The Zone

MARIAN RODRIGUEZ (from right) Maleia Taylor, Cielo Arregyn and Kallie Arnold work on art projects at The Zone in Norfolk. The Zone is one of many entities in Northeast Nebraska that has benefited from the Connie Fund, an endowment established by former Norfolkan, Connie Day, before her death in 2001.

In life, it seemed as if nothing could stop Connie Day from making an impact on her community.

The list of her lifetime civic involvement stretched out like the Columbus-to-Norfolk expressway for which she once lobbied as a state senator representing Madison County. And she left a lasting impression on those who met her along the way.

Sadly, her journey ended far too soon; she lost her battle with cancer at age 52. But, as it turned out, the inevitable fate shared by all humankind couldn’t stop her either.

Before her death in 2001, the Norfolk businesswoman and former Nebraska legislator had found a way to continue making an impact on her community and its youth — two topics that were near and dear to her heart — for years to come.

“She liked the idea of knowing when she was gone, she would still be having a positive impact, especially on kids,” said her son, Brandon Day.

Brandon and his wife, Tammy, make up the advisory committee for the Connie Fund, the endowment Connie Day established before her death. The purpose of the fund is to benefit children in Northeast Nebraska.

To date, the Connie Fund — which is an affiliated fund with the Nebraska Community Foundation — has invested more than $250,000 into programs that educate, enrich, inspire and protect children in the area.

“She had designated a life insurance policy so that when she passed away, her estate would fund this endowment to benefit youth in Northeast Nebraska,” Brandon said. “It was something that was important to her.”

The Connie Fund, for example, was instrumental in the initiation of Norfolk’s Youth Philanthropy Contest, providing eight $1,000 prizes for project winners in its first years.

Tammy said she believes the contest was something Connie would’ve fully supported because it engaged young people in a way that promoted a culture of giving back, allowing youths to “dig in and learn something and fully participate.”

“Not every kid will get that (engagement) at home,” Tammy said.

The Nebraska Community Foundation played an important role in helping Connie Day create the fund in a way that would have long-term sustainability. The foundation continues to handle the record-keeping, investing and tax-related aspects of the fund.

Brandon said one of the biggest challenges they face as administrators of the fund is discerning what projects they feel his mother would’ve supported the most.

“It’s hard giving away money ... especially when it’s not your own money you’re giving away,” he said. “When you’re giving away money that people have left — this is her legacy — you want to make sure you’re doing it in a way she would feel good about.”

A few of the projects funded by the Connie Fund — like the one-to-one technology project at Jefferson Elementary School in Norfolk — were obvious undertakings the Days said they believe she would’ve jumped at the chance to be part of.

The one-to-one project provided each student at the school with an iPad or a Chromebook, which enhanced children’s educational opportunities and helped level the playing field for students whose parents might not have been able to afford the technology at home.

Plus, it benefited a school that had always held a special place in Connie Day’s heart.

“Connie went to Jefferson. All of Brandon’s family went to Jefferson. They lived in that neighborhood. There was already an affinity for Jefferson School,” Tammy said.

The reward for the Days comes in knowing they’re helping youths of the community see that they matter.

“That’s what we want,” Tammy said. “That’s more powerful than giving every kid an iPad or giving every kid a Chromebook — it’s sending that message to kids that people believe in them, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help them be successful.”

The Days have chosen The Zone Afterschool Program as the fund’s latest project. While it has provided funds for various needs the program has had in the past, it is now helping The Zone create a three-year growth plan for financial sustainability, which includes staffing, operations and board development.

“Hopefully, this takes them to the next level of organization, where they can meet the needs of more students and be a larger presence in the community to help address the issues they work with,” Tammy said.

Julee Pfeil, executive director of The Zone, said the assistance provided by the Connie Fund will help build a solid infrastructure for the program.

But the financial support of the Connie Fund is only one facet of the story.

Pfeil said she believes the Days have taken Connie Day’s attitude of civic-mindedness to a new level with their own endeavors. Pfeil praised Tammy, for example, for her work with the Norfolk Community Foundation and the step-by-step support she offered in helping The Zone become a non-profit organization. She also praised the Days for helping carry on the example of what the culture of giving should look like with their Daycos4Good project.

Daycos4Good is an employee-driven approach to how the Days operate their business, Daycos. The “4” symbolizes its four stakeholders: employees, customers, the community and the business itself.

Decisions for Daycos4Good are made based on the long-term impact on those four stakeholders instead of company shareholders. The “Good” represents the intention to make Daycos a force for good in the world.

“Google gets a lot of credit for having ‘Don’t be evil’ as its corporate motto, but we believe companies can do better than merely avoiding evil,” Tammy said. “They can do amazing things to benefit their people and their community.”

Daycos is committed to investing 10 percent of its gross revenues — not profits — into its employees and the community, which includes creation of a permanent charitable endowment. The Days have set a goal of investing $50 million through Daycos4Good by the company’s 50th anniversary in 2028.

“Their vision is cutting-edge,” Pfeil said. “How they’re empowering their staff is phenomenal.”

Pfeil said they are creating an example of the kind of leadership she would like to see both youth and adults in the community follow.

“Strength builds strength, and I really think they’re building a model with what they’re doing with their employees,” she said.

To Brandon, he and Tammy are merely following the example and expectations set forth by his mother; they hope the Connie Fund and their work with Daycos4Good inspires other individuals and businesses to contribute to the culture of giving back and to consider setting up an endowment to create a lasting legacy of their own.

“One of the great things about it is not only do you get to help your community ... here we are, 16 years after she passed away, and I get a chance to talk about her and talk about why she was a great woman and why she loved this community,” Brandon Day said.

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