As good as gold

Great Lakes Higher Education Corp. is celebrating its 50th anniversary with grants of up to $50,000 to local nonprofits.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Great Lakes Higher Education Corp. is giving the gift of gold rather than receiving it. Two local nonprofits — Operation Fresh Start and The River Food Pantry — each received $50,000 grants from Great Lakes on Aug. 24.

Amy Kerwin, vice president of community investments for Great Lakes, says the organization’s 50th anniversary provides an opportunity to make a significant impact. “In Madison, we are impressed by the work Operation Fresh Start is doing to overcome the achievement gap and racial disparities, and how the River Food Pantry is combating food insecurity for children and families,” Kerwin says.

Great Lakes’ most recent philanthropic thrust began by asking all 2,000 employees at nine offices nationwide to identify local issues that were important to them. Then each office formed an employee-led grant committee to solicit and award Brighter Futures Grants of up to $50,000 to nonprofits working on those issues.

An Operation Fresh Start construction crew gets to and from worksites in a new van purchased with a Brighter Futures Grant from Great Lakes.

Gregory Markle, executive director of Operation Fresh Start, called the grant an incredible opportunity to help fulfill crucial organizational needs, and that allows OFS to focus on its mission to provide disconnected youth a path to self-sufficiency.

The same is true for the River Food Pantry. “The grant will expand our mobile lunch program into more north side neighborhoods to feed more kids on weekends and non-school days,” says Charles McLimans, executive director of the pantry. “We can make a difference in the hunger gap and the achievement gap, and give our local kids a brighter future.”

Kerwin notes it’s not just the two local nonprofits receiving grants. In all, Great Lakes awarded $525,000 in Brighter Futures Grants to 14 nonprofit organizations during the summer of 2017. “While the grants directly support the recipients served by the selected agencies, they have a secondary impact of increasing employee engagement and connection with both our grant making process and Great Lakes’ mission,” she says.



Great Lakes has one of the largest education philanthropy programs in the country. Since 2006, the company has committed nearly $225 million in grant funding to help more students from low-income families, students of color, and first-generation students get into and through college.

Through its employee giving program, Great Lakes Gives, it has adopted schools near all nine of its offices that have a high level of economic need. Through the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools Adopt-A-School initiative, it has adopted Gompers Elementary School and Black Hawk Middle School. Throughout the school year, employees collect school supplies, healthy snacks, and books for summer reading programs, and they participate in a pen pal program with students in third to sixth grade.

In addition, its annual United Way and Community Shares campaign includes a corporate match of employee donations that benefits the adopted schools. In Madison, a total of $195,000 in matching funds raised since 2014 has helped build a new playground, renovate the Gompers library, and purchase technology-friendly classroom furniture at Black Hawk.

Also as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Great Lakes started a Volunteer Time Off program. With eight hours of paid company time, employees are encouraged to engage with local nonprofit organizations, and 15% of its employees are participating.

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