The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation has awarded $150,000 in grants for 13 parks and recreation improvement projects across Mercer County.
The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation is a private foundation administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation.
For Alex Johnson, the annual fireworks display over Lake Matherville this past July felt more celebratory than ever. The village of Matherville, in northeast Mercer County, had wrapped up a variety of improvements to the lake area just in time for thousands of spectators to gather for the holiday—a project Johnson had spearheaded as one of the town’s trustees.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to promote our town and benefit people?’” Johnson, who is also assistant principal of Sherrard High School, said in a Monday release from Quad Cities Community Foundation. “The lake is one of our unique features, something a lot of communities our size don’t have. We wanted to make it more accessible for everyone to use.”
The improvements—including an upgraded beachside walking surface, new seating and signage, and land and tree maintenance—are designed to enhance the lake as a place for residents to exercise or recreate and as a destination for visitors from farther afield, who will patronize local businesses and deepen their appreciation for the village’s small-town way of life.
The project was made possible in part by an $18,000 grant from the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation, administered by the QC Community Foundation.
Generosity of two sisters
Dedicated exclusively to supporting charitable causes in Mercer County, the Looser-Flake Foundation was established by the estates of Dorothy Looser-Flake and Roberta Looser, sisters who were born and raised on a family farm near New Boston, Ill.
“It’s our privilege to help uphold the legacy of two people who were passionate about their community and committed to ensuring its vitality beyond their lifetimes,” said Kelly Thompson, the Community Foundation’s vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives. “The Looser-Flake Foundation’s championing of good work all across Mercer County—from parks and recreation to mental health and education—has been generous, strategic, and nothing short of transformational.”
The “Enjoy Lake Matherville Project” was just one of 13 Mercer County parks and recreation initiatives funded by the Looser-Flake Foundation this year. Altogether, Looser-Flake granted $150,000 to the projects—the same amount it made available for village parks and recreation grants in 2018.
Both years, the villages applied for the grants through a unique collaborative process coordinated by the community and economic development nonprofit Mercer County Better Together (MCBT).
“The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation and Mercer County Better Together share the same collaborative vision,” said Kyle McEwen, MCBT’s executive director. “It’s one thing to say you have a participatory process—it’s another to have an actual driver putting that financial incentive behind it, which is exactly what the Looser-Flake Foundation does.”
McEwen coordinated a streamlined grant application process for Johnson and the other project leaders, most of whom were volunteers. He also convened them for collaborative conversations where they could share questions, insights, and even equipment
Together, the villages decided on each project’s grant funding request and a match dollar amount drawn from pooled resources. They even agreed to take less funding per project so that all 13 projects could be realized.
“What a great demonstration of the fact that we have shared priorities and interests and an ability to work with one another,” said McEwen.
Johnson appreciates that Matherville’s Looser-Flake Foundation grant allowed it to complete so much work on the lake all at once. “Instead of taking baby steps, we’re in a place where people can come out and see a finished product,” he said.
“That fills everybody with a sense of pride, and what we have now is something people are interested in continuing to grow. That wouldn’t have been possible without the Looser-Flake Foundation.”
“A lot of our small towns see the health of their community in their parks and recreation facilities, so if things look good and people are using them, that does a lot for morale,” said McEwen, adding that parks are centers of community activity where multiple generations come together for a variety of purposes.
A focus on such valuable community resources is central to MCBT’s asset-based approach. “Instead of looking at it through the lens of deficit—‘What don’t we have?’—we ask, ‘What do we have? What makes us unique? What can we leverage to be better?’” McEwen said. “While it’s easy for people to see the dollar amount of what the Looser-Flake Foundation has invested into Mercer County, the deeper, longer-lasting impact is the power that those investments then leverage.”
The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation made grants to the following Mercer County parks and recreation projects:
- City of Aledo, Jaycee Park Rehabilitation—$9,000
- City of Keithsburg, Keithsburg Kayak Project—$15,000
- City of New Boston, Shotwell Park Relocation—$11,500
- Eliza Township, Concession Stand Repair/Rebuild—$7,500
- Mercer County Ag Society, Concrete Roadway Project—$10,000
- Mercer County Family YMCA, New Recreation Equipment—$10,450
- Village of Joy, Village Park Project—$7,800
- Village of Matherville, Enjoy Matherville Lake Project—$18,000
- Village of New Windsor, Baseball Field Upgrades—$12,500
- Village of North Henderson, New Playground Structure—$17,500
- Village of Seaton, Seaton Park Beautification—$7,750
- Village of Sherrard, Sherrard Park Project Phase II—$14,500
- Village of Viola, Miles Park Equipment Project—$8,500