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$7 million in endowments enrich Wilson Foundation’s ‘legacy of generosity’

Area youth sports, people battling cancer and cultural tourism sites will get a big hand from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The $7 million in endowments announced Tuesday, the largest single announcement by the foundation so far in its brief history, also includes money for Hunter’s Hope and an organization dedicated to youth football.

The endowments will be established through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and focus on areas where the late Buffalo Bills owner and his wife, Mary M. Wilson, have “a legacy of generosity,” said foundation trustee Jeffrey Littmann.

“We decided to fund programs, endowments and capital projects at institutions which Ralph and Mary had demonstrated support for in the past, so that their generosity to them would be felt for years to come, in many cases in perpetuity,” Littmann said.

Here’s how the latest philanthropic efforts will play out:

• $2 million for nonprofits, school districts and independent schools offering youth sports opportunities

• $1.5 million for nonprofits that help cancer patients and their families

• $1.5 million for nonprofits that serve as “destinations of cultural tourism” in Erie County.

• $1 million for the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

• $500,000 for the Hunter’s Hope Foundation, for family care support services.

• $500,000 for the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance.

A competitive grant process will be instituted to access the $5 million from the three largest individual endowments.

Wilson Foundation officials, who called the package the 2015 Transitional Legacy Grant Program, expect to disburse about $1.2 billion from the sale of the Bills over the next two decades, focusing on the Buffalo and Detroit areas. Wilson died at age 95 in March 2014.

The Hunter’s Hope Foundation, founded by former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife, Jill, aims to expand screening of newborns for treatable diseases. It also funds research toward treatment and cure of Krabbe leukodystrophy, the fatal nervous system disease the claimed the life of Hunter, the Kellys’ son, at age 8 in 2005.

“Everybody realizes what Mr. Wilson has done for the Buffalo Bills, but I don’t know if a lot of people realize what he’s done for Western New York through his charity foundation,” Jim Kelly said after Tuesday’s announcement.

The Western New York Amateur Football Alliance, which includes eight youth leagues, 74 organizations, 280 teams and about 13,500 boys and girls in the eight counties of Western New York, plans to establish a grant program for player safety equipment, said President Tim Jerome.

Funding for organizations and issues that her late husband cared about was absolutely important to the foundation’s trustees, Mary Wilson said.

Ralph Wilson also knew that Buffalo was “a community of giving,” she said. “He loved it, he loved the fans and here he is giving back,” she said.