More than a game: Off the field, Dana Nelson leads Super Bowl LII’s charitable giving, investing in youth health and wellness

Dana Nelson knows there’s more to the Super Bowl than football.

Nelson, vice president, legacy and community partnerships for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, is helping Super Bowl LII give back to communities all over the state. She’s in charge of
 the host committee’s Legacy Fund, which is awarding one grant every Tuesday for the 52 weeks leading up to the Super Bowl to improve youth health and wellness in Minnesota.

Dana Nelson, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee’s vice president, legacy and community partnerships, is in charge of the Super Bowl’s charitable giving strategy. The Super Bowl Host Committee’s Legacy Fund is giving Minnesota communities one grant for each of the 52 weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII to improve the health and wellness of Minnesota children. (Staff photo)

“Certainly, we’re seeing sports take on huge meaning in our country right now, and it’s always been a platform for something bigger, in my opinion,” Nelson said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve done and put together for the Legacy Fund.”

Super Bowl LII will be held Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings’ new field in downtown Minneapolis.

In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Program, the Legacy Fund is giving grants to 52 community projects across Minnesota. The grants promote health and wellness for the state’s children, including encouraging physical activity, improving access to healthy foods and promoting positive coaches who help youth develop.

Each year, the NFL Foundation supports each host committee’s legacy initiative with a $1 million contribution.

In an interview, Nelson cited a recent study that shows for the first time ever, children born now have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

“There are some pretty big issues that are facing young people in Minnesota, in particular the health disparities across our state,” Nelson said.

The Legacy Fund has given dozens of grants so far. For example, in October, the fund gave an $85,000 grant to the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for three projects: paving a path to a community center, creating community gardens at a school and renovating an outdoor ice rink. In June, $90,000 was awarded to Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth to expand Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center’s “Rec on the Go” program, which gives youth improved access to sports equipment, activities and nutritious food. This grant also helped the Legacy Fund exceed $1 million in giving.

And in February, the Legacy Fund awarded St. Paul Parks and Recreation a $100,000 grant to build St. Paul’s first courts for Sepak Takraw, a popular southeast Asian sport.

a Sepak Takraw player and onlookers at a Sepak Takraw court
The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee’s Legacy Fund gave St. Paul Parks and Recreation a $100,000 grant to create St. Paul’s first Sepak Takraw courts. Sepak Takraw is a traditional southeast Asian sport. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

The no-hands version of volleyball that is already popular in St. Paul’s southeast Asian community now has a chance to draw in even more players and alternative fitness enthusiasts from outside of it. It’s also growing among Somali and Korean communities, according to a host committee press release.

Lee Pao Xiong, the director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul and an expert in Sepak Takraw, has helped teams compete internationally. The grant allows Parks and Rec to turn some of the city’s existing tennis courts into Sepak Takraw courts. Before the grant, teams
had to rent practice spaces as they became available, Xiong said.

“You have to have a pathway for people to continue to capture their interest,” Xiong said. “If there’s
no pathway, you can’t take time to develop as a player. That’s why building the courts is so important to us.”

Nelson has significant experience in leading charitable giving strategies. She joined the Super Bowl after working as the founding executive director of GiveMN and launching in 2009 Minnesota’s “Give to the Max Day,” an online giving campaign that raised $14 million for nonprofits and schools in a single day. Give to the Max Day in Minnesota continues to be one of the largest online giving events in the world, according to the host committee website.

Nelson said she owes it to future generations to use the Super Bowl—one of the largest sporting events in the world—to invest in the state’s youth.

“This legacy,” she said, “is for way beyond Feb. 4, 2018.”