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After years of treating Newark like a home, foundation makes it one

NEWARK — A Victoria Foundation grant to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra teaches 600 Newark elementary students how to play the violin. Funds given to Integrity train former prisoners to re-enter the job market. Money donated to Aspira prevents at-risk middle- and high-school students from dropping out of school.

For decades, the Victoria Foundation has championed Newark by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its schools, help its families and revitalize its neighborhoods.

Now, like the groups it supports, the independent foundation is calling Newark home.

The Victoria moved its offices from Glen Ridge to Newark last month, taking over the fifth floor of the Episcopal House, the stately Mulberry Street building owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. It will celebrate its new digs with an open house July 25.

Moving to Newark has been a goal of Irene Cooper-Basch since 2006, when she took over as executive officer of the foundation that was established in 1924 with a core mission to help those in need.

"We give $9 (million) to $10 million a year to Newark nonprofit groups. Newark is our primary priority," Cooper-Basch said.

The private foundation was established in 1924 by Hendon Chubb, part of the Chubb insurance family; he named it for his mother. Its focus on aiding Newark and its residents took shape in the 1960s.

"It’s an independent foundation, but it has a mom-and-pop feel," Cooper-Basch said, noting that six of its current 13 trustees are Chubbs by birth or marriage.

Last month, Percy Chubb III, a grandson of the founder and president of the trustees for three decades, stepped down from that position. Kevin Shanley replaces him, becoming the first non-Chubb in that role.

Both changes — the new headquarters and new leader — are equally significant, said Clement Price, the Rutgers-Newark historian. The Shanley family, like the Chubbs, have been dedicated to Newark for generations and active with many of its institutions, including the Newark Museum and St. Benedict’s Prep.

"There is no foundation that has as historic a reputation for caring about Newark than the Victoria," Price said. "In the late ’60s, Victoria and its board of trustees were helping to put Newark back together. Its moving into Newark will draw the attention of other entities in the philanthropic cosmos."

The foundation’s $196 million in assets generated enough interest last year to allow the foundation to grant $9.6 million in 172 awards. Money is given directly to public and charter schools, to community development corporations to help the unemployed and homeless, and to arts organizations to provide in-school, after-school and summer arts instruction.

A smaller portion, about 7 percent in 2011, supports environmental issues, including open-space preservation.

Its environmental focus is another reason the urban setting makes sense, Cooper-Basch said. The new office is close to mass transit, and it is within walking distance of most of the meetings attended by staff members.

"The move was symbolical, practical and mission-driven," she said. "Everyone is delighted with it."

The fact that it will save a little on expenses — thanks to reductions in rent and the reimbursement of the frequent mileage and parking in the city — is a "happy benefit," Cooper-Basch said.

"The first day in my office felt so appropriate. I thought, why did it take so long?" she said. "It felt like home."