The Power of Endowment: Artist Paints a Bright Future with Help from the Dubuque Rescue Mission

In fifth grade, Will Pearsall discovered a talent for drawing that would eventually lead him to study at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and embark on an 18-year career as a professional artist for a sign company. Between painting billboards, he drew live portraits at malls and festivals.

“Kids would sit and watch. It’s pretty neat to see how impressed they are as I capture the likeness of someone,” says Will. “I just like the challenge of it.”

But even Will’s phenomenal gift didn’t shield him from life’s challenges. Undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder and depression contributed to financial troubles that compounded over the years. By 2007, he was living out of a semi-trailer truck that he drove for a living.

Will’s sister, a storeowner in Galena, brought him to the Dubuque area. When she moved to California, he turned to the Dubuque Rescue Mission for help getting his life back on track.

“Will is a put-together guy. He’s an educated man,” says Rick Mihm, executive director of the Mission. “He’s an example of how we can all become vulnerable to illness, mental health and financial issues. We’ve had 12 PhDs as residents here at the Mission. It takes a great amount of humility to step across our threshold and say, ‘I need help.’”

The Dubuque Rescue Mission has been in existence since 1932 as an emergency shelter for men. In addition to providing food and shelter, Rick and his staff connect residents to job training, education and health resources.

“We try to ensure that they do most of the footwork so they have some skin in the game,” says Rick. “But some need more help than others, especially when there are significant layers of pain, abandonment, addiction, alcoholism or mental illness.”

Rick connected Will to Project Concern’s many community resources and commissioned him to create murals for the Mission’s walls and chapel. After Will exhibited some work in Voices from the Warehouse District, Premier Bank offered to sponsor his studio space at Studio Works as part of the Inspire program, a partnership between the bank and community art studio. In return, Will created a portrait of Joy and Leo McCarthy, which Premier Bank donated to the Community Foundation’s McCarthy Center for Nonprofit Learning.

Today, Will is feeling grateful and hopeful about his future. He’s creating more art and dreams of someday opening a public studio/café where community members can connect with art and artists. “The Rescue Mission is positive,” he says. “They are always helping, always pushing you. I am so appreciative of everything Rick and Janice [Roerig-Blong, director of Studio Works] have done for me.”

Rich Mihm is also grateful—for the many community members who support the Mission’s endowment fund at the Community Foundation. This year’s payout totaled more than $13,000 and will allow the Mission to install new flooring in its third-floor dormitory.

“Our budget isn’t that big,” says Rick. “To know that we have $13,000 coming every year from our endowment is a great gift. To all of our donors, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

This year, the Community Foundation authorized $2,151,140 in agency and donor-advised endowment payouts for fiscal year 2016, up from $1,808,070 last year.

Community foundations are charitable organizations that administer funds to benefit their communities and improve the lives of people in their geographic region. Nonprofit organizations and community members can create endowment funds at CFGD to benefit charitable causes. These funds are invested and pay out 5% annually to the designated nonprofits, providing a reliable source of income to sustain organizations’ operations forever. Any earnings beyond the 5% are reinvested.

Community members and nonprofits have established 558 endowment funds through CFGD and its six rural affiliate foundations in Allamakee, Delaware, Clayton, Jackson and Jones Counties and the Dyersville community. Nonprofit leaders look to the Community Foundation to hold their organizations’ endowments because the reliable source of funding helps them respond to emerging needs as well as plan for the future and sustain the good work they do.

Donors who give to endowments through a community foundation also benefit from the Endow Iowa 25% State Tax Credit in addition to federal charitable income tax deductions.

“These funds help to diversify nonprofits’ funding and make their operations secure so they can continue to provide a critical safety net and enrich life in our community forever,” said Nancy Van Milligen, CFGD president and CEO. “Each fund is unique and the payouts fund everything from special projects to facility repairs and general operations.”

Give to causes you care about at www.dbqfoundation.org/givingcenter.

Watch Will's story.

This story originally appeared in the 2016 Spring Giving Matters (pdf).


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The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque envisions a vibrant and inclusive Dubuque region where everyone can thrive. Since 2002, we have inspired people to give back to their community, and we turn this generosity into lasting change across our region, increasing access to resources and opportunities that help all people succeed. 

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