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Joe Steele—A Cornerstone of the NCCF

Photo of Joe Steel
NCCF board member Donna McCurdy recently met to interview long-time Nelson County Community Fund member Joe Steele. Joe is a founding member of the Community Fund and has actively supported the organization for almost 20 years.

Joe’s business career as a sales executive includes more than 40 years with Western Union and 5 years with AT & T in New Jersey. Since moving to Virginia, Joe has been involved in working with several additional non-profit organizations including Wintergreen Music as a board member. Joe also worked with Wintergreen Fire and Rescue Squad, first as a driver and board member. He continues to assist with its mail solicitations to the community.

Joe is also very proud of his work refurbishing computers out of his home to supply Nelson students and their families who otherwise would not have the means to purchase equipment. This computer donation program is operated in Lovingston through MACAA, Monticello Area Community Action Agency. Joe has just delivered his 170th computer system. If you have computer hardware you no longer use, contact Joe at 434-361-1597 to support this ongoing worthwhile project!
What attracted you to Nelson County?

Why did you and your wife decide to relocate here from New Jersey?
After a long career in business, Ilse and I were looking for a community in which to retire. We had made several trips to Virginia to visit our close friends, John and Ila Porter, and fell in love with the beauty of the mountains and countryside in Nelson County. We bought property in Stoney Creek and then built and moved into our current home.

How did you become involved with the Nelson County Community Fund?
In 1999, members of the Board of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, which was formerly known as the SAW Foundation, met with a few residents in Nelson County, including me, to begin talking about creating a community fund specifically dedicated to tackling the many challenges confronting the people of Nelson County and the agencies providing services to them. And due to the generosity of a few key donors, including Gordon Smythe, myself, and several others, seed money was provided to initiate the fund. Other major participants in the early years, including Dr. Ed Stemmler, Dr. Andrew Hodson and his wife, Patricia, as well as Barbara and Hank Gibb, to name just a few, embraced the idea of keeping local money local to help with the many needs right here in our county. And the Nelson County Community Fund was off and running.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Nelson County residents now and in the future?
Poverty is clearly a continuing issue within our county, as is substance abuse. Programs to help our neighbors who need it most is an important function of the Community Fund, whether it be to help with health care availability through Blue Ridge Medical, or to supply emergency funds to pay the electric or heating bill through MACAA. Georgia’s Healing House is an important newer organization, designed to assist those Nelson residents recovering from substance abuse. The importance of continuing to support education is also of utmost importance, including college scholarships to Nelson County High School seniors, often to those who are the first in their families to attend college.

What are you most proud of in terms of the support the Nelson County Community Fund has been able to provide organizations that help Nelson residents?
I am proud of the message we have been able to spread to the residents of Nelson and the funds we have been able to raise from the generosity of so many in Nelson. The fund has operated with very low overhead, thanks to the work of its all-volunteer leadership, so that more than 98% of the funds raised are distributed to the many charitable organizations NCCF has been able to support over the years.

What would you say to encourage others to volunteer as you have done for so long in Nelson County?
It’s so important to think about your neighbors and what you can do personally to improve the quality of life for the residents of Nelson County.

A Fireside Chat with Dr. Andrew Hodson

For a decade, Andrew and Patricia Hodson annually sponsored the biggest party in Nelson County at their charming winery at the foot of Afton Mountain. Hosting the Nelson County Community Fund’s Opportunity Ball fundraiser “was a way to give back to the community,” said the retired pediatric neurologist and founder of Veritas Vineyard and Winery ( In fact, it was Hodson who coined the mission statement, “an opportunity to care and share” that appears below NCCF’s logo.

Dr. Hodson sat down recently in the Veritas tasting room with Nelson County Advisory Committee member Sue Klett to answer questions about NCCF’s early days, and the challenge of continuing to address the humanitarian needs of Nelson County residents.

NCCF: You served on the Nelson County Advisory Committee for 15 years. What drew you to the committee and NCCF’s mission?

Hodson: Ed Stemmler (Dr. Stemmler, Nelson County resident and former Dean of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania) invited me to join the committee. Back then it was called the Nelson County Advocacy Committee, a name no one could remember. The NCAC used to be part of a 501(c)(3) called the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Foundation (now the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge). At the time, the NCAC had an annual budget of $20,000. Yet Wintergreen had held a ball and raised $60,000 to help care for animals. I was appalled that NCAC had such a small amount to work with in helping those in need in the community. That’s when the idea for the (NCCF) Opportunity Ball came in. Patricia and I had moved from Jacksonville, FL, and bought Saddleback Farm, which at the time was a cow farm. Patricia and I set up the vineyard and a winery from scratch. We thought we could use a formal ball as a way to give back to the community. So we started hosting the Opportunity Ball. People loved the chance to get all dressed up and dance for good cause. We continued the tradition of the ball when the NCAC moved under the auspices of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

NCCF: What do you see as some of the greatest challenges facing Nelson County residents now and in the future?

Hodson: Lack of jobs, economic status, family structure. The opioid crisis has been a problem. I also serve on the board of the Blue Ridge Medical Center and we have worked with our physicians to cut back opioid prescriptions by 50 percent. Ohio has cut its addiction problem in half. How did they do it? By expanding Medicaid. Virginia is getting ready to do the same thing (expand Medicaid), and the BRMC is ready to address the addiction problem more broadly.

NCCF: Conversely, what are some of the challenges with fundraising, and especially, finding new donors?

Hodson: Donor fatigue is an issue. Also, grant-giving becomes mechanical and we become uninvolved—maybe too removed—from the community in need. I was inspired by the way Jennifer McCrae (Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University) approaches fundraising. She never asks people for money. Instead, she talks about the work that is being done, and the people and the causes that are being helped by this work. It’s about getting donors to expand their philanthropy beyond the checks they write.

NCCF: What could NCCF do more of or do differently to better serve the community? 

Hodson: Get more involved in the community it serves. You mentioned holding a fund-raiser to serve soup in the community*—I think that’s a good idea. Just giving out money without effecting real change is futile.

NCCF: Thank you for the 15 years you spent on the NCAC, and the tremendous support you and Patricia gave toward filling the NCCF’s grant-making coffers.

Hodson: I worked with some wonderful people on the NCAC. It was my way to give back.

*Watch the NCCF website for more information about our new “Empty Bowls, Full Stomachs” fund-raising event coming in the spring of 2019.

Barbara Gibb: A “Professional Volunteer” Devoted to Nelson County

Photo of Barbara Gibb

A former public affairs professional, Barbara Gibb has been a go-getter all her life. She channeled her talents and energy in retirement to help the NCCF get on its feet and broaden its impact on Nelson County residents in need.

Another longtime member of the Nelson County Community Fund (NCCF), and former co-chair of the Nelson County Advisory Committee (NCAC), Barbara Gibb first had an active career in public affairs. This included jobs with both the First Federal Savings and Loan in Chicago and the New York Stock Exchange.  After moving with her family to Northern Virginia, she worked in public affairs for Youth for Understanding, a foreign exchange student non-profit organization, and at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Barbara spoke recently with NCAC member and former co-chair, Jane Francis, about her experiences as a dedicated volunteer in Nelson County.

What attracted you to Nelson County?  Why did you decide to live here?

Like many D.C. area residents, we discovered Wintergreen as skiers, and we later built a house on the mountain as a family getaway on weekends.  My husband, Hank, and I retired and moved to Wintergreen fulltime in 1995. Hank started a property management company, and I embraced a new career as a full-time volunteer. My first experience as a volunteer was as a docent for Oak Ridge Estate, the historic home of Thomas Fortune Ryan in Arrington.  That’s where I was introduced to Nelson County history and met people from around the county. Nelson County is the happiest place I have ever lived.

In 1989, I stumbled upon the Coleman House in Stoney Creek.  A home of an old Nelson County family, the house was originally built in 1850.  It burned in 1900 and was rebuilt.  We met a member of the Coleman family and got more involved in Nelson County history.  Then Hank and I moved into the Coleman House in 2001.

How did you become involved with the Nelson County Advisory Committee?

I’m not exactly sure.  The Nelson County Advisory Committee got started in 1999. Ed Stemmler, a retired physician and a resident of Wintergreen, was one of the founders of the committee, along with Joe Steele (who still serves on the NCAC). Ed knew Andrew Hodson (founder of Veritas Vineyard and Winery) from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.  I remember that Ed asked Andrew and me to co-chair the advisory committee in about 2002.

I served with Andrew as a co-chair of NCAC until stepping down in 2014.  Over this period, NCCF grew tremendously, eventually awarding $100,000 annually in grants to numerous organizations serving Nelson County.

How did the Nelson County Advocacy Committee and NCCF function in the early days?

The NCAC would raise about $20,000 a year from annual appeals. The committee soon found that amount was inadequate to meet the humanitarian needs of the county. Andrew decided that we needed an event to raise more money for residents in Nelson County.  Thus, the Opportunity Ball began in 2004 and was hosted by and held at Veritas Winery for ten events.

What were some of the challenges you faced on the NCAC?

The greatest challenge was never having enough money to meet all the needs.  The revenue raised at the Opportunity Balls helped a great deal to extend the ability of the NCAC to award grants to more organizations for more money.  The downside of the Opportunity Balls was that it created incredible burn-out.  After someone had chaired the event, she was pretty much done!  The event demanded so much time and effort, even though the results really were amazing.

What are some of the successes?

The committee worked hard to improve the grants process.  We started doing site visits as part of the process of awarding grants.  Committee members either individually or in pairs would select organizations which had applied for funding and schedule a time to go and meet with staff, discuss the grant application, and tour the facility or office.  This was so valuable! Our enthusiasm would grow as we were exposed to the needs of the many worthy nonprofit organizations in Nelson County. Seeing what these needs were first hand really made us motivated to help in any way we could.

Margaret Morton, who also served on the committee, was very influential.  Margaret worked for many years as the outreach coordinator for Monticello Area Community Action Agency and was very familiar with the needs of families in Nelson County. George Krieger, another member of the committee who is the executive director of the Nelson County Community Development Foundation, was very helpful.  Through George, we were able to visit homes in dire conditions.  Funds from the grants were used to install indoor plumbing and handicapped ramps so that the elderly and disabled residents could remain in their homes.

I also am proud of helping to start the county’s first dental clinic.  The needs of young and old in the county for dental care were extreme and being unmet. Barbara and other NCAC members, including Joe Steele, identified a dentist, who had retired to Wintergreen, to help in the planning.  With NCCF grants, they established a mobile unit on the grounds of RVCC to house the dental clinic.  The dental clinic fell on hard times when the practicing dentist developed back problems and could no longer work, and no other dentists could be found to take on the clinic. Obtaining insurance also was a major hindrance.  Eventually, a dental clinic was established at Blue Ridge Medical Center, which operates it currently.

What would you say to encourage others to volunteer as you have done for so long in the Nelson community?

I love Nelson County and the Nelson County Community Fund.  It was a joy for me to work with people to do good for Nelson County.  I want NCCF to succeed!  I am so glad the NCAC has new and valuable members, as well as important sustaining ones. It is a very good organization. I love all that is happening and will happen in the future.

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