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Killarney Foundation - Money that keeps on giving.

There's a magic pot of gold in this town - holding $3.5 million dollars - because no matter how much is given away, it just keeps getting bigger.

It's the Killarney Foundation, and it should never have succeeded. This is what the founder of the charitable foundation, Keith Heming, was told back in the late 1970's, when he first dreamed up the idea. Heming, who began practising law here in 1977, started thinking about creating such a foundation after he saw how many wills and estates that passed through his office included directions to bequeathe money to out-of-town charities.

"I thought, 'why can't this money stay in the community?'", said Heming, now retired from law, and living in Winnipeg. "Reports at that time told us that with less than a population of 50,000 people, it couldn't be done. Killarney had 2,500 people. I approached the two councils - the town and the R.M. - and I asked if they could each pay $200 to apply for Foundation Status. That $400 paid for the registration costs, the phone fees, and the incorporation of the company in 1979. I didn't charge anything for setting it up."

Only four foundations existed in the province of Manitoba at the time. One in Winnipeg, one in Brandon, and one in Minnedosa and in Boissevain. Heming didn't meet any local resistance to his plans, and said both councils were interested in the idea. But gathering funds thirty years ago was initially a tedious quest.

"It took a a year to set up," said Heming. "And it was very slow to start. People didn't understand the concept. It took five years to get to $20,000. The interest rate was 14 to 15 percent. The first grant to come from it was when we bought insulated containers for Meals on Wheels. We gave them $200 in grant money. The second one was for blankets for the Rescue Vehicle. Today we have $3.5 million in the fund. It's the largest foundation in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg. It's even bigger than the one in Brandon."

Support grew for the foundation, and Heming believes that every person living in Killarney today has been touched in some way by the money.

"In 1985 we received an estate of $165,000, and with the high interest rate at that time, we were able to make significant grants. That gave us a profile, and people started to see what this thing could do. We got support from the public who saw that we were doing the right things. We now have an organisation that has benefited every single person in Killarney. Each year thousands of dollars go to the library, the hospital, to senior citizens, and to kids. I don't think there is a single person who has not benefitted in some way."

2008 will be the foundation's 'banner year', said Heming, and a number of very high profile grants have alrready begun to stream into the community. Money was specifically 'set aside' for 2008, said Heming, for a few selected town projects, including the Shamrock Centre and a new specialty at the Killarney Hospital. On average, some $175,000 is disbursed each year through the foundation, but money can be held back for a year, to be distributed the following year.

In April they penned a $75,000 cheque to help with building costs for the New Facility (The Shamrock Centre), and another $75,000 will be added to that figure over the next three years ($25,000 per year in 2009, 2010, and 2011).

The entire cost for Killarney Hospital's new ultrasound equipment - $300,000 - will also be borne by the foundation. The Municipality of Killarney - Turtle Mountain will initially fund the project using their reserve fund, but the Killarney Foundation will repay the costs back to them over five years. The Assiniboine Regional Health Authority will be contributing to the approximately $65,000 yearly operational costs of the ultrasound centre, which is expected to serve some 12,000 patients from surrounding communities. It's slated to be up and running by the fall of 2009.

The foundation also distributes some $15,000 per year to local students through their scholarship grant program. Both general and specific financial awards have been handed over to youngsters for the past five or six years, said Heming. And there is the local daycare centre, the town's museum, cemeteries, and churches, just to mention just a few of the beneficiaries.

"There are 34 different funds that are part of the foundation," said Heming. "Anyone can add to a particular fund. What is surprising is that when a fund is started, it can end up paying out more than it's original value over time. It is a permanent fund where only the income (the interest earnings from the fund) is spent. The original money stay there forever - it simply adds to the pool."

Some people, including Heming, make annual contributions to the fund each year. Estate donations have run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, and have even been recorded as up to $400,000.

In 1999, Heming was formally recognized for his efforts, and awarded the prestigious Order of Canada for his voluntary work with the Killarney Foundation. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson pinned the medal on him during the official ceremony, and he still displays the photo on the wall of his office.

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