Potawatomi changes name, funding structure of signature charity program

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Potawatomi Hotel & Casino is blowing out its giving this year as it makes strategic changes to its signature charity program, “Miracle on Canal Street.”

The annual program, now 22 years old, supports area youth-serving organizations with funds generated by special rounds of bingo played at the casino from August through early December.

Among program changes is a new program name, “Heart of Canal Street,” prompted by “external factors” as well as a push to refresh the charity initiative, according to Renee Kirnberger, public affairs manager for Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

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“We just started to look at the legacy program, and we are in the heart of the City of Milwaukee and the heart of Menomonee Valley and our heart’s always at the center of our giving,” Kirnberger said.

Kirnberger declined to comment on the specifics of the “external factors” that compelled the program name change.

Also new to the charity program is the designation of a “Charity of Choice” in which Potawatomi will select an area organization to benefit with the first $100,000 of the funds raised for “Heart of Canal Street.”

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The hotel and casino has deemed the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board’s pilot program, Youth Works MKE, as the “Charity of Choice” for 2015. The $100,000 gift will funnel toward a solution for community violence as the pilot program aims to curb gun violence in Milwaukee. The program is largely modeled after One Summer Plus, a Chicago program that helps youth through two prongs – giving them part-time summer jobs and providing cognitive behavioral therapy-based programming.

“We are really confident in MAWIB’s ability to take that program, expand upon it (and) make it a yearlong program for these kids,” Kirnberger said, adding that the program will also include mentoring and address kids’ social and emotional needs.

In pinpointing the right charity for the “Charity of Choice” mark, Potawatomi sought to help an organization that provides direct services to area youth.

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“They are providing this direct service in a part of the city that has reached a tipping point from a violence perspective,” Kirnberger said, citing the primary focal points as neighborhoods in zip codes 53206 and 53208.

She hopes funds from the hotel and casino help elevate awareness of Youth Works MKE and give MAWIB a platform to establish other public and private partnerships that will support the continuation of its youth programming.

Looking to future program years, Potawatomi will keep the “Charity of Choice” element imbedded in “Heart of Canal Street” but will select other youth-focused organizations to benefit. Other program elements will follow the traditions of past years as “Heart of Canal Street” supports 30 youth-serving organizations – 10 selected by the charity program’s media partners and the other 20 selected on a random basis. Those 30 nonprofits will evenly split the remaining fundraising dollars.

The program each year is capped by a holiday celebration in which the total fundraising figure is unveiled and nonprofits are recognized and awarded.

Potawatomi strives to reach at least $1 million during each program cycle. Last year’s fundraising resulted in more than $1 million, driving the program’s giving total over its lifespan to more than $14.6 million.

Potawatomi announced changes to its signature charity program on Tuesday evening during a casino event that also celebrated the PHC Classic, which will be held Friday through Sunday at Brown Deer Park.

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