Focus on funding basic needs in Green Lake County

Driving it home: Tom and Carol Joseph are the type of people who could define what it means to be driven.

"We're persistent. We have our goals and we just keep going," says Tom, the former owner of Magnum Power Products LLC of Berlin.

As the couple has encountered a challenge in life, they have systematically conquered it.

For the past four years, the Josephs have had the burgeoning issues of poverty in their sights. When they hit their target, they will have helped to build the Green Lake County Basic Needs Fund into the most powerful grant source for the fight against poverty in the county.

The Josephs aim to build a $1 million endowment that would spin off $100,000 annually for granting. Proceeds from the annual Tee It Up 4 Basic Needs golf outing would be granted back to the community, potentially doubling the fund's granting power.

With at least $450,000 raised from the golf outing so far, and more than $78,000 granted, the Josephs are well on their way.

What's more, they're not alone. The focus on basic needs is a movement that is gaining strength throughout the county with passionate supporters in many communities.

The county is a tourist destination, which makes the pervasiveness of poverty an oxymoron of sorts. It is known for the recreational fun and beauty of Green Lake, the state's deepest natural inland lake, and rolling green hills dotted with small towns characterized by their provincial charm.

In this county of 36,000, 10 percent of residents fall under the federal poverty level. Countless others stand at or near that level, just trying to survive.

"Some people have their opinion skewed by some of the large homes around Green Lake, but you get away from that and there are some folks living in rough conditions," says Michael Lehner, a Princeton attorney and Chair of the Green Lake County/Ripon Community Foundation.

Lehner has plenty of firsthand experience with the impoverished population.

"So many times, the kids that I am to represent (as court-appointed guardian) are in such a need as far as health care and nutritional support, wellness, education," Lehner explains. "Unfortunately, all of those situations are caused by a really bad situation at home."

The Josephs saw the struggles, too, in the community and even in some of their own employees who were living pay check to pay check. Using their business as a sponsor, the Josephs created the Tee It Up golf outing in 2009 to raise money for the U.S. Venture Fund for Green Lake County. In 2012, golf outing proceeds were directed to the newly established Green Lake Basic Needs Fund.

Magnum Products now covers 100 percent of the event and matches funds raised dollar for dollar. As a Field of Interest Fund of the Community Foundation, grant recipients are selected by a committee made up of local residents.

While the momentum builds in the fight against poverty in Green Lake County, the need for help is on the rise, too.

"In this county, the needs are more basic than basic needs," says Carol. "We're trying to help people who are trying to survive on that poverty level."

"Carol and I want to give back," Tom adds. "We need to find people in each community. We need people like Mike Lehner who are really stepping up."
 

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