In 2003, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation awarded its first grants—four grants to be exact. Three programmatic grants totaling just under $50,000 and one research grant for approximately $200,000. Our goal was to advance spinal cord injury (SCI) research and increase access to programming for those living with SCI. Fast forward 20 years, and at the end of 2022, the Foundation has awarded just under 2,300 grants with a total contribution to the world of SCI of over $355 million.
Over the decades, our grant programming has expanded significantly. In addition to funding basic research and community programming, 2006 marked the first grant to underwrite a SCI medicine fellowship to ensure doctors were being trained to meet the needs of people living with SCI. With more than 100 rehabilitation specialists trained in SCI medicine to date, training young doctors wasn’t the only programmatic expansion. The Neilsen Scholarship Program, which began by partnering with one academic institution, now collaborates with 17 across the country, underwriting both the costs of attending school, as well as supplementary support (e.g., personal care attendants, assistive technology, mobility equipment) to remove barriers students with SCI may encounter.
Over the years, the ways the Foundation has supported research have continued to expand, and in 2014 we launched a Psychosocial Research portfolio to focus on the psychological impact SCI has on individuals and their families. By adding additional opportunities in research funding, the Foundation continued to encourage scientists to take creative risks, to fill gaps in knowledge, and to develop data that will transform promising medical and psychosocial approaches in treatments that benefit people living with SCI. We are also very proud to have partnered with more than two dozen organizations with similar goals, and, to honor the legacy of our Founder, the Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize was created in 2020, to celebrate individuals changing the world for the SCI community. To date, we have awarded $9 million to nine visionaries, whose expertise includes advocacy, the arts, athletics, research, and healthcare.
In addition to the growth of the various funding mechanisms, the Foundation has also refined its mission, vision, and values, and we are always searching for opportunities to put those values into action. Our mission has evolved, acknowledging the importance of enhancing quality of life, our research portfolios have expanded with focus from the bench to the bedside, and in the past few years, we have found ways to proactively support grantees in times of crisis.
This is not the end point or destination for the Foundation—it is only where we are on our path to achieving our vision, in which individuals with spinal cord injuries, and those who care for them, live full and productive lives as active participants in their communities.
As we begin an exciting 2023 at the Neilsen Foundation, we would like to thank all our partners and grantees for 20 years of achievements, none of which would have been possible without you.