EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings Foundation took its first step on Wednesday and had important company along the way.
As part of the launch of the organization's proposed charitable endeavors through the Foundation, the team hosted 50 fifth and sixth graders from Minneapolis and St. Paul at Winter Park.
The young people were paired with Vikings staff who were volunteering as mentors for several hours on a day that included watching practice, eating a healthy meal, participating in a health-and-wellness clinic led by former linebacker and Vikings Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson and collecting autographs from current players. The students also received backpacks filled with school supplies.
The overarching goals of the Foundation are to advance the well-being of youth through engaging health and education initiatives, including direct charitable programming that yields tangible results, and a grant-making structure that creates substantial partnerships and shared accountability for community impact.
The Wilf Family Foundations and the Minnesota Vikings made an initial investment of $1 million to give the Foundation a strong start.
"Philanthropy and community engagement has always been a cornerstone of the Minnesota Vikings," Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said during a press conference. "Since taking ownership of this team, along with winning a Super Bowl for the state of Minnesota and providing the best fan experience possible, being a strong community partner has been one of the three pillars of our organization.
"It is our pleasure to introduce today the Minnesota Vikings Foundation, a new charitable organization with a primary focus on advancing the well-being of youth through engaging health and education initiatives," Wilf added. "We are proud to launch this effort dedicated to bettering the lives of children and families in this region."
Wilf will be a Co-Chair and Director of the Minnesota Vikings Foundation, along with his brother, Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf, and their cousin, Vikings Owner/Vice Chairman Leonard Wilf.
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren and Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Lester Bagley will serve as Co-Vice Chairs and Directors, Vice President of Legal & Human Resources Karin Nelsen and Elana Wilf Tanzman will be Directors. Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer Steve Poppen will be the Treasurer, and Vice President of Finance and Controller Kate Shibilski will be the Secretary. Vikings Executive Director of Social Impact Brett Taber will be the Foundation's Executive Director.
Warren credited the Wilf Family Ownership group for empowering Vikings employees to make a difference in the Twin Cities and throughout the state of Minnesota.
"We strongly believe we have the fiduciary responsibility, not only for Mark and his family as Owners of the Minnesota Vikings, but for every Minnesota Vikings employee that works here." Warren said, "We want to make a difference in the lives of our youth here, not only from a health and wellness standpoint, but also from an educational standpoint.
"Our goal is to create programs, to do grant-making — including a food truck initiative that we plan to launch in 2018 — so that as we look back over the course of this Foundation that we can say we helped make a difference," Warren added. "We're honored to stand here before you today to launch this new Minnesota Vikings Foundation."
Warren said officials spent significant time planning and articulating the vision for the Minnesota Vikings Foundation for it to replace the Vikings Children's Fund, which raised and distributed more than $12 million since its inception in 1978.
"One thing we've discovered is when you do things for kids, for the right reasons, to make a change, an impact in their lives, it will always make a positive difference," Warren said. "When you look at some issues in our community here, from health and wellness and to realizing that this generation is tracking to be the first generation where some of these young people may live shorter lives than their parents did, and that bothered us. We also have issues in the Twin Cities Community, although it's a beautiful, special community, where we think we can help bridge this achievement gap from an educational standpoint."
Warren said the Vikings were proud to promote Taber from within the organization because he is so well-suited for the role and driven to impact the community in a positive way.
The Minnesota Vikings Foundation took its first step on Wednesday as the team hosted 50 fifth and sixth graders from Minneapolis and St. Paul for practice at Winter Park.
Taber is entering his 11th season with the Vikings but still carries a vivid memory from 2008 when he witnessed firsthand how the team could help others during one of the Vikings visits to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. After brightening the day of a patient, Taber saw the patient's parents in tears. The parents told Vikings personnel that it was the first time they had seen their child smile in three years.
Taber said he and Vikings employees look forward to the hands-on approach and the potential ways to engage the community and Vikings fans.
"It's something that our staff is passionate about," Taber said. "It's something that I personally am very passionate about, and we look forward to taking on this opportunity to truly make a measurable difference in the lives of children in our community."
Visit vikings.com/foundation to learn more about or how to help with the Minnesota Vikings Foundation.