The Cornerstone Partnership

History was made on March 13, 2000 when the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the City of New Buffalo and New Buffalo Township executed the Local Agreement that formalized the support of the City and the Township to have the Pokagon Band take 675 acres of land in New Buffalo Township into trust and establish the Four Winds Resort.

photo of four winds casino in new buffalo

From that day to the present, hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits have been added to the economies of Harbor Country® and the communities that surround the consolidation sites taken into trust located in the Pokagon Band’s ancestral homelands in Southwestern Michigan and Northern Indiana.

The Local Agreement was no boiler plate contract rubber-stamped by the parties. It was a carefully structured and negotiated road map for a 99-year partnership to bring prosperity to the region, “including financial support for governments, charities, non-profit and non-governmental organizations…”.

The most innovative and unique feature of the Local Agreement was the creation of The Pokagon Fund, a non-profit tax-exempt private foundation that was to be generously and voluntarily funded by the Pokagon Band.

The brainchild of Henry White, an elder and leader of the Pokagon Band and New Buffalo Township representative Larry Frankle, The Pokagon Fund has as its purpose the distribution of contributions that focus on:

“local government programs and other programs benefitting seniors, children and schools; student scholarships; compulsive treatment programs, including but not limited to gambling programs; land preservation and acquisition; and local economic development projects."

photo of henry white
photo of larry franklef

Over the past decade, The Pokagon Fund has distributed almost $25 million for projects that serve Harbor Country®, the Michigan communities of Hartford and Dowagiac and South Bend, Indiana. Significantly, the Local Agreement guaranteed a close cooperation between the Pokagon Band and the local citizenry, businesses and governments, including specific contractual requirements, such as:

  • A local preference policy. The Band agreed to give preference to city and township residents and businesses in hiring and purchasing for the Four Winds Resort.

  • Cooperative marketing with local business associations.

  • A minimum age requirement of 21 to be able to gamble at the resort.

  • Payment of all upfront costs for development of the resort.

  • Revenue Sharing. In addition to the distributions to The Pokagon Fund, there was to be a broad sharing of a fixed percentage of designated revenues to local governments through the Local Revenue Sharing Board.

In 2011, the Pokagon Band expanded its casino operations to Hartford and in 2013 to Dowagiac, Michigan where it has distributed over $5,000,000 to Local Revenue Sharing Boards.

photo of four winds casino in hartford
photo of four winds casino in dowagiac

One of the most remarkable results of the creation of the Four Winds facilities in New Buffalo, Hartford and Dowagiac has been the extent of the revenue sharing of those operations. Over the period from 2008 to 2015, the cumulative payouts to the Local Revenue Sharing Boards in those communities has exceeded the payouts by every one of the other eleven Native American resorts in Michigan that share revenue with local units of government, topping the similar payments by the second largest revenue contributor, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, by over $2 million.

Approximately $50,000,000 has been distributed to local units of government in Berrien County from 2008 through 2016:

Berrien County $7,854,679
Berrien RESA $2,289,447
Chikaming Township $1,483,792
City of New Buffalo $3,945,460
Lake Michigan College $1,718,506
New Buffalo Township Library $580,995
New Buffalo Area Schools $17,680,832
New Buffalo Township $11,290,266
Three Oaks Township $1,483,792
Village of Grand Beach $296,360
Village of Michiana $296,360
Village of Three Oaks $743,248

The fruits of this partnership extend far beyond the distributions by The Pokagon Fund and the Local Revenue Sharing Boards.

Mno Bmadsen logo

In 2012, the Pokagon Band formed a non-gaming economic development entity called Mno-Bmadsen which means “walking the good path” in the Potawatomi language. This company now includes six companies with more than 250 employees and annual revenues in excess of $60 million.

In a 2016 press release, the Band reviewed the economic impact its activities have produced. The announcement stated that the Band had invested nearly $92 million into Michiana in 2016 and its total investment into the Indiana and Michigan economies over the last five years totals approximately $339 million.

There can be little question that the Cornerstone Partnership entered into by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the City of New Buffalo and New Buffalo Township on March 13, 2000 has benefitted residents, businesses and governmental units in Michiana and has enabled The Pokagon Fund to fulfill its mission:

“to enhance the lives of the people of the New Buffalo region through monetary support of local governments, non-profits, charities and other organizations.”

Partnering for Community Services

Over the past decade, The Pokagon Fund and nine local governmental units have partnered in the utilization of contributions from the Pokagon Band to fund over $11 million in Harbor Country® projects.

The March 13, 2000 Local Agreement between the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the City of New Buffalo and New Buffalo Township provided that 45% of The Pokagon Fund’s net revenues would be distributed in the following percentages to the following nine governmental units for projects requested by their governing bodies and approved by the Fund’s Board of Directors:

New Buffalo Township 21%
City of New Buffalo 14%
Chikaming Township 2%
Three Oaks Township 2%
New Buffalo Area Schools 2%
Village of Three Oaks 1%
Village of Grand Beach 1%
Village of Michiana 1%
River Valley School District 1%

The projects undertaken by these governmental units have had a significant beneficial impact on the lives of the residents in the New Buffalo area.

New Buffalo Township

The largest beneficiary of grants from The Pokagon Fund for the past decade has been New Buffalo Township (NBT). From 2008 through the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, over $5 million has been allocated to NBT projects. Approximately 90% of these funds have been dedicated to four major projects:

  • Township Hall Renovation

  • Memorial Park Improvements

  • Water Department Relocation and Improvements

  • Fire Department Relocation and Improvements

In 2015, NBT was given approval for the largest award in the history of The Pokagon Fund, a $2 million grant to renovate the New Buffalo Township Hall. Completed in 2016, the 8,800 square foot structure is the focal point of Township government. The Township leaders took particular pride in the fact that The Pokagon Fund grant made it possible to renovate the Township Hall without spending a single taxpayer dollar.

photo of new buffalo township hall

The main feature of the renovation is a vaulted, skylight-filled entranceway resembling a lighthouse that leads directly to an anteroom and a spacious room for Township Board meetings and other events. The meeting room is complete with a large window looking out on a deck that connects Township Hall with the surrounding Memorial Park, both visually and physically. By using the same materials for the Township Hall that were used in the park, the building and the Memorial Park were effectively tied together.

Memorial Park is the centerpiece of the Township’s outreach to its residents. It is a community meeting place that is used extensively for picnics, sports and recreation. Commencing in 2008, a series of grants by The Pokagon Fund provided over $1.1 million for Memorial Park improvements and enhancements to create a playground and splash pad, concrete walkways, trails, bridges, a basketball court and ice rink, sand volleyball court and more.

Projects in support of NBT’s Water and Fire Departments have totaled $1.5 million or fully one-third of the Township’s allocated funds.

One of the Fund’s largest grants was $421,000 awarded for the acquisition of the property on Clay Street in New Buffalo to house the Township’s Water and Fire Departments.

Over the years, $700,000 has been provided to the Water Department which operates a limited treatment system and a water distribution system that contains more than 45 miles of water mains, over 350 underground valves and more than 400 fire hydrants.

When the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality required the Township to implement a hydrant flushing and valve turning program, a 2012 Grant from the Fund enabled the Township to consolidate all of its water supply, storage and distribution information into one electronic Geographic Information System (GIS) based map. In 2014, two grants totaling $550,000 enabled the rebuilding of the Township’s water booster station.

Thanks to a Pokagon Fund grant, the Township’s volunteer Fire Department is now located in the new Clay Street facility that houses three fire trucks and other equipment provided by The Pokagon Fund, including:

  • “Turn-out” equipment (helmet, eyeshields, coats, boots and gloves) to protect the firefighter when responding to a fire call

  • Rescue equipment to extricate people from vehicle entrapments

  • Fire grass and rescue truck

  • Firefighter air-packs and masks

  • Water rescue truck

photo of new buffalo township fire truck

City of New Buffalo

What is Harbor Country® without a viable harbor?

The Pokagon Fund has helped to maintain the area’s main artery to Lake Michigan with grants totaling over $270,000 for the dredging of the City of New Buffalo’s harbor. However, with over $3.75 million allocated by the Fund for proposed City projects, the awards for dredging represent only a small percentage of The Pokagon Fund’s support of the City’s efforts to improve the lives of its residents.

photo of oselka marina

Two significant projects have utilized 85% of funds available to the City.

Commencing in 2008, the Fund and the City partnered through a $506,000 grant to improve Oselka Park by adding a new multi-use pavilion with restrooms, a concession stand and a covered picnic area. The existing soccer field was reconstructed, a new little league baseball field was built, and an irrigation system and fencing were added. In 2010, the Fund added another $1,000,000 to the Oselka Park project for the construction of enhanced baseball fields, a sledding hill and an ice rink. These facilities continue to find extensive use by the community.

photo of receiving grant at oselka park and ice rink at parkphoto of oselka park pavillion

By far the most ambitious project involving the Fund and the City is the $4,883,800 Downtown Development Initiative, $1,600,000 of which is being contributed by The Pokagon Fund with the second largest award the Fund has ever authorized for a single project. 

The project is being conducted in two phases. Phase I was completed in June, 2017 and Phase II, the extensive renovation of Whitaker Street, the City’s principal commercial area, is scheduled for completion in May, 2018. When completed, there will be improved pedestrian, handicap and bicycling accessibility and safety in downtown New Buffalo through sidewalk and road renovations. Resolving parking issues is one of the primary goals of the project together with the expectation that the beautification of Whitaker Street will attract new businesses to the area that will create a year-round employment base for the community.

Chikaming Township

Chikaming Township has devoted over 95% of $420,863 in awards from The Pokagon Fund to three main areas, the largest of which has been parks and recreation where the Township used a total of $171,145 for the Harbert Park Playground, the Planting Fields community garden at the Chikaming Preserve, walking and bike paths and the Chikaming Dog Park!

 photos of the planting fields community garden at the Chikaming preserve and recycling station at the chickaming township center

Recycling represents the second largest use of grant money by the Township. Commencing with its first grant awards in 2008, the Township has received $136,306 for recycling stations that have been placed at the Chikaming Township Center. 

Finally, the police and fire departments have benefitted from equipment provided by Pokagon Fund awards in the amount of $93,627 for police patrol car computers and in-car cameras, a fire simulator trailer, water rescue equipment, firefighter turn out gear and an automated external defibrillator.

photo of firefighter gear

Three Oaks Township

Of the $523,293 allocated to Three Oaks Township by The Pokagon Fund, a total of $448,598 has been awarded for municipal programs. Over 90% of the funding provided to the Township has been used for recycling, parks and recreation and the fire department.

In 2012, The Pokagon Fund provided $72,495 for the purchase of recycling bins for the residents of the Township. Resident participation in the recycling program was originally estimated to be around 75%, but since that first grant, over 90% of households participate. With subsequent funding that brought the total amount of the award total to $174,325, the recycling program has been a success for the Township.

Beginning with a grant of $49,980 for the Three Oaks Community Garden, the Township has used $122,847, or over 25% of its available funds, for parks and conservation trails that have added significant recreational opportunities for Township residents. The Pokagon Fund supported the construction of an observation platform in the southern section of the Three Oaks Township Conservation Area that provides a safe place to view birds as well as access to a “fisherman’s trail” along the south branch of the Galien River near the platform. A 2015 project established walking/hiking trails that give access to wildlife and nature viewing and provide a refreshing stop on the Harbor Country Bicycle Trail.

Finally, $118,045 was provided for Township Fire Department equipment that included hose replacements, an air cylinder fill station and self-contained breathing apparatus worn by firefighters to provide breathable air in dangerous situations.

photos of the three oaks hiking trails

New Buffalo Area Schools

The New Buffalo Area Schools (NBAS) have used their municipal fund allocations as a principal source of funding for summer school programs. Of the $497,931 in municipal fund grants, almost two-thirds have been used in this way.

The first summer school program began in 2008 with 92 students in grades 1-8. The program concentrated on strategies for success on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) standardized test, but included sessions on LEGO Robotics and Radiation and Health Safety. Through the following years, hundreds of students from the elementary, middle and high schools have received training in math, physics, reading skills, dance, piano as well as field trips and special programs at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Notre Dame and Ball State University.

The balance of the NBAS municipal grants have been used mostly for technology improvements ($82,780) and school equipment, including portable bleachers, fitness equipment, exercise equipment for the auxiliary gym and a light board for the Performing Arts Center ($93,807). The light board has been especially useful in facilitating the creation of settings for stage plays and band performances and in teaching students how to program multiple lighting pallets, stack cues for lighting playback and use the equalizer to balance voices and instruments.

River Valley School District

The Pokagon Fund has awarded the River Valley School District $225,676 from its municipal fund allocation, over 50% of which was used for equipment and infrastructure improvements.

The largest grant of $39,793 was used to provide air conditioning at the Performing Arts Center, a facility that is used for both high school and community wide events. Pokagon Fund awards were also used to purchase the middle high school electronic sign, to renovate the concession stand at the Middle High School Athletic Campus and to replace and add to the marching band’s drums. Technology enhancements enabled by Pokagon funds included the purchase of 10 “technologically smart” Promethean Boards and computers for elementary school classroom, grades Kindergarten through 5th.

From the beginning, River Valley has focused on projects to enhance its curriculum. In 2008 and 2009, grants were awarded for a Robotics program designed to improve knowledge of technology, a Social Studies Curriculum Project that provided new text books and materials, a Technical Curriculum Project that contributed to the purchase of 75 new computers and a Culinary Arts Program that familiarized students with the hospitality field. A Library Enhancement Project added 375 books to the Middle High School Library. Over 40% of River Valley School District's funds were used in this way.

Village of Three Oaks

The Village of Three Oaks has devoted 85% of its municipal funding from The Pokagon Fund to its parks and to the improvement of existing sidewalks and bike paths. Beginning in 2010, the Village was awarded $107,000 for a “Community Walkability” grant. The goal, successfully achieved, was to improve and expand walking, hiking and biking areas in order to build an environment that is pedestrian friendly. That award was followed by a grant for the Dillard Park Project that took an abandoned vacant play area and rejuvenated it with modern play equipment, benches, tables, safe surface and newly planted trees.

The parks initiative continued with the joint Three Oaks Village/Township Carver Park project, a $120,000 funding undertaken with the intent to turn a severely underutilized park space in the epicenter of the Village into a vibrant, attractive community gathering place. With the addition of trails, bike racks, sculpture and a pavilion built on the footprint of the original Three Oaks School, the project has been a success.

Photos of Three Oaks Carver Park

Village of Grand Beach

The website for the Village of Grand Beach proudly proclaims that its name “is synonymous with the stately white gates that welcome visitors”. In addition to the gates, the Village is known for its long shoreline, its green lawns and shaded streets. It is a resort village with a challenging and historic golf course, a beloved Clubhouse and a Village Hall that is a community gathering place. As a consequence, the Village has concentrated almost 80% of its grant requests on the maintenance and beautification of these assets.

The awards from The Pokagon Fund have provided for the creation of new landscaping, flower beds and garden enhancements at the entrance gates, the Clubhouse and other areas in the Village. Pokagon funds have also enabled the Village to enhance the infrastructure of the Clubhouse, make Village Hall and Kitchen renovations, install a new generator in the water department and provide radios for lifeguard staff.

photo of grand beach entrance

Village of Michiana

The Village of Michiana borders Lake Michigan and its Lake Shore Drive is part of an historic route with a number of former bus stops that provide stairs and access to the beach. In frequent need of attention because of high lake levels, beach erosion and other factors, it is not surprising that over 70% of the $257,284 in grants from The Pokagon Fund have been used to upgrade and improve Beach Stops 38-42. In addition, grant funding has been used to provide lake viewing and beach access points for the handicapped.

On the landward portion of Michiana, the Village has used grant funding to update its Village Hall with a new generator and purchase land adjacent to the Cherokee Drive Playground to increase the recreational area available to Michiana’s children.

Finally, The Pokagon Fund awarded a grant for a base station radio for the Michiana Police Department that has provided a reliable method of communication with emergency personnel.

photo of michiana bus stops

Partnering to Improve Quality of Life In Harbor Country

Capacity Building

When revenues from the Four Winds Casino began flowing in 2007, The Pokagon Fund was very quickly in the enviable position of having over $2,250,000 of discretionary funds available for distribution by the end of its first fiscal year.

By the end of its second fiscal year in June 2009, the Fund had a total income of $11,410,119, out of which over $5,000,000 was to be used for discretionary awards to qualified grantees. The challenge was to find qualified grantees!

Although the internal organizational challenges of establishing grant-making procedures were readily achieved, the need to work in partnership with potential grantees and educate them as to the requirements for the receipt and use of foundation funds quickly became apparent. Many potential grantees were not incorporated as nonprofits and had not been granted public charity status by the IRS. Many had never prepared grant requests.

photos of workshops in session

Commencing in 2009, the Fund began a series of seminars, workshops and programs that has continued to the present day designed to train potential grantees in the fundamentals of nonprofit and charitable operations, including:

  • Organizational structure

  • Board development

  • Fundraising

  • Budgeting and fiscal management

  • Personnel management

  • Leadership development

  • Strategic planning

  • Organizational self-assessment

Thus began a remarkable partnership between The Pokagon Fund and dozens of nonprofit and charitable organizations in Harbor Country®.

In the first year of grantmaking by the Fund, discretionary grants totaling just $456,353 out of the available $2,250,000 were paid out to grantees. Despite this modest beginning, these discretionary funds had an immediate impact on the local communities. Mary Dunbar, the first Executive Director of The Pokagon Fund, reported after the first year of grant-making that the Fund had already contributed to:

  • Feeding and clothing the poor

  • Providing educational opportunities to youth

  • Supporting technology upgrades at libraries and schools

  • Preserving the environment

  • Enhancing local parks

  • Supporting meals for the elderly

photo of meals on wheels of southwest michiana and feeding america food bank

Working together with potential grantees, the Fund’s capacity building efforts have contributed to the development of many organizations capable of delivering better programs and services to the residents of Harbor Country®.

Community Building

Through the end of fiscal year 2016, discretionary grants totaling almost $11,000,000 have been awarded to qualified non-profits and charitable organizations that have partnered with the Fund. In the early stages of the Fund’s grantmaking program, the available discretionary and other funding was abundant, and consequently, the following policy was adopted in 2008:

"Because of the limited geographical service area, The Pokagon Fund chooses not to restrict funding by program areas. The Pokagon Fund will entertain grants for initiatives in the areas of health and human services, education, arts and culture, recreation, and environment."

This broad mandate enabled the Fund to award grants to projects in a wide diversity of program areas that have contributed impressively to the improvement of the lives of the residents of Harbor Country®. 

photo of new buffalo girls softball and new buffalo events

Moreover, the operations of numerous nonprofit and charitable organizations have been seeded by the Fund. However, with the planned reduction in casino revenues established by the terms of the Local Agreement, a change in direction was inevitable.

During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the Board of Directors of the Fund undertook a strategic planning process to determine how best to use its available resources to meet the most pressing needs in its service area. The Board determined to focus its resources on the funding of three program areas:

  • Education

  • Poverty Reduction

  • Community Vitality

As the Fund looks forward to its second decade with an invigorated agenda, a retrospective of the highlights of its first decade of discretionary grant funding reveals the impact that these grants have had on the communities it serves.

Environmental Protection and Park Development

Lake Michigan: Protecting the area’s water resources and beaches is clearly an area of most vital concern in Harbor Country®. The Fund has partnered with The Conservation Fund to support a watershed planning project that encompasses an area stretching from the Michigan/Indiana State line in Harbor Country® to Grand Mere State Park. Grants totaling $63,665 have been used to identify sources of E. coli bacteria contamination and other pollutants impacting the streams and creeks flowing into Lake Michigan and fouling its beaches. The Pokagon Fund has been a catalyst for bringing local governments together to increase awareness of and encourage solutions to these issues.

photo of water conservation meeting

Galien River: The Fund’s earliest environmental grant of $100,000 to Chikaming Open Lands (COL), a local land conservancy, initiated ecosystem restoration and management of the Galien River Marsh. The primary focus of the restoration was the control of invasive plant species. The project resulted in a significant reduction in common reed as well as moderate reductions in Purple Loosestrife, Reed Canary Grass and Canada Thistle. Most importantly, matching funds from local homeowners’ associations supported the project and COL has maintained a continuing involvement in ongoing restoration activities.

photo of chikaming open lands marsh

Land Conservation: COL has dedicated itself to preserving the open spaces and the natural rural character of southwest Berrien County. It has become the Fund’s primary partner in the development of land conservancies, having received funding of over $1,300,000 during the past decade, including an award of $314,104 for the purchase of a new office building.

In 2011, COL was awarded a 2-1 challenge grant of up to $300,000 per year for three years for support of The Partners in Conservation Program. The match was met and the full amount of the award ($900,000 total) was paid. The award contributed to the creation of conservation easements and protection of wetlands, farmlands, woodlands and five nature preserves, which are open to the public: Turtle Creek Preserve, Critter Haven Preserve, Flynn Woods Preserve, Jens Jensen Preserve and The Woods Preserve.

photo og flynn woods preserve and turtle creek

Galien River County Park: The 86-acre Galien County Park is the gem of Harbor Country® with its Canopy Walkway, Marsh Overlook Tower and Marsh Boardwalk Trails leading through wetlands to the edge of the Galien River. The Pokagon Fund was instrumental in the creation of the park.

In 2008, an award of $15,000 to the Berrien County Parks Commission underwrote the cost of a master plan for designing the park layout. In 2009, an award of $4,000 funded the creation of an architectural scale model of the park, followed in 2010 with a grant of $300,000 for park construction.

photo of galien river park

Hike and Bike Paths: From 2009 to 2016, awards totaling $1,239,755 to Chikaming Township, New Buffalo Township and Friends of Harbor Country Trails (FOHCT) supported the study and creation of bike and pedestrian paths. These include on a number of local streets in Harbor Country, including Townline, Flynn, Wilson and Maudlin Roads. With the support from these awards by the Fund, FOHCT prepared a detailed plan for a regional non-motorized trail system to connect local communities in Harbor Country®. These awards also supported the hiring and retention of a project manager and bike trail signage that has been placed throughout Harbor Country®.

photos of harbor country trails


During the past decade, The Pokagon Fund has awarded a total of $2,370,024 of its discretionary funds to high school senior and adult scholarship recipients, the New Buffalo Area Schools (NBAS), the River Valley School District (RVSD) and the St. Mary of the Lake School (St. Mary School):

High School Senior Scholarships $275,449
Adult Scholarships $275,623
NBAS Discretionary Fund Grants $245,331
RVSD Discretionary Fund Grants $1,462,403
St. Mary School $111,218

These awards represent over 20% of the total amount of the discretionary funding that has been provided by the Fund to all grantees from inception through 2016.

photos of students receiving funds

River Valley School District Technology Improvements: By far the largest and single most impactful discretionary grant supporting education was a $1,095,723 award made in August, 2013 to the RVSD for its Technology Improvement Project. As described in the 2014 Annual Report, the award:

“thrust the River Valley Schools into the forefront of the use of modern technology at the elementary and high school level…The award was used to add new network servers, upgrade classrooms with projectors and audio, provide a network based video surveillance system, install outdoor electronic signage and distribute over 800 tablets and IPads to staff and students from Pre-K through high school.”

RVSD Superintendent William Kearney confirmed the importance of this award as the source of a “revitalized energy level and focus among students and staff, leading to improved learning at all levels.”

photo of river valley school district technology

River Valley School District Athletic Fields Renovations: Another significant discretionary grant was a $340,000 award made in April, 2012 to the RVSD for its Athletic Fields Renovation Project. The athletic facilities were in disrepair to the point that student safety had become an issue. The track was resurfaced and painted, concession stands and restrooms were built, new track and softball/baseball equipment was purchased and bleachers were added. Before the renovation, the track facilities had not been used to host meets for several years.

Scholarship Awards: Over $550,000 has been awarded for scholarships to high school graduates and adult grantees over the past decade.

Through 2016, 32 high school seniors from the New Buffalo Area and River Valley High Schools had been awarded scholarships totaling $275,449. These scholarship recipients have attended 19 different colleges and universities.

Adult scholarships totaling $275,623 have been another important area of educational support. This scholarship program is open to full time adult residents of Harbor Country® and is intended to assist adults going back to school for individual classes, a degree or an advanced degree or skills training. For example, funds have been awarded to adults seeking a Michigan builder’s license or to receive certification as a professional truck driver.

Educational and College Campus Field Trips: Beginning in 2010, the Fund partnered with the NBAS, the RVSD and St. Mary of the Lake School to fund educational trips designed to broaden the horizons of students from kindergartners to high schoolers. Such trips have focused on culture, science, history and nature.

The opportunities provided by Harbor Country’s proximity to Chicago have exposed local students to exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum.

photos of students on field trips in chicago

Live productions in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, including The Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, have introduced many students to the Bard’s plays for the first time.

There have been trips to farms in Indiana, such as Amish Acres Historic Farms and Heritage Resort, Fair Oaks Farms and Garwood Orchards, as well as Dinges’ Farms in Three Oaks, Michigan.

Science has been at the forefront of field trips to the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman and the Horizon Wind Energy Farm in Brookston, Indiana.

In addition, the Fund has awarded funding for field trips that provide NBAS and RVSD high school students access to college and university campuses. As a result, when decision time for college approaches, the students better understand their educational options. To date, over $200,000 has been awarded to fund these trips.

photos of high school students touring college campuses

Health and Human Services

The Pokagon Fund has focused on Health and Human Services as a key element of its mission.

The Fund has been at the forefront of distributing food and providing meals to the needy. It has funded vision care to all ages, nursing assistance to cancer patients, hospice care to those nearing the end of life and a myriad of other services to seniors. These essential programs are summarized below.

Vision Program: From 2011 to 2016, the New Buffalo Lions Club was awarded $387,315 to create and conduct a Vision Program providing eye exams and glasses for children living in Harbor Country®.

photos of lions club and vision program

Food Assistance: Since 2008, the Fund has provided more than $600,000 to support 25 different organizations that provide food and grocery items to students, families and seniors throughout its service area. Two grantees, Senior Nutrition Services and Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, have been at the forefront of distributing fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products and meals to thousands of seniors, disabled low-income adults and families at the poverty level.

Hospice Care: From 2008 to 2014, awards totaling $146,000 were presented to Hospice Home for Life and Hospice at Home, Inc. to underwrite the “last wishes” of hospice patients and provide transition programming to individuals with life-limiting illnesses and grief support to their families. Funding was also given to Hospice at Home’s Hospice Residence Campaign and the Berrien County Blanket Brigade.

River Valley Senior Center: From 2010 to 2015, awards totaling $66,465 were awarded to underwrite capital improvements and operational expenses and to purchase a van to transport seniors.

Gambling Addiction Services: In 2008, an award of $11,365 was used to create the Michiana Center for Gambling Recovery (later the Great Lakes Center for Gambling Recovery), an organization tasked with assisting individuals to recover from compulsive gambling behaviors. In 2009, awards totaling $475,000 provided for operational expenses and the purchase of a building to house the organization. In 2013, the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling was awarded $10,824 for Problem Gambling Help advertisements.

Animal Safety: From 2008 to 2015, awards totaling $67,050 to Animal Lovers, Inc. provided spaying/neutering services as well as pet adoption programs. In 2010, $2,450 was given as a matching gift for the creation of the Chikaming Township Dog Park.

Cancer Victim Support: In 2008 and 2010, awards totaling $20,000 to Berrien County Cancer Services provided skilled nursing care to cancer patients. In 2014 and 2015, another $11,500 was contributed to RiverBend Cancer Services for advocacy and a Living Well with Cancer Series.

New Buffalo Area Schools: In 2008, an award of $6,700 created a project to promote health and wellness among children.

photo of the blanket brigade

Arts and Culture

The Pokagon Fund has been a benefactor to the rich and diverse cultural life of this area. The following projects represent some of the major awards that support the Arts and Culture:

New Buffalo Township Library: In 2008, an award of $14,462 to the New Buffalo Township Library supported a community needs assessment for long-term planning and capacity building. Thereafter, the Fund awarded an additional $900,000 for the construction of a new facility, which was completed in 2014. Also in 2012, an award of $50,541 supported the purchase by the library of print and online resources for the community.

photos of the new buffalo township library

Acorn Theatre and Events in Three Oaks: From 2008 to 2015, awards totaling $209,000 were granted to the Acorn Theatre, Harbor Arts, Inc. and Harbor Country Opera to underwrite opera performances and the Three Oaks Theater Festival.

Harbor Country Public Arts Initiative: From 2010 to 2015, awards totaling $45,670 were provided for a display of public art in Harbor Country and Three Oaks.

New Buffalo Fine Arts Council: Between 2010 and 2015, the Fine Arts Season of performances was sponsored with awards totaling $105,475. The purpose of the Council is to educate and enrich the lives of children and adults through the arts. Sponsored programs included Black Ash Basket Weaving classes taught by members of the Pokagon Band.

Musical Events: In 2012, awards totaling $28,750 supported performances by Bixby’s Rainforest Rescue, a series of jazz performances at the Lakeside Inn and a Chamber Music Outreach Program in Harbor Country®.

New Buffalo Railroad Museum: In 2013, the museum was awarded $19,745 to underwrite the sequel to The New Buffalo Story. In 2014, the museum was awarded $4,327 for infrastructure needs. Another $5,000 was awarded for support augmentation in 2016.

NightBlue Performing Arts: From 2011 to 2015, awards totaling $106,000 funded NightBlue Children’s Theater youth immersions workshops in Harbor Country®, an evening concert series and a Theater Festival.

Region of Three Oaks Museum: In 2009, an award of $20,000 underwrote a needs assessment. In 2011, $15,000 was given for landscaping. Three awards totaling $26,365 in 2013 funded technological as well as building improvements. In 2015, $6,759 was given to support equipment purchases and a Black Ash Basket Workshop.

School of American Music: In 2013 and 2014, awards totaling $16,700 supported a musical partnership with the New Buffalo Area and River Valley School Districts. In 2015, an award of $10,000 supported the School of American Music’s Three Oaks Arts & Education Center.

Southold Dance Theater: From 2009 to 2016, awards totaling $106,275 supported performances of The Nutcracker Ballet in Harbor Country®.

Southwest Michigan Symphony Opera: From 2009 to 2014, awards totaling $113,950 supported the annual Independence Day Concert and the Water’s Edge Summer Music Fest.

Three Oaks Flag Day Celebration: From 2008 to 2016, awards totaling $51,317 supported the World’s Largest Flag Day Parade and related events.

photos of new buffalo events

Partnering to Improve the Quality of Life In Communities Surrounding Pokagon Band Lands 

The negotiations that resulted in the Local Agreement envisioned a significant charitable outreach by The Pokagon Fund beyond Harbor Country®, to the communities surrounding the Pokagon Band’s trust land consolidation sites, including Dowagiac, Michigan, Hartford, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana.

The City of New Buffalo, New Buffalo Township and the Band agreed to allocate 10% of the contributions to the Fund from the Four Winds New Buffalo casino operation to enhance the lives of residents in those communities.

As a result, the Fund has partnered with nonprofit and charitable organizations to distribute $2,581,737.13 to these communities from 2007 through the end of the 2016 fiscal year. The distributions were relatively even during that time:

Dowagiac $954,158.08
Hartford $788,487.52
South Bend $839,091.53

The most remarkable aspect of these distributions is that over half of the total amount granted for Dowagiac and Hartford were awarded during the first two years of grantmaking to meet immediate pressing needs in those communities.

Dowagiac, Michigan

By far, the largest single grant to these communities was a 2008 award of $500,000 to the Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital for an expansion of the hospital’s Emergency Department Facility. At the time, the hospital provided the only Emergency Department in Cass County and described the proposed expansion as “the most important community project in…decades.”

With a total project budget of $3,200,000, the hospital received $500,000 from the Fund to be applied to the renovation of an outdated emergency room. The project was successfully completed in 2010.

photo of the borgess-lee memorial hospital

Another of the initial grants was an award of $74,825 to the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan for the purchase of a school bus to be used by the Pokagon Band Head Start Center. Contemporaneous with the commencement of grantmaking by the Fund, the Head Start Center’s ten-year-old bus was red-tagged by state authorities as unsafe. The Fund’s award enabled the Head Start Program to continue!

Due to redistricting and boundary changes, the Patrick Hamilton Elementary School changed from a middle school to an elementary school with a playground unsuited to K-5th grade students. Because young and handicapped students were at risk, the Parent Teacher Organization requested funds to refurbish the playground. An award of $39,595 resulted “in creating an enjoyable and safe outdoor environment for students and the children of the City of Dowagiac”.

Through the years, awards have been provided to support the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, Ice Time Festival, Summer in the City, Under the Harvest Moon and Fun Fest.

photos of dowagiac festivals

Dowagiac schools have received support for technology upgrades, community-based “life skills” classes, school supplies, Career Pathways Day, the High School Media Center, Five Star Life Programming and adult education.

Seniors have been supported by grants to the Council on Aging, Senior Nutrition Services, Hope’s Door and the A.C.T.I.O.N Ministries.

All in all, a broad diversity of projects has benefitted the Dowagiac community.

Hartford, Michigan

As with Dowagiac, the community in Hartford had immediate needs that were met when The Pokagon Fund began its grantmaking program. During its first two fiscal years, the Fund provided grants totaling $584,838 to Hartford non-profit and charitable organizations, or almost 75% of all of the awards made in Hartford during the past decade.

Two grants of $150,000 highlighted this initial period of grantmaking.

A grant of $150,000 was awarded to the Hartford Community Center for its Community Fitness Center Project. By providing over 25% of the total project budget of $560,000, the Fund enabled the development of a complete fitness center in a new, full-sized gymnasium space located downtown and made available to all age groups free of charge.

A second grant of $150,000 was made to the Hartford Council for Recreation in support of its Recreation Improvement Project. Because the ball park in Hartford had lost its funding from local municipalities, the Council for Recreation turned to The Pokagon Fund seeking assistance to make significant improvements, including ADA-compliant restrooms, a new concession stand and pavilion, improved fencing, a backstop and new lighting. The renovated ball park has been described as “second to none in Southwest Michigan”.

Funding for education was clearly the highest priority with eight grants totaling $260,881 being awarded for the following projects during the first two years:

Family Reading Night Project $15,200
Hartford Summer School Program $50,000
Visual and Applied Arts $33,100
Elementary School Library Revitalization $20,000
After-School Tutoring $50,000
My Eye, My World, My Art $4,954
Read Naturally $8,852
Community Education Summer Schools $78,775

As the first decade of giving progressed, The Pokagon Fund continued its emphasis on assistance to the Hartford Public Schools. Of the $203,650 awarded to Hartford after the initial two years of grantmaking, $112,976 (constituting 55% of the awards) were devoted to education.

The main emphasis of the education awards was on technology ($34,392) and literacy ($24,820). Acquisitions of computers, keyboards and headphones with Pokagon Fund grants furthered the goal of the Harford Public Schools to put “the latest technology in the hands of every student and staff member.” Acquisitions of reading assessment and other tools provided the ability to track student progress from kindergarten to the eighth grade and to develop a Core Reading Enhancement Project to increase reading achievement by Hartford students.

Student extracurricular activities were also supported with awards totaling $43,204 that funded:

  • Safety improvements at the Hartford Sports Stadium

  • Purchase of new drums for the Drumline Fifth Grade Band Instrument Program

  • Soccer and Basketball Programs

  • Post Prom Night Events

photo of hartford high school students

The remainder of the grants supported diverse projects, including $26,000 for technology upgrades and a Children’s Tech Center at the Hartford Public Library, $14,000 for Senior Nutrition Programs and $24,799 for the Hartford Fire and Police Departments and City facilities’ improvements.

Finally, it should be noted that since 2009 a combination of awards from the Band’s allocated 10% funding and the Fund’s 45% discretionary allocation enabled over $24,000 of support for the Children’s Assessment Center of the Berrien County Council for Children to provide forensic interviewing and counseling services to child crime victims from Hartford and Dowagiac.

South Bend, Indiana

In stark contrast to the funding provided initially to the Dowagiac and Hartford areas, the South Bend area received no grants during the first two fiscal years of grantmaking by the Pokagon Fund.

Moreover, unlike the extensive support for the public schools in Dowagiac and Hartford during this first decade of grantmaking, there have been only three Band grants totaling $15,500 awarded to the public schools in South Bend. Instead, funding has been directed to organizations like the YWCA of North Central Indiana, La Casa de Amistad, Catholic Charities, the LaSalle Council of Boy Scouts and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Joseph County to provide literacy training, tutoring, summer programs, Cub Scout pack experiences and mentoring for at-risk youth.

photo of La casa de amistad

Significantly, the emphasis in South Bend has been on poverty reduction, providing food to the needy and sheltering the homeless.

Of the $839,091 awarded to South Bend charitable organizations through June 30, 2016, St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty received the single largest grant of $180,000 that provided core funding and brought financial stability to the organization, enabling it to build its poverty reduction program. Bridges Out of Poverty is now active in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties, Indiana and in Michigan’s Van Buren and Cass Counties. It has emerged as a trailblazer for highlighting new approaches toward transitioning under-resourced communities out of generational and situational poverty and into economic viability.

photo of bridges out of poverty group

Food pantries have received major support totaling over $135,000 in the South Bend area. This funding was inaugurated in the summer of 2010 when 13 different charitable organizations were provided with grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to provide groceries and other non-food items to those who cannot afford the basic necessities. Funding has continued through the present day with the largest cumulative awards totaling $36,000 donated to St. Margaret’s House for its Building Healthy Families project.

Providing shelter to the homeless and those in need has involved a number of organizations, each with a unique focus.

  • The Robert L. Miller Sr. Veteran’s Center provides housing to veterans with the goal of giving them a renewed sense of purpose and pride in their veteran status. Over $50,000 in funding has been awarded to the Center.

  • The Safe Station project of the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County was given $55,000 to provide alternatives to youths in unsafe living conditions and to house those who were runaways and homeless.

  • The Upper Room Recovery Community, Inc. was given $22,500 to provide rental assistance and house men recovering from alcoholism and addiction.

  • The Transitional Housing Program of the YWCA of Northeast Indiana was awarded $30,000 to provide emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and chemical dependency.

  • The Weather Amnesty program of Our Lady of the Road, Inc. received $5,000 in funding to shelter homeless men when temperatures were below freezing.

With support for the Potawatomi Zoo, the Reins of Life equestrian project, the South Bend Museum of Art, Unity Gardens, the Summer Arts Festival, Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County and many other organizations and events, The Pokagon Fund has had a positive influence on South Bend and its residents.

For more information on The Pokagon Fund visit