April 10, 2018

Storytelling Strengthens Community and Philanthropy

Brennan Nardi


Pictured above: Wilmer Jackson (second from left), the Jackson family, and the Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison gang.

Storytelling is at the heart of what I do as communications director at Madison Community Foundation. With every donor’s gift, and every grant we give, there is a unique and special story that provides insight into the work we do as part of our mission to enhance the common good through philanthropy.

As MCF wraps up its 75th Anniversary Year of Giving, stories are piling up in my mind like chapters in a great, big book. I wish we could tell them all—or write that book! The story of Wilmer Jackson would certainly be included in the chapter on Grant #8: Mad About Bikes.

I met Mr. Jackson at the Mad About Bikes event at Warner Park Community Center this past March. Presented by Madison Community Foundation and Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison, Mad About Bikes partnered with 40 community agencies to give away 1,100 gently used bikes to area kids. On a Saturday morning, Jackson appeared with his six kids, shepherding them through registration, helmet fittings, and, finally, bike selection.

For me, the magic of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is the eyes-wide feeling of anticipation and excitement each child expresses as they shop for the perfect bike. Pink with tassles and a basket. Green with training wheels and a horn. BMX blue. Watching Jackson’s kiddos climb on their new bikes and ride them out of the building grinning from ear to ear is one of the best memories I will take with me from MCF’s Year of Giving.

Fortunately, we have pictures! Our photographer Beth Skogen was equally smitten with the Jackson family, and captured their expressions of laughter and joy as they waited outside for Dad, who was still busy picking out the perfect bike for another daughter who couldn’t attend the event.


Stories like the Jacksons—and all of the children, parents, grandparents, and volunteers that came together for good on a cold and grey Wisconsin day—are worth telling. They help us remember that when we come together, when we experience joy together, Madison is better. Our neighborhoods and communities are stronger.

And that’s what philanthropy is all about.

Stay in touch with your questions, comments and observations at mcfblog@madisongives.org.