chapter-3About The Foundation

Our Mission

The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster just and sustainable communities in the United States—communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.

For five generations, since 1917, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.

Our History

The Surdna Foundation was founded in 1917 by John Emory Andrus to pursue a range of philanthropic purposes. John Andrus was born in 1841 in Pleasantville, New York, graduated from Wesleyan University and soon moved from teaching school to pursuing his talents as a an investor and a businessman. His primary business, the Arlington Chemical Company, manufactured and distributed typical medicines of the day, and his business interests included large land holdings as far away as Alaska.

Please note, there is no sound with this video. Learn more about the history of the Andrus family and the start of the Surdna Foundation in this video »

The son of a Methodist minister, Mr. Andrus was a lay leader of the Methodist Church. In his 60s, he was elected mayor of Yonkers, New York, and then served four terms in the U.S. Congress. A devoted family man, he founded the Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial in 1923, an orphanage that was a tribute to his beloved wife, an orphan herself, at the site of her adoptive family’s farm in Westchester County New York. The orphanage was later joined in 1953 by an adjacent retirement home, the John E. Andrus Memorial. This completed Andrus’ expressed wish that his legacy provide communities with “opportunity for youth and rest for old age.”

Family stewardship of the Foundation has been informed by Mr. Andrus’ values: thrift, practicality, modesty, loyalty, excellence, and an appreciation for direct service to those in need. In 1989, the third and fourth generations of the Andrus family established Surdna Foundation programs in environment and community revitalization and decided to enlarge the professional staff to broaden the Foundation’s effectiveness, and in 1994, programs in effective citizenry and the arts were added. Today, the foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States—communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.

Just and Sustainable Communities.

A just and sustainable community is a place with a high quality of life that makes it a desirable place to live, work, and play. It's a place that offers a balance of productive activity and leisure, consumption and conservation, individualism and community. Sustaining that quality of life demands a healthy environment, strong local economies, and a vibrant cultural life, all enriching and reinforcing one another.

At the Surdna Foundation, we actively find ways to enhance our work by forging cohesion across the Foundation's grantmaking efforts. We seek emerging opportunities, reserving some resources in order to make an immediate impact with our giving when warranted.

We emphasize social justice in our work, recognizing the structural and systemic barriers experienced within our communities and are devoted to finding solutions that dismantle them. The importance of young people, organizing, and leadership development in addressing these barriers are lessons we carry forward from previous work at the Foundation.

What We Fund

The Surdna Foundation fosters just and sustainable communities by making grants in the United States in the areas of:

We partner with local and national organizations to ensure they have the staff, know-how and leadership capabilities to succeed in creating meaningful change against some of our nation’s most pressing issues.