meet the mcginnitys: laying a strong foundation for milwaukee’s future

A few weeks ago, I was very excited to read in The Atlantic how a person can make a great difference in the world. This area of study assesses “effective altruism.”

Effective altruism: a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world

Betsy, Annie and Megan

The McGinnitys use a systems approach to their foundation and would love to incubate newer, smaller nonprofits, and then help them along a pipeline to midrange and eventually larger foundations for funding. They’re on a quest for the answers: “What difference does this make? How do we know?”

My heart broke a teeny bit when I read what these scientists believe about how to make the biggest difference. Work for a nonprofit that aligns with your life goals? Nah. Instead, they say to get a job that makes great money and donate (a significant percentage) to possibly even fund an entire salary. That’s how you do it. Well, shoot.

I looked into a bit of what I’ll call “actual altruism”: 95.4 percent of Americans donated to nonprofits in 2014, a 7.1 percent increase from 2013. The average person donates about 2-3ish percent of their income to nonprofits, depending on how much money they make. That is generous, kind and necessary, and it makes me think of Jazz when she said how nonprofits and other organizations create the infrastructure and resources that enable policies to actually get boots on the ground. These organizations and their donors are vital.

Some people have a little extra panache when it comes to making the biggest difference in their community. The McGinnity family of Milwaukee—grown daughters Megan, Betsy, Annie and Katie, and parents Tom and Maggie—launched the McGinnity Family Foundation in winter 2014. All four daughters grew up as part of a Greater Milwaukee Foundation youth in service program, now incorporated into Lead2Change. The program empowered them to give out grants of up to $2,500 at a time, up to a total of $100,000 over Annie’s four years of high school, for example. And it developed in the sisters a culture of philanthropy. Now the family of six gives grants to improve their community, which affects both their inheritance (less for them) and impact on this world (far beyond when they’re here).

McGinnitys in the Sunflowers

“The Foundation reminds me of ‘direction walks’ we took when we were little,” Annie says. “Dad would leave the house with us and a pocket full of peanut M&Ms, and when we got to a corner we’d get an M&M and could choose which direction we’d go in. Half an hour later who knows where we’d end up. Hey—it was youth led!”

Proud graduates of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), Megan is a social worker in MPS, Betsy is a high school counselor in MPS, Annie oversees citywide programs with Milwaukee Recreation, and Katie works for SC Johnson in sales in Minneapolis. The foundation focuses on youth-led programs that engage the community (1) in easing the transition for those with disabilities from K-12 to the rest of their lives and (2) in ecological sustainability.

People with Panache: Why did you decide to start a foundation?

Tom McGinnity: Part of it was spending 40 years in education. We were looking for aspects of: Who are the disenfranchised? Whose voices aren’t being heard? Collectively we’re missing the voice of youth. A school system like Milwaukee Public Schools has 80,000 voices that aren’t being heard, and they might have incredible ideas of what and how change could happen.

“Children should be seen and not heard” needs to be flipped around for awhile. I’m not overly impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish as adults, and I want to give kids a shot.

Megan Wright: After Mom and Dad retired, they had the idea of a foundation and brought it to us, so we can impact our community beyond when we’re all here.

“It’s pretty easy to get discouraged, but this is an opportunity to help kids who truly deserve better.” —Betsy McGinnity

PWP: As a very fortunate person who works for Victory Garden Initiative, one of your first grant recipients, I know you’re in your first grant cycle. So far, what are you most proud of?

Annie Kubes: One cool part was sitting around this room and all having the opportunity to give input about what types of causes and what focus areas we would target in terms of grants. My husband and our brothers-in-law were here as well. We were able to pick issues we’re passionate about and have experience with—with real people who have faced real issues. Doing a really small part in helping to address some of those was empowering.

PWP: What’s it like working together as sisters?

Megan, Katie, Betsy and Annie

“We’re proactive, not reactive,” says Megan. We picked this picture to include Katie, who lives in Minneapolis.

Megan: We’ve known each other our whole lives, so we can really highlight each others’ strengths and weaknesses. We’re all out there in the field, seeing what we can fund. For example, Katie has a business mind and has connected us with a company that turns food waste into garden products, so there will be more conversations about getting those products to those we’ve funded.

Betsy McGinnity: We all share a passion for serving others, so it’s really made getting together and talking about foundation stuff very meaningful time together. It’s much deeper, and obviously the mission of our parents, too—it’s how we were raised.

Tom: When we all can get together, typically we have a meeting as part of that. It goes a little deeper than most families might go.

Betsy: There are a lot of needs in Milwaukee, and a lot of times our roles can get pretty hard. It’s nice to meet needs and provide hope. It’s pretty easy to get discouraged, but this is an opportunity to help kids who truly deserve better.

PWP: I can tell. It’s touching just being near you, knowing you have such big hearts for others and get to work on this together! What makes you happiest?

Megan: I would say my happiest is when I’m rocking on Mom and Dad’s porch. My daughter, husband and I will hang with whoever’s home, just chatting it up and enjoying the great things the city has to offer.

Betsy: For me at work—we’re a newer high school so we’ve just had our third graduating class—it’s when alumni come back or are in college or successful, because these students are part of an underserved population. In general, I think we all share that we’re happiest being with family, and our annual trip to Door County.

Annie: I would third family. It’s always been top on my list. I think now though one of my greatest joys is watching our parents as grandparents.

Tom and Finn

Tom playing with Annie’s son, Finn. Maggie was a special ed teacher, coached and ran Special Olympics and has taught adaptive aquatics at the YMCA for 32 years. When Annie started volunteering with her, that helped launch her passion and career!

And then work-wise this summer, this is the 9th year of an inclusive basketball league we started when I was part of an adaptive athletics program—males with and without disabilities play together. Some have been there every year. This year two of them are coaching. When I visited recently, one was standing alongside the court, cheering for the underdogs. You can’t make that stuff up. You hear about all the violence and it’s so terrifying, but this gives you hope.

Maggie: They could’ve chosen a different path–easily—and they didn’t. I tell this to my daughters now…

Megan: Oh Mom, you can tell them that I’m your favorite!

[Everyone laughs]

Maggie: …it’s having everyone around the dining room table, truly.

Tom: It’s always been watching everyone kind of unfold. I think that’s been our philosophy as we’ve been a family.

If you’re looking to make a difference for and with Milwaukee’s youth, please email us to get Tom’s email and donate to the McGinnity Family Foundation!

[Photos by Alysse.]

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piequest pilgrimage

I just got home from a journey so intense, so grueling and so challenging, I’m not sure I can share the full extent of it with just words.

That’s why I’m glad we have pictures. (And taste buds and imaginations!)

My mom and I just got back from the First Annual PieQuest Pilgrimage! And it was deeee-licious.

We decided to take three days to explore and locate some of the Midwest’s best pie. And we didn’t forget the rest of the family: fruit pies, cream pies, quiches and tarts! Potpies, pasties, and even a cobbler made the docket. We ranked them by crust, filling and overall experience.

We deviated quite a bit from our original plan (pictured), and instead went Madison >> Viroqua, Wis. >> Red Wing, Minn. >> Stockholm, Wis. >> Minneapolis >> Pepin, Wis.

We deviated quite a bit from our original plan (pictured), and instead went Madison >> Viroqua, Wis. >> Red Wing, Minn. >> Stockholm, Wis. >> Minneapolis >> Pepin, Wis.

Continue reading

meet kate: chicago improv teacher and performer

Kate Cohen, People with Panache

Kate’s favorite play is Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman. Her favorite musicals are The Music Man or Little Shop of Horrors. Her favorite characters to play right now are stressed out moms or angsty teenagers.

You know those times when you feel like you’ve never been busier and your to-do list keeps getting longer and then you meet someone who somehow does even MORE?!

Yeah, it kind of makes you feel a little bit better.

That’s how I felt when I spent an afternoon with Kate Cohen, a spunky improv comedian/grad student/education administrator. Her passion for all three oozes through in conversation and you can tell she loves the role each one plays in her life. Over fancy teacups of decadent, gourmet drinkable chocolate (Editor’s Note: Alysse is very upset she was not at the “drinkable chocolate” party and is boycotting this post from here on out.), Kate and I discussed what it’s like to work 9-to-5 in education administration at Northwestern, teach improv at Second City Training Center, perform improv on nights and weekends for four different theaters, and attend school part-time (also at Northwestern) earning a Master’s of Science in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC). Continue reading

meet missy: milwaukee photographer and artist

Missy + Pepper are Milwaukee

“When I was stationed in San Diego, besides being away from my family, I missed Milwaukee,” Missy says. “It’s authentic and real—not this uniform, plastic-surgery look and way of life.”

Missy Ziebart and Pepper

From 2003-2007, Missy was in the Navy!

It’s kind of funny photographing a photographer.

Missy Ziebart is an artist, a creative soul, an intriguing Milwaukeean. She was always a painter and illustrator—but she fell in love with photography and ceramics during college. Kate and I found her on Facebook through her Brightmoor Portrait Project, a “community art project aiming to celebrate the residents of Detroit through portraiture, written word and interaction.” It’s a gorgeous endeavor to burst through preconceived notions about one of the Midwest’s most talked-about cities. Continue reading

meet kathryn: chicago voluntour entrepreneur

Kathryn Pisco, Unearth the World

“One of my favorite quotes from The Alchemist is like ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ That’s how I felt in hindsight, looking back on the process of prepping for the trip.”

If you live in a state of perma-wanderlust as badly as Alysse and I do, you are totally going to empathize with the range of emotions I experienced while putting this story together: longing, joy, wonder, jealousy, conviction, a little more jealousy. I can’t actually complain—I’ve been lucky enough to plant my own two little feet on insanely breathtaking places, from Ireland last winter with our good friend Alayna to South Africa in college for a three-week study abroad. And Alysse may work for a nonprofit now, but she’s had some super cool travel experiences herself, from visiting a friend in China to doing yoga in Costa Rica this March. For 2016, I am planning/hoping/dying to finally take the trip I’ve been dreaming about and visit India for a couple weeks in the winter—then go to Peru later in the summer! If it all works out, I think it might be my most epic year yet. BUT I don’t think I can even dream of approaching Kathryn Pisco’s passport. She visited 20 countries in nine months! Continue reading

happy father’s day!

Yesterday was Father’s Day and all we kept hearing on the radio was how Mother’s Day was way more important. We thought, well that’s pretty ridiculous! Dads are important, too! So today, the day after the Day of the Dad, we wanted to write about a certain group of people, the likes of whom are rarely discussed on this blog: Guys! Needless to say, none of what we or our awesome Panachies do would be possible without our dads. PWP is equipped with no shortage of fatherhood: Kate’s dad Stan and stepdad Dave as well as Alysse’s superfantastic dad Ken. Steve of Purple Door and Steve with First Class Care have been featured on the blog, and since we’ve started writing in 2013, no fewer than five PWP babies have been made, all with great dads (with panache).

Alysse and Dad! #nofearkengear

Alysse and Dad! #nofearkengear

Whether your dad is your rock, your support system, your best friend, your caregiver or even just your sperm donor, let’s all take time to thank them for giving us life so we can go on to be the best we can be! Continue reading

meet karissa: children’s psychotherapist in milwaukee

Karissa Kesselhon on People With Panache

“My favorite demographic is school age to teenager,” says Karissa. “I don’t ever want kids to not have someone be there for them.”

“You’re living in your own reality,” says Karissa Kesselhon. Kate and I spend each week sharing stories of women turning their dreams into reality. This week I got to meet Karissa, who has a whole different view on that topic. She’s a psychotherapist, so every day she sees the impact of our brains’ perceptions on our actions, personalities and realities. Continue reading

meet monika: badass entrepreneur and coach in chicago

Monika Black on People with Panache

What Monika lives by: “I don’t say no, and I’m always there when you need to dance. You should never have to dance alone unless you want to.”

You know those amazing conversations after which you’re so full of thoughts and feelings and inspiration that you feel exhausted afterward (in the best way) even though all you did was pretty much sit and listen? I was lucky enough to meet Monika Black a few months ago and that conversation was one I will never forget. After lots of stories and a little dancing, I came away with a renewed sense of purpose. You’ll see why.

Monika is one busy woman. She owns a consulting and coaching business called TandemSpring with her husband, Tomer Yogev. She co-leads DyMynd, the eHarmony of the financial world. It’s a ground-breaking company that uses assessment tools to connect women with the right financial institution, and she runs it with Carolyn Leonard, another fantastic woman you shouldn’t be surprised to see on PWP in the near future. Oh and she teaches psychology at DePaul University. But it’s not any one of these things that makes her unique. From the moment you meet Monika, you can’t help but notice her energy! I’ve never met someone with so much spirit in my life. Continue reading

meet katie and cody: milwaukee candlemakers

BWY’s first scent was Kitten Toots: strawberry, bergamot and vanilla. “Having people email me ordering Kitten Toots is hilarious to me,” Katie says. “I want to talk about Yeti’s Breath and Mountain Men and My Drunk Sass! I want this to be fun and something we treat lightheartedly.”

BWY’s first scent was Kitten Toots: strawberry, bergamot and vanilla. “Having people email me ordering Kitten Toots is hilarious to me,” Katie says. “I want to talk about Yeti’s Breath and Mountain Men and My Drunk Sass! I want this to be fun and something we treat lightheartedly.”

I’m trying to envision Katie Daly as a kid decked out in colonial garb.

1) I am a weirdo and 2) Katie Daly: Candlemaker was sighted making her very first hand-dipped wax masterpiece on a field trip to Blackberry Farms, a living history farm outside of Chicago. (Katie probably wasn’t actually dressed up, but that’s just how I like to picture it.)

Katie Daly, 31, is now all grown up, generally dressed in decade-appropriate attire, and employed as a full-time training and development specialist in Fond du Lac, north of Milwaukee. She facilitates classes about how to be a better employee by day. But step into her candle laboratory at night, and you know she’s so much more. Continue reading

meet jazz: alternative agriculture advocate in columbus

Whenever new friends discover our blog for the first time, they invariably ask: How do you find these people?

Jazz Planting a Tree

How does Jazz stay disciplined being back in school full time? “Being my own supervisor, all my time is my own, and I pretty much work during the day like a normal person,” she says. “I work from home, so I’m eating constantly.” I feel ya, Jazz.

Here’s one story: Back in 2012, I was working for Reader’s Digest as a copy editor. I loved my team (like Deb!), but I was trying to figure out how to unite my passions for the environment, health, animal welfare, social justice and community into the next step of my career. The food system was the place I thought I could blend all those things and use my skills to make a difference, so I reached out to Jazz Glastra about Victory Garden Initiative’s (VGI) Food Leader Certificate Program. On a chilly winter night, she met me in the Saint’s Snug at County Clare Irish Pub in Milwaukee, which will forever hold a special place in my heart. Jazz told me all about how I’d learn to grow food, organize groups of people, and make a difference starting in my own community. I signed up for the program the next day.

Two and a half years later, I’m now working full-time at VGI, and Jazz has moved on to pursue her Master’s of Science in Environment and Natural Resources with a specialization in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. I miss her more or less constantly, so I’m so glad to share part of her story with you.

Jazz went to high school in an agricultural area of Washington state and hated it—the FFA kids in their big trucks blared country music and made it seem like farming was about not caring. After graduation, she went off to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, planning to get into environmental action or law—until she arrived. At Kenyon, Jazz totally fell in love with religious studies and became disillusioned with the policy world. Before she veered too far, though, she started her first farming internship at an organic farm in Ohio during her sophomore year. It was there that she became intrigued with agriculture and the local food movement. Continue reading