Foundation news

update on challenge grants for student mental health programs

As part of a pilot project to test a funding model for expanding private philanthropic support for school-based mental health programs throughout Wisconsin, WEA Member Benefits Foundation, Inc., with major funding from its sister organization—WEA Trust—is providing challenge grants to four K–12 school districts as part of the pilot: Appleton ($40,000), Racine ($40,000), Sun Prairie ($30,000), and Watertown ($30,000). The Foundation will help these districts approach potential funders in their local communities to meet their challenge grant, potentially doubling the total for each district.

April 11, 2022, Sun Prairie Area School District: Members of the Sun Prairie School Board and district administrative team met with WEA Member Benefits Foundation Executive Director Steve Goldberg and Janet Thomas, Associate Director of Student Services at the Sun Prairie Area School District, during a presentation of a $30,000 donation for student mental health programming in the district.

April 25, 2022, Racine Unified School District: Executive Director of Student Services Andrea Rittgers announced the District has received a $40,000 challenge grant for school-based mental health initiatives from the WEA Member Benefits Foundation. The District’s plan is to use the money to offset high insurance deductibles for families so all students have access to the District’s mental health clinics. This grant is part of a statewide pilot project to establish a funding path for philanthropic organizations that want to support school-based mental health programs in their communities.

Press release: School-Based Mental Health Programs Get a Helping Hand

Local foundation forges connection between mental health programs and private philanthropy

Madison, WI, March 9, 2022—The philanthropic arm of a statewide insurance and financial services organization for educators has launched a pilot project to test a funding model for expanding private philanthropic support for school-based mental health programs throughout Wisconsin. The WEA Member Benefits Foundation, with major funding from its sister organization—WEA Trust—is providing challenge grants to four K‑12 school districts as part of the pilot: Appleton ($40,000), Racine ($40,000), Sun Prairie ($30,000), and Watertown ($30,000). The Foundation announced it will help those districts approach potential funders in their local communities to meet their challenge grant, potentially doubling the total for each district.

“When we asked public educators what kept them awake at night, one of the most common responses was student mental health. And when we asked school mental health professionals what was missing from this picture, they frequently mentioned private philanthropy,” said WEA Member Benefits Foundation Executive Director, Steve Goldberg. “So, we asked corporate foundations if they were interested in supporting school-based mental health, and many of them said yes, but they didn’t know how to determine which programs to support.”

The WEA Member Benefits Foundation worked with several statewide organizations to develop a funding model that would help potential funders use their donations to strengthen school-based mental health services. The state Department of Public Instruction, the Coalition for Expanding School-Based Mental Health in Wisconsin, the state Office of Children’s Mental Health, the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children Agencies, and other organizations have provided important input. The UW Center for Community & Nonprofit Studies has been engaged as an academic partner to structure and assess the pilot for possible expansion.

“This is such outstanding news. We are delighted to have been chosen as a partner for the pilot,” said Watertown Unified School District Superintendent Cassandra Schug. Janet Thomas, Associate Director of Student Services at Sun Prairie Area School District is “thrilled to be one of the recipients of this unrestricted grant,” and added that the district will use the grant to “strengthen and expand our current school-based mental health priorities.”

“We look forward to helping our four pilot school districts invite funders in their communities to join in this challenge grant opportunity. School-based mental health, especially during these stressful times, is so important to the success of our students. We hope others will join us in this effort,” said WEA Member Benefits President and CEO, David Kijek.

WEA Trust’s CEO, Vaughn Vance, added, “School districts throughout Wisconsin are experiencing an increased need for mental health services by employees and students alike. That is why we are so excited about this pilot effort and our partnership with the WEA Member Benefits Foundation.”

Initial funding for the pilot has come from WEA Member Benefits, WEA Trust, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), GenRe, Empower Retirement, Delta Dental of Wisconsin, Parnassus Investments, Newport Group, Wisconsin Mutual Insurance, Velcor, Strom Ballweg, von Briesen & Roper, and T. Rowe Price.


PRESS RELEASE: Statewide school-based mental health initiative gets big boost

MADISON, WI, October 2021 – The WEA Member Benefits Foundation, Inc. is launching a pilot project to provide financial support for school-based mental health services for K-12 students throughout Wisconsin. Together with a sister organization, WEA Trust, the Foundation will commit $200,000 this year to demonstrate an effective funding model for school-based mental health programs.

David Kijek, President and CEO of WEA Member Benefits and the WEA Member Benefits Foundation, called the pilot project “a statewide model that can bring more philanthropic dollars to the table to help our public schools strengthen their mental health services for students. This is consistent with WEA Member Benefits’ commitment to the well-being of teachers and public education across Wisconsin.”

WEA Trust, whose group health insurance programs have had a long history serving Wisconsin public schools, sees the opportunity to reduce both employee and student health care costs. WEA Trust’s CEO, Vaughn Vance, added, “School districts throughout Wisconsin are experiencing an increased need for mental health services by employees and students alike. That is why we are so excited about this pilot effort and our partnership with WEA Member Benefits Foundation.”

Steve Goldberg, WEA Member Benefits Foundation Executive Director and former executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation, will oversee this pilot project. According to Goldberg, “There is an important role for private philanthropy to help address the need for school-based mental health. We are committed to building broader corporate philanthropic support for programs like this. The early funding by WEA Trust and the Foundation is an important first step.”

Interest from funders is growing. One corporate foundation has issued a $50,000 grant to the Madison Metropolitan School District to fund a student mental health program at Leopold Elementary School as a result of discussions with the Member Benefits Foundation. Several other corporate donors have contributed a total of $30,000 to the pilot. The full statewide pilot project is scheduled to launch in early 2022.


September 2021 update

WEA Member Benefits Foundation is very pleased to announce the establishment of new partnerships to financially support school-based mental health and to help students with internet access. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity created by WEA Member Benefits.

Uncovering challenges

The Foundation is leading a statewide effort to establish a clear funding path to help philanthropic organizations and individuals provide financial support of school-based mental health and K–12 student access to the internet. These initiatives resulted from a series of discussions conducted by the Foundation to identify the top challenges facing Wisconsin’s public educators. School-based mental health and student internet access were mentioned frequently as major, unmet needs for K–12 students and schools.

Meeting the need

Recent studies have found at least 20% of all K–12 students face serious mental health challenges that affect their academic success and personal well-being. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) estimates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, that number spiked to 60% for high school students.

The need for student access to the internet is also high. The DPI estimates that despite government funding and provider discounts, at least 15,000 K–12 student households are unable to afford the monthly internet connection fee.

DPI, the Public Service Commission (PSC), and other state organizations say that a major missing piece in funding both school-based mental health programs and student internet access is private philanthropy. Steve Goldberg, Executive Director* of the Foundation, explains, “We learned that financial support from philanthropic organizations and other donors has not been widespread—not for lack of interest, but due to the lack of a clear funding path for philanthropic support. Corporate foundations throughout Wisconsin told us they really want to help fund these two causes, but they just aren’t sure how.”

A path for funders

The Foundation is now developing a funding mechanism to bring more philanthropy to the table from funders throughout Wisconsin. We are partnering with the DPI, the PSC, and the Cooperative Education Services Agency (CESA) to build a funding path for student internet access. We are also partnering with DPI and the Wisconsin Coalition for Expanding School-Based Mental Health to establish a funding path to support school-based mental health.

In addition to these efforts, we are partnering with the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network and the Center for Community & Nonprofit Studies at UW-Madison to promote both funding paths and to recruit more funders once those models are tested. Pilot projects in selected school districts are scheduled for late 2021 and early 2022.

Early financial support

“We are thrilled with the response our approach has already generated,” says Goldberg. Accomplishments so far include:

  • A $45,000 PSC grant to support our internet access pilots.
  • Pledge of a $100,000 gift from WEA Trust (which Member Benefits will match) for our school-based mental health pilots.
  • Additional support from other Member Benefits’ business partners who have pledged $35,000, which Member Benefits will also match.

Goldberg adds, “The total support from our business partners is $135,000—which means our goal of $200,000 is definitely within reach.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring more philanthropy to the table in order to help thousands of student households afford a local internet connection and to strengthen school-based mental health programs throughout the state.”

Want to help?

If you’d like to make a tax-deductible gift to support school-based mental health and/or student internet access, you can:

  • Donate online at WEA Member Benefits Foundation.
  • Send your check to: WEA Member Benefits Foundation, 660 John Nolen Dr., Madison, WI 53713

All donations received by 12/31/21 will be matched up to an aggregate of $200,000.

*Consultant to WEA Member Benefits Foundation representing Steve Goldberg Consulting, LLC.


PRESS RELEASE: Art Contest Opportunity for Wisconsin Public School Students 

WEA Member Benefits adds theme for fifth annual student art contest

Madison, WI, April 6, 2020

Get ready for adventure with the Fifth Annual WEA Member Benefits Student Art Contest!

New in 2020, the contest now has a theme: Adventure and Explore. Art submissions can include places students have traveled or dream of traveling to, an imaginary place, a person or creature that is adventurous or likes to explore, or students are able to provide their own creative interpretation of Adventure and Explore.

Again, this year, monetary prizes from the WEA Member Benefits Foundation, Inc., will be awarded to ten student winners, and one student artist will receive the “Loeymae Lange Best in Class” award. The “Best in Class” award is named in memory of Loeymae Lange, a former art teacher at Cooper Elementary school in Burlington, Wisconsin. Her brother, Dr. Paul Lange, and his wife June are honoring Loeymae’s legacy and love for art by providing this memorial gift to the WEA Member Benefits Foundation, Inc.

“To see this contest entering its fifth year is extremely exciting and a testament to the talented students and art teachers we have across Wisconsin,” said David Kijek, WEA Member Benefits President and CEO. “We are grateful to be able to use Dr. Lange’s generous gift to honor his sister’s legacy and promote recognition and positive self-esteem for student artists.”

The deadline to enter the 2020 student art contest is Thursday, April 30, 2020. Students can submit art projects done at home during the Safer at Home order. Finalists will be announced around May 19. The student finalists and their teachers will be recognized at a student art show in Madison in August. 

More information about the art contest, including contest rules, eligibility, and art submission information is available at WEA Member Benefits.

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