WESTFIELD, NJ — For 23 years, Betsy B. Chance has served as executive director of the Westfield Foundation, established in 1975 by a group of civic-minded leading citizens  — H. Emerson Thomas, Frank Ketcham, Bob Mulreany and Donn Snyder, who each put in $500 to officially form the foundation.

The aim — then and now — centers on enhancing and supporting the quality of life in Westfield. The coffers grew substantially over the years with a mixture of modest contributions rolling in, augmented by extremely generous supporters such as Charles Anderson, who donated more than $1 million. More recently, some contributions have exceeded Anderson's initial largesse. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed $6,400,000 to various organizations. This quarter alone, $93,262 was allocated to multiple recipients, which are listed on the website at thewestfieldfoundation.com.

Betsy Chance explained the way the non-profit foundation operates.

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“We have a 15-member board of trustees that meets quarterly to determine the beneficiaries of funds. Each member serves a maximum of two three-year terms. That way we have an influx of new ideas, new backgrounds and new experiences. We don’t want to become stagnant,” she said. “The atmosphere at our meetings is always collegial. In fact, virtually everyone is sorry to leave us.”

At the helm of the Westfield Foundation is Janet Sarkos, president, who also serves as executive director of Caring Contact.

“Janet is a gem,” said Chance. “As current president, she is insightful, energetic and very thoughtful. Janet acts on what she believes and thinks things through.”

Sarkos returned the compliments.  

“Betsy is the heart and soul of the Westfield Foundation,” she said. “As trustees, we come and go but we’re only able to do that because we know that the organization rests of the able shoulders of Betsy. She understands and honors the history of the foundation while always keeping her sights set on the future, maintaining the stability and integrity that the organization has enjoyed for over 40 years."

Gail Cassidy, who served as president of the foundation from 1999 to 2005, agreed.

 “I thoroughly enjoyed my two terms as president," said the 45-year Westfield resident. “I believe there would be unanimity among trustees, especially all who’ve served as president, that Betsy is the brains behind and the success of the Westfield Foundation. She takes care of everything and makes all of us look good. It was a true pleasure working with her.”

Chance’s multifaceted background made her ripe for the challenges as foundation director. Born and raised in the Youngstown, Ohio area, Elizabeth Bruhn Chance graduated from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio in 1972. That’s where she met her husband, Terry. She went on to earn a Masters in Criminal Justice from Michigan State before the couple married. They remained in Ohio for about a year while she worked as a community liaison for the county sheriff until Terry accepted an offer back east from Compass Maritime Services in Teaneck, where is now a partner.

For a brief time they lived on Staten Island where Betsy Chance took a clerical job with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service that she described as “pure drudgery.” In 1975, they bid goodbye to Staten Island, choosing Westfield for their home. In 1980 they welcomes daughter, Sarah, followed two years later by Megan. During their early school years, their mom became a part time paralegal working from home for the local firm of McDonough, Corn and Eichorn.

Sarah and her husband, Colin, live in Scotch Pains with their son Liam, 5, and daughter Lainey, 18 months old. Sarah is a senior publicist for Crown Publishing while Megan's career went in an entirely different direction as a horse trainer and riding instructor in North Carolina where she and her husband, Ryan, live with their son Alex, 10.

When her children matured, Chance took on the responsibilities of the foundation, devoting four days per week with fluctuating hours depending on the workload.  She was constantly motivated by the wide spectrum of challenges, she said.

“I love the job because I do so many different things, from clerical to the issuance of scholarship checks and managing community grants,” she said. “You get to see everything. It’s very rewarding helping non-profits who operate on a shoestring. We have managed to give much needed support for community needs and we’re always looking for new projects, new programs and helping with capital needs in our community.”

For example, she said, “Say a furnace dies and you don't have that need in your budget. We step in for needs of that kind.”

The foundation's overall mission is to enhance and support quality of life issues for Westfield citizens in far-ranging ways. Support goes to organizations involved in the arts, health, aging, historic preservation, social services and civic projects.  

“The foundation can be viewed as a ‘savings account’ for the community,” Cassidy explained, “for building a charitable endowment that will exist into the future while still utilizing a portion of income from that endowment for current grants as seed money for capital needs not met within operating budgets, or for special projects which could not otherwise be funded.”

But where does the majority of that capital come from?

“Tom Phelan and his law partner Bill Peek, have been responsible for a lot of our funding,” Chance said. “When clients are seeking his counsel on estate planning, Tom says they often choose Westfield Foundation for a bequest. That’s where the bulk of our assets comes from.” Then the trustees determine how to allocate the funds.

Phelan shared his take on the topic along with his admiration for Chance.

“The Westfield Foundation is an amazing resource for the community,” he said. “It has the funds to respond to the needs of the community and to initiate projects of lasting value for the town. Betsy is a tireless advocate for the foundation. She not only does an amazing job of keeping the books, including differentiating the many, many funds held within the foundation, but she is also the fact of the foundation, representing it at meetings throughout the year, with organizations and individuals seeking information about the foundation and encouraging them to seek grants when appropriate.”

Sarkos summed up the non-profit foundation’s reliance on Chance: “Betsy is a rock.  As president, she makes my job very easy.”

To contact the Westfield Foundation, call 908-23-9787 or email foundation@westfieldnj.com.  The office is located in the train station on North Avenue.