Waseca Area Foundation Rob Helms

Waseca Area Foundation Board Chairman Rob Helms speaks at a 2019 WAF event. (File photo/southernminn.com)

I want to begin by sharing that I have had the opportunity to serve more than one term on this wonderful board and organization. That point is largely irrelevant to the message of this article, other than noting the time between the terms. Which in hindsight, is quite a gap. What it has offered, however, is some perspective on the growth of the Waseca Area Foundation which I’m delighted to share with you today.

The Waseca Area Foundation started in 1988 when Waseca high school alumni returned to town for a reunion and put $6,000 together for a donation, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. The first foundation fund was established in 1989.

My first tour as a Board member began in the late 90’s. At the time, the Foundation had been around for about 10 years and was living ‘hand to mouth’ in terms of scratching together enough money to fund the operation. I vividly remember having discussions that one of the Board’s dreams was to reach a milestone of achieving the $1 million dollar mark in donations. That Board also often verbalized a dream of the Waseca Area Foundation of one day becoming so engrained that it would be “woven into the fabric of our community.”

So what does that mean? To me, woven into the fabric of our community means that, for example, when someone passes away, one’s first thought is to donate a memorial to the WAF in the name of their friend or loved one. It means that growing up here in the Waseca area—or, as in my case, relocating to Waseca early in my career and raising our family here-- has engrained a level of heartfelt meaning in your life for both your neighbors and for this community. Perhaps it means that, as we have the privilege of living in a great place like Waseca, you reach a point where you or your family may want to give something more substantial with the purpose of perpetuating that which you have enjoyed, for generations to come.

Regardless, let’s fast-forward to my second term on the Board, which is now winding down. In the span of time since my first Board stint—which in ‘foundation years’ is pretty short, the Waseca Area Foundation has grown to consist of more than 60 different donor funds. And at the end of 2020, those funds hit the $10 million dollar fund balance mark! We have been told by our affiliates at the St. Paul & Minnesota Community Foundation, and by many others, this is a remarkable feat for an area community foundation of our size. Please join me in celebrating this tremendous milestone for the Waseca Area!

Some might view that milestone and think that the WAF is no longer in need of funds or is interested in donations. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the core of the Foundation is a cornerstone, that the principle donations to a fund will be endowed for the purpose of perpetuating the very essence of the future of the Foundation. This means that the money that becomes available to grant each year is the result of the investment gains. In 2020, the WAF funds granted $349,000 to organizations and individuals in Waseca County, comprised of 39 different non-profit organizations and over 30 individual education scholarships!

It also means that the Waseca Area Foundation has become a cornerstone of our community. This Foundation—our Foundation-- is here to stay. All donors can find a peace and comfort that comes with knowing that your gifts are received and managed with the utmost security, safety, and integrity.

A cornerstone, indeed. But have we achieved becoming a true fabric in the community?

My assessment—and with acknowledgment that it perhaps comes with a level of personal bias for this outstanding local organization—is that we have made great strides, but might not have arrived just yet.

As you’re outside relaxing and enjoying one of the many soon-to-be great southern Minnesota spring evenings, ask yourself: Do I know what the Waseca Area Foundation is? Is it one of the first organizations that come to mind when I want to give a gift to the community—whether its $10 or $10,000? How can I make a gift to the Waseca Area Foundation?

The answers to these questions, and more, are easily found on our website at wasecaareafoundation.org or by contacting Amy Potter, WAF Executive Director at 835-5990, or by reaching out to any Board member—all of whom can be found on the website. The Waseca Area Foundation Board is striving every day to spread its message and share all that the Foundation has to offer. I think one of the most important things to know is that the WAF welcomes a gift of any size, any time. Every donor has a broad opportunity to provide input on how they would like their gift to be realized in the community/area, whether it’s by donating to an existing fund, creating your own fund, or by funding the operations of the local Foundation itself. No gift is too big or too small.

The WAF is still accepting applications for the 2021 spring granting round—one of two annual opportunities for local organizations to apply for a grant. In 2021, the Foundation will be granting money to the community for the first time from two new funds: the John Priebe Education Fund and the John Priebe Community Events/Bike Trail Fund. There’s only a few days left in this spring granting cycle. See the website for information. The next granting round will be later this year, in the fall.

The Waseca Area Foundation. Expressing gratitude to our generous community for all you provide, and that collectively, we enjoy!

Rob Helms is a Waseca Area Foundation past board member, vice chair and board chair.

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