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Nelson fund distributes extra $1 million when need is high

Twenty-three nonprofits throughout northeastern Wisconsin got a boost at a time it was most needed from an extra $1 million in grants awarded from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

The additional grants, recommended at a special virtual meeting of the fund’s Advisory Committee in March, were made possible by available grant money held in reserve for important projects that emerged during the year and unspent money from past grants.

Greg Lemke-Rochon, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of the Fox Valley says the $50,000 grant it received was badly needed. Kids are feeling isolated, unseen and unheard because of the COVID restrictions, he says, and abuse and neglect cases are going undetected because his staff and other caregivers aren’t seeing them in person.

“It’s a tremendous boost at a time of the most elevated concern for kids in our community we’ve seen. It makes us feel supported,” he says, financially and by a community that values what they do.

Fox Valley Literacy Council runs on an annual budget of $300,000, with the help of 200 volunteers, so it’s $10,000 grant was significant.

“I was a little shocked,” Executive Director Brian Leone Tracy says of the call informing him of the grant. The Nelson Fund has been “groundbreaking” in its first few years, he says. “It’s really cool to be a part of that.” The money will buy new technology to improve the services they provide immediately, Tracy says, “rather than have to plan and fundraise for 12 months.”

David and Rita Nelson died in 2017. They lived in De Pere. She was a teacher and he was the chief financial officer for the Post-Crescent in Appleton and the Green Bay Press-Gazette until the family newspapers were sold. He then invested in radio stations.

David and Rita Nelson

They left more than $100 million from their estate to their family fund at the Community Foundation. The gift was by far the largest ever received by the Community Foundation and one of the largest charitable gifts in the state’s history.

Included in the grants were accelerated payment of a $500,000 grant to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation for construction of a new Wisconsin History Museum in Madison and $34,000 to the Brown County Parks and Recreation Department to rebuild an observation platform at Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Suamico. These grants were approved  previously but will be paid out sooner than scheduled, creating the capacity to award more grant money in those years.

Others awarded grants were:

Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.

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