Feeding the roots that make a community strong
By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – It’s a gargantuan number – $150 million in grants given, real dollars put into community assets, over 30 years.
Though quite the achievement, Dennis Buehler, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation (GGBCF), said the organization doesn’t plan on getting too hung up on it.
Buehler said the recently-achieved milestone is just a marker on the way to GGBCF fulfilling its mission: “To inspire and encourage charitable giving in Northeast Wisconsin by connecting caring people with solutions to strengthen our community.”
“This is where I grew up,” Buehler, the foundation’s fourth president, said. “To come back and do this work, and to have an effect on the streets I grew up on, is really personal and important. Many of the staff here also, and this is what community foundations are all about, are people in the community, impacting the places where we live.”
He said the GGBCF got its start in the early 1990s with assets of around $1 million, and was able to award about $57,000 worth of grants in its first year.
To get a sense of how far GGBCF has come since it began, Buehler said in 2017, GGBCF’s assets stood at $100 million, allowing for around $7 million in grant-making.
Over the past year alone, $17.7 million in grants were distributed by GGBCF to nonprofit organizations in the community.
Buehler said unlike a private foundation, which is typically run like a business and driven by unique interests, community foundations are different in the sense that they are here by and for the communities they serve.
“(We) evolve by contributions made by the community,” he said. “As we work with donors to try to facilitate their particular charitable interests. It’s really in response to what they see as being important. It’s not my personal views or a board’s, it’s about really responding to the community.”
The LIFE Study
Buehler said input from the community and creating an understanding of what the unique needs of Brown County look like, is vital to what GGBCF does.
One of the key ways the foundation is able to garner that information is through a LIFE (Leading Indicators For Excellence) Study, which he said is designed to give a periodic assessment on quality of life in a community and measure its progress over time.
“It’s a data survey of our community, really studying and trying to understand a diverse cross-section of individuals,” Buehler, who has been leading GGBCF for the last five years, said. “Certainly, we’ve continued to look at how healthy lifestyles and education are affecting people’s ability to secure long-term employment and stability in their lives. Most recently, we’ve been very focused on the issue of homelessness and how mental health and addiction are affecting people’s ability to have long-term, stable housing.”
The study looks to gather information on what’s important to Brown County residents and where they think challenges lie.
Buehler said the 2021 LIFE Study, the third conducted for Brown County since 2011, also illustrates how the community is a rapidly growing and changing community, one which becomes more diverse each year.
He said a highlight of the study is a need for greater support of the arts and culture community in Brown County.
“I spent most of my career in art and culture, a variety of leadership roles producing theater, involvement in arts centers, and I led a few ballet companies for many years,” Buehler said. “All of it was deeply invested in this idea that the arts can really bring diverse communities together, to celebrate what’s positive about that diversity.”
A new space
For 30 years, the GGBCF has often done its work quietly and very much behind the scenes.
In the interest of becoming a more visible component in the community, and more importantly, in the interest of providing a collaborative place where ideas can be discussed, Buehler said GGBCF is making a move from its current location on Broadway to the old train station building on South Washington Street.
“We’ll be moving in this June, and it’s really going to be a space where we put a flag in the ground in downtown Green Bay,” he said. “It’s going to be a space for forward thinking, where we can really talk about the issues. It will certainly function as our office but we see it as a community asset. It will be a real think tank for issues, solutions and different perspectives.”
More information on the foundation can be found at ggbcf.org.
To learn more about the LIFE Study, go to greatergreenbaycommunityhub.org.