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Ralph Wilson foundation dedicates itself to Mich., N.Y.

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Healthy lifestyles, early childhood and youth development, caregivers, community development and economic growth will be the five pillars of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, which will operate as a grant-making organization dedicated to the people of southeastern Michigan and western New York.

On Wednesday, the trustees of The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation released the organization’s mission statement, outlining the organization’s vision “as it was intended” by its founder, the late Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.

The foundation also announced it will soon begin a search for a permanent president.

Wilson, a native Detroiter, died in March at 95. He founded the Buffalo Bills football team in 1959. His estate sold the franchise in 2014 for $1.4 billion. He also owned manufacturing, mining, insurance and other businesses.

“Ralph saw firsthand the impact of his generosity in his lifetime,” said his wife Mary M. Wilson. “Always thinking of others even in his own legacy, his hope with this trust was that the foundation’s work may make a direct impact in the lifetimes of those who knew him best.”

Wilson made his home in southeast Michigan and over the span of his career, owned and operated many businesses there. He also grew very attached to the people of his adopted second home region of western New York, Mary M. Wilson said.

The foundation was funded with $1.2 billion from an irrevocable trust created by Wilson, who directed the money and its investment income be spent over the course of 20 years, according to a statement issued Wednesday.

Formal, long-term grant cycles for the foundation will begin in 2016, official said. Official guidelines for applying for 2016 grants will be announced after the foundation’s program officers are in place, foundation officials said.

For 2015, the foundation developed a transition program that will award and fund about $60 million in grants, the release said. Grant recipient candidates have been preselected by the trustees.

Official guidelines for applying for 2016 grants will be announced after the foundation’s program officers are in place.

The foundation stated it priorities will be in the areas of:

■Children: concentrating on early childhood development, youth development, healthy lifestyles and sports and other activities that strengthen minds and bodies;

■Young adults and working class families: specifically in education, training for success and independence and healthy lifestyles;

■Seniors: help in achieving healthy lifestyles;

■Caregivers: educating and training those for whom caregiving is a career and providing assistance and support to those for whom caregiving is a voluntary activity;

Communities: specifically regional economic growth, community asset development and enhancing the productivity of the non-profit sector.

Wilson chose not to restrict the discretion of the foundation. According to a statement issued by the foundation, proceeds from the sale of the Bills were directed by Wilson into the foundation, making it one of the largest in the nation.

Wilson ranked second on a national list of the Chronicle of Philanthropy's biggest 50 donors in 2014 with his bequest to the foundation, based in Grosse Pointe Farms.

JChambers@detroitnews.com