Like a lake that feeds the rivers of charities throughout southeastern Wisconsin, the Heart of Canal Street is the signature charity effort of Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. It raised more than $1 million in 2015, benefitting 31 children’s charities. We talked with Ryan Amundson, External Communications Manager for Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, about the program and he gave us a bit of the history, “Since its inception in 1994, Heart of Canal Street has raised nearly $16 million for more than 500 children’s charities in southeastern Wisconsin.”
The Forest County Potawatomi moved back to Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley in 1991 after it had been reduced to a former industrial area with deteriorated fields and blighted land. Here is where they would build a modest bingo hall that would eventually become Wisconsin’s No. 1 entertainment destination with more than 6 million annual visitors. The Potawatomi Hotel & Casino was the first off-reservation casino in the US and drew attention to this neglected area of the city. It opened successfully to sold out crowds in March 1991. Only a few years later, it was decided to implement Heart of Canal Street to aid children’s charities in the region, as Amundson said, “It’s rooted in the beliefs and traditions of our owners and operators, the Forest County Potawatomi, which call us to nurture younger generations so they can lead healthy and productive lives.”
Money has been primarily raised by the Canal Street bingo game each year. From August to December half the proceeds from the $3 game go to Heart of Canal Street while the other half goes to the jackpot for the bingo winner. Recently they’ve worked on organizing other ways to benefit the participating charities, including a No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament, a Slot Tournament, as well as monthly drink specials. These efforts have continuously expanded and have allowed Heart of Canal Street to raise nearly $16 million over the past 22 years.
The charities for 2016 will be selected later this year. In 2015, of the 31 charities then chosen, ten were signature charities, each being selected by one of the Heart of Canal Street’s media partners who help promote the program, another 20 were chosen randomly from a pool of around 150, and then one charity was selected to be the property’s charity of choice and receive the first $100,000 raised. Amundson told us about that new charity, “Employ Milwaukee was selected because of its work in addressing… youth violence in Milwaukee’s central city. They… [are working] to address this issue in our community through mentorship and job training programs with teens in the area’s most distressed zip codes.”
In addition to the $100,000 that the charity of choice received, the 30 other charities received more than $31,000 each.
The initiative continues to evolve. Amundson shared some perspective, “In its first year, each participating charity received about $5,000…The generosity of casino guests, vendors, media partners, and team members has allowed the program to grow each year.” Since that first year it’s grown to serve ten different counties and impact children in a number of different ways. “They’ve been fed, protected, entertained, mentored, received health services, and have been inspired through the many agencies that have received Heart of Canal Street funds.”
Do you know of a great CSR or local philanthropy put on by a CVB or Hospitality destination?
Let us know by contacting Charmaine.