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After losing some of its funding, the nonprofit Visioning a Greater Racine (VGR) will shrink from a three-person operation to a one-person shop after July 21.

VGR has several hundred volunteers that conduct community-development projects. Organized into several teams, the groups have spearheaded dozens of projects from community clean-up events to health and wellness clinics to a technology fair called Techprize, which is slated to begin in 2020.

The group started to form in 2016 but officially took root as a nonprofit in the fall of 2017. Getting sponsors  — corporate and private ones — hadn’t been an issue for the group’s $182,000 budget, until now. An email from the VGR Board President Tom Buhler to VGR volunteers sent Wednesday night did not name which sponsors had dropped out.

“In the spirit of maximizing efficiencies and living within its means, the Visioning a Greater Racine Board of Directors made the difficult decision Monday to pare its staff by one position, leaving Executive Director Joan Roehre as the organization’s sole employee as of July 21,” the email read.

Funding issues

Some of VGR’s sponsors have backed away completely while a few others have paired down funding the initiative even as about 300 volunteers work on a host of community-building projects. Made up of 11 action teams, the mission of the organization reflects the vision of over 1,300 greater Racine residents that participated in a visioning process that spanned over a year.

A number of sponsors have asked VGR executive director Joan Roehre what the organization has done to “move the needle” on key initiatives.

“Visioning a Greater Racine is recognized and called out as an organization that has engaged our community at a level unlike any other,” she said. “I reply first by sharing ‘our sights are set on a long-term presence. By 2030, we envision a thriving community we are all proud to call home.’”

The 11 teams — charged with creating everything from creating a thriving economy to addressing social justice issues — have been meeting for 16 months. Because those teams are charged with developing long-term projects, it takes time to build trust and relationships, she said.

“Leadership had to emerge, short and long term goals discussed and decided…,” she said. “Racine did not achieve the infamous ranking of being the 3rd worst city in the United States for blacks to live overnight. Believing systemic change can happen overnight is unrealistic.” 

But Roehre understands the need for sponsors to see VGR’s work, which has been “called out as an organization that has engaged our community at a level unlike any other.”

Among the projects it has undertaken, VGR members have started:

  • Art for Uptown (Revitalization)
  • Pop-Up Wellness events on Monument Square (Healthy Productive Lives)
  • TechPrize (Thriving Economy)
  • Social Justice Community Roundtables (Social Justice)
  • Interfaith Community Leader Dinners (Diverse and Collaborative Leadership)
  • Racine BINGO Challenge (Pride and Positive Self Image)
  • Sturtevant Compost Pilot (Model of Environmental Sustainability)
  • Eastern Racine County Sub area Multi-modal Transportation Plan (Transportation)

What’s next

 Moving forward, VGR will need to refocus the efforts of its W.A.V.E. teams, but Buhler remains optimistic.

“VGR continues to have strong backing from the government, business, community organizations, individual donors, and our many volunteers,” Buhler said. 

In the meantime, the organization will continue to seek funding from corporate and private sponsors. If you would like to make a donation to VGR, click here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In an effort to be transparent, Racine County Eye owner Denise Lockwood is a volunteer on the VGR Pride and Positive Self-Image team.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.