The Waupaca Area Community Foundation started two decades ago with an idea Jack Rhodes brought with him from Ohio after he retired and moved to Waupaca. He had served for many years on a foundation board. He was talking to Dr. Roy Holly and wondered why Waupaca didn’t have one. They agreed it was a great idea, so they met with the city administrator, had a meeting with interested citizens, and the groundwork was started in 2003 to form the Waupaca Area Community Foundation. The first official monies came from a Waupaca High School student group who placed their hard-earned money in the new foundation. The Waupaca Area Community Foundation never looked back.
Over the last 20 years, many events have driven us to where we are today. In 2005, we had our first community grant distributions. I remember, as we sat at the board meeting to award grants, the foundation had almost 20 requests of up to $2,500 but only $3,500 total to distribute. Three board members generously added $500 each so we had $5,000 to distribute. Most grants were about $500 that year, some were only $250 — a far cry from what is happening now.
After that first year of grant making, we knew we needed an annual fundraiser. In 2006, we started our now annual Gala in addition to our year-end appeal. Lengthy discussions determined the amount we should ask people to invest, ranging from $75 a person to $1,000 a person. We settled on $1,000 and waited to see the results. We had 42 people attend in the first year and raised $38,000! This event is now attended by more than 100 people and raises between $75,000 and $100,000 annually. We lowered the suggested investment to between $250 to $500 for a person to attend. We also have reserved tables of eight available for $10,000, which has proved popular. It’s a great night to dress up and celebrate the good things being done in our community and enjoy great entertainment.
Even with the funds raised from the Gala, all of us on the board knew that to survive and flourish we had to become well known so people knew they could work with us to place their money for endowments and family funds. The board has done a great job promoting the benefits of being a fund holder and/or donor to our community. We now have 57 funds and about $8 million invested in our community’s future.
As the Waupaca Area Community Foundation evolved and the number of grant applications increased, a Grant Committee was formed. We developed guidelines for grants and established areas of focus, including supporting organizations that include arts and culture, community development, education, environment and health and human services. Generally, projects are awarded locally in Waupaca, Weyauwega-Fremont, Iola-Scandinavia, Ogdensburg, Manawa and King.
There are so many people to thank for our success from the board members giving their time to our wonderful community that supports us so willingly. It was this group that enabled us to award $522,257 in grants and receive $814,559 in contributions this past year and reach our $8 million foundation value.
During our most recent grant cycle, we provided $118,425 in funding to 19 area nonprofit organizations. This year’s supported causes include early childhood, mental health, historic preservation, trails and more.
Here is a look at the grants the foundation awarded:
- The Arts Hub: $7,095 to expand the makerspace with additional equipment
- Bethany Home: $7,500 to update patient records systems
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Wisconsin: $6,000 to support mentoring opportunities for three Waupaca youth
CAP Services: $7,500 to provide mental health education and support and assist individuals in accessing mental health care
- Child Care Resource and Referral: $7,500 to host the Play is the Way! event for childcare providers and families
- City of Waupaca Parks and Recreation Department: $7,500 to rebuild Waupaca Middle School tennis courts for tennis and pickleball
- Community Clothes Closet: $7,500 to bring free clothing to Waupaca families in need through bimonthly distribution events
- Foundations For Living: $7,500 to support the new Middleton Home women’s transitional living program
- Fox Valley Memory Project: $5,000 to expand access to dementia support programs for families in Waupaca
- Friends of Hartman Creek Cooperating Association: $6,230 to complete the Hartman Lake Dike Trail
- Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes: $5,000 to support scholarships and supplies to increase accessibility of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience
- Impact Wisconsin: $7,500 to open a monitored sober living home for men
- Rawhide: $7,500 to support staffing for their job training program
- Trees For Tomorrow: $4,000 to supplement course fees for Waupaca County students to participate in a three-day environmental education experience.
- Village of Iola: $6,500 to establish a community dog park
- Waupaca Area Public Library: $3,750 to bring New York Times-bestselling author Angeline Boulley to Waupaca for presentations
- Waupaca Historical Society: $4,850 to preserve 200 donated copies of the Waupaca County Post and the Picture Post for future generations
- Weyauwega Arts Organization: $2,500 to sponsor the 13th year of the Weyauwega International Film Festival
The grants listed above plus the continued growth of the foundation’s value is a testament to the generous people of the Waupaca area who have embraced the Waupaca Area Community Foundation’s vision.
Tim Neuville is a board member of the Waupaca Area Community Foundation.
The Waupaca Area Community Foundation is one of five geographic affiliates we partner with in the Fox Valley. Our other partners include Brillion Area Family of Funds, Chilton Area Community Foundation, Clintonville Area Foundation and the Shawano Area Community Foundation.