A Letter from the Executive Director and Board Chair
What a trip!
Similar to a journey we’d been dreaming about for years, one that was carefully mapped out with months of planning, we were focused on our destination. We welcomed 2022 with our sights set on an aggressive fundraising goal that, if achieved, would propel our grantmaking efforts to the next level. The first leg was smooth, and most weeks, we traveled farther than expected. However, less than halfway through the year, an F3 tornado struck Gaylord, and in a matter of moments, our course was drastically altered. Instead of conversations about a vibrant tomorrow, we were consumed with making sure members of our community had the very basic needs to survive today.
We are excited to share with you the Otsego Community Foundation adventures of 2022 that truly resemble a road trip complete with:
- Breathtaking scenic views of extreme generosity and true community spirit.
- Occasional road bumps and potholes causing minor delays and, at times, roadside assistance.
- Hidden gems, including special moments, unique partnerships, and behind-the-scenes efforts that made us eager to continue with faith that another would be up ahead. Click on the green icons throughout the report to discover these gems.
- Challenging detours that tested us as individuals and as a group. With patience, thoughtful discussion, guiding policies and procedures, and help from friends and complete strangers, we summed up the courage to take the road less traveled.
Through it all, we were reminded that “The Way Forward,” even with the best plans in place, is full of unexpected twists and turns, yet we made it. We invite you to relive this incredible journey fueled by your generosity.
The Way Forward
A Campaign to Activate Pathways of Generosity for a Strong Community
At the end of 2021, we set an audacious goal for the Otsego Community Foundation in 2022—raise $2.5 M for the Funds for the Community through the Way Forward Campaign. Reaching this goal would almost double our grantmaking abilities. Why take such a big leap? Because we couldn’t sit back and wait to see what would happen; we were called to action. COVID-19 stretched our organization in ways that were unimaginable before the global pandemic. Our experience with the pandemic also exposed the importance of having flexible funds that can address the specific needs of Otsego County. We knew our community needed us to take this leap.
Over 80 donors were part of this behind-the-scenes effort and helped us achieve our goal. Gifts came in different forms, multi-year pledges, stocks, and legacy gifts and ranged from $25 to the biggest gift in OCF history of $750,000. Some donors who had Donor Advised Funds with the OCF converted them into a Fund for the Community. An anonymous donor surprised us with an unsolicited $50,000 gift. At Extreevaganza, 40 people raised their paddles for $100 each, putting pledges over the finish line.
As pledges are completed over the next few years, the annual grant budget from these flexible funds will triple, allowing for the OCF to invest in projects and programs ranging in amounts and purpose from those that sprinkle love, spread hope, and touch lives to those that create partnerships, build bridges and change systems.
The OCF Receives an Awesome Gift!
When Elaine Nowicki saw something good, she immediately acknowledged it and celebrated it, often with her signature battle cry, “AWWWesome!” A cheerleader through and through, Elaine encouraged and supported her husband, daughter, and grandchildren in everything they pursued, never seeking the spotlight for herself. She became such a fixture at her grandsons’ sporting events that people still miss hearing her in the stands. Brandie Meisner said her mom “encouraged the good in every moment.”
After Elaine’s death in 2018, her husband, Mark, wanted to celebrate her life in a meaningful way. He established the Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund at the OCF in her honor. In 2022, he made the ultimate investment in the community, converting the fund from a Donor Advised Fund to a Fund for the Community. He also made an awesome $750,000 contribution, the largest in OCF history. His gift reflects how important honoring Elaine’s legacy is to the Nowicki family. Through this fund, Elaine’s cheerleading spirit lives on, creating grant-making opportunities that will support local nonprofits for generations to come.
The irony, according to Brandie, is that her mom would not want the attention. Instead, Elaine wanted the glory to go to the people and community she loved. The Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund celebrates her in a way she deserves. As Brandie says, “We think she’s pretty awesome.”
“I don’t live here, but I love this place…want to help the people of Otsego County, and the OCF is my partner in doing just that.”
“My sense of the community is mine. It’s a narrow vision. They see the whole picture and can see where the needs are.”
Bob Wilson donated to The Community Fund because he wants his “dollar to go where it needs to be.” Bob is committed to strengthening his beloved community as a City Council member, OCF Board member, OCF Grant Committee member, former United Way Board Member, and longtime Otsego County resident. “This is home. I feel comfortable here. I feel blessed to live here.” Giving back is important to Bob because “I grew up in that person’s shoes. I know what it was like.”
In 2012, Steve Qua, a native of Cleveland with deep Otsego County roots, joined the OCF investment committee, a group of volunteers dedicated to fulfilling oversight responsibilities over investment management. During his nine years on the committee, he was an instrumental member in helping to enhance the investment policy statement and always asking thoughtful, complex questions, keeping the fund managers on their toes. Steve never missed a meeting—calling in during the winter months from Florida and attending in person in the summer. He faithfully served until his passing at age 89 in September of 2021. This was the first death of a committee member, and it hit hard. Steve was like a grandfather to Dana, offering advice and encouragement. His passing was a reminder of the Community Foundation’s special role in connecting people who care to the causes that matter.
In April of 2022, the OCF was notified by his estate planning attorney that Steve had remembered the OCF and part of his legacy would establish the Stephen M. Qua Fund for the Community.
Bob Courtois, recently retired as CFO of Munson Healthcare Otsego Memorial Hospital, former OCF board member, and current chair of the OCF investment committee, came in like a dear friend after the loss of a loved one, not asking if we needed help but rolled up his sleeves. He reminded us he had signed the confidentiality policy and understood internal controls and went to work opening mail, making copies and lending a hand in any way he could. Bob spent countless hours helping our team when we needed it most.
Bishop Walsh delivered a gift raised by 75 parishes within the Diocese of Gaylord that took up a special collection for the Tornado Response Fund totaling over $170,000. While the storm was so destructive, the aftermath continues to remind us of the positive power of unity. We are grateful for each and every gift and the sum of all. Together we can do more for the community we love, thank you Diocese of Gaylord for partnering with the OCF!
It started with a phone call from Patrick Heraghty, Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. “How are you doing? We are thinking of you and your team and can’t imagine how you are handling the workload. We are sending a grant of $ 1,000 for your operations, which are going above and beyond.” From there, checks from several other Community Foundations and heartfelt notes with similar messages came in the mail. With all our energy focused on tornado recovery, we had little time to devote to the rest of our work. We didn’t know how we would handle it, but we believed everything would work itself out. Work itself out it did, as Charlevoix County Community Foundation graciously shared its Annual Report template so that energy could stay focused on the task at hand rather than reviewing the year before. What goes around comes around, and as we poured our heart and soul into our community, others fueled us. The intensity started weighing on our team in June, and doubt crept in. A phone call from Bonnie Gettys, President/CEO of the Barry Community Foundation, helped shift our mindset. “Our board has been following your hard work and leadership efforts, and today, we voted to award you a grant of $25,000 for your operations.” This put the pep back in our step and filled our eyes with tears. A moment none of us will ever forget.
Our partners in tornado recovery.
The response to the tornado in Gaylord was overwhelming, stretching from Hawaii to Alaska, from Mexico to Michigan, and almost everywhere in between! Explore the map and see where the Tornado Response Fund donations originated.
Funds For the Community
Making Otsego County Stronger, Healthier, and More Vibrant
Arnie and Pat Morse Fund
Bensinger Family Fund
Betty and Paul Hartmann Family Fund
Dale and Marlene Smith Family Fund
Dr. Patrick J. McNamara Fund
Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund
Forreider Family Fund
Gall Family Fund
Kris and Joe Marsiglia Fund
LaLone Family Fund
Lochinski Family Fund
Meisner Family Fund
Nearing Nutter Family Fund
Stephen M. Qua Fund
OCF’s Role in Recovery
On May 19th, our OCF team felt relieved. We closed the COVID-19 Fund earlier that day and were looking forward to some downtime before implementing our new strategic direction—The Way Forward. Creating and managing the COVID-19 fund and learning how to support Otsego County nonprofits through a pandemic stretched our organization and staff over the previous two years. We were tired. Yet our experience through the pandemic garnered the confidence we needed to take the organization in a new direction—a silver lining.
Less than twenty-four hours later, a tornado touched down on the west side of Gaylord and ripped through the town, destroying homes, and property, and upending lives. Otsego County had not experienced a disaster of this magnitude or nature.
Help showed up within an hour. The Council of Michigan Foundations was putting the final edits to their new Disaster Grantmaking and Operations guide. When they heard the news coming in from Gaylord, they hit SEND without delay. This document became an indispensable guide as we navigated this post-disaster landscape over the following days and months. More help arrived when Executive Director Dana Bensinger received a call from Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of Midland Area Community Foundation, who helped navigate the 2020 floods in Mid-Michigan.
“Start a fund,” Sharon advised. Dana did.
The Tornado Response Fund was created. Swift action by the staff and the board on the night of the tornado helped meet some immediate needs of the community by securing shelter at Treetops Resort. An emergency board meeting on the Tuesday after the tornado allowed the staff to award grants of up to $20,000 where they were needed. Once the community’s immediate needs were addressed, the OCF turned to face the community’s short-term and long-term needs post-disaster, realizing recovery was a marathon, not a sprint.
Donations came in from everywhere and did not stop. Over the next two weeks, the OCF staff processed over 1.5 times the number of donations they did in 2021, and 2021 was a record year. Our staff adapted, taking on jobs that needed to be done, and volunteers gave assistance we didn’t know we needed, sharing hours and helping our team complete critical tasks.
Local and corporate businesses volunteered generous match gifts, which doubled the impact of our online campaign. In the aftermath, community members, neighbors throughout Northern Michigan, and support from all over the country generously gave in many ways. From common fundraisers such as special T-shirts designed and sold and percentages of sales from restaurants and other events to unique efforts such as tattoos and radio-a-thons, to name a few. Individuals and organizations shared their talents and ties to generate support.
At the end of three months, over $650,000 in grants had been awarded from the Tornado Response Fund.
Six months after the tornado, we were still recovering.
By year’s end, we had made a lot of progress.
Gifts from 1,800 donors across 37 states to the Tornado Response Fund totaled $1.6 million. $857,000 was committed to immediate relief, short term recovery, and long term rebuilding by the end of 2022.
Grants from the Tornado Response Fund:
- Provided 1,658 nights of emergency shelter
- Rebuilt 26 homes
- Repaired 14 damaged vehicles
- Replaced 5 vehicles that were destroyed
- And so much more…
Managing the Tornado Response Fund required us to assume leadership roles beyond receiving gifts and awarding grants. The OCF invested many hours researching and finding solutions and answers to the community’s needs. This included connecting with After the Storm, a nonprofit specializing in disaster response. The Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) was formed to provide long-term assistance and support for those individuals affected by the tornado. The LTRG is a cooperative body of faith-based, nonprofit, business, government, and other organizations. As a result, case managers worked one-on-one with survivors to navigate recovery and present cases to a funding collaborative. This collective process was made possible by the Otsego County United Way, Efree Church, Gaylord First United Methodist Church, St. Vincent De Paul, and OCF.
The OCF was a small piece in the larger puzzle of tornado recovery. The hard work of the Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group (GLTRG) is detailed in their comprehensive report. Click the button below. *Please note the GLTRG report covers May 20th, 2022 through May 20th, 2023, the OCF annual report reflects the 2022 calendar year.
If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together
– African Proverb
Board of Directors
Community Leaders Committed to Strengthening Otsego County
Ways to Give
Providing Fuel for the Future
Meaningful gifts of all sizes have gotten us where we are today. If you want to be part of this progress, there are many ways to give.
Click on each box below to learn more.
Obstacles are Detours in the Right Direction
We arrived! It was not the smooth journey we planned for, yet with all the help we had along the way, we gave and gained more than we ever anticipated.
Looking in the rearview mirror, we see that obstacles may have outnumbered the hidden gems, yet the hidden gems far outweighed the obstacles. This collection of gems fueled our journey. Like any difficult journey, we can look back and see what we learned, the trials we faced, and the relationships we forged have positioned us to be a stronger organization moving forward.
Your generosity, your support, and your guidance made this journey possible. We could not have reached our destination without YOU!