In a way, The James Foundation started with a leap of faith.
“We found ourselves in a position where we have an abundance and because of our faith, we felt that we needed to do something to give back. And that’s how The James Foundation started,” says Vicki James, president of The James Foundation in Auburn.
That was in 2011, but the history behind the foundation goes back several decades when Vicki and her husband, Rick, started from the ground up and worked fervently to achieve tremendous success.
“I was born and raised in Auburn and graduated from Tri-State University, which, of course, is Trine University today,” says Rick. “I worked at the Auburn Foundry to help pay for my college tuition and then went to work there full time after graduating in 1977. I eventually became president of the company. In 1997, I left the foundry to form Metal Technologies, Inc.”
With a strong business vision and healthy work ethic, Rick and Vicki say they were blessed with a well-run operation. But they never forgot where they started. That success inspired them to form The James Foundation.
“The three pillars of the foundation are: faith, community and education,” says Rick. “All these things we’ve been blessed with materialistically in this world will never go with us past this life. We think a lot of people don’t realize that. So, we believe we need to be good stewards with what we’ve been given and put these assets to good use.”
The James Foundation is a private, broad-based foundation and has granted funding to numerous Auburn non-profits as well as many others in the region, including The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne, Junior Achievement of northeast Indiana, the Boys and Girls Club, PBS 39 and Trine University.
“We wanted to keep the funding in this area as a ‘thank you’ to people here,” says Vicki. “This is the community where our employees at Metal Technologies live and work. We appreciate all they’ve done to make our company successful and we hope we are helping to make their lives better by contributing to this community.”
The James’ not only distribute funding through the foundation, they are also notably generous with personal donations to projects at their church, First Methodist Church of Auburn, and to various revitalization projects in Auburn.
Rick is now technically retired from Metal Technologies, but still serves as Chairman of the Board. He and Vicki have a home here as well as one in Florida.
“We enjoy going down there, but we never go away for more than a few weeks at a time because I can’t stay away from the foundation and my grandbabies any longer than that,” says Vicki.
The James’ have three children and 12 grandchildren who range in age from 3 to 20.
“My siblings all live around here and so do Rick’s siblings as well as all of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews,” says Vicki. “We all live within 20 minutes of each other. Family is very important to us and that philosophy carries over to the foundation.”
“We’re hoping our grandchildren will be a part of the foundation,” says Rick. “Eventually, as the foundation grows, it will require a staff of people to handle the day-to-day operations, but our family will always have some kind of involvement. Our plan is to leave a big part of our estate to the foundation to create a legacy of giving.”
“And we hope that by doing what we’re doing, it shows our grandchildren what’s really important in life,” says Vicki. “They didn’t start from the bottom like Rick and I did and sometimes, when you don’t start from the bottom, you’re not as likely to give back. It’s very important to us that our grandchildren know that the world does not revolve around you, that not everybody lives like you and you’ve been blessed and you need to do something to give back – to give a hand-up to someone in need. Even if you only touch one person and change one life, you’ve accomplished something.”
Both Vicki and Rick emphasize the importance of giving a hand-up instead of a “hand-out.”
“When we give our support, we want to make sure we’re doing it to help somebody be successful versus just helping somebody to stay where they are,” says Rick.
With the foundation in its infancy, the James’ say there are bound to be changes to it as time goes by. Rick and Vicki consult with other community leaders who have established foundations to get their input and guidance to ensure the stability and longevity of The James Foundation.
“I think what’s really inspiring about Rick and Vicki is that they practice philanthropy not just by writing a check, but they give of their time to the community, which, in turn, encourages other people to do the same,” says Kendra Klink, director of The James Foundation.
“We believe it’s not what you give, it’s what you get back from giving,” says Rick. “You get back so much when you see somebody you helped to succeed. It makes us realize there’s a lot of need out there and there are a lot of things that we can help with. If not us, then who? We are blessed to be in this position.”
The James Foundation, Inc. believes that by serving as civic stewards, quality of life will be enriched acting as a catalyst to undertakings that strengthen both families and community. By enhancing existing social platforms and providing new educational and cultural opportunities, citizens will be empowered and inspired to initiate and cultivate positive change in all life experiences, nourishing vitality across the community.