Great times for great causes.
That’s the formula for success behind Mel’s Charities, according to Tom “Mel” Stanton, who founded the nonprofit in 1999.
The 1979 Abbot Pennings graduate has seen Mel’s Charities become one of Southeast Wisconsin’s largest charity organizations and touching countless lives in the process.
Mel’s Charities has donated a total of $1.4 million in 22 years to their Ozaukee County community and will break ground this summer on a 100-acre mixed-use living community in Saukville, a move Stanton calls a “game changer for so many.”
Now, Mel’s Charities has far exceeded the reach of one man, but it still owes its roots to a bowling alley, a group of friends and the grace of God.
“It really was through the grace of God. It didn't start out as a charity. It was really my wife and I and our friends having a party. ... A really good friend of mine sister had passed away, a single mom with a special needs daughter. God really hit me over the head and said, ‘You know, you big idiot, why aren't you doing something to help someone else?’ It was spur of the moment. ... We raised $350, and we gave it in her memory to Ozaukee County Special Olympics.”
Here, the vision for Mel’s Charities was born. Stanton recalled, “I tried to do it myself, trying to navigate this crazy life. ... I finally came to the realization that the Holy Spirit was working through me. That's when it really hit me that we could do something special here through the grace of God and just have fun. We're never changing that. Just have fun and impact lives every day.”
What began as an annual pig roast and small fundraiser has ballooned to an entire calendar of signature events. Stanton said, “It's been my whole life for the last 20 some years. To be able to wake up every morning and empower, engage, and impact people and have fun, instead of thinking about yourself all the time ... it's a pretty simple recipe.”
Stanton’s charity work is centered around his local community, particularly intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) individuals, human service organizations, mainly dealing with drug, mental health, and food insecurity issues, and establishing memorial scholarships at high schools in memory of young victims of tragedies, such as car accidents and drug overdoses.
“We’re all battling something. We try to help in those areas to bring some joy and some funding that's needed,” he said.
As for his time at Pennings, it's where Stanton’s foundation was established. “(Teachers) always were there to encourage and to keep looking out for you. … It built a foundation,” he said.
For Stanton, the relationships built at Pennings were lifelong. “I still say it's all about relationships. I still have so many best friends from high school. They live all over the country and they come in for events. They fly in especially for the pig roast, even 40 years later.”
About the Author: Nick Bumgardner, NDA Class of 2022, is Editor-in-Chief of The Tritonian, the school newspaper. He loves studying history and politics and is an active member of the Student Senate, Model UN, Academy Band and the baseball team. In his future, he hopes to pursue a career in law.