By Charles Kocher

Pilot staff writer

Private philanthropy has a very positive and influential role in society, says Susan Berresford, a philosophy she will be sharing Saturday in a special fundraising dinner for the Wild Rivers Community Foundation.

Berresford should know her topic. She has been president of The Ford Foundation - with $12 billion in assets, the second largest foundation in the nation - since 1996, and will retire in January after 38 years with the grantmaking organization.

In an interview with the Curry Coastal Pilot, Berresford said she plans to share some of The Ford Foundation's experience with helping community foundations in her remarks on Saturday.

andquot;The Ford Foundation has worked with rural community foundations in many different parts of the country,andquot; Berresford said. andquot;There are many experiences that hold promise ? a variety of ways that rural communities can organize themselves.andquot;

She said she wants to help those at the Wild Rivers dinner to think about some andquot;very creative ideas.andquot; However, she warns, andquot;you can't pick up something from someplace else and drop it into a community.

andquot;Part of it is helping people feel empowered to make good decisions,andquot; Berresford said.

Created with gifts from Edsel and Henry Ford, it seeks to be andquot;a resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide.andquot;

The Wild Rivers Community Foundation serves Curry and Del Norte counties, in partnership with the Humboldt Area Foundation in Eureka. The Wild Rivers Community Foundation seeks andquot;to inspire people and communities by facilitating dialogue and encouraging charitable giving to support the region now and forever.andquot;

Berresford said it is the andquot;ideas and the courageandquot; that she has seen in individuals that she finds most compelling about her work.

The Ford Foundation, for example, made the first grants to an African bank for a micro-credit program, which later won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Another has been helping community foundations network and learn from each other, spreading the work of philanthropy.

andquot;Government has all kinds of responsibilities it should see to,andquot; explained Berresford. andquot;What philanthropy can do is be Randamp;D - research and development - for society. It can fund new ideas before they're ready for government acceptance.andquot;

She pointed to a lifelong savings model being tried with grants funds that has worked so well that it has been introduced in Congress for a government program.

andquot;Ideas take some time to explore and develop, she said. It's a very complimentary relationship.andquot;

Berresford spoke to the Pilot by phone from her vacation home in Trinidad, Calif., where she hopes to spend more time after retirement. andquot;The area has become a part of my life,andquot; she said.

The $250-a-plate dinner is set for 5 p.m. at Howonquet Hall on Highway 101 in Smith River, across from the Lucky 7 Casino. The event will include a social hour and a silent auction of several items, including a three-day vacation package at Sunriver.

For information or reservations, call (707) 218-6262.

Board members of the Wild Rivers Community Foundation include Gary Blatnick, Dan Brattain, Dr. Kevin Caldwell, Daryn Farmer, William Follett, Kevin Hartwick, Dr. Thomas Martinelli, Kara Miller, Russ Montgomery, Lee Musser, Frank Petersen, Peter Tardiff, Michele Thomas, Bev Westbrook, Doris Whalen and Becky Wood.