Gould explained. “The Heal Fund also left us even more committed to personal and organizational transformation as we seek to center equity in all that we do.”

The events that transpired on two August days in 2017 may have brought national attention to the city, but Gould notes how inequity and racism has been interlaced historically over time — such as Ku Klux Klan marches during the erection of the downtown statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1924 and the 1958 closure of public schools rather than racially integrating. She asserts how the current COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities that still exist. “What happened on Aug. 11 and 12 didn’t occur in a vacuum. There’s a long and violent history behind it. And that history didn’t magically go away when the pandemic hit,” Gould said. “The racial divide has only become more clear, and our response to COVID-19 has taken that into account.”

As such, CACF has created another round of grants called Community Recovery and Catalyst Grants, which focuses on nonprofit organizations’ needs amidst the pandemic. While CACF has expanded its aid to other entities, this particular grant targets nonprofit organizations that may need help to recover from financial impacts of COVID-19. With the application deadline on Friday, selected organizations can receive a one-time payment of up to $50,000. Other fund and grant opportunities through CACF can be found here.


Charlotte Rene Woods

I was Charlottesville Tomorrow’s government reporter from 2019 to 2022. Thanks for letting me be your resident nerd on how local and state governments serve us. Keep up with me @charlottewords on Twitter. If you haven’t yet, consider subscribing to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s FREE newsletter to get updates from the newsroom on the things you want to know.