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The current economy has posed a major challenge for all Petaluma nonprofits. That's why agencies such as the Petaluma Community Foundation are ramping up efforts to support these organizations, which provide vital services to residents in need.

Founded in 1975, the Petaluma Community Foundation is governed by a 15-member board of trustees, all local residents and leaders, who together with executive director, Marilyn Segal, raise monies to support the collaborative network of nonprofit programs that are dedicated to improving the lives of youth, families and seniors in Petaluma.

Through an annual grant program that includes site visits, community needs are identified and the foundation mobilizes to ensure that grant funds go where it's needed. The Petaluma Community Foundation is a single community resource that provides a way for one donation to go where they are needed in the community. The foundation works in partnership with local nonprofits to identify problems, and the community contributes time and resources to fund the grant program.

"People do want to do charitable giving, but often they don't know how best to do it," said Segal. "Businesses and individuals appreciate that we've done the work and they can rely on our judgement that the money will go to where it's needed. It's nice for donors and businesses to be able to trust us. There's value in knowing that your donations are being carefully spread throughout the community. It's a win-win."

This year, local businesses contributed a total of $50,000 in corporate partnerships. Reif Enterprises, Portola Systems and Petaluma Health Care District are its principal, senior and junior corporate partners, respectively.

For decades, the foundation has operated under the radar, but with nonprofits needing increased financial support, the foundation wants to make itself more visible and raise support.

"Programs such as Committee on the Shelterless are experiencing loss of redevelopment funds," said Segal. "They are one of many nonprofits that are doing everything right and the programs it has are so successful that it would be tragic if they had to cut back on services. That's why we hope to grow the foundation so we can expand our resources to support the network of nonprofits that serve this entire community. These are really hard times for nonprofits and they are all facing challenges that will continue into the years to come."

In 2011, the Petaluma Community Foundation awarded a total of $135,700 in grants to 10 local nonprofit organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties, Committee on the Shelterless, Giant Steps, Hope Counseling Services, Mentor Me Petaluma, NAMI, Petaluma Bounty, Petaluma Educational Foundation, PEP Housing (recipient of the Daymon Doss Award) and Petaluma People Services Center.

The Petaluma Community Foundation is hosting its fourth annual Community Celebration at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel. The evening includes dinner, music and dancing, as well as honors the Petaluma nonprofit community and acknowledges the generous spirit of community members and local businesses.

The celebration has been re-named the annual Denny Murray Grant Awards and Community Celebration in honor of the foundation trustee, John D. "Denny" Murray who died Feb. 3, 2012. Murray and his business partner and close friend, Dion Reif, were principal supporters of past foundation celebrations. Reif has established the Denny Murray Memorial Fund with an initial gift of $10,000 and a 10-year commitment to help build the memorial fund as a tribute to Murray's strong belief that the foundation has a valuable role in providing broad-based support the Petaluma nonprofit community.

"It's very appropriate that we're honoring Denny," said Segal. "He was an extraordinary man who was so warm and compassionate. His presence infused a lot of what we did."

The foundation's contributing partners include Calpine, Fishman Supply Company, Petaluma Valley Hospital, St. Joseph Health System and Summit State Bank.

The Foundation has a diverse list of Supporting Corporate Partners, including Argus Courier, Bank of Marin, Exchange Bank, Golden Living Centers, Henris Roofing Company, Jerry & Don's Yager Pump & Well Service, McNeil Benefits Insurance Services, Minuteman Press, Sonoma Homecare, Vaca Landscape and Whole Foods Market.

Net proceeds and 100 percent of the ticket sales from the Denny Murray Grant Awards and Community Celebration goes to fund the foundation's 2012 nonprofit grantees — yet to be announced. The public is welcome to attend.

For more information, tickets and reservations, call the foundation at 773-3863 or visit www.petalumacf.org.

(Contact Yovanna Bie berich at yovanna.bieber ich@arguscourier.com)