top of page
  • Mason Levinson


Updated: Apr 29

New organization awards $50,000 in grants in its first year

Susan and Fred Profeta update The Maplewood Foundation’s fund thermometer, October 2023. The Profetas kickstarted the foundation with a $500,000 donation. Photo credit: Jin S. Lee.

As the remnants of Hurricane Ida ripped through Maplewood and South Orange on Sept. 1, 2021, claiming the life of a local resident and endangering many others in some of the worst flooding the towns had ever seen, the South Orange Rescue Squad had a relatively quiet evening.

“There was nothing any of us could do,” says Victor Rothstein, the squad’s chief. “We were just sitting here in our building. We only had three calls the entire night.”

With most residents huddled at home to avoid the weather, there wasn’t a great need for ambulance service, the squad’s everyday focus. So while local fire departments were overwhelmed responding to alarms and area police fought to rescue several people from high waters that night, Rothstein’s team – unequipped and untrained for water rescue – mostly stayed at their Sloan Street station, comforting residents who came to the building after their homes flooded.

South Orange Rescue Squad Chief Victor Rothstein (left) and Melanie Troncone, EMT, model the squad’s new dry suits. Photo credit: Mason Levinson.

“That’s really the amount of what we could have offered the town,” said Rothstein, whose squad also serves Maplewood and other surrounding towns. “We want to be able to do more.”

The squad and six other local nonprofits will now be able to “do more,” thanks to The Maplewood Foundation, a philanthropic community investment fund whose stated mission is to improve the quality of life of all Maplewood residents. The foundation just completed its first year of operation, surpassing its initial goal of $1.1 million after raising more than $71,000 during its sold-out “Celebrate Maplewood” event at The Woodland. The organization is the result of the vision of a former Maplewood mayor, the dedication of a diverse group of almost 20 volunteer trustees, and the generous donations – large and small – of many local residents.

Reaching the goal enabled the foundation to award $50,000 in grants, including $8,000 to the South Orange Rescue Squad to help fund new water rescue equipment. Five other established 501(c)(3) organizations also received “program grants.” A newer nonprofit, Together We Bloom, received a “seed grant” to help it get off the ground quickly. There are more than 250 registered 501(c)(3)s serving the two towns, according to the foundation’s research.

The former mayor who pursued the idea of the foundation is Fred Profeta, 84, a nearly lifelong Maplewood resident who spent nine years on the Maplewood Township Committee from 2003-2011, including four as mayor. Profeta, president of the foundation’s board of trustees, and his wife, Susan, also a trustee, donated $500,000 to kickstart the organization.

Profeta’s interest in starting such a philanthropy dates back to his time in local government, when he realized that the nonprofits who sought money from the Township Committee were run by dedicated, driven people for whom charity was a labor of love, he says.

“That was a good argument for why you might want to give money to this or that nonprofit, but it didn’t answer the question of continuity and stability of that source of income,” he says. “After a while, it became pretty obvious that the only way you could do it was through a foundation where you would get private money and invest it, which, of course, governments can’t do with taxpayer money in the same fashion a foundation can.”

Beloved Bath candles at Perch Home in Maplewood Village. Grant recipient Beloved Bath improves the lives of adults with autism and related disabilities through the develop- ment of employment and social skills. Photo credit: Mason Levinson.

And so, Profeta turned to a model long employed by community foundations in nearby towns. The idea is that the foundation manages a fund, like an endowment, in which donations are invested and, ideally, the fund grows in value over time through rising financial markets and new donations. It then awards a predetermined amount of the fund’s overall value as annual grants. Hence The Maplewood Foundation’s motto: Let Your Love Grow.

The foundation has pledged five percent of its holdings each year as grants, which for 2023 equaled $50,000. However, other nearby town funds illustrate what compounding donations and revenue could look like in a few decades.

The Summit Foundation, which was founded in 1972, had $17.8 million in assets after awarding 37 grants worth $705,155 to end 2022, according to its 990 filing. The Westfield Foundation, founded in 1977, gave away $928,408 in grants to end 2021 with $24.1 million in assets, according to its most recently available 990 filing.

“It’s maximizing the power of the money you have,” Profeta says. “You get a steady and increasing source of money for this segment of the community that provides so much and adds so much to our quality of life.”

To make The Maplewood Foundation a reality, in mid-2022 Profeta reached out to the most talented, nonprofit-minded Maplewoodians he knew, forming a 12-person board that was diverse in expertise, race, gender, and – as much as possible in such a uniformly progressive town – political orientation. He then had those trustees suggest others who would be valuable members of the board, which now stands at 18 people.

“A pleasant outcome that I didn’t necessarily anticipate was the commitment of the trustees to this thing,” Profeta says. “They didn’t have to be driven. They drove themselves, and they all bring their own talents to this.”

Five trustees, including Susan Profeta, are on the foundation’s Grants Committee, which reviewed 15 grant applications seeking more than $200,000 in total. The committee eventually narrowed the list to seven inaugural recipients.

“We were looking for diversity in our applications, but most of all we were looking for organizations that met our areas of focus and that had really good ideas for programming,” says Becky Scheer, who chairs the grants committee. “We wanted to make it a really inclusive and equity-based foundation where everybody had the ability to apply.”

The South Orange Rescue Squad, which began building its water rescue capabilities last July with the purchase of two used Zodiac boats, spent some of the $8,000 it received even before having cash in hand. Rothstein took advantage of a Black Friday sale to purchase $1,000 dry suits for half price. He’s also buying helmets, specialized vests, footwear, and other accessories to complete the uniforms. When fully outfitted and trained, the water rescue team will be able to serve both towns and neighboring communities.

“Now that The Maplewood Foundation has thrown its support into what we’re doing, other foundations might not be as hesitant to put in money,” Rothstein says. “The grant essentially legitimizes the effort.”

A clear response to the changing climate, the rescue squad’s initiative points to the value of a community foundation that can access its nest egg to address the needs of a particular moment in time. It also serves as a tangible example of what many nonprofits contend with, and one reason most are desperate for funding, said Rothstein.

“I’m sure all the charities that received a grant can attest that charities need to adapt to changing times,” Rothstein says. “Otherwise, they don’t remain relevant.”

There are five other nonprofits that received a 2023 Maplewood Foundation program grant:

Beloved Bath received $5,000 to improve the lives of adults with autism and related disabilities through the development of employment and social skills that empower them to lead the most fulfilling and independent lives possible.

  • Family Connections received $10,000 to support Pride+, a program for LGBTQIA+ middle and high school aged youth and their families throughout Essex County.

  • Maplewood Village Alliance received $10,000 to help beautify Baker Square, an expanded gathering spot at the corner of Maplewood Avenue and Baker Street.

  • South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race received $7,000 to develop and deliver anti-bias and anti-racism training and resources for residents, local organizations, businesses, and community leaders.

  • South Mountain YMCA received $5,000 to develop the Environmental Education Pilot at Seth Boyden School, providing after-school experiences that teach children about how their daily lives impact the environment.

  • Seed grant recipient Together We Bloom, founded in August 2022 to empower young children with disabilities and their families, received $5,000 for its disability justice, equity, and belonging initiatives.

The neurodivergent and disabled community includes hundreds of Maplewood and South Orange families, yet there remains stigma attached to being classified, even in a community deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, said Kimberly Takacs, Together We Bloom founder and executive director. Jessica Mingus, the nonprofit’s board president and a mother of a neurodivergent child, agreed.

“What The Maplewood Foundation did for us in giving us a seed grant, it really is a message to the community and also to other foundations that this organization is legitimate,” says Mingus. “To be surrounded by hundreds of people at The Woodland and see the energy and passion about making our community better, and then to hear the words neurodivergence and disability spoken multiple times, that’s never happened anywhere. It means so much to so many people to have that affirmation.”

Members of The Maplewood Foundation Board of Trustees gather at the inaugural “Celebrate Maplewood” event. From left to right: Jade Dean; Rick Greenberg; Carol Fardin; Kieonna Hill; Frank McGehee; Beth Daugherty; Susan Profeta; Veda Truesdale; Fred Profeta; Rosemary Ostmann; Becky Scheer; Christie Huus; and Aaron Ryan. Photo credit: The Maplewood Foundation.

The Maplewood Foundation’s trustees held a January retreat, during which they discussed goals for 2024; they will soon share them with the community. Profeta says that he expects to raise at least hundreds of thousands of dollars for the town he’s called home since he was two years old.

“It does give people an opportunity to leave a legacy,” he says. “For Susan and me, we feel we have that notion in our blood, too.”

Mason Levinson, a two-decade reporter at Bloomberg News, is director of content at Maplewood-based PR firm RoseComm. His wife, RosemaryOstmann, is communications chair of The Maplewood Foundation.


bottom of page