By Kelley Atherton

Triplicate staff writer

Representatives from the Ford Foundation visited Del Norte County last week to assess whether the Chamber of Commerce economic development initiative Action Del Norte would be a viable candidate for grant money.

Reaching out to a national philanthropic organization is new territory for the chamber, which has received small grants from the state and Humboldt Area Found-ation (HAF).

The chamber and HAF sent a proposal to the organization in July 2007. The foundation rec-eives 40,000 proposals a year and endows 2,000 grants totaling about $15 billion worldwide.

Chamber Executive Director Reweti Wiki will submit a concept plan outlining what any money from the foundation would be used for. The foundation's final decision will not be made until after October.

andquot;The thinking was that Action Del Norte is happening, we have local money on the table, but to also bring in more money to move things faster,andquot; Wiki said.

Wiki is optimistic about the prospects. The foundation accepted an invitation to visit Del Norte and requested that the chamber write up a final proposal.

andquot;This is a credible foundation saying that we have a need here,andquot; he said. andquot;They saw something that made them believe in Del Norte.andquot;

The Community Progress Initiative, the Wisconsin effort that Action Del Norte is based on, received about $250,000 a year for three years from the foundation. Wiki said that Ford works with communities for several years.

Ideas for how to use the grant include a study for tourism or other community-boosting initiatives, Wiki said. The foundation promotes social justice and philanthropy, the latter being something Del Norters are especially qualified to boast about, he said.

andquot;People around here know how to rally resources quickly,andquot; Wiki said about fundraising efforts, such as for Kids Town and the Del Norte High School choirs.

The foundation is not unfamiliar with the North Coast, he said. Ford has endowed grants to the Yurok Tribe and organizations in Humboldt County.

The chamber devised a comprehensive tour of the county, including the Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, Community Wellness Center, Alexandre Ecodairy Farms, the Mill Creek Acquisition and meetings with local community leaders.

Wiki believes the two foundation representatives, Linetta Gilbert, a senior program officer for community development, and Jeffrey Campbell, a senior program officer for environment and development, were impressed with local success stories. He explained that the tour was about showing the good and bad of Del Norte, which demonstrates that there are challenges, but the community has the desire to overcome them.

The foundation, Wiki said, touts collaborative efforts as a means to solving problems, which is something local leaders have been doing.

andquot;I think they were blown away by our level of collaboration,andquot; he said.

Kevin Hartwick, a local certified public accountant and board member for HAF, said the Ford representatives and local people discussed the community's collaboration with HAF in getting Action Del Norte and the Wild Rivers Foundation started. HAF was essentially the liaison between the chamber and Ford, by inviting the foundation to visit the area. The fact that the invitation was accepted is a reason for optimism, Hartwick said.

andquot;They don't do that unless they really believe in it,andquot; Hartwick said. andquot;This is a big feather in the cap of the community.andquot;

An important element of receiving a grant from the foundation is the networking opportunities. Throughout the tour, Gilbert and Campbell were throwing out suggestions for people to brainstorm ideas with.

andquot;You should talk to this person or bear this in mind,andquot; Wiki said, citing examples of their recommendations. andquot;That's the fire to think about different things.andquot;

The foundation could be the andquot;vehicleandquot; that pulls Action Del Norte together, Wiki said.

Reach Kelley Atherton at