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Self Foundation celebrates 80 years of helping Greenwood

Nick Youngson
Alpha Stock Images

The Self family has been a core part of Greenwood's history.

While war raged overseas, James C. Self was using the money from Greenwood Mills to start the Self Family Foundation. By 1951 the organization funded the construction of Self Regional Medical Center.

For the last 80 years, the foundation has been shaping Greenwood's nonprofit world. It provides essential grants for many community organizations, and its leadership has been a resource for executive directors in all fields. Jim Self, when he took over the foundation from his father, was instrumental in getting the Greenwood Genetics Center started.

Foundation staff, Self family members and nonprofit leaders recently gathered at The Arts Center to celebrate the foundation's 80th anniversary.

"Without the Self Family Foundation, we wouldn't have this nonprofit community," said Deborah Parks, executive director of Beyond Abuse. "They have been so supportive and I appreciate their love for the community."

Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than $72 million total to 428 organizations, with most of that focused in Greenwood.

Mamie Nicholson serves as executive director, but she got her start with the foundation while she was working at Greenwood Mills in 1980. She worked part time until she was hired full time in 1994.

The intent of her new role was to serve as a community liaison, helping smaller nonprofits navigate the foundation's grant process. She took to the job immediately.

"The trustees had made the decision they wanted to do more grassroots-level grant making, giving grants to the smaller nonprofits in the community," Nicholson said. "They wanted someone to be able to go in the community and work with those organizations.

"That's been a true joy, that's all I can say about that. Having the opportunity to get into the community, to know all the nonprofits, get to know their work, what they're doing, how their operations work and to get to be a resource for them."

And she's been an invaluable resource. When Andrea White took over as director of the Food Bank of Greenwood, she said Nicholson helped support and teach her.

"I can call her to ask questions about the grant-writing process," White said. "The foundation brings us all together as a group, with the common interest of helping the community."

That's been the goal through the decades, said Mat Self, former chairperson of the foundation and the last of the third-generation Self family members to lead it.

"It means a lot to be able to help people help themselves," he said.

Nowadays, Cade Brennan Jackson serves as chairperson. The family's fourth generation has been working to adapt to meet Greenwood's needs. It can be a tall task, especially with 80 years of history behind her, Jackson said.

"If you think about it on a large scale, it can be a bit overwhelming," she said. "This is our home, it's given us so much and it's such an honor to give back in some way. We just want to make sure it's the right way."

For those recipients of the grants and guidance the foundation has offered, that impulse to give back has done wonders.

"The Self Family Foundation has allowed us to provide the services we offer by providing matching grant funds," said Candace Timmerman with Meg's House. "People don't think about the fact that organizations have to provide a match for their grants."

The transitional housing programs Meg's House provides wouldn't be furnished without those dollars, and Nicholson's service on the nonprofit council and mentorship through the Women's Leadership Council have proven indispensable.

"To connect them with other opportunities for learning, providing them opportunities and scholarships to attend nonprofit workshops and conferences," Nicholson said, "all of that to strengthen and build the capacity of the nonprofits within the community."

A celebration of 80 years of giving wouldn't have been complete without more philanthropy. At the celebration, eight nonprofits received a surprise, unsolicited $10,000 grant each — Meg's House, Beyond Abuse, the food bank, Healthy Learners, Lander University's Call Me Mister program, Community Initiatives, the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakelands and the Arts Center.

The foundation has grown and changed organically through the years, Jackson said. While it's hard to plan for the next 80 years, she said the organization will continue to change to meet Greenwood's evolving needs. Four members of the Self family's fifth generation are now college graduates, and will soon stake out their role in the foundation's work.