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Bright Idea Fund grants meet changing needs in the Fox Valley

Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra remains committed to making music, including their virtual “Stay at Home Concert Series” and socially distant versions of their educational programs, such as “In Harmony” pictured here.

By Carolyn Desrosiers, Community Engagement Manager, 
Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region

During this difficult and uncertain time, it’s important to find things that motivate and inspire us. As a community engagement manager at the Community Foundation, one of the things that motivates me is the creativity and resiliency of our nonprofit partners.

On an almost daily basis I hear of yet another way one of our dedicated local nonprofits is pivoting to meet the changing needs of our community amidst a myriad of challenges. I can assure you that there is no shortage of passion and creativity in our local nonprofit sector.

The Need

Unfortunately, the challenges faced are widespread and likely long-term. These include operational interruption, earned revenue and fundraising event losses, reduced volunteer participation due to safety concerns, and added costs such as personal protective equipment.

A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on the nonprofit sector conducted by the Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management at the University of Milwaukee, in partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies at the University of Wisconsin, showed that 53% of Northeast Wisconsin nonprofits had reduced staff and 80% reduced volunteers.  In addition, 3 out of 4 nonprofits reported they were somewhat or greatly concerned they would be unable to address the needs of their vulnerable/hard-to-reach clients.

The Waupaca Community Arts Board has rallied the Waupaca community to create hundreds of Kindness Flags, which will be assembled, weatherized, and on display from Aug. 9-15, in Downtown Waupaca.

Taking all of this into account, we at the Community Foundation felt called to pivot our Bright Idea Fund grants strategy to areas where we can make a broad impact, and also areas we feel have been neglected or have had fewer opportunities for other funding, but which play a critical role in our regional quality of life.

We’re excited to announce that 44 local arts and culture, environment, and racial and ethnic support organizations received proactive grants totaling $114,000 from the Bright Idea Fund as our 2020 fiscal year came to a close on June 30.

Why these organizations?

Our community has responded very generously to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which, since March, has awarded 87 grants totaling $916,400 primarily to nonprofit organizations providing urgent basic needs support. This funding has been crucial to maintaining the region’s social safety net. Yet, we know things like listening to virtual concerts or taking a walk in the woods feed our souls and give us hope, which are also crucial. In addition, our nation is facing urgent issues of equity and racial justice and now is the time to do our part and get engaged.

Recipients of these grants responded with relief, gratitude and pride:

“As I sit at my desk now and pour over the budget, it is a great comfort to know our community partners have faith in our mission and value what we do in the community.” — Jamie Lafreniere, director of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra

“Wow!  Thank you so much!  Feels like some weight shifted off my shoulders in reading your email.  Thank you for all your help and what all the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley is doing to help so many organizations.” — Tim Ewing, naturalist for Navarino Nature Center, upon receiving email notification of the grant award.

“We greatly appreciate your support and Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region’s recognition of African Heritage Inc.’s work in the Fox Cities.” — Sabrina Robins, board member of African Heritage Inc.

African Heritage Inc. is an all-volunteer led nonprofit based in Appleton that has been hard at work organizing a series of virtual support sessions called We Got You: I Can’t Breathe, focused on the mental well-being of Black youth; a very successful virtual Juneteenth program, and is working on a virtual event for Building Black Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship.

The Hmong American Partnership, a recent Bright Idea Fund grantee, has coordinated two distribution events of culturally-relevant foods for Hmong individuals and families in need.

Here is a list of each of the organizations that received a grant. We invite you to consider making your own gift to these organizations and other nonprofits that are personally meaningful to you.

Arts, Culture & Environment Relief Grants  
To demonstrate our commitment to these organizations, we proactively awarded small-medium sized unrestricted relief grants to select organizations based on their size, impact, relevance and whether they receive significant governmental support:

Appleton Boychoir, Inc.
Attic Chamber Theatre
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
Brillion Nature Study Center Association
Community Music & Arts Collaborative
Fallen Timbers (CESA Foundation Inc.)
FC Environmental Learning Campus/Bubolz Nature Preserve
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra Association
Friends of Grignon Mansion
Friends of Hearthstone, Inc.
Friends of Mosquito Hill Inc.
Friends of the 1,000 Island Nature Center
Friends of the Chilton Area Performing Arts
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve
Lawrence Academy of Music
Ledgeview Nature Center
Makaroff Youth Ballet
Navarino Nature Center
Neenah Historical Society
Outagamie County Historical Society
Paper Discovery Center
Shawano County Arts Council
The Building for Kids
The Trout Museum of Art, Inc.
Waupaca Community Arts Board
Weyauwega Arts Organization

Racial and Ethnic Support Grants  
Data gathered since the outset of COVID-19 in the U.S. reveals significant health disparities for racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, our nation is facing urgent issues of equity and racial justice. Small proactive grants were awarded to organizations engaged in racial and ethnic support, advocacy, and leadership work in the Fox Valley region to address needs related to coronavirus and/or advancing equity locally:

African Heritage, Inc.
Casa Hispana
Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities
Diverse & Resilient
Fox Valley Literacy
Hmong American Partnership
IndUS of Fox Valley
Umoja Inc., a Black Heritage Experience
United Hmong American Association (UHAA)
World Relief Fox Valley

Want to help bright ideas burn even brighter? Learn how to get involved as a donor, or learn how to apply for a Bright Idea grant as a nonprofit organization. Check out our current Bright Idea Fund results from 2019 – 2020!

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