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GRAM GoSite information space announced

More than five years ago, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) moved to its current building and now, the northwest corner is about to get a makeover. The glass-enclosed area originally designed to be a café is proposed to become the GRAM GoSite.

The concept is for the area to become a 21st century information space for visitors and the community -- a centralized location where people can find out more about Grand Rapids and its many arts, cultural, entertainment, dining, and lodging options.

Collaboration with and ideas from local organizations, institutions, government agencies, and the community will be used to develop the final plans for the space.

Last week, officials at GRAM announced that Kerri VanderHoff would act as the GRAM GoSite Project Director. VanderHoff currently serves as the Art Museum’s Marketing and Public Relations Director and transition plans are in the works as she shifts to her new role on Jan. 20.  

VanderHoff created the initial concept for the GRAM GoSite after attending the Downtown Development Authority’s "Framing the Future" strategic planning sessions in late 2010. The idea that Grand Rapids should have a centralized information center was also proposed by others in the community and it was talked about during the sessions.

“As I walked back to the Art Museum from the session, I looked at the front glass-enclosed corner of the building and it hit me,” VanderHoff says about the idea to use the northwest corner of GRAM for the space.

She then presented her idea to the management staff at GRAM, and after further development, it was presented to and approved by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees in Spring 2011.

After Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen came on board, he advanced the project by organizing meetings in late 2012 with stakeholders such as Experience Grand Rapids, the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Alliance, and others in the community. The concept was met with enthusiasm and he determined that a dedicated project director would be integral in the planning process.

GRAM’s centralized location on Monroe Center is a convenient, easy-to-find place for visitors. VanderHoff says having the GRAM GoSite at the Art Museum also fits with their mission as a welcoming and inclusive community gathering space and collaborator.

While VanderHoff believes she has some unique ideas for the space, she knows that in order for the GRAM GoSite to succeed, the vision has to be collaborative and include participation, information, and idea sharing by others. 
“There's such a great pride of place in West Michigan, so much collaborative spirit and the willingness to work together to really show what the city and its people are all about,” she says. “We need to be sure we are inclusive, and that the conversations are allowed to happen before the planning gets too focused."

The framework of a proposed plan will soon be shared with the community to gather input. VanderHoff says she’s also considering focus groups, online surveys, and more to encourage the community to comment and suggest ideas.

“We'll want to pursue ideas that will help make this information and activity center truly innovative and dynamic, a fun and really useful place to stop by,” she says.

A few of the initial concepts include:
-    Acting as a starting place for visitors to the city and possible walking tours
-    Using technology to share information, including social media tools
-    Being a collaborative and comfortable space for locals to meet and share ideas
-    Providing a base for media partners to highlight the arts, cultural, entertainment, and other options in West Michigan

“It has to be innovative and go beyond a place to stop in and pick up brochures,” says VanderHoff.

She envisions the GRAM GoSite as a fun, inviting space to share information about Grand Rapids and all it has to offer. And after a couple of years of thinking about this idea, VanderHoff is ready to get started. 
“Stay tuned,” she says. “We are just at the beginning of an exciting process.”

More information on the GRAM GoSite will be shared as it becomes available. For now, ideas can be submitted via email. Here’s how you can find out more information about GRAM:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum online.
-    Like GRAM on Facebook.
-    Follow @GR_Art_Museum on Twitter.

Source: Kerri VanderHoff, current GRAM Marketing & Public Relations Director and soon-to-be GRAM GoSite Project Director
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Education + construction training = new opportunities

A training program for low-income young adults provides new opportunities for furthering educational skills while learning more about the construction industry.

Recently, 12 students of the Grand Rapids YouthBuild program had the chance to tour two Pioneer Construction sites at Grand Valley State University. The students visited the L. William Seidman Center and the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons on Dec. 14 and after a debriefing in the job trailer, they were able to speak to the workers on site and ask questions about their jobs.

Pioneer Construction Marketing Coordinator Alyssa Veneklase says her company has taken YouthBuild students on other tours in the past and they will continue doing so. The idea is to show the students how many different job opportunities there are on large construction sites.

“The possibilities are endless and we want to open their minds,” she says. “Many of the YouthBuild students think they have few job options open to them until they see what’s available in the construction industry.”

Veneklase adds that when the students learn the cost of these projects, “that blows their mind, too.”

YouthBuild is a 40-week leadership program that offers low-income young adults, ages 18-24, the opportunity to improve their education while learning construction skills at the same time.

This Habitat for Humanity program began in 1978 and now has more than 270 groups throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The Grand Rapids YouthBuild program is only in its second year and they’ve enrolled 62 young adults so far. Last June, 22 students graduated from the first local group.

In order to graduate, students must have made progress with their educational goals -- whether that’s earning their GED, improving math and reading skills, or obtaining the Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training (PACT) certification -- and they have to help build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Grand Rapids YouthBuild partners with Bethany Christian Services for case management services and the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides the funding through its Workforce Development program. The goal is for the students to find employment after the program or be able to enroll in a vocational or secondary education program.

The program is free to low-income young adults. Many of the participants have dropped out of high school and some have criminal records. YouthBuild is also geared toward young adults coming out of the foster care system, those with incarcerated parents, refugees and migrants, women, and veterans.

To be selected for the YouthBuild program, students have to spend a few weeks in an intense “boot camp” style training session. During this two-week period in August, participants go through physical, team-building, academic, and construction-related exercises.

The staff also interviews each person individually and not everyone makes it into the program. Youth Build Director Amber Fox says the goal is to shake the students up a bit and teach them to keep going.
“They have to get rid of their old identities so they can build a new identity in the YouthBuild program,” she says.
Once selected, students participate in the program all day, Monday through Thursday, from September through May. Fridays are an optional fun day where students get to go on field trips like those sponsored by Pioneer Construction, or they may go to driver’s training classes or the YMCA to work out.

Everyone is given a stipend so they can afford to stay in the program. This is also used as a teaching tool and money is deducted for negative behavior such as not wearing a uniform or showing up late.

The time in the YouthBuild program is split between educational training and practicing construction skills. Students learn employability skills as well, such as how to write a resume, interviewing, computer training, and more. They are also taught life skills such as money management, parenting skills, and nutrition.

For most of the students, Fox says, “This is a second chance.”

So far, of the students who’ve already graduated, 10 either finished high school or earned their GED, and four are enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College to further their education. Five students received their PACT certification and 11 members of the first YouthBuild group are now employed, with two of them working in construction.

YouthBuild is always looking for educational tutors and mentors from the construction industry if you want to get involved. To find out more about the program, here is some information:

-    Visit Grand Rapids YouthBuild online to find out more.
-    Donate to Habitat Kent.
-    Volunteer with Habitat Kent. Sign up here.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Amber Fox, Director of Grand Rapids YouthBuild at Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, and Alyssa Veneklase, Marketing Coordinator at Pioneer Construction
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Grand Rapids YouthBuild and Pioneer Construction.

Law firm shares holiday spirit with children

Since the 1980s, the staff at Varnum Law has been spreading Christmas cheer during the holidays by donating food and gifts to local charities. About 11 years ago, they began focusing their goodwill toward students and families from Grand Rapids Public School’s Buchanan Elementary. Someone on the staff knew someone there and a long-lasting partnership soon developed.  

Every Christmas, the staff at Varnum spends their own money to buy toys, clothes, and other gifts for selected Buchanan Elementary students and their families. And to make the holidays more fun for the whole school, Varnum also throws a party, complete with candy canes, popcorn, and Christmas carols. Santa -- played by partner Mark Allard -- arrives at the party to hear all of the hopeful Christmas wishes.

The Varnum staff has formed a partnership with the school that goes well beyond Christmas time. Many of the families who live in the Buchanan Elementary school district are low-income and for this reason, the staff saw a need to get more involved with the children and teachers. Now, every year, they host an ice cream social in the spring and buy school supplies for the teachers in the fall.

Nikki Cushman, a paralegal at the law firm, says that after the first Christmas at Buchanan Elementary, their commitment to the school grew.

“Schools don’t just operate at Christmas time,” she says.

This year, they purchased Christmas gifts for 93 children. The way the gift giving works is that each teacher at the school nominates two children from his or her class and then shares that information with the volunteer committee at Varnum Law. With more than 500 students, it’s not possible to buy gifts for everyone, so this selection process helps volunteers determine who receives gifts that year.

The Varnum committee creates tags for each of these children and any sibling under the age of 15. Staff at the law firm can then pick a tag off the tree and buy a gift for that child, spending whatever amount they feel comfortable.

“People can spend as little or as much as they want,” says Cushman. “No one knows how much is spent.”

Parents of the children also receive a gift package and, in total, 25 families benefitted from the kindness of the Varnum Law staff this year. Additional coats, snow pants, and mittens were donated to the school as well.  

In years past, the Varnum staff would wrap all of the gifts ahead of time, but now they give parents the gifts in a black bag and throw in some wrapping paper.

“We wanted to bring parents into the loop and let them be a part of (the gift giving) instead of just as bystanders,” says Cushman.

Another fun way the staff at Varnum gets involved with Buchanan Elementary is by having an art competition among the 4th graders. For the last seven years, they have provided the art supplies and asked for the children’s help in creating the law firm’s holiday card. The winner this year is Lisbeth Pizano and not only is her art is on the front of the card, but in recognition for winning, she received a framed card and a gift certificate. 

With around 150 attorneys and more than 100 support staff, Varnum Law creates plenty of holiday cheer for the children and families of Buchanan Elementary. Cushman says the children at the school now know who Varnum is and they are “ecstatic” when they arrive for the party. The volunteers who attend seem to have just as much fun. 

“It’s definitely a day worth making time for,” she says.

To find out more about these two organizations, visit them online:

- Varnum Law
- Buchanan Elementary School

Source: Nikki Cushman, Paralegal at Varnum Law
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Varnum Law.

Tommy FitzGerald has a lot cooking

What do juice boxes, baseball, children, and cooking have in common? The answer is, quite simply, chef Tommy FitzGerald.

When FitzGerald turned 40 in January 2010, he threw a birthday bash that the 1,200 or so people in attendance are still talking about today. It was called Juice Ball and the nearly $30,000 raised that night supplied juice boxes to Kid’s Food Basket, a local nonprofit that provides sack suppers to low income children.

Now in its 4th year, the Juice Ball theme for 2013 is baseball and once again, FitzGerald -- a.k.a. “Babe Juice” -- will donate money from the event to Kid’s Food Basket. His goal is to provide them with a quarter of a million juice boxes every year.

FitzGerald says what he likes the most about Juice Ball is “the way the community rallies around me and my passion for helping kids -- I’m like the little drummer boy.”

The Grand Slam Juice Ball happens Jan. 5 at the JW Marriott International Ballroom, starting at 7 p.m. Organizers plan to convert the ballroom into an indoor baseball stadium with pitching machines, games, and a food court with hot dogs, pizza, caramel corn, and cotton candy. Guests are also encouraged to wear baseball inspired attire. Dennie Middleton will provide entertainment, and when he's not playing, DJs SlimTim and Jenny Disko will spin dance music. You can find links with ticket information and all of the juicy details below.

In addition to acting as the grandmaster of Juice Ball, catering events, and being the owner of Café Stella, FitzGerald is now starting his own nonprofit dedicated to sharing his culinary wisdom with children, nonprofits, and others in the community.

Kitchen Sage is the name of the new organization and its core focus will be to provide access to nutrition and culinary awareness, while making sure kids are fed.

One of its main roles will be to teach culinary skills to high school students. By this fall, FitzGerald hopes to have a fully functioning classroom kitchen somewhere in the city so that students, 16 and older, can come in each day after school for two-hour lessons.

He’s hoping to work with kids from Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids, as well as any other students who have their own transportation.

An application will be available by next summer and 20 kids will be chosen by FitzGerald to attend the free culinary classes. The program will be taught in both the fall and winter school terms. After completion, students will be invited to attend a summer leadership academy. This academy will offer marketable skills needed to be a part of the hospitality community, such as videotaping techniques, logistics, food costing, accounting, marketing, PR, and social media.

Once students finish the program, they can become state certified in safe food handling, which will be helpful in getting a job in the food industry. The three-year ServSafe® certification normally costs $250 per person, but Kitchen Sage will pick up the cost for its students.  

Kitchen Sage is also setting up a scholarship fund for students who want to continue their culinary studies in a college program.

In an effort to share kitchen wisdom with everyone, Kitchen Sage will offer consultations to nonprofits and other organizations on a donation basis. Discounted catering and chef packages will be available to nonprofits as well.   

Volunteers are still needed for Grand Slam Juice Ball so if you’re interested, contact information is listed below. Donations are appreciated, too.  

To find out more about what Tommy FitzGerald has cooking, check out the following sites:

- Tommy FitzGerald
- Café Stella
- Tommy on Facebook
- Juice Ball Initiative on Facebook
- Juice Ball event on Facebook
- Juice Ball tickets
- Kitchen Sage on Facebook

- If you’re interested in volunteering at the 2013 Juice Ball on Jan. 5, contact Anicia Latter.

Source: Tommy FitzGerald, Executive Director of Kitchen Sage, Grandmaster -- a.k.a. Babe Juice -- of Juice Ball, and owner of Café Stella.
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Tommy FitzGerald.

Do Good, West Michigan

Inspired by the holiday spirit, this Do Good article is going to be a little different. Please amuse me and come along for the ride.
When Rapid Growth Media asked me to write about West Michigan nonprofits and people doing good for the community, I worried that I would run out of story ideas within a few months. How wrong I was.

What I discovered instead is that there are hundreds of nonprofit organizations here doing amazing things to help people, animals, and the community. I’ve only scratched the surface with the articles I’ve written so far.

When I interview the people at these nonprofits, I’m always surprised by what they do with so little. Many of these organizations are struggling to survive financially and rely on the generosity of others to help them continue to do the work they do. And almost all of them depend heavily on the kindness and commitment of volunteers to lend a hand wherever needed.

The heartbreaking stories they tell often make me cry, yet I am always inspired and humbled by their dedication and passion.  

People who work at nonprofits don’t typically go home at night and leave the job behind. They worry about the people they serve, the projects left undone, and how to bring in more money. Many times, these people get paid very little and often work many hours voluntarily. From what I’ve heard, people don’t work at a nonprofit to get rich; they do it because they genuinely love what they do and it shows.  

As you celebrate the holidays this season, I ask that you take a moment to appreciate the individuals in our community who work or volunteer for nonprofits and those who are striving to make West Michigan a better place. Thank them for their service and goodwill.

If you can make a year-end donation to one or a few, please do -- your contribution will be greatly appreciated -- but remember that donations are needed all throughout the year.

More importantly, please volunteer your time and skills. Think about whatever you’re good at doing and know that somewhere in our community, there’s a nonprofit who can use that skill. Alternatively, simply volunteer in any capacity needed. Instead of spending hours watching TV or on social media sites each day, use that time to volunteer. Even if it’s only an hour a week or a month, it will make a difference.

A surprising outcome of volunteering is that it’s usually more rewarding for you than it is for the people or organization you volunteer with. It certainly helps you appreciate all of the blessings in your own life and it never hurts to be reminded of those.

Happy holidays, West Michigan -- see you next year!    

* * *

For volunteer opportunities and suggestions for places to donate, here are some ideas. Contact information can be found in each of the articles.

- If you want to help families and children, try Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids, the Ella Bullis Foundation, Elves & More, Girl Scouts, Family Promise, or Ronald McDonald House Charities.

- Organizations that help disabled adults and children in our community include Artists Creating Together, Autism Support, Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association, and Disability Advocates.

- If you prefer to help woman, organizations such as GROW, Moms Clean Air Force, Planned Parenthood, and Women’s Caring Association could use your help.

- Animal lovers, try volunteering at C-SNIP or Crash’s Landing.

- If you’re the creative type, consider volunteering your skills at the Creative Youth Center, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids Community Media Center, or Wealthy Theatre.  

- Care about the health of our community, try volunteering with the American Red Cross, Catherine’s Health Care, Michigan Blood, or The Red Project.  

- Want to work outdoors? Try Friends of Grand Rapids Parks or the North Country Trail Association.

- Handy people are needed at Habitat for Humanity, Healthy Homes Coalition, and Home Repair Services.

- Music lovers, the Grand Rapids Symphony or the West Michigan Jazz Society would be great organizations to volunteer with.

- Habla Español? Your language skills could be useful at the Hispanic Center or Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities.

- If you think everyone deserves a second chance, organizations such as Goodwill, Hope Network, and WMCAT are helping to give adults new opportunities.

- If like playing in the dirt, the Baxter Community Center's Greenhouse and Uptown Farm want your green thumb.  

- Bicyclists and adventure seekers, you could volunteer with the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition or the Kent County Search and Rescue organization.

- Want to help veterans? Then get involved with Fashion Has Heart.
- Care about helping people from other countries? Try volunteering with the Thrive Refugee organization or Art Aid for Tesfa, an organization that helps to build schools in Ethiopia.

- Other suggestions for volunteering or donating include the Awesome Foundation, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids Urban League, GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center, GVSU’s Applied Global Innovation Initiative, JDRF, Local First, and the Literacy Center.   

Promoting the common good for 20 years

An organization dedicated to transforming our community for the common good is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and optimistic about its future.

What started out in 1992 as the Center on Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership was later renamed the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy in 1999. The Center’s namesake is considered a leader in the national philanthropy community and previously served as the president of the Council of Michigan Foundations for 25 years.

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy (JCP) is a part of the College of Community and Public Service at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and located in downtown Grand Rapids.

“We’re very proud of hitting the 20-year mark,” says JCP Executive Director James Edwards.

JCP is an academic center that serves nonprofits, foundations, and the entire community through a multidisciplinary approach of applied research, professional development, and by offering solutions that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of charitable organizations.

To put it simpler, Edwards says they “offer a coordinated response of research, development, and training.”

JCP offers a range of services to the nonprofit and philanthropy communities, such as:

-    Providing tailored consultations, educational opportunities, and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations so they are better able to make a positive impact in the communities they serve.

-    Giving the employees, board members, and trustees of foundations and philanthropic institutions resources to help them be more effective. JCP’s Grantmaking School, The Foundation Review (a peer-reviewed journal of philanthropy), and The Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations are initiatives that support this sector.

For the entire community, JCP provides a valuable resource with its Community Research Institute (CRI). CRI gathers, analyzes, interprets, and shares national and local data obtained through partner organizations. This data helps with decision-making, grant writing, and program evaluation.

In November of this year, CRI released a “Giving Estimate Report” highlighting the estimated charitable giving in Kent County. With data gathered from 2010, CRI determined that donors gave a total of more than $601 million that year, with individuals donating 58 percent and foundations donating 30 percent of this amount.

Edwards says this report gives the community “a perspective on the ground, a total picture” of the nonprofit world and our region. A brown bag luncheon, to be announced soon, will give people a way to get more information about the report.

Another community resource JCP provides is the Johnson Center Philanthropy Archives and Special Collections (JCPA), which includes a library, archives, and reference material on philanthropy in Michigan. This is especially helpful to visiting scholars, GVSU faculty, and students in the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration program.

JCP will be celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout the 2012-2013 academic year. Already, they’ve hosted an informal golf outing this summer and a private formal dinner in November. Both offered the opportunity to say thank you to those who have shown their support to the Center.

A winter event is currently being planned with a focus on celebrating CRI and its supporters, with more information announced soon.  

This June, JCP and its Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy initiative will host the second Family Summit event in Chicago. This invitation-only event is exclusively for a mixture of high-income families and people involved in family giving.

Going forward, JCP will continue to strive to be a national leader in philanthropy and provide support to nonprofits and foundations across the country.  

“Michigan is our home base, so we’re more saturated here, but we continue to partner with organizations across the country,” says Edwards. “We have a lot to offer locally and nationally -- we do things well.”
He also says the organization is experiencing a lot of growth right now, and he attributes much of that to his predecessor, Dr. Kathryn Agard, for work that she began. When Edwards started in 2009, there were 18 staff members and 10 students. Within a few short years, the organization has grown to include 39 staff members and 30 students.
One area the organization is focusing on is varying its funding methods. Right now, they receive income from training, research, subscriptions, and more, but they’re also trying to increase their endowment funding to give them greater flexibility with their projects.  

“We want to focus on building this so we can be more independent thought leaders,” says Edwards.

He says that usually when an organization only has a fee-based revenue model, if no one pays for a project, it doesn’t get done. Instead, Edwards would like JCP to take on controversial projects that will better help the communities it serves.  

“Ultimately, our goal is to transform the community for public good, working through foundations and nonprofits,” he says. “We believe in collaboration and partnership.”

Edwards adds that the staff at JCP is “always there to listen” and they want to partner with the community.

Here’s how you can get more involved with JCP:

-    Visit the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy online to find out more.
-    Visit the Community Research Institute (CRI) online.
-    Attend one of their events.
-    Partner with them on a project or sponsor their work. Contact them at 616-331-7585 or via email for more information.
-    Contribute financially or voluntarily.
-    Like the Johnson Center for Philanthropy on Facebook.
-    Follow @johnsoncenter on Twitter.

Source: James Edwards, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Awesome people donate cash for awesome ideas

An awesome group of people in West Michigan is donating an awesome amount of cash each month to awesome people with awesome ideas. How awesome is that?

If you think you have an awesome idea that could benefit from a little cash, a generous organization called The Awesome Foundation wants to make your idea a little more “awesome-er” by giving you a $1,000 grant -- with no strings attached.  

The process is fairly simple and, well, awesome. All you have to do is submit your awesome idea before the deadline posted on the Foundation’s home page -- usually the 15th of each month -- and if the board of trustees likes your idea the best out of all of those submitted, you get a check for $1,000.

The local Grand Rapids chapter of the Awesome Foundation is one of 59 chapters in 22 different countries around the world. Each chapter operates independently and has a board of 10 trustees on average. These trustees each agree to pitch in $100 of their own money every month to go toward the $1,000 grant awarded to someone with an awesome idea.

John Scott acts as the local chapter’s Dean of Awesome and handles the communication and logistics for the group. He recently replaced the first Dean of Awesome, Jerry Bronkema, who started the Grand Rapids chapter in late 2011.

Scott first heard about the Awesome Foundation on NPR a few years ago and, as expected, thought the idea was quite awesome. He figured Grand Rapids would be the perfect place to start a chapter because of our diverse community, entrepreneurial spirit, and strong evidence of philanthropy. After contacting the national organization, he discovered Bronkema had already started a chapter and asked to join. The rest is Awesome history.

Ideas that win the monthly grant are usually ones that promote “the advancement of awesomeness in the universe.” Before applying, entrants are encouraged to review the qualities posted online that make an idea awesome, and anyone living in West Michigan is welcome to apply.

Ideas more likely to win are those that help others in West Michigan become more successful and empowered. Also, ideas that can be fully funded with the $1,000 are preferred over those that need additional funds to take off.   

“We’re looking for things that are special -- ideas that could grow into something magical helping others,” says Scott.  

So far, the Grand Rapids Awesome Foundation has awarded 11 grants of $1,000. The Creative Youth Center, an organization that teaches creative writing to children, was their first grant recipient in November 2011. Other notably awesome ideas include prom-like dances for kids with disabilities; children’s chess lessons and tournament fees; an urban farm project; a bike race to help cure cancer; and more.

The organization gets an average of 10-12 submissions in the spring and summer months and about half of that in the winter.  

The Grand Rapids Awesome Foundation is now looking for a few more awesome people to join the organization. If you’re interested, Scott asks that you connect with the organization through their Facebook page.

They prefer a one-year, voluntary commitment from each trustee, but also realize that sometimes things happen and people need to back out. An invitation to the next meeting offers a low-pressure way for interested individuals to see how the group operates and determine if it’s right for them.   

The time commitment is minimal as the trustees meet only once a month. Scott says they meet at a “local watering hole” and the meetings are “very informal and involve food and adult beverages.” The group determines the next grant winner that night and also presents the check to the current winner with the opportunity to hear their story.

“It’s usually more rewarding for us than those receiving the grants,” says Scott.

He adds that each of the trustees is at a stage in life where they can afford to give back time and resources and that it’s also easy to find the $100 monthly donation if you skip eating lunch out every day.   

The Grand Rapids Awesome Foundation wants to expand its board and attract more awesome idea submissions in 2013. And even if you can’t commit to being a trustee, donations are always appreciated and will increase the grant amount for that month.

So, if you’re awesome and want to be a part of this group, or if you think you have an awesome idea worthy of a grant, here’s the information you need to get involved:

-    Visit the Awesome Foundation online to find out more.
-    If you’re interested in becoming a trustee or finding out more about how the organization works, connect with them on Facebook.
-    Submit your awesome idea and tell your awesome friends to submit their ideas as well.
-    Make a donation to go toward someone’s awesome idea.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @AFGrandRapids on Twitter.

Source: John Scott, the Grand Rapids Awesome Foundation’s Dean of Awesome who’s also a Workplace Design Strategist at Haworth
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Awesome Foundation.

DTE Energy’s home energy consultations help customers save money

With energy costs rising, homeowners and renters are looking for ways to save money on utility bills and DTE Energy’s home energy consultations help customers discover ways to do just that.
DTE professional consultants are available to perform home energy usage assessments to evaluate the energy efficiency of your home and offer low or no cost recommendations to save money on utility costs.

Outreach Coordinator Holly Gritter says the consultants focus on sharing easy behavioral changes the customers can make right away, such as unplugging electronic chargers when not in use.

“We want to help our customers save energy now,” she says.

You may have heard of the Better Buildings or the GR1K energy consultation programs. While these programs are similar, they’re more comprehensive and cost residents money. The DTE home energy consultation program is an audit that’s free to homeowners and some renters, with no income restrictions.

While at the customers’ homes, the energy consultants also install energy saving products valued at around $50, such as:

-    Water-saving faucet aerators in the kitchen and bathroom that can reduce water usage without lowering the water pressure in the pipes.

-    Showerheads that can save up to one and half gallons of hot water per minute reducing water-heating costs by nearly 30 percent.

-    Water heater pipe wrap, up to nine feet from the hot water tank, which can reduce heat loss and increase water temperature in the pipes, saving on water-heating costs.

-    Programmable thermostats, if applicable, that can also reduce energy costs.

The average energy consultation takes around 30 minutes and the field reps are available for questions afterward.

In addition to the energy savings ideas and the products installed, DTE offers customers many rebates and financing options for home improvements that save energy. An information packet is handed out to customers during the home energy consultation explaining the options. This information can also be found online.  

DTE’s home energy consultation program began in January 2011 and last year, they performed energy audits in more than 30,000 homes -- around 5,000 in Grand Rapids and another 25,000 in the southeast part of the state. They are on target to meet with another 30,000 residents or more before the end of 2012.

Many of the residents who have participated in a home energy consultation have said they’ve noticed their energy bills going down.

Gritter says appointment times in January are filling up fast so in order for residents to save money yet this winter, they should make an appointment soon.

DTE has also been partnering with local organizations such as the Grand Rapids Urban League, Family Promise, WMEAC, Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, Salvation Army, Senior Meals on Wheels, Seeds of Hope, and more to build relationships, spread the word about the home energy consultations, and get involved in some of their programs.

They recently did a “gas buy down” event with the Grand Rapids Urban League and signed people up for the energy consultation, gave away prizes, and made a donation to the organization. They will soon be partnering on a toy drive with Love INC out of Muskegon, too.

“We think that what (these organizations) are doing in the Grand Rapids community is great,” says Gritter, adding that, by helping some of the families involved with these agencies lower their energy costs, they hope it will allow them to have more money for holiday gifts and meals.

DTE is making a strong effort to give back to the community it serves and, at the same time, offering valuable energy savings recommendations that could add up to big energy cost reductions for its customers.

To find out more about the DTE home energy consultations and to schedule one for your home, visit them online or call 866-796-0512.

Source: Holly Gritter, DTE Energy Outreach Coordinator
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by DTE Energy.

Sustaining Wealthy Theatre

When a few dedicated members of the South East Economic Development (SEED) neighborhood association decided to renovate Wealthy Theatre in the 1990s, it was in bad shape. The roof leaked, walls were damaged, and it had stood empty for almost 25 years.

"There was so much water flowing through the theatre, there was a tree growing on stage,” says Executive Director Erin Wilson.

What began as a place for vaudeville and live theatre in 1911 later became a neighborhood movie house. Wealthy Theatre also served as a warehouse for the Michigan Aircraft Company during World War I and a foreign film house in the 1960s.

After closing its doors in the 1970s, it was slated to be demolished until SEED members Carol Moore, Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, and Dotti Clune launched a campaign in the early 1990s to fund its restoration. It took several years and Smith-Hoffman says the experience of saving the theatre was “a total nightmare.”

When Wealthy Theatre finally re-opened in 1998 as a community arts center, it spurred growth all along the Wealthy Street corridor, proving to those who backed the restoration that it was indeed the right decision.

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center purchased the theatre and an additional building next door in 2005 and still owns it today.

Wealthy Theatre is now wrapping up a nearly two-year sustainability fundraising campaign that ends this December. The original goal was to raise $500,000 and Wilson says the organization is a little more than $100,000 short of this amount.

The theatre’s 100th anniversary sustainability campaign kicked off Jan. 1, 2011 with a generous lead donation from the Wege Foundation. As a young boy, Peter Wege worked at the theatre and now the main auditorium is named after him for his foundation’s financial gifts.

Wilson says the rest of the donations in this campaign have averaged $70, but fortunately for the theatre, there have been many donors.  

In an effort to encourage more donations, Wealthy Theatre is mailing out letters and will be calling people during a special one-day fund drive on Dec. 21, the final day of the campaign. “Hail Merry” is the event name for this fund drive day, which will culminate with free holiday movies at the theatre that night. WYCE and The Rapidian, which are also owned by the Community Media Center, will help promote the day by announcing gifts for donors on air and online.

Since Wilson started with Wealthy Theatre, he says he has seen a 125 percent increase annually in its usage. Between the main Peter Wege Auditorium, the Koning Micro-Cinema, the Community Meeting Room, and the lobby, reception, and studio spaces, there are often several events on the same day. Wilson estimates there are 40-50,000 people who walk through the doors each year.

Shortly after starting with the theatre in 2006, Wilson realized that not only does it require a lot of energy to operate Wealthy Theatre, energy costs are also going up. To continue to operate, the organization could either raise ticket prices or innovate.

Innovation won and soon Wilson and others were meeting with “dozens of big brains in greening technology.” They learned what improvements have cost benefits and which ones do not. Containment -- closing off areas where heat escapes -- proved to be one of the best ways to save on energy costs and soon, additional doors were installed to keep the heat in.

The current sustainability campaign plans to fund four areas:
-    The beautification and repair of the façade and parking lot
-    Energy reduction and containment
-    Technology updates to replace outdated equipment
-    An assistive fund to benefit the core users in the Baxter neighborhood where the theater is located

Wilson says that Wealthy Theatre has been responsible with its investments and energy usage and adds, “We’ve done our best to be good stewards.”

Wealthy Theatre is more than just a 100-year-old historic theatre, it has become known as the “anchor of the neighborhood” and a vital community gathering place.

Here are some ways you can show your support to Wealthy Theatre:

-    Visit Wealthy Theatre online to find out more.
-    Watch this before and after video to get a better idea of the changes that have been made.
-    Contribute to the Sustainability Campaign.
-    Read more about the Sustainability Campaign.
-    Participate in the Hail Merry fund drive and movie event on Dec. 21.
-    Volunteer at Wealthy Theatre.
-    Like Wealthy Theatre on Facebook.
-    Follow @wealthytheatre on Twitter.

Sources: Erin Wilson, Executive Director of Wealthy Theatre, and Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, one of the people responsible for its restoration
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Wealthy Theatre; photo credits to Steven de Polo and also the Wealthy Theatre archives.    

Teaching children creative writing

Teaching children how to write well may help them become more successful in life. Writing can also be an excellent tool for self-expression and building a sense of identity.

However, Creative Youth Center (CYC) Executive Director Lori Slager says most of the writing taught in schools is “more analytical than creative” and that the creative side of writing is necessary to get kids interested.

At the CYC, they believe that fostering a child’s creativity and giving them an opportunity to express themselves may allow them to someday change the world.
Slager received exciting news recently to help with this. The organization she started in 2009 to teach children creative writing skills was just awarded a $225,000 three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Slager says the CYC will use the grant money to pay some of people who have been generously donating their time and skills. She also recently signed a lease on the building that formerly housed the Literary Life Bookstore at Wealthy and Eastern.  

Currently, CYC volunteers work out of the Baxter Community Center, the Cook Arts Center, and a few other locations. With the new space, Slager says it will seem more like a real business and “it will make it much easier to accept anyone and everyone” and not only those in the neighborhoods they're currently in.

Rockford Construction has offered to build bookshelves and get the space ready for the expected January opening. There will be large work tables inside and a storefront area to sell promotional items, novelty products, books, and more.  

“We’re trying to make a really inspiring place,” Slager says.

The CYC began after board member and Schuler Books & Music President Cecile Fehsenfeld found out about the 826 youth writing group started by award-winning author Dave Eggers. At the time, Slager was teaching writing at the Cook Arts Center. She and Fehsenfeld gathered some helpful advice from the 826 organization and, soon after, launched the CYC.

Initial funding was provided by the Fehsenfeld Foundation, the Awesome Foundation, Dollar General, Wealthy Street business owners, and many other individuals and businesses.  

When children first become involved with the CYC, they are asked to write a personal narrative. This helps the staff figure out where the child is skill wise and it provides an introduction to their world.

Not much critiquing is done in the beginning -- they want to get the children interested in writing first before skills are taught. Once a child starts learning new techniques, Slager says sometimes their writing gets worse before it gets better, which is usually attributed to fear and self-doubt.    

Classes are free and usually separated by age -- 6-9, 10-13, and high school students -- and for the Press Club journalism classes, they’re divided into new and experienced writer groups. The experienced writers have already learned how to interview and don’t need as much guidance as the newer kids.

One of the most exciting parts for the children in the CYC program is to see their work published online or in print. A year ago, a collection of student stories called The CYC Book of Explosions was published. Each of the kids received a copy and the book is currently sold at Schuler Books & Music. There are now enough new stories to fill a second book and Slager hopes to have that produced in the next few months.

Volunteers are always needed to help with tutoring, editing, and design. Slager reached out to a few writers she knew when she first began CYC. She also finds volunteers through the United Way website and at Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand, a business she owns. Everyone has to go through a background check and an interview, and experienced writers with a degree or who are still in college are preferred for the tutoring lessons.

Often, the tutors become role models for the students and end up getting more involved in the child’s life outside of the writing lessons.

“So far, they’ve been amazing,” Slager says.

Program Director Katie Caralis has been volunteering with the CYC around 30 hours a week and now, thanks to the Kellogg grant, she will start getting paid. Her role is to connect the tutors with the students based on what is needed, schedules, and personalities.

Another volunteer and board member, Steven de Polo, says he’s “happy there's a nonprofit that helps children explore their creativity and find their voices through the written word.”

“Lori and her team have great experience and they work very hard on behalf of the children,” he says. “We are also lucky to have such great community partners.”

To encourage more creativity in our area’s youth, here are some ways you can get involved in the Creative Youth Center:

-    Visit the Creative Youth Center online to find out more.
-    Donate to the Creative Youth Center by clicking on the donate button on the website.
-    Volunteer your time.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Sources: Lori Slager, Executive Director of the Creative Youth Center, and Steven de Polo, Board Member and Volunteer Tutor
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Creative Youth Center.

Providing assistance to families with premature infants

Imagine having to decide between going to work and staying at the hospital with your prematurely born baby who’s in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“That’s a tough choice parents have to make,” says Ron Bullis.

He knows from personal experience. In 2007, Bullis’ baby girl Ella was born three and a half months early and weighed less than two pounds at birth.

Ella’s first few weeks in the NICU seemed to be going well -- she was gaining weight and didn’t need to be on a ventilator. Doctors were happy with her progress.

When she was 18 days old, they discovered she had necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition that destroys the tissue in a premature baby’s intestine. Ella went into surgery the morning of Jan. 20 to have a part of her intestine removed and because the condition had progressed so rapidly, she died a few hours later.

Bullis says it was “really a blind sider,” since she had been doing so well prior to that day.

On the one-year anniversary of Ella’s passing in 2008, he decided to honor her memory by starting the Ella Bullis Foundation to provide support, resources, and education to families that have been impacted by a premature birth or the loss of an infant.

One of the main ways the organization helps is by raising money for families in need. They do this by asking for donations via email or through their Facebook page, hosting a few fundraisers throughout the year, and accepting donations online.
The foundation typically works with a hospital social worker who determines what the family needs prior to getting them involved. The social worker will establish whether the family is eligible for any county, state, or federal funding and whatever needs are not met through those avenues, the Ella Bullis Foundation will try to meet.

“We fill in the gaps,” says Bullis.  

The money raised helps pay for housing, transportation, food, and phone costs for families with a premature infant, as well as memorial and funeral costs if the baby dies.

Families may have to miss many days, weeks, or months of work and travel long distances to visit their child in the hospital. Plus, additional childcare may be required if there are other children. Depending on the length of the stay and the family’s financial situation, the loss of income and the added expenses of medical bills and other unexpected costs can be devastating.

The Ella Bullis Foundation does not give cash directly to the families as a way to ensure all donations are used responsibly. They may work with a landlord or a bank directly to help get a family caught up on rent, house payments, or even car payments. Or they may offer the family relocation assistance, hospital food vouchers, gas cards, or a pre-paid phone to handle the extra calls -- whatever might be needed to ease the financial burden of having a baby in the NICU.
The Ella Bullis Foundation is hosting its third annual Fall Fundraising Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 29 at The Gallery at Bar Divani from 5-7 p.m. Tickets are $75 each or $125 per couple and can be purchased at the door. Guests will be entertained by Valentiger lead guitarist, Brent Shirey, and enjoy a private wine tasting, open bar, hors d'oeuvres, and desserts provided by Martha’s Vineyard.
Considering that one in eight babies is born prematurely and more than 1,200 babies will visit the NICU this year, there is no shortage of families who may need some assistance. If you’d like to get involved, here are some ways you can:

-    Visit the Ella Bullis Foundation online to find out more.
-    Attend the fundraiser at Bar Divani on Thursday, Nov. 29. You can register online or buy tickets at the door starting at 5 p.m.  
-    Donate online.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Ron Bullis, Founder & President of the Ella Bullis Foundation
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Ella Bullis Foundation with photo credits to Jennifer Roede Photography, Matt Anderson, and Tim Motley.

Elves give bikes to children

Thanks to a few hundred kind elves, one lucky neighborhood in Grand Rapids will soon be filled with new bicycles and a whole lot of happy children.

Elves & More of West Michigan gathers volunteers each December to assemble bikes in a warehouse. These bikes are then donated a week later to children in a lower-income neighborhood.

Now in their eighth year, the organization plans to deliver roughly 1,100 bikes, helmets, and treasure boxes to children right before Christmas.

The recipient neighborhood is kept a secret until the day of delivery, but when the elves arrive, everyone who is home knows they are there. That’s because the elves show up with a caravan of semi trucks, fire trucks, police cars, and other vehicles. Horns beep and sirens blare. 

“We make a lot of noise,” says Liz Bracken, the chief elf and president of the board.

Once everyone knows the elves are in the neighborhood, bikes and helmets get passed out to kids ages 4-17 and treasure boxes filled with toys, games, pajamas, hats, and mittens are given to the younger children.

Not only is a bike fun, but it also offers a child the freedom to explore the neighborhood, a means of transportation, and a way to get some exercise. If everyone nearby also has a bike, it encourages social behavior and new friendships are often made.   

The idea to donate bikes came about eight years ago when Bracken saw a segment on "The Today Show" about the Houston Elves & More organization. She contacted them and asked if there was a local group here and when she found out there wasn’t, she started one.

Since then, the organization has presented 7,500 new bikes and helmets and 2,300 treasure boxes to children in the Baxter, Belknap, Black Hills, Madison, Roosevelt Park, and South West Area neighborhoods.

Once a neighborhood is chosen, data on the number of children living there is collected from the schools, local organizations, and the Grand Rapids Community Research Institute. Usually, only the residents who are home get the bikes and treasure boxes, but often, Elves & More will arrange to leave some at a neighborhood school so families can pick them up later.

Annually, Elves & More averages around 300 volunteers to assemble the bikes and treasure boxes and another 200 or so on delivery day.

Van’s Delivery, a trucking, warehousing, and logistics firm, supplies the warehouse space for assembly and 6-7 semi trucks to deliver the bikes. Owner John Nieuwenhuis and his wife Jean also sit on the Elves & More board of directors.

For their 10th anniversary in a few years, Elves & More would like to double the current number of bikes delivered to 2,000. Right now, they’re asking for donations -- $60 pays for one bike and helmet -- and volunteers to assemble and deliver the bikes and treasure boxes.

On Sunday, Dec. 2 from 12-4 p.m., a fundraiser for Elves & More is being held at Big O’ Café on Ottawa Avenue. Guests will enjoy a pizza buffet, live entertainment, and more. The cost is $15 per person, or $25 a couple, and kids under 12 get in free.

Organizers ask that interested volunteers like their Facebook page and register online to receive the latest information. The tentative date for assembly is Dec. 15, but Bracken says she wants to make sure the bikes arrive on time before scheduling the day.

Volunteers are asked to bring their own tools and a list of what’s required is on the Elves & More website. Once all of the elves arrive at the Van’s Delivery warehouse, the process goes quickly.

“It’s amazing that 300 people can build 1,100 bikes in three hours,” says Bracken.

The delivery of the bikes, helmets, and treasure boxes is scheduled for Dec. 22. If you want to donate or volunteer your time, here’s how you can get involved:

- Visit Elves & More of West Michigan online to find out more about the organization.
- Attend the fundraiser at Big O’ Cafe on Dec. 2 from 12-4 p.m.
- Volunteer to assemble bikes or deliver them.
- Donate through JustGive.Org.
- Like them on Facebook.
- Follow @elveswestmi on Twitter.

Source: Liz Bracken, Chief Elf and Elves & More of West Michigan Board President
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Elves and More.

Free CPR training to students

Do you know CPR and would you be willing to perform it in the case of an emergency?

As a paramedic, Roy Shaw discovered that 90 percent of the people who called in to the dispatch center said they didn’t know how to perform CPR or didn’t want to get involved out of fear they might do it incorrectly.

That’s a frightening statistic when you consider that 80 percent of the 300,000 people who experience cardiac arrest each year are at home, work, or somewhere other than a hospital. Only 25 percent of these people end up receiving CPR, causing many to die when receiving CPR could have doubled or tripled their chance of survival.

Shaw noticed that younger people were much more likely to try performing CPR or first aid and that’s why he developed the Student CPR program. This online training course is offered to students in area high schools and some middle schools, and unlike other programs that cost the school money or require a lot of time, the Student CPR online program takes less than a few hours and it’s free.

Student CPR is a part of the ProTrainings e-learning programs. The company developed one of the first Internet-based CPR programs in 2003 and currently offers CPR and first aid certification, bloodborne pathogen training, and other health and safety courses.

The Student CPR online program, teaching both CPR and first aid training, is self-paced, flexible, easy to use, and technically efficient. Teachers and school administrators are provided with tools to monitor the students’ progress and test scores, and the added benefit of e-learning is that it saves on paper and gas costs.

Shaw says the online program is “absolutely the same as us being there” and he adds, “We’re a tech company -- this is what we do best.”

In addition to the free online training, a mannequin kit can be purchased for around $300. This optional hands-on component to the program provides training to teachers and school administrators on how to demonstrate CPR and evaluate the students on their progress. The students are then asked to attend approximately 3-4 hours of hands-on training, usually spread out over a few days throughout the week.

The mannequin kit includes an adult, child, and infant mannequin, including lungs, an automatic external defibrillator (AED) trainer, and one key ring.

After completing the online or hands-on training, students earn a two-year community CPR certification. They’re trained in adult, child, and infant CPR, AED use, choking prevention, bleeding control, handling shock, and more. Afterward, opt-in emails with short reminder videos are sent out weekly as well.

So far, in the two years since ProTrainings has offered the Student CPR training, there have been around 4,000 students trained and 57 schools that have implemented the program, with most opting for the blended, hands-on program.  

“We are fortunate enough to have patronage from paying customers to be able to spread this life-saving skill to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it,” says Shaw.

No one knows when CPR or first aid skills might be needed, but an overwhelming majority of students are willing to attempt rescue efforts, and even more so once they have the confidence that comes from training. Perhaps one day, everyone who calls an emergency dispatch center will know how to perform CPR and more lives will be saved as a result. To get your school involved or a student trained, here is some information:

-    Visit Student CPR online.
-    Tell a school about the program or volunteer for outreach efforts.
-    Donate to your local school so they can implement the hands-on program.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @studentcpr on Twitter.

Sources: Roy Shaw, CEO and Co-founder of ProCPR and Student CPR, and Tyler Accardi, Director of Marketing and Student CPR Director
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by ProCPR and Student CPR.

GRAM relies on the community's generosity

It takes a village to run an art museum -- literally.

Without donations and sponsorships from corporations, organizations, and individuals, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) would not exist. Even now that it’s housed in its new LEED Gold certified, energy efficient building, it still costs an incredible amount of money to operate the place.

State of Michigan and operating grants account for less than one percent of GRAM’s budgetary income. The rest of the money needed to fund Grand Rapids’ unique art exhibition space comes from underwriting, memberships, facility rental, the annual fund, and endowment support.

“It’s through the generosity of individuals and organizations that the Art Museum reaches its financial goals and continues to be available as a community resource,” says Marketing & Public Relations Director, Kerri VanderHoff.  

VanderHoff says the mission of GRAM is “to inspire discovery, enjoyment, and learning about art, to serve as a welcoming and inclusive cultural resource, and to collect, conserve, and interpret works of art of the finest quality.”

GRAM successfully accomplishes this mission by continually presenting new world-class art exhibitions, properly maintaining its own vast collection of art, community engagement activities, and educational opportunities.

With a rich history of more than 100 years in West Michigan, GRAM moved into its new facility in 2007 with the financial help of lead donor Peter M. Wege and countless others. The building has the distinction of being the first LEED Gold certified Art Museum in the world.
The LEED "green" features allow for greater efficiency in water management, heating and cooling, and more, but because of its size, lighting, and security needs, it is still a significant expense to maintain the building, with building operations accounting for 30 percent of the yearly expenses.  

GRAM also offers affordable entry rates and free hours at the museum to make it accessible to everyone. These visitor benefits, along with the many educational and community engagement activities, are paid for through generous donations and sponsorships.

The Art Museum offers free general admission every Tuesday from 1-5 p.m., a reduced rate on Friday nights after 5 p.m., and kids under the age of five always get in free.

During community events such as ArtPrize, Festival of the Arts, and Celebration on the Grand, admission to the museum is free as well. This year during ArtPrize, exhibition center sponsors helped GRAM stay open, free of charge, for 19 days. These sponsors included Huntington Bank, Rockford Construction, and Wolverine World Wide.

Amway Corporation and Fifth Third Bank have underwritten the Museums Free 4 All program, where four downtown museums collaborate on four Sundays throughout the year, offering free general admission to all.

Other events sponsored by organizations in the community include: the weekly Friday Nights at GRAM events that are sponsored by Steelcase, Inc.; the Saturday All Day with the Arts family programming that is supported by Amway’s One by One Campaign for Children; and the Sunday Classical Concert Series underwritten by PNC Wealth Management and the Blodgett Foundation.

Every exhibition presented at GRAM is funded by generous organizations as well. The current exhibition, Real/Surreal, with masterpieces on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, is made possible by presenting sponsor, the Daniel & Pamella DeVos Foundation, with additional support by several others.

Along with the financial contributions, hundreds of volunteers donate their time throughout the year, too.

Various membership opportunities also support GRAM and provide benefits to members such as free general admission, invitations to preview parties, and discounts on programs and classes.

Community events are one of the ways GRAM gives back to West Michigan’s philanthropic kindness. The annual tree lighting ceremony, held this year on Nov. 30, has become a celebrated downtown tradition. A 40-foot blue spruce is installed in front of the museum with its 40,000 LED energy efficient lights turned on for the holiday season.

GRAM partners with the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation department and the Downtown Alliance to offer free horse-drawn carriage rides that night and an ice skating performance that officially opens the Rosa Parks Circle Skating Rink for the winter.

Community donations, sponsorships, and memberships all ensure that GRAM will continue to be a thriving cultural centerpiece in our city. As they like to say, “live artfully, give artfully.”

We are fortunate to have such a valuable resource for the arts here in Grand Rapids. Support GRAM if you can, either financially or by volunteering and visiting. Here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum online to find out more.
-    Check out the Real/Surreal exhibit now through January 13.
-    Become a member.
-    Donate to GRAM.
-    Volunteer at GRAM, or if you have a business, consider participating in some of the underwriting or partnership opportunities. For more information, contact the Development office at 616-831-2906 or by email.
-    Attend one of the many events, including the weekly Friday Nights at GRAM events and the tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 30.
-    Like GRAM on Facebook.
-    Follow @GR_Art_Museum on Twitter.

Source: Kerri VanderHoff, Marketing & Public Relations Director at GRAM
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Winter skiing for everyone

Winter snow will soon cover the ground here in Michigan and one local organization wants to make sure everyone can enjoy it, at least on the ski slopes.

For nearly 25 years, the Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association (CCSA) has offered ski lessons for people with disabilities. CCSA’s custom equipment allows almost everyone the opportunity to experience the rush that downhill skiing provides. And with winter on the way, the organization is now seeking volunteers and students to participate in its next seven-week session.  

CCSA is a part of a national organization called Disabled Sports USA. Milo DeVries, a disabled skier who uses what’s known as the three-track technique to ski, began teaching adaptive skiing classes at Cannonsburg in 1983. His first student was Valerie Wallace who now sits on the CCSA board.

“Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t participate in one of Michigan’s greatest sports,” she says.

Wallace survived a bad car accident 31 years ago and spent almost a year recovering. She had her right leg amputated above the knee and her ankle and knee were compromised on the other leg. She now skis using a mono-ski, which is basically a bucket she sits in with another bucket for her foot. To maneuver, mono-skiers use outriggers, or short crutches with ski tips.

The three-track technique DeVries uses is similar except it’s done standing on one ski with taller outriggers.  

In addition to the mono and three-track methods of skiing, CCSA offers a variety of techniques and adaptive equipment so that almost anyone with any sort of physical or developmental disability can ski.

Volunteers are trained on not only how the equipment works, but on the various disabilities so they can better assist the skier and make sure their experience is a positive one.

The first CCSA volunteer training is Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. and those interested in volunteering can fill out an application online. A minimum commitment of two hours per week for the seven-week classes is required. Ski instructions begin Jan. 6 and for every training session or class taught, volunteers will receive free ski passes and rentals on that day.
Skiers ages 6 and up can also apply online. The CCSA program offers a two-hour lesson on the same day each week, with classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. and Sundays 1-3 p.m., 2-4 p.m., and 3-5 p.m.

The cost for the seven-week class ranges from $40-290, depending on the age of the skier, day of the week, and equipment needs. The rates are kept reasonable so everyone who wants to participate can, and they even offer a few financially based scholarships each year.  

Wallace says the staff at Cannonsburg has been great to work with and the new owner, Doug Gale, has made several improvements, such as installing a “magic carpet” conveyer belt that takes skiers up the hill so they don’t have to get on the regular chair lifts.

“Doug has bent over backwards for us,” Wallace says. “He understands the importance of the program.”

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital also supports the program by frequently referring its patients and many of its employees volunteer as well. In collaboration with CCSA and the Kentwood Parks & Recreation Department, they’re offering a one-day clinic this year on Jan. 19 for new skiers to try out the program before committing to a whole season. A two-hour lesson costs $30 and includes instruction, equipment, and snacks.

Each year, the CCSA program has around 30-40 volunteers and 50-60 skiers with a variety of disabilities. More volunteers are always needed so everyone who wants to participate can, as they don’t turn any disability away.

Wallace says the goal of the program is to get the students to their highest ability and allow them to enjoy the thrill of winter skiing. It’s also a way for them to do something fun with their families, who often ski with them.

“The students get such big smiles on their faces,” she says.

If you want to volunteer, participate in the CCSA program, or find out more, here are some links to get you started:

-    Visit the Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association online to find out more.
-    Become a volunteer.
-    Register as a student.
-    Donate to the CCSA program.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Valerie Wallace, Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association board member
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association.
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