Grandfather teaches the next generations about gratitude and giving back

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What did you do on your summer vacation?

For Miles Monday, Abby Monday, Nate Monday, Emily Monday, Sam Brienza and Megan Brienza, they can tell friends that the summer of 2014 was when they first became philanthropists.

That transformation took place July 22 at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation as they gathered for the first trustees meeting of the Winnie Fund, a donor advised fund their grandfather, Bob Monday, created just six months before.

The six grandchildren met their grandfather, the patriarch of this philanthropic pursuit, promptly at 10 a.m. Though their peers that day were frolicking about in parks and pools, adorned with flip flops and casual summer wear, the Monday and Brienza bunch were dressed up, with one of the boys even sporting a dress shirt and tie.

Trustee can be a daunting term but the grandchildren did not show any sign of trepidation at the task before them. They all came prepared to learn about a variety of nonprofits and were more than willing to discuss and defend the merits of programs nominated as potential grant recipients.

Bob Monday, owner of Monday, Ott, Doherty & Associates and a board member of Nativity Jesuit School, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin and Messmer Catholic Schools, created the fund as an expression of his love for his grandchildren as well as a desire to teach them about gratitude and giving back.

“No grandfather has grandchildren that they love more than I love you guys,” Monday told the group of six that morning. “The lesson of the Winnie Fund is that I hope we take nothing for granted and realize how blessed we are. The fund was created so we might be able to help others and give them a chance at a better life.”

“The lesson of the Winnie Fund is that I hope we take nothing for granted and realize how blessed we are. The fund was created so we might be able to help others and give them a chance at a better life.”

How to do that, exactly, was up to them, he said. And in a few years, once they turned 10 years old, their cousins, Timothy Brienza, Ella Monday and Rachel Monday, would join the group.

“Whatever you want to support, I want it to be from your heart,” he said. “You have to realize anything is possible. That is what I want the Winnie Fund to stand for.”

Bob went around the room to gauge their general charitable interests. The six all came prepared with an answer, ranging from hunger and homelessness to animal welfare.

“This first meeting will be an education for all of us,” said Bob, explaining that they had a total of $1,000 to distribute among four agencies. “Ready to get started?”

After all replied in unison with a resounding and animated “YES,” the group got down to business. Sam and Megan, the two youngest trustees, cracked open their notebooks and jotted down some notes as Philanthropic Adviser Marybeth Budisch gave the group a background on the Foundation and how it worked.
“We are seen as a charitable resource in the community,” Budisch said. “That’s very special that your grandpa feels this way and wants to teach you about philanthropy. Not everybody teaches their children about that.”

She handed out folders containing a list of six suggestions based upon their original interest areas and provided a two-minute overview of each. Soon that small list of six grew to a list of nine, thanks to last minute brainstorming by the group.

One of those additions, Good Friend Inc., came courtesy of Megan, 10. Ready to prove her case as to why the agency, which promotes autism awareness, acceptance and empathy, deserves funding, she politely, but passionately, asked to show one of the agency’s videos.

Then came the tough part: narrowing down the list of grantees. Their discussions about how to divide $1,000 were as robust and informed as that of a grant committee in charge of distributing millions. They asked about how many people would be served, where and how. They looked to organizations where a small grant of $250 would make a big impact. They sought consensus and then ultimately took a vote. Emily, the oldest grandchild at age 16, tallied the votes.

Though they whittled the list down, even after an anonymous vote where they all placed their heads down on the conference table and voiced their opinion, they reached an impasse. Bob agreed to invest an additional $250 as a solution and just like that, the Winnie Fund approved its first slate of grants to support the Cathedral Center, Blessings in Backpack, Good Friend Inc., Hunger Task Force and Wildlife in Need Center. They suggested visiting some of the agencies that they didn’t support during this first round, but remained interested in.

Bob then encouraged the grandchildren to think about the next meeting. Miles suggested not limiting themselves to just one, saying perhaps they should schedule one every three months. The group of grandchildren then threw out a couple of grand ideas – including conducting business aboard a cruise or while on a trip to Australia. Emily suggested they conduct a meeting in winter, since that is when the majority of nonprofits are in need of support.

Among Sam’s list of suggestions, which included acting as a Santa Claus of sorts to animals at the Humane Society, she added “to make our world little bit smaller, we need to make our hearts a little bit bigger.”

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