Carolyn West, left, and Frances Chaney talk about using their lottery winnings to create foundations to provide financial support for organizations that help children and families. - Bob Pennell

Giving back

JACKSONVILLE — Powerball winners Steve and Carolyn West and Frances Chaney are giving away portions of their multi-million-dollar prize to benefit local children and other worthy causes.

Both the West Family Foundation and the Robert & Frances Chaney Family Foundation seek to support nonprofit organizations that serve poor children and families in Southern Oregon.

"We'd been in some of those situations ourselves before the lottery," Carolyn West said, recalling financial struggles after her husband lost his job and their oldest daughter, Erin, was diagnosed with diabetes.

"We just want to give back," she said. "We don't expect anything in return."

The Wests won a $340 million prize together with Chaney and her husband, Robert, who died less than a year after accepting his winnings in November 2005. Frances Chaney, who bought the winning ticket, is Carolyn West's mother. They took a one-time lump sum payment of $164.4 million and divided it among nine family members.

The Wests disclosed plans to establish a charitable foundation almost immediately after winning the jackpot in October 2005. Their West Family Foundation opened its doors in April with $10 million in seed money. The foundation likely will disperse $250,000 in its first open grant process, which starts Friday.

The Wests lived in a modest west Medford home before Powerball granted them financial independence. Carolyn West, 49, worked for Laidlaw Transit Co. and Steve West, also 49, was a self-employed landscaper.

The Wests, who now live in rural Central Point, already have donated to North and South Medford high schools' pay-to-play programs and weightlifting rooms, said Carolyn West. But their philanthropy is expanding to include social service groups, said Carrie Hanson, executive director for both foundations.

"The list of things we're not interested in funding is pretty small right now," Hanson said.

The foundations together are disbursing about $300,000 to 11 local organizations following applications submitted earlier this year at the families' invitation, Hanson said. Grants were awarded to: ACCESS Inc., Be One for Kids, Children's Advocacy Center, Community Works' Dunn House, Food & Friends, The Gleaning Network, Kids Unlimited, Rogue Valley Family YMCA, The Salvation Army, SMART and Southern Oregon University Foundation.

Future awards will be based on how the families' investments fare, Carolyn West said. However, neither family has been prone to extravagant displays of wealth Frances Chaney bought the winning Powerball ticket at Ray's Food Place in Jacksonville.

"We just still try to keep the simple life," Carolyn West said.

"We've not joined the country club," Chaney said.

"I still look for bargains," she added.

The Wests and Chaney each bought a house within about a mile of each other and a few new vehicles. Both families have traveled a bit, the Wests to Italy and Switzerland with their two daughters and Chaney on trips with her other four children. A more sobering trip last Christmas took the family to Hawaii following Robert Chaney's death last Oct. 2 at the age of 73.

He died at Rogue Valley Medical Center from a brain injury he suffered after he fell and hit his head. Frances Chaney said her husband had suffered lingering weakness after he broke his pelvis in 2004, and then badly burned one of his feet. He had diabetes and a history of heart problems, she said.

In honor of Robert Chaney's military service during the Korean War, the Chaneys' foundation also will support veterans' causes along with public safety and faith-based organizations, Frances Chaney said. However, the foundation is not accepting grant proposals at this time because funding efforts will be focused in Missouri's Barry County, where the Chaneys lived before moving to Jacksonville, and areas surrounding Robert Chaney's hometown in Cabell County, West Virginia.

Grant applications for both foundations can be found online after June 1, Hanson said. The deadline to apply for West Family Foundation fall awards is Aug. 31. No grants will be given to individuals.

For more information or to apply, visit the Web sites and, or call Hanson at 899-9976.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

Share This Story