Denis Pierce (l) and John Bercini (r) recently joined the Board of Directors of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Both had previously served on the Traverse City-based nonprofit’s Advisory Council.
Bercini’s background includes 33 years of experience on Wall Street representing asset managers. He has worked with the Roosevelt Investment Group since 2008. An attorney, Pierce established his own Chicago-based real estate law firm Pierce & Associates. Pierce received Groundwork’s Impact Award in July 2012. Both have homes in the Grand Traverse area.
“Over the years John and Denis have been our most ardent and engaged supporters,” said Groundwork executive director Hans Voss. “To have them both on our Board adds valuable experience and insight that will no doubt help to strengthen our ability to advance our pro-environment, pro-economy mission.”
We asked each of them how they found their way to Groundwork, and why our work resonates with them.
“Fighting to protect everything you love”
John Bercini learned of Groundwork (then the Michigan Land Use Institute) from the bi-monthly magazine CounterPunch, which listed the nonprofit among small organizations that did good work and deserved the reader’s financial support. He wrote his first membership check in 2005 and continued to support the organization.
About three years later, Voss called Bercini, who lived with his wife Rebecca in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, and asked if he could take the couple out to dinner (Voss is from the South Side of Chicago). They dined at the Italian restaurant Il Poggiolo and Bercini remembers, they talked about state of Illinois politics, climate change, renewable energy, food and agriculture.
Bercini was impressed. He increased the size of his contributions. And he visited Traverse City and attended a Milliken Award dinner (which Groundwork holds annually). He met Groundwork veterans Jim Dulzo (who retired this past fall) and Diane Conners (the champion of “10 Cents a Meal”) and came away even more inspired by the nonprofit’s work.
“I’m really proud to be affiliated with Groundwork,” says Bercini. “I tell my friends, they are fighting to protect everything you love about northern Michigan. Groundwork is about protecting the local environment, strengthening the local economy, and building local community.”
And they liked Traverse City. In the fall of 2013, John and Rebecca (an interior designer) decided to rent a house downtown. Despite the tough winter of 2013-14, they decided to relocate here and bought a house near the base of Old Mission Peninsula.
Bercini soon joined the Advisory Council, and graduated to the Board of Directors this past fall.
“Everything that Groundwork does is essential,” he says. “We’re basically spearheading the whole effort in northern Michigan to have a more vibrant community, economically, socially and environmentally.”
“I like the whole concept of resiliency. You have systems that are local, mutually reinforcing and beneficial. We’re not expecting Washington or Lansing to help us.”
“Building a sustainable future”
Denis Pierce founded his law firm Pierce & Associates in 1975 in downtown Chicago and primarily represented mortgage lenders. At its peak the successful firm had 600 employees. In 2007 he established the Pierce Family Charitable Foundation to assist nonprofits and build their capacity and support.
“The organizations we support are social service agencies with a primary focus on groups assisting the homeless population in Chicago,” says Pierce. “We also support a handful of groups in the Traverse City area, including Groundwork.”
Northern Michigan commands a special place in the Pierce family’s heart. They have summered for 40 years at a cottage on Glen Lake in Leelanau County, which he enjoys with his wife of 48 years, 3 children and 5 grandchildren.
Pierce first learned of Groundwork (then the Michigan Land Use Institute) when the organization was spearheading the Grand Vision survey. “I was impressed with how well organized the project was, and I also got to meet and know Hans. I was impressed from the start and felt that the mission (of the organization) was worthy.”
“Building the community for a sustainable future seemed very important to me as there was a lot of concern that the development of Traverse City would be haphazard and uncontrolled. There needed to be some plan to help guide the growth.”
Today Pierce says he is particularly drawn to Groundwork’s work to decommission the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and the effort to restore passenger rail between Traverse City and Ann Arbor.