Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. believed to make effective change, efforts should make an impact from the start, yet carry long into the future. To do both, he earmarked a portion of his estate and the eventual sale of his beloved Buffalo Bills to fund his namesake foundation.
The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, which began operations in 2015, is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.’s devotion to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan and greater Buffalo, New York home of his Buffalo Bills football franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the foundation that bears his name.
The foundation has a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires January 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Mr. Wilson’s desire for the foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable, and overseen by those who knew him best. It’s work and grantmaking is focused in seven counties in Southeast Michigan and nine counties in Western New York. The people it serves includes young children and their families, caregivers of older adults, young adults, and working families.
The foundation’s early childhood focus area supports the social and emotional development of young children, helping them gain the skills they will need as they think about high school graduation and what they’ll need to do post-graduation to secure a good paying job. In youth sports and recreation it invests in play spaces and programs, improving access to opportunities for more physical activity along with developing strong social skills. Major investments in parks and trails encourage physical activity for people of all ages in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.
The foundation’s caregivers area emphasizes making both family and paid caregivers more valued and respected. A major investment in improving retention of direct care workers has the potential to be a model for the nation. Partnerships with organizations to raise awareness of the importance of caregivers include a major storytelling initiative set to be launched in early 2020. Retail outlets, when viewed as the “frontline of health care”, are piloting efforts to thank and recognize their employees and customers who are often caregivers for loved ones. Using this as a base, the foundation is working in both states and with national organizations to gather resources that support caregivers and explore ways to better connect them with caregivers.
Total Assets: $1.2 Billion FY18
- Special Initiatives and/or Representative Health and Human Services Grants
THRIVE (grants to Catholic Health WNY, Ascension Michigan, Cleveland Clinic)—Over the next three years, the THRIVE model will be piloted at scale across three hospitals systems—the Cleveland Clinic, Catholic Health, and Ascension Michigan. This north star for this initiatie is to increase retention of direct care workers and has the potential to serve as a model for the country in valuing and supporting entry-level caregivers. ($15 million)
Built to Play—This initiative, designed to give children and youth across Western New York and Southeast Michigan more opportunities for free play through the creation of new, interactive public play spaces, is investing up to $5 million in each region (for a maximum of $10 million), to provide grassroots groups and nonprofits with support to create and maintain these play spaces within their neighborhoods. ($10 million)
PEDALS (grant to Community Southeast Michigan Community Foundation and Community Connections of NY)—PEDALS works with child care providers to improve children’s social-emotional skills. PEDALS consists of classroom coaching and training that supports teachers and administrators. It uses the Second Step Curriculum, which identifies children’s needs and informs best-fit supports for youth. Finally, it helps child care centers plan for improved data management, program evaluation, and sustainability. ($1.93 million)
Caregivers Storytelling (grant to AARP, contract to Lafayette American)—A storytelling project to raise awareness of caregivers through documentary films and podcasts featuring family caregivers in Southeast Michigan and Western New York, elevating their joys, struggles, and how to better celebrate and support them in their essential roles. ($1.1 million)
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Parks and Trails Initiative (multiple grantees in Southeast Michigan and Western New York)—In celebration of what would have been Mr. Wilson’s 100th birthday in 2018, $200 million was committed to building site signature parks in Buffalo, New York and Detroit, Michigan ($50 million each) and connecting over 200 miles of trails across both regions ($50 million each). ($200 million)
Role of Philanthropy in Meeting Pressing Needs
“The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation invests in sustained quality of life for those living in Southeast Michigan and Western New York embracing the values of teamwork, innovation, and being outcome focused. While our foundation uses the word health infrequently, our grantmaking is integral to individuals and communities being healthy.
Children and families in Salamanca, New York for the first time have a playground to gather, play, and enjoy the outdoors thanks to Built to Play. The community worked as a team to design the playground and over 300 volunteers came out to build it. A blighted house was torn down next to it and a couple living next to the playground allows all of the kids to use their bathroom because there isn’t one nearby. What could be a better demonstration of individual and community health?
THIRVE is a unique collaboration among three major health systems committed to improving retention rates of direct care workers at the front line of health care. To further assure success and support replication of the model, an outside evaluation by RAND is underway. With the need growing for these workers as American’s are living longer, this investment has significant potential to increase their value and contribution to health and healthcare.”– Amber Slichta, Vice President of Programs, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation