Dutton’s Work with Swanston Fund Left Brighter Future for Valley Kids

By Josh Medore

When he passed away in 1919, Canfield farmer William Swanston could never have known that his name would still be associated with projects serving the Mahoning Valley’s kids more than a century later.

But through the William Swanston Charitable Fund – and especially longtime board member Paul Dutton, who passed away in May – efforts to ensure all of the area’s kids have the opportunity to live full and healthy lives are well-supported.

The fund was created out of Swanston’s estate, who wished for his property to be used as an orphanage for children in Mahoning County. Without enough money in his estate to accomplish that work in the years following his death, it was invested and, by the time there were sufficient funds, the use of orphanages had fallen out of favor.

Instead, the Mahoning County Probate Court determined that the money in the William Swanston Charitable Fund should be used in more modern ways that align with Swanston’s original intent: helping children who have experienced abuse, neglect and/or dependency on people or systems other than their parents.

The Swanston Fund became a supporting organization of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley in 2010. Since joining, the fund has awarded nearly $4.3 million in grants, supporting major projects at places like Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley and Potential Development and smaller community-focused organizations like Shepherds of All God’s Children Learning Center and Down Syndrome Association of the Valley.

“It took a lot of negotiation and a lot of meetings to hammer out what we’d do, what the fund would ultimately do and how everything worked with the trustees’ vision,” says Patty Brozik, founding president of the Community Foundation and its leader when the Swanston Fund moved here. “When it came to the foundation, I think part of it is because our focus was more on ‘What is the reason we do what we do?’”

The push to be more focused and strategic in its grantmaking, she adds, was largely driven by Dutton. For years, the process for grantmaking was taking in applications, deciding which ones were best aligned with the fund’s mission and sending money out. Dutton wanted to see something bigger, something aimed at creating real and lasting change for the Valley’s kids.

“It pulled us forward at a period when it could have been so easy for this area to stagnate. Paul understood the way things had been done but he wasn’t just content to stay there. He always felt the drive to do something about it when things didn’t work,” Brozik says. “I can’t think of many people who were of that mindset as much as he was. How important was he to the Valley? So important. Very. There really isn’t any other way to say it.”

Dutton passed away May 7, 2023. Beyond his work with the William Swanston Charitable Fund, he was involved in a long list of community efforts. Among those were time as a trustee of the International Institute Funds at CFMV, chairman of both Akron Children’s Hospital and its foundation and as a Youngstown State University trustee, including a term as chairman.

“To say Paul loved the Mahoning Valley is an understatement. He was someone who always gave his all to making this community a better place for everyone,” says Shari Harrell, president of the Community Foundation. “His mind was always on ways the organization he was serving could better carry out its work and make a bigger impact.”

In his work with the Swanston Fund, Brozik says his impact went well beyond just making it a supporting organization of the Community Foundation. Dutton emphasized preserving the fund’s history, ensuring that new trustees would understand its origins and past to help inform and grow for the future. And he always kept an eye on the changing needs of those who the fund was meant to support.

When it came under the Community Foundation’s umbrella, the geographic area the Swanston Fund served was expanded to include Trumbull County – a move that took some politicking but one that has ultimately benefited the Valley as a whole. He also instituted term limits for board members, something that hadn’t previously existed, to ensure the fund’s long-term relevance.

“That was something truly transformative; I really can’t think of a better word,” Brozik says. “Everything in the world changes, except for a long time, philanthropy. There’s been a trend in recent decades to fix that, but there can be a tendency to set the mission and just stick to it, never changing anything. Paul was aware of what was happening and what he thought would be the best way for the Fund to live up to its mission.”

The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.’s “Better Block” program is one of the many initiatives and organizations supported by the William Swanston Charitable Fund.

Dutton’s term as chairman ended in 2017 and he left the board in 2020, wrapping up 36 years of service to the William Swanston Charitable Fund. In that time, the fund helped support the creation of the Healthy Community Partnership (HCP), the healthy community-focused Innovations Conference and did extraordinary work in bringing the local nonprofit community together.

“In my opinion, having that Fund for the community is everything. I always felt it was huge for him and huge for anyone that’s served on the board,” Brozik says. “Paul was a huge driver of [collaboration] and very interested in the outcomes. Beyond just the kids, we also saw a lot of growth in the nonprofit community from that. So while it’s a fund focused on children, it really built a greater unity in the community.”

That broad view of what the Swanston Fund can accomplish – while maintaining the focus on children – has carried through to current board chair Ernie Brown, who joined the board in 2017. A former reporter and editor for The Vindicator, Brown knew of the Swanston Fund’s work before he joined the board, but gained a fresh appreciation after he became part of the conversations that were being had at meetings.

“Anything that helps children, I’m absolutely on board. … Children need to know that they’re safe and that they’re cared for,” he says. “I saw how the monies impacted the lives of children. We want to provide better food for them to eat. We want to provide more activities for them. That’s why I was excited to support HCP when the opportunity came up. We can build a mindset that ties together recreation, food and so many interconnected things.”

Now in his third year as chairman, Brown’s focus is on ensuring that all kids in Mahoning and Trumbull counties have “an equal opportunity to be successful,” specifically through supporting efforts that provide access to healthy foods and give kids space to be active, an effort that aligns with the Healthy Community Partnership.

“After I’m long gone, I’d love to see the Swanston Fund helping kids get quality food and great exercise, without having to travel all over the world. It needs to be right there in the community,” Brown says. “The Swanston Fund has the ability to spend money – nearly $8 million – in perpetuity to make sure children are having their needs met and they have a chance to be successful. With that, we can help them and support them and make sure their needs are met.”

CREDIT: Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

Pictured at top: Paul Dutton.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.