Leaving a Job But Keeping a Passion

Foundation volunteer spotlight

 May 13, 2019
Leaving a Job But Keeping a Passion

‚ÄúKen brought to the foundation a deep knowledge of nonprofits and REALTORS¬ģ and the tenacity to move ideas into actions. He has a real knack for asking the right question at the right time and keeping everyone focused. But his greatest gift is his passion and compassion, especially for helping Wisconsin children, and that will be his lasting gift to our foundation.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď Michael Theo, WRA President & CEO

The WRA is made up of thousands of exceptionally hardworking, dedicated members, and on occasion, we like to brag about how they spend their time away from their busy work and personal lives giving to others in their communities. And today is one of those occasions. With his official retirement just last month, we want to thank and highlight the longtime dedication of Ken Dickson to the WRA, its members, the Wisconsin REALTORS¬ģ Foundation (WRF) and his community.
During his 30 years of involvement with the WRA, Ken has served in various leadership roles, including the board of directors for both the WRA and the WRF. His passion for service has been a guiding force for both organizations for decades. 

Ken was instrumental in helping the WRF establish its partnership with Feeding Wisconsin*. He has helped challenge and inspire the WRF board and WRA members to rally behind the cause of feeding hungry children in Wisconsin. Anyone can ask for monetary donations, but Ken could inspire people to give even after they just gave ‚ÄĒ that takes talent and work. In a heartbeat, Ken brought institutional knowledge to the WRF board, putting everything into an understandable and relatable perspective. Ken‚Äôs language when discussing food insecurity is always in the currency of meals: for every one dollar donated, a food pantry can provide three meals to a child in need. It doesn‚Äôt get any simpler than that.¬†

Since September 2018, Ken has helped the WRF provide over 180,000 meals for Wisconsin children through fundraising at the annual convention and organizing the foundation‚Äôs first-ever Wisconsin REALTORS¬ģ Team Up Against Hunger week. When asked about what he would tell someone who is thinking about starting a volunteer group in their own office, Ken said, ‚ÄúIf we each gave just two volunteer hours a month to our local food pantries, we could more than triple the amount of nutritious food that gets into the mouths of hungry kids.‚Ä̬†

Ken first got involved with food banks when he was invited to a breakfast at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin in Madison in 2004. ‚ÄúSeveral children under 12 were there, and they thanked us for making it possible for them to eat each day,‚ÄĚ said Ken. ‚ÄúIt was one of the most impactful moments of my life.‚ÄĚ Ever since that day, Ken has served Second Harvest in many capacities, including nine years on its board of directors and three as the chairman.¬†

Volunteering at a pantry can be a very humbling and rewarding experience, and many people may not fully understand until they actually show up to help. ‚ÄúThe people who come through the door of a food pantry are hurting, many in ways that we may never experience or understand,‚ÄĚ said Ken. ‚ÄúVolunteers and donors should see this opportunity as giving a ‚Äėhand up,‚Äô not a ‚Äėhand out.‚Äô No one wants to be in that [food bank] line.‚Ä̬†

According to Ken, there are two significant challenges to fighting hunger among children in Wisconsin. The first challenge is the funding gap: the demand for free or reduced meals in schools is greater than the current funding available for such programs. ‚ÄúVery few schools can afford to run a summer meal program,‚ÄĚ said Ken. Many Wisconsin children go hungry in the summer months because they lose access to the food at their school.¬†

The second challenge of fighting hunger in Wisconsin is the improvement of food manufacturing efficiency. Food production and manufacturing are becoming more efficient, minimizing excess inventories in supermarkets that would otherwise be donated for distribution to pantries. 

Ken draws his inspiration from not only those the food pantry serves, but the individuals who help keep the doors open as well. ‚ÄúThe emotional commitment of the staff and volunteers who run the local pantries and food banks is moving,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThe pay is low or nonexistent for volunteers, the hours are long, and the work can be hard. Yet these people wouldn‚Äôt think of doing anything else.‚Ä̬†

As for Ken‚Äôs retirement plans, he has no intention of backing away from his passions. Once he and his wife get settled into their new home in Cape Cod, Ken will continue to help others in need. ‚ÄúWhat many don‚Äôt know is that the faces in those lines change,‚ÄĚ Ken said. ‚ÄúNinety days from today, the line will be longer, and it will be filled with different people. The problem of food insecurity is not going away.‚Ä̬†

Ken‚Äôs passion for helping others also extends to helping disabled veterans find affordable housing and gain access to health benefits they need and deserve. Over the last five years, Ken has been an active fundraiser for the Badger Honor Flight that sends combat veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their war memorial. ‚ÄúAs a veteran myself, I have an appreciation for their journey that took them to where they are today,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI intend to continue these efforts in retirement.‚Ä̬†

The WRF board of directors and the WRA would like to thank Ken for his years of service and dedication to both organizations and wish him well on his future endeavors. 

* Feeding Wisconsin is the statewide association of the Feeding America food banks that sources, warehouses and provides food to over 750 affiliated agencies and 1,000 local food programs throughout the state. Every year, the Feeding Wisconsin network of food banks, affiliated food pantries and meal programs provide almost 60 million meals to nearly 580,000 people statewide ‚ÄĒ 33 percent of those meal recipients are children.¬†

Leaving a Job But Keeping a Passion - insert 1

Ken Dickson stands with the WRF board and Feeding Wisconsin Executive Director David Lee with the WRF’s initial $50,000 gift to Feeding Wisconsin in 2018. From left are WRF board members Peter Sveum, K.C. Maurer, Gail Howard, Chris Stark, Mike Spranger; Feeding Wisconsin Executive Director David Lee; and WRF board members Steve Lane, Ken Dickson and Mike Theo.

Leaving a Job But Keeping a Passion - insert 2

Ken Dickson presents Feeding Wisconsin Executive Director David Lee with the WRF’s initial $50,000 gift to Feeding Wisconsin in 2018.

Leaving a Job But Keeping a Passion - insert 3

 Ken celebrating his 60th birthday in Door County.

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