When 50 animals needed to be moved into emergency foster care during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, members of a Solon-based family foundation stepped in by opening their wallet and their hearts.
The Wenk Family Foundation provided a $5,000 matching fund donation to help launch a fundraiser for the Geauga Humane Society’s Rescue Village in Russell Township.
“We reached out to [Rescue Village] and they were glad to hear from us,” said Solon resident Dennis Castiglione, executive director of the charitable foundation. “They told us that they have to overnight their animals into foster care and to line up families pretty quickly.”
The Wenk Family Charitable Foundation, which focuses on supporting organizations that serve people and animals compromised by circumstance, was the first organization to provide not only a donation but also an incentive to boost the fundraiser.
“In the midst of unprecedented challenges to Rescue Village, and all of us, the Wenk Family Foundation came to the rescue of over 50 dogs and cats,” Hope Brustein, executive director of Rescue Village, said. “Forced to alter all of our operations in compliance with Gov. Mike DeWine, we turned to our community to move animals into foster care, continue stopping cruelty and neglect and get a free pet food pantry up and running.”
Phil Wenk, a foundation trustee and Solon resident, spoke of the longtime relationship his group has had with Rescue Village. “They are all amazing.”
Mr. Wenk explained that a second, anonymous donor pledged another $2,500 and in less than two weeks more than $7,000 has been raised. That, matched by the foundation and the second donor, equated to $14,000 raised thus far.
Mr. Castiglione continued that, when the pandemic began, foundation members “shifted gears” to reach out to organizations they had supported in the past. Founded in 2018, the Wenk foundation has provided funds to more than 40 organizations in the Greater Cleveland area, including Rescue Village.
“We started calling organizations we supported to see how they are managing and how we can help,” Mr. Castiglione said. “In some cases, it’s financial and in others it is networking and connecting dots — putting people together so they can accomplish some of their goals.”
Mr. Castiglione walked the walk by taking in one of the Rescue Village animals himself, a 2-year-old calico cat named Lulu who joins the family’s 12-year-old Labradoodle, Nico.
Lulu found her “space” with Mr. Castiglione’s son Gio in his basement “man cave.
“The fostering was not a difficult decision,” Mr. Castiglione said. “The family made it in a split second.”
It is most likely Lulu will find her permanent home with them, Mr. Castiglione said. “We love her and she seems very content here.”
“There’s a helplessness you feel when you see what is happening,” Mr. Castiglione said of the needs that have arisen due to the pandemic. “I had a rare opportunity with the Wenk family to not only financially help organizations but pitch in and help out as well.
“It’s one of those rare opportunities to not feel so helpless,” he added.
The foundation has supported children and animals who are compromised by circumstances and the organizations that serve them.
The Wenk family began the foundation after selling Creative Playrooms in Solon, a company they started more than 50 years ago.
“Mom is particularly focused on animals,” Mr. Wenk said of his mother, Joan, “and my whole life is about children.” A psychologist, Mr. Wenk works with traumatized children.
“We took a three-tier approach to the foundation,” Mr. Wenk continued. “First of course is direct support if there are programs, and the second is we encourage organizations to collaborate.”
Thirdly, they identify if there are gaps and will create a program, he explained.
“We have our fingers in a whole lot of pies,” Mr. Wenk continued. “Our family started off very poor and we didn’t eat every day, so hunger is very personal to me.”
The foundation has focused recently on helping to purchase lunches for underprivileged children who previously would get them at school before they were closed by the state during the health crisis.
“We are working with the governor to make sure as many as possible don’t fall through the cracks,” he said.
“Both Phil and I have been in the community a long time and know a lot of people who need help or can help,” Mr. Castiglione said. “That is where the two of us work best together — connecting the right people.”
Mr. Wenk is one of the founding members of the Solon Benevolent Fund and worked to re-start Solon Home Days over 20 years ago.
“I focus my energies and resources in Solon because this is my backyard,” Mr. Wenk said.
The help has not gone unnoticed.
“The generosity and compassion extended by the Wenk Family Foundation lifted us up and saved animals’ lives,” Ms. Brustein said.