Wisconsin’s Forest County is three-and-a-half hours north of Milwaukee. Its secluded beauty feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the state’s largest city.
But the two communities share a very special bond. They’ve both served as home for the Forest County Potawatomi (the tribe settled in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley more than 300 years ago). In the last three decades, both Milwaukee and the Tribe have benefitted greatly from the relationship.
Since 1991, the Menomonee Valley – once Milwaukee’s manufacturing and commerce hub – has been home to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. What started as a 2,500-seat bingo hall has flourished into one of the largest casino properties in the Midwest and the state’s most visited entertainment destination with more than 6 million guests annually. The business has helped revitalize the area, has spurred job growth and has placed corporate citizenship as one of its top priorities.
“Giving back is at the heart of what we do as an organization,” said Potawatomi Hotel & Casino CEO/General Manager Rodney Ferguson. “For generations, the Forest County Potawatomi have placed a priority on using only what was needed and giving away what it can. That mindset permeates throughout the Tribe and its businesses.”
In 1999, only eight years after opening its bingo hall and realizing economic self-sustenance, the Tribe started its foundation. After generations of experiencing oppressive poverty, the Forest County Potawatomi Foundation was established with the mission to help fight poverty, promote economic opportunity, strengthen communities and provide an example of responsible citizenship. In the 20-plus years since its establishment, tens of millions of dollars have been granted throughout the region to provide opportunity to those who may feel self-reliance is out of reach.
That philanthropic spirit does not end with the Tribe’s foundation. In 1994, a modest promotion held just before the holidays has become a mainstay and major driver of fund-raising for children in southeastern Wisconsin – and it’s all due to the game of bingo.
The Heart of Canal Street campaign raises funds for 31 children’s charities annually – primarily through a game played during each bingo session from August to December. The Canal Street bingo game is sold for either $3 or $7. The winner of the game receives half of the jackpot, with the other half going to the fund-raising efforts.
Since its inception, and because of the generosity of countless bingo players, Heart of Canal Street has raised more than $20 million for hundreds of phenomenal children’s organizations in the region. In that time, dollars raised by the campaign have helped put food on children’s plates, roofs over their heads, supplemented educational opportunities and so much more. In 2019, the campaign raised a record $1.19 million.
“Heart of Canal Street, and its sustained success over the years, is truly remarkable,” said Ferguson. “We see incredible support from our bingo players. Witnessing the hugs, the tears, the sheer joy on the faces of those we’re helping brings a sense of pride and happiness to everyone here at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.”
Beyond the Heart of Canal Street campaign, one of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s most ambitious and visible gestures of support for the Milwaukee community came in 2018 when it became the first presenting sponsor of the new Milwaukee streetcar system. This 12-year, $10 million commitment provided streetcar riders free fare during the first year of operations and gave the city the support necessary to improve transportation infrastructure and promote economic development in downtown Milwaukee.
“Smart business goes beyond your own operations,” said Ferguson. “Milwaukee has been good to us, and in turn we want to be good to the community.”
To learn more about the Heart of Canal Street campaign, visit paysbig.com/heart