Celina finds $100K in private donations a good problem but big headache

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DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Raising $100,000 for tornado victims is a good thing, but it left Celina with the problem of how to manage the funds. 

For rural cities and towns that experience a manager disaster for the first time, managing private cash is a challenge if there isn’t an existing charitable organization that can manage it locally.  

That was the concern for Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel. The longtime Celina mayor said he wasn’t surprised when individuals in Mercer County raised $100,000 in private funds to donate to victims of the EF-3 tornado that struck the city on Memorial Day.  He said the rural communities that dot West Central Ohio have always delivered when helping those in need or raising charitable funds.  

But it left the mayor with a unique problem. The city government could take the money but couldn’t disperse it.  

“Frankly, as the government, we can take cash all day long,” Hazel said. “But we can’t disperse it, at least at our level. It must be a private entity. With us, we are governed under different laws and there are so many restrictions on how things are done.”  

Celina’s solution was to find a local and private organization that could set up a board and create rules to disperse funds.  

Hazel approached the Celina Rotary Club, which was initially resistant. Deb Hemmelgarn’s term as the club’s president ends July 1, and the responsibility of handling $100,000 is daunting for any organization.  

“I was hesitant because the distribution of funds – who, when, how much, where do they go – it’s a lot to handle,” Hemmelgarn said. “I was hoping another organization would pick it up, especially since my presidency is over at the end of June and I didn’t want to leave this ball for someone else.” 

The organization setup a seven-member board that included a lawyer, people with insurance experience, the incoming Rotarian president, people from outside the group and church leaders. Keith Wenning – the Coldwater native and former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback – is also on the board. Wenning raised $20,000 himself in the days following the tornado.  

Lessons for other communities 

The Celina board is still detailing plans on dispersing funds, but for other communities in rural areas, the plan could become a possible model. 

“We are an hour from everyone,” Hemmelgarn said. “An hour from Lima, Dayton, Fort Wayne … We are in the middle of God’s country. I think wherever you are when people need help people come together.”  

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