Fund Name: Ann and Mark Thelen Family Fund
Fund Established: July 9, 1987
Community Foundation(s): Central Minnesota
In 2013, when the Community Foundation shared an opportunity to make a difference for an entire elementary school, Mark and Ann Thelen stepped up right away. They learned about Discovery School’s increasingly diverse student body and a principal’s desire to foster a more welcoming, inclusive community where everyone felt like they belonged.
One of his wishes seemed simple: Give every student at Discovery School a t-shirt so the kids could they are all on the same team. The Foundation reached out to donors like the Thelens to share the concept.
“When the idea of buying t-shirts was brought up, I questioned the need,” said Mark Thelen, a retired St. Cloud business owner. “But then I was shown the rich diversity of Discovery School’s student body and the genuine need for many of its new students to feel included.”
About one-third of the school’s students are English learners and over 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Only 40 percent of the students are Caucasian, 30 percent are African-American and 21 percent are Hispanic.
“If matching t-shirts bring a sense of belonging to a group of disparate children and even a little elation, that’s a good thing,” said Ann, who owned an advertising firm with her husband.
The Foundation brought together a group of donors who shared an interest in the cause to foster a greater sense of belonging and community at the local school. Those donors include Mark and Ann Thelen, Nancy Ehlen, Kathy and Dr. John Reisinger, Kevin and Teresa Hilger and Gary and Jane Marsden. Together, they provided the funds needed to give every student a bright blue Discovery Dolphins t-shirt and ensure field trips were accessible for all students during the school year.
“From what we have seen, it made a difference,” Mark said.
Curt Rock, Discovery’s principal in 2013-2014, agreed.“This was a wonderful way to make all of the school community feel connected,” he said. “Without these donations, there are many field trips our students would not have had the opportunity to experience.”