NEW CANAAN — Tom McLane attended the Little Red Schoolhouse while growing up in New Canaan.

Open from 1868 to 1957, the one-room schoolhouse was run for 47 students by schoolmistress Mary J. Kelley for the entirety of its life, serving students in grades one through five.

Years later, McLane went on to become one of the founding board members of the New Canaan Community Foundation. Among other things, the foundation helped preserve the Little Red Schoolhouse, which was acquired by the New Canaan Historical Society in 2003.

“I think it’s terrific,” McLane said.

The longtime New Canaan resident, in addition to being a founding board member of the Community Foundation, served as president of the board until 1984.

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For information or to give to the New Canaan Community Foundation, visit newcanaancf.org.

“It’s prospered and grown tremendously,” the 85-year-old said. “Many things they do so well.”

The Community Foundation was created in 1977 after residents saw a need to pool together local resources and help those interested in giving back. Since its founding, the organization has served as a charitable partner and offers a range of philanthropic and educational services, working with donors to help them achieve their giving goals. The foundation vets local organizations, works with families on giving plans and serves as a resource for local nonprofits.

“We have a good catchphrase our old board head used to say,” said Lauren Patterson, foundation president and CEO. “We intend to be the hub of local philanthropy.”

Over the past 40 years, the foundation has given to local nonprofits in a range of areas, including youth programs, human services, elderly and special needs, health care and arts and culture. When it began, it gave its first grants to the New Canaan Inn, Waveny Care Center, the Town Players of New Canaan and the New Canaan Nature Center. In 1987, its grants topped $100,000 and it distributed $1 million in grants in 2013.

The foundation also awards over $100,000 worth of scholarships to students, many from the Sapienza Scholarship Fund established in 2007.

Community projects are another beneficiary of the group, with money going toward an outdoor stage for the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, a new arch for Mead Park and a playground for Kiwanis Park, among others. The foundation provides seed money to local organizations, such as Staying Put in New Canaan, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding local seniors. Most recently, it awarded a $100,000 grant to build a new YMCA Cafe/Common.

“I think people are giving through us for different reasons,” Patterson said. “People want a local source of advice. They live here for a reason. Other people want to make a change, and we help with that.”

Also notable among the Community Foundation’s history is its merger with United Way in 2009 and the establishment of the Young Philanthropists Program that teaches students to evaluate potential grant recipients.

“That’s been great because it enabled us to broaden our grants,” said Julianne Grace, who served as the foundation’s president from 2008 to 2009. Grace established the student-oriented program and the joining with United Way.

“I got involved early in the 2000s because (the Community Foundation) covers so much of New Canaan,” Grace said. “It really appealed to me.

“A lot of organizations in New Canaan need support,” she said. “They come not just for money, but for advice. It’s a resource of not only funds, but information. It’s a fulcrum. All points come to it.”

The Community Foundation’s role is becoming increasingly important, particularly in light of the state’s budget situation where many nonprofits are seeing cuts in aid, said Jay Twombly, member of the board of directors.

“We’re seeing a lot of not-for-profits in social services getting cut back,” he said.

“I think there’s more need than there has been in the past,” Twombly said. “Fairfield County has gotten more expensive to live in.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata