In past years, I have chosen a word each year to be my anchor in my personal life, and while I haven’t gotten around to it quite yet for 2023, professionally reflecting on 2022, one word comes to mind: EXTREME. Over the past 365 days, local philanthropy has experienced extreme generosity and extreme challenges, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

We welcomed 2022 with our sights set on an aggressive fundraising goal that if achieved would propel our grantmaking efforts to the next level. While the community has benefited and been touched by our prior grant-making efforts, the makeup of grant-making resources was restricted, and after a pandemic, we knew we needed to secure flexible and far-reaching assets. Our case was answered with EXTREME generosity, and within five months of launching the quiet phase of the campaign, 12 donors pledged $2 million dollars. Included in this sum was the single largest commitment in organizational history, a $750,000 gift from Mark Nowicki in memory of his late wife Elaine. On May 19, at our monthly board meeting, our board discussed our hard work and strategized how to secure the remaining half a million. Having never embarked on a fundraising campaign of that magnitude, we were all surprised at the success. In fact, James Camiller, our board treasurer, encouraged us all to take some time off as we had been putting in time over and above to reach our goal. 

The very next day the EXTREME challenges became the focus as an F-3 tornado devastated Gaylord. While the disaster reminded us of the need for the campaign, the dollars from the campaign were in pledges, and without other resources, our community needed immediate dollars to respond to the tornado. We started the Tornado Response Fund that very day and, again, were met with EXTREME generosity. Donors from all over Michigan, 38 states, Mexico, and Canada, shared gifts with the Alpine Village. It quickly became clear that money was not the only piece to the puzzle, and EXTREME challenges beyond financial resources are part of the recovery from a natural disaster. In the midst of processing gifts, we searched for answers to truly assist survivors. As of today, $1.6M has been given to the fund and nearly $1M has been reinvested in response efforts, ranging from hotel stays and gift cards to survive the first week, to a variety of extensive home repairs, including furnaces, roofs, foundations, etc., to help make survivors whole again. 

In the year of EXTREMES, the hard moments may have outnumbered the beautiful moments, but the beautiful moments outweighed the hard moments. In the hard moments, we were stretched — even strained — and because of this, we had to try new things we were not brave enough to do before. Looking back at a year summarized by extremes, we are ready to move forward, building on what we have learned over the past year. This year our word is “courage”. Courage to ask, courage to try and courage to change when necessary, and at times courage to stay the same.

Thank you for sticking with us through the extremes. Your notes, snacks, visits, gifts, and words of encouragement kept us going and have helped motivate us for a courageous 2023. 

With extreme gratitude,

Dana Bensinger, Executive Director

Otsego Community Foundation