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$6.7M raised for Flint fund to help children

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Flint — Individuals and businesses from all 50 states and 10 countries have donated $6.7 million to a fund for the long-term health care needs of Flint children exposed to toxic lead in the city’s drinking water.

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint set a goal of raising up to $100 million for the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, said foundation president Kathi Horton.

“We estimate that this fund is going to need between $50 million and $100 million if it’s going to really have wrap-around, fill-the-gap resources for these children and their families for the next 20 years,” Horton said. “We have a very, very long journey ahead of us.”

Some of that funding could come from the $125 million that 10 philanthropic foundations recently pledged to help Flint recover from the lead contamination crisis, Horton said.

The Flint children’s fund is commonly referred to as the “Dr. Mona fund” because Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha made the first donation after her discovery of high levels of lead in blood of Flint children set off a public health emergency.

The Flint foundation also is managing donations to six other funds totaling $1.58 million for initiatives such as nutrition programs and replacing pipes and appliances damaged by corrosive Flint River water that flowed through city pipes for 18 months in 2014 and 2015.

One of those programs is the Flint WaterWorks Fund, an initiative of Mayor Karen Weaver that was funded by a $500,000 gift from Chicago venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign lined up the donation from Pritzker to help Weaver this winter, Horton said.

“They reached out to the mayor and said, ‘What is the most important to you in this near term?’ And her response was: ‘Putting young people to work in the water response,’ ” Horton said.

The Flint WaterWorks will put 16- to 24-year-old residents to work this summer distributing water, food and nutritional information to families with lead-tainted water pipelines. Job training is expected to begin in the coming weeks, Horton said.

“Our dream for this is it becomes a life-changer for them,” she said.

Weaver announced the WaterWorks program with Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, just two days before Michigan’s March 8 primary, which Clinton lost to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, a Flint native, donated $110,000 to two separate funds, one of which is helping low-income residents replace lead service lines and damaged appliances in private homes.

Flint City Administrator Sylvester Jones Jr. said Carr’s donation and other contributions from the community’s residents, businesses and foundations were encouraging news.

“It answers this question that I’ve heard a number of people say: ‘What is Flint doing to help Flint?’ ” Jones said.

Horton updated state and city officials on relief funds for the city during the weekly Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee meeting Friday at the University of Michigan-Flint.

The Flint Child Health and Development Fund has made two grants of $167,000 to expand a local summer meal program for low-income children and $96,000 for an in-home nursing program for new mothers, Horton said.

Contributions to the children’s fund have largely come through unsolicited online donations from individuals, businesses and family and corporate foundations.

“They have come in from around the world — even places like Afghanistan,” Horton said. “It’s just amazing to us.”

The fund has seen significant growth in recent weeks, rising from $5.9 million on May 8 to $6.7 million, Horton said.

Starting on May 11, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which has pledged $100 million to its hometown’s recovery, began matching up to $5 million in donations through the end of the year to the children’s fund.

As of May 8, there were a total of 14,964 individual donations, 86 percent of which came from online contributions through the website.

Approximately 6,420 of the donors were from Michigan and 237 were from Genesee County, Horton said.

Monetary donations have come from prison inmates, employees at businesses that hold workplace fundraisers and 10-year-old children in California who sacrificed birthday gifts in favor of donations to the Flint fund, Horton said.

“This has been the state, our country and the world’s response in terms of providing resources,” Horton said.

“We at the community foundation have yet to make one ask for any of this money.”

To meet the city’s long-term needs, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint will begin a more aggressive fundraising campaign, Horton said.

She said Hanna-Attisha and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley have personally sought donations.

Horton credits Calley for framing the fund’s mission.

“(Calley) calls this ‘Flint’s self-determination fund,’ recognizing that very soon the spotlight will be gone and we will be on our own,” Horton said.

“And we will need to have the necessary resources to really do critical things for these kids and their families.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood