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Great expectations 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way for Walton giving to make history.

click to enlarge WHAT GIFTS BUILD
  • WHAT GIFTS BUILD

At this time last year, the Walton Family Foundation, Arkansas's richest and most generous, ranked 42nd nationally in asset size, with $1.3 billion.

Today, the foundation could be second in worth only to Bill and Melinda Gates' $33 billion foundation, depending on how much of Helen Walton's estate has been transferred to it.

Walton, the widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, was the 11th richest woman in the United States when she died in April. She had already made known her intention to leave her estate to charity. If her estate has been distributed and a sum approaching the $16 billion in Wal-Mart stock she held has gone into the family foundation, its assets should exceed those of No. 2 Ford Foundation, $12.2 billion at last report. Because foundations must give roughly 5 percent of assets yearly, the impact could be astounding.

The foundation declined an interview, so we can only speculate what the infusion into the family foundation could mean for causes in Arkansas. In 2006, the family foundation (to be distinguished from the Walton Family Charitable Trust Foundation) gave more than $56 million to Arkansas non-profits, including $35.3 million to three universities for the Walton International Scholarship Program.

The foundation's major thrust has been K-12 education, and in 2006 it gave $92.2 million to charter school, merit pay, voucher and other school initiatives across the country.

Total giving for 2006 was $189 million, and also included $50 million to special programs (including the Walton Scholarships and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund), $21 million to entities in Northwest Arkansas (including $10 million to Crystal Bridges Museum, founded by Helen and Sam Walton's daughter, Alice) and $4 million to programs to breathe life into the economy of the Delta in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Public schools

A trend in giving in Arkansas is gifts and grants to public school districts. Some of that money is for merit pay — the Walton Family Foundation pledged $2 million earlier this year toward a merit pay program in the Rogers School District — but not all of it.

The Care Foundation in Springdale, the third largest grant-making foundation in Arkansas with $144 million in assets, has made $30 million in grants since 2000, more than half of which has gone to public school education in Northwest Arkansas. An operating foundation of the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundation created in 1998 with hospital conversion funds, Care initially did open grant-making, but after a couple of years, executive director Suzanne Ward said, “The board said this is all good, but we'd like to take a couple of issues and dig in.” Applications are now invited.

Grants have gone to public schools for pre-K education, fitness centers, nutrition curricula, programs to help transition from middle to high school to encourage a higher graduation rate and school-based health clinics. Care gave out $2 million in one year alone to ACES (Arkansas Consortium for Employment Success) pre-school programs in Decatur, Gravette and Springdale, and has provided more than $1 million for school-based mental health clinics in elementary schools in Springdale, Bentonville, Decatur, Gravette and Siloam Springs.

Thanks to Care, kids at middle schools in Springdale and Bentonville have access to mountain bikes and stationary bikes and climbing walls, kids in Eureka Springs are learning how to eat well and even cook and an International baccalaureate program is going into elementary and middle schools in Springdale and Bentonville.

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