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Collective Impact approach strives to solve social problems in Kent County

A forum highlighting a comprehensive initiative to improve the lives of families and children by aligning and coordinating support in Kent County was held on Tuesday at the Eberhard Center.

The purpose of the Kent County Collective Impact Community Forum was to introduce the concept of the Collective Impact approach, share the reasons why the community needs to take action, and gather feedback on what the future action steps should be.  

The forum’s diverse crowd of more than 200 was comprised of individuals from the community, nonprofit organizations, foundations, educational institutions, businesses, and government officials, including Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

Earlier this year, members from the Kent County Family and Children’s Coordinating Council (KCFCCC) met with consultants from FSG, an organization that helps communities discover better ways to solve social problems.

The featured speaker for Tuesday’s forum, FSG Managing Director John Kania, co-wrote Collective Impact and Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work. He also acts as an educator and advocate for the Collective Impact approach and speaks around the country.

The idea behind Collective Impact, according to Kania, is that “no single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it.”

Kania presents the idea that our traditional approaches are not working for several reasons: funders usually give money to individual grantees and these organizations often work separately and compete for funds; and, at the same time, corporations and local governments are disconnected from the foundations and nonprofits.

With a Collective Impact approach, organizations are encouraged to interact with one another, coordinate actions, and share lessons learned. Collective Impact works best when there is cross-sector alignment in solving social problems, collaboration, and agreement on the best way to measure outcomes.

Matthew VanZetten from the Kent County Administrator’s Office says that in order for Collective Impact to be successful, “people have to own this and want to make change happen.”

As a result of the meetings with FSG, KCFCCC spearheaded a public and private collaboration entitled the Kent County Collective Impact Initiative for Children and Families (KCCIICF). A steering committee was then developed to drive the effort. It’s comprised of 21 community leaders across all sectors and co-chaired by Lynne Ferrell of the Frey Foundation and Fred Keller, Chairman and CEO of Cascade Engineering.

If the full name of the Collective Impact initiative seems like a mouthful to you, don’t worry; VanZetten assures Tuesday’s forum audience, “We will be renaming this at some point.”

The Collective Impact Steering Committee has met three times so far and they’re now at the halfway point of their planning timeline. Tuesday’s forum is the first opportunity the committee has had to share its initial conversations and recurrent themes. The feedback from the forum will help them finalize a common agenda within the next few months.

President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Steering Committee member Diana Sieger says the desired outcome is to “stand shoulder to shoulder once we make our final decisions.”

Sieger admits that community work is often “messy.”

“Community work is nonlinear,” she says. “Sometimes you go into a meeting thinking you’re going to come out with something, and instead you come out with a bag of chips.”

But with poverty rates in Kent County growing and racial disparities increasing, the current approach doesn’t seem to be working very well and something needs to be done. The Collective Impact initiative seeks to change these disturbing trends and develop a framework on how the community can rally around agreed upon goals and begin making the necessary changes.  

After the forum’s main presentations by Kania and Steering Committee members, participants were asked to gather in six smaller breakout groups and tasked with answering three questions:

-    Why is this effort important?
-    What’s missing around the current approach?
-    How should the community be engaged?

Each group’s answers were shared with the larger audience and it’s this information that will help guide the Steering Committee in developing a strategy, or the common agenda, going forward. Key indicators to measure the impact this approach will have on the wellbeing of children and their families will also be developed. Plans are to share the information with the public by the first of the year.

George Grant, Jr., Steering Committee member and dean at Grand Valley State University says the Collective Impact initiative is a “way to bring diverse ideas together and figure out best practices.”

“The key is to empower families,” he says.

To find out more about the Collective Impact approach, visit FSG online.

Sources: Matthew VanZetten, Kent County Administrator’s Office, and Collective Impact Steering Committee members Diana Sieger, President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, and George Grant, Jr., Dean at Grand Valley State University’s College of Community and Public Service
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Planned Parenthood is Standing Tall -- new fundraising campaign launched

Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan (PPWNM) has just publicly launched a $3 million special fundraising campaign called Standing Tall and they’ve already received $2.5 million in lead donations.

“We’re very excited about the impact this program will have to meet the growing community needs for high quality, affordable and accessible healthcare,” says PPWNM CEO Katherine Humphrey.

The genesis for the campaign was the newly passed Affordable Health Care Act, which is expected to provide greater access to the preventable healthcare services that PPWNM provides. As more people are able to qualify for Medicaid or buy affordable healthcare, there will be an increase in the need for healthcare services. PPWNM plans to stay ahead of this evolving world of healthcare.  

The Standing Tall campaign is separate from their annual campaign and the money donated goes toward three areas: technology enhancements, health center renovations and the endowment fund.

Technology enhancements are planned to allow for electronic health records and practice management, and also to maximize efficiency.

PPWNM has eight health care centers through the western and northern half of Michigan. Part of the Standing Tall campaign will go toward the renovation of the centers, making them more professional in appearance with improved functionality. 

Two of the health centers are being renamed after donors who made significant contributions toward the campaign. The Ionia Health Center will soon become the Lemmen Health Center to honor a gift from Grand Rapids area philanthropist Harvey Lemmen, a former resident of Ionia. A Traverse City center is also being renamed to be the Walker Health Center in honor of donor Karen Christensen Walker.   

The Standing Tall campaign will also contribute to the organization’s endowment fund, securing the financial future of PPWNM.

At the two health centers in Grand Rapids, PPWNM serves approximately 8-9,000 medical patients per year. Throughout the state, the number served nearly doubles to around 15,000 medical patients each year. An additional 14,000 people participate in their educational programs as well.

PPWNM is the largest provider of provider of sexual health, education and advocacy services in the area. Their goal is to make sure everyone has access to health services so they can better plan their families, prevent diseases and make responsible, informed decisions about their sexual health.

Specifically, they offer annual exams for both women and men; planned and emergency contraception services; pregnancy testing with information about options; cancer screening; sexually transmitted disease testing, treatment and education including rapid HIV testing; HPV vaccinations; hormone therapy and more.
The staff at PPWNM is excited about the opportunities their Standing Tall campaign will give them to better serve and support those who need affordable, quality family planning and reproductive health services. If you would like to get involved, here are some ways you can:

-    Visit Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan online to find out more about the organization.
-    Donate to the Standing Tall campaign by contacting the PPWNM development department at (616) 774-7005 or by e-mail.
-    Make a general donation to PPWNM.
-    Take action and become aware of issues affecting women’s health.
-    Volunteer with PPWNM.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @PPWNM on Twitter.

Source: Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan President and CEO Katherine Humphrey
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan.

The Red Project is preventing HIV, reducing risk and improving health

Would it surprise you to know there are an estimated 1,080 people living in Kent County with HIV/AIDS? Or that approximately 260 of these people -- nearly 25 percent -- don’t even know they’re infected?

In 2011, there were 42 new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in Kent County and so far in 2012, there have been 28 new cases as of July. Statewide, a little more than 19,000 people are now living with HIV/AIDS.

Of all the HIV/AIDS cases in Kent County, 44 percent are white males. Communities of color and traditionally marginalized segments of the population are disproportionately affected, too. African Americans make up 9 percent of the population here, yet they accounted for 34 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in 2011.

What’s worse, if you’re an African American female, there’s a 25 percent greater chance of being infected than if you are a white female.

With cases of HIV/AIDS still rising, education and prevention are the keys to reversing this trend and one organization has a mission to do just that. The Grand Rapids Red Project is actively reaching out to the community to prevent the spread of HIV and they also provide support to those who have already been diagnosed.

Last year, the Red Project distributed 62,000 free condoms in Grand Rapids to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. As part of their outreach program, they also encourage everyone to get free Rapid HIV testing at the Kent County Health Department.

Advances in modern medicine allow many people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS to live longer, but these individuals face many challenges as well as discrimination. The Red Project provides a monthly support group called Positive Choices to help them cope.

Back in 1998, former Mayor John Logie started a task force on drug policy reform and one of the committee’s recommendations was to implement a clean needle exchange program.

The Red Project developed its Clean Works Risk Reduction program as a result and now supplies clean needles to intravenous drug users in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver. Since the program’s inception in 2000, HIV/AIDS cases related to drug use went from 25 percent down to eight percent.

Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of death for adults ages 21-65 in Kent County. Since 2008, the Red Project is also working to address this issue by providing training to prevent and respond to drug overdoses. More than 300 people have been trained so far and of that number, more than 90 reported back to say they were able to prevent an overdose with what they learned.

Steve Alsum, the Red Project’s executive director, says they get most of their new clients through word of mouth from current clients. Earlier this year, they also began going into the neighborhoods where their services are needed the most with a new mobile health unit.    

“We’re on a big push to make our service accessible to all people,” says Alsum. “We try to meet clients where they are.”

In addition to the Red Project’s fixed locations of their office at 343 Atlas Avenue and inside the Heartside Ministries building at 54 South Division Avenue, the mobile health unit has scheduled times and locations where it will be each week. Currently, they visit the intersections of Stocking Avenue and 5th Street, Madison Avenue and Hall Street and Burton Street and Division Avenue each week.

At all locations, the Red Project offers safer sex and safer shots supplies, Hepatitis C testing, drug overdose training, risk reduction counseling and referrals to other organizations for drug treatment, vaccinations and HIV/AIDS testing.

Each client is issued an anonymous card when they visit the Red Project. This card has basic identifying information that, if the card is lost, the person could share and easily be found in the database system. The Red Project keeps track of what services they provide to each person and what testing and training they’ve had.

Alsum says their reputation on the street is “pretty good.” People are often hesitant to come into the program at first, and that’s why the anonymity is important. Dignity and respect is important as well. The ultimate goal is to “provide people the knowledge and tools to stay healthy” regardless of what activities they engage in.

“We wouldn’t have the success that we do if we didn’t treat people like human beings,” says Alsum.

The organization can boast of a success story with one of its own employees. Brandon Hool was once a drug-using client of the Red Project who had always engaged with them and referred others to the agency. Then he disappeared for about six months.

“We had no idea where he was -- if he was clean, in jail or died of an overdose,” Alsum says.

One day he showed up, clean and drug-free from being in a rehabilitation facility, and wanted to volunteer. Eventually, he was hired by the nonprofit. Now he says working there reminds him daily how important it is to stay clean.  

Hool was lucky. Sometimes it can take months to get into one of two medically assisted rehabilitation facilities in West Michigan. There are less than 250 beds total at both places with a waiting list to get in at each. With roughly 3,000 people injecting illegal drugs in the area, the training and supplies that the Red Project provides are critical.

“When people need treatment, they really need it right now,” Alsum says.

The upcoming AIDS Walk+Run on October 13 is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year. (More information can be found below.) In addition to raising money, the event hopes to raise a greater awareness of the Red Project and HIV/AIDS in Kent County.

To get involved with the Red Project and help them continue their mission of prevention, education and support, here’s how:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Red Project online to find out more about them.
-    Register to walk or run in the AIDS Walk+Run on October 13. Registration for this 5k run/walk starts at Rosa Parks Circle at 9:45 a.m. and participants are encouraged to raise money to support the mission of the Red Project.
-    Donate to the Red Project by clicking on the donate button on the home page.
-    Sign up to be a volunteer in the office or at one of the mobile clinics by contacting Steve.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Like the AIDS Walk+Run on Facebook.
-    Follow @RedProjectGR on Twitter.

Source: Steve Alsum, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Red Project
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Grand Rapids Red Project.


Technology firm to share its knowledge with local nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations never seem to have enough money for the latest technology equipment or support. That’s why a local technology firm has decided to donate its services to five nonprofits selected with the help of a public vote.  

Trivalent Group, Inc., a technology firm that provides its customers with service and equipment to better manage, access, protect and store their data, has created a philanthropic initiative called CompassionIT (pronounced “compassionate”) to award technology improvements to local charities.

Employees at Trivalent created the initiative to show their passion for the community by sharing the power of technology with nonprofits that may not be able to afford it. They also want to highlight these organizations for the compassionate work they are doing in our community.  

“We hope to raise a greater awareness and focus on the nonprofits,” says CEO Larry Andrus.  

The grand prize winner of the CompassionIT initiative will receive at least $30,000 in technology equipment and services. This could be in the form of laptops, desktops, servers, network infrastructure, data center services, software and more.

Beginning October 1, nonprofits can register on the CompassionIT website, www.TGcompassionIT.com. When the registration ends on October 31, an internal team of Trivalent volunteers will review all submissions and select 20 organizations that will then be posted online for a public vote November 15-30.

The public vote will assist the Trivalent Review Board, made up of internal employees and outside community members, in narrowing down the list from 20 to five, with the winners announced on December 3. Second round voting for the five finalists will take place December 10-21.

From there, the Review Board will select its grand prize finalist with the public’s input and the winner will be announced at a special ceremony on January 10, 2013.

Everyone who enters the contest  is asked to complete a M.A.P.S. Assessment as part of the application. M.A.P.S. stands for manage, access, protect and store and this is the foundation of data services Trivalent provides. The M.A.P.S. survey gives Trivalent a way to measure the current state of an organization’s technology infrastructure. In return for completing it, all nonprofits will receive a RoadMAP Report offering suggestions for improvement such as anti-virus software, disaster recovery systems and data backups.

“It gives a good baseline of what they need,” Andrus says.

The four runners up in the CompassionIT contest also win as they will receive a G.P.S. Assessment, which is valued at approximately $4,000. The G.P.S. takes the M.A.P.S. Assessment to the next level with more detailed recommendations and a strategy.

“We give them a roadmap, basically,” says Dawn Simpson, VP of market development.

To enter the CompassionIT contest, the nonprofit must have a 501(c)3 designation and they cannot be a private or educational foundation, a religious organization that does not provide some social services to the public, a school or a government organization.

Trivalent will look at each organization’s submission to see how they serve the community and what impact they have.  

The idea for the initiative came from Bjorn Bylsma and Justin Vriesman, senior systems engineers with the company.

“We wanted to come up with a way to do something good with what we know -- technology,” says Bylsma.

Andrus says the CompassionIT initiative may be repeated next year if it goes well and their partners are once again interested in contributing.

If you would like to get involved, here’s how you can:  

-    Visit Trivalent Group online to find out more about them.
-    Submit your nonprofit nomination on the CompassionIT site.
-    Like Trivalent on Facebook.
-    Follow @trivalentgroup on Twitter.

Sources: Larry Andrus, Chief Executive Officer of Trivalent Group, Inc., Dawn Simpson, VP of Market Development and Bjorn Bylsma, Senior Systems Engineer
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Logos provided by Trivalent Group.

Moms Clean Air Force fights for fresh air

Each of us needs to breathe in order to live, and the cleaner the air, the healthier we will be.

A grassroots organization called Moms Clean Air Force (MCAF) wants to protect our right to clean air and they’re committed to educating people about what’s at stake if we don’t.

This national movement is comprised of more than 100,000 moms, along with a few dads, and has support from celebrities such as Julianne Moore, Blythe Danner, Jessica Capshaw, Laila Ali and more.

There are chapters around the country, including two here in Michigan, and each one is a community of parents and others fighting air pollution. Children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of air pollution and MCAF makes it easy for concerned parents to become engaged citizens.

Their website includes resources and articles about air pollution and its damaging effects, as well as proposed changes to laws and quick ways to contact political representatives. MCAF also has home parties where a representative from the organization brings food and knowledge to share with interested parents and others.

Starla McDermott, a field organizer for the MCAF, says the local West Michigan chapter is currently focusing its outreach on two areas: educating people about Proposal 3, and encouraging more discussions about climate change from all political parties.

“We are non-partisan,” McDermott says. “We’re all about the health of kids, so we don’t pick sides.”

The U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 to help clean up air pollution. That same year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created with the task of carrying out the law. According to their website, six of the most common air pollutions have decreased by 50 percent since then, industrial air pollution has been reduced by 70 percent and new cars operate 90 percent cleaner now.
That’s all good news, however, some lobbyists and corporations are now trying to change the current anti-pollution laws in the Clean Air Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Some people don’t realize the Clean Air Act is under attack,” McDermott says. “It’s been kind of quiet.”

More than 60 percent of our state’s energy currently comes from coal and 100 percent of it is imported. These coal-fired power plants emit mercury, arsenic, chromium and other toxic chemicals into the air, causing premature deaths and an increase in asthma, lung disease, heart attacks and harmful effects in the development of brains, hearts and lungs of babies and children.

Proposal 3, an initiative on the November 6 Michigan ballot, aims to strengthen our state’s renewable energy standard 25 percent by 2025. This means that 25 percent of our state’s energy would come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydropower and biofuels by the year 2025, giving our state cleaner, healthier air and water.

Opponents of the Proposal 3 ballot initiative argue that it will cost more to use renewable energy sources, but the 30 other states that already have stronger renewable energy standards have seen their costs go down.

The initiative also hopes to bring 44,000 high paying jobs to Michigan, with less than $1.25 per month added to the average family’s utility bill.   

In addition to educating people about Michigan’s Proposal 3 ballot initiative, MCAF is encouraging everyone to contact their politicians and ask that climate change be an issue discussed on the campaign trail. The organization believes climate change is one of the most important issues facing our world and it wants voters to be informed on what the candidates propose to do about it.

No one should take clear air for granted. Moms Clean Air Force will continue to fight air pollution for our health and that of our children’s. If you want to get involved, here’s how you can get started:  

-    Visit Moms Clean Air Force online to find out more.
-    Find out more about Proposal 3 that will be on Michigan’s November 6, 2012 ballot.
-    Get involved and take action.
-    Make a donation to Moms Clean Air Force.
-    Like Moms Clean Air Force on Facebook.
-    Follow @MomsCAF on Twitter.
-    Follow Moms Clean Air Force on Pinterest.
-    Attend the Urban Cycling Extravaganza on Saturday, October 13 from 4-9 p.m. at John Collins Park. Moms Clean Air Force is sponsoring and organizing all of the kid's activities for the event.
-    Attend the Grand Rapids Kid’s Marathon and Health Fair on October 20 at the David D. Hunting YMCA, starting at 1:30 p.m. Moms Clean Air force is a sponsor.

Source: Starla McDermott, Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force
Writer:  Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Moms Clean Air Force.

GROW-ing a woman-owned business

Women entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids have a valuable partner to help them start a business and assist them on their journey as a business owner. That partner is Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) and they’ve been providing counseling, education, resources and networking opportunities to women since 1989. 

Many women dream of owning their own business, but lack all of the tools they need to begin or make it work successfully. GROW works with these women and teaches them the basics of owning a business, creating a business plan, getting funding, managing the finances, promoting the business and planning for future growth.

What initially began as a service to help economically disadvantaged and minority women grow a business has evolved into what the organization is today: a resource for everyone. In addition to their start-up division, GROW now includes a business growth development division that works with established business owners.

CEO Bonnie Nawara hopes to one day add a sustainability division to focus on entrepreneurs earning an upper level income and be a resource for them as well.

“We want to be a high level resource for the women entrepreneur, from the start-up to the experienced, very successful business owner,” Nawara says.
The first step for anyone thinking about starting a business and partnering with GROW is to attend the “Intro to GROW” orientation, which is offered four times a month at the organization’s Sheldon Boulevard location. After this, the next step is the two-part Start Smart class, which helps women understand what it takes to own a business and what obstacles they may face.

“Some people shouldn’t start a business, but it’s not our job to tell them that,” says Nawara. “Our job is to help them figure out what they need to do.”

Other entrepreneurial training courses include the Business Basics group, focusing on strategic planning, tax and legal issues; Marketing Strategies courses that offer tools for promoting and branding a business; and Financial Awareness courses designed to teach basic reporting and financial analysis skills.

GROW also offers online training, webinars and monthly UpClose Workshops on a variety of topics such as marketing strategies, conflict management, QuickBooks training and more.

One-on-one business counseling and wellness check ups are also offered to GROW’s women entrepreneurs to keep them on track and overcome any possible issues they may be facing.

“We are highly collaborative,” Nawara says. “If we don’t have the service someone needs, we’ll find it.”

The organization offers financial resources to women as well through a micro lending program and individual development accounts (IDAs) that match savings accounts.  

One important way GROW encourages strong women-owned businesses is by bringing the entrepreneurs together to inspire each other, share resources and do business with one another. The organization offers monthly networking events, an alumni ambassador group and the membership-based Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), all designed to connect and strengthen women business owners.

AWE members meet monthly and as part of the group, women can obtain career development funds for conferences and workshops, get assistance with promoting their business to the media and trade publications, participate in educational programs and receive the encouragement and support of other professional women. AWE has nearly 80 members and is open to corporate management executives and women business owners.

GROW is hosting its annual fundraiser on October 17. As one of its biggest networking events of the year, the Seeds of Growth Conference and Luncheon will be held at the Goei Center and everyone is welcome to attend. Participants can register for the whole day or attend the lunch only. AWE is the conference presenter and the focus will be on connections, education and leadership with breakouts in each area.

GROW is always looking for volunteers who are willing to be a mentor to new business owners, offer entrepreneurial training classes and to work in the office. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer or getting involved with GROW in any way, here are some resources to get you started: 

-    Visit GROW online to find out more.
-    Attend the Seeds of Growth Conference & Luncheon on October 17.
-    Become a member of the Alliance for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).
-    Volunteer for GROW.
-    Donate to GROW.
-    Like GROW on Facebook.
-    Follow @growgrandrapids on Twitter.

Source: Bonnie Nawara, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women
Writer:  Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by GROW.


Adopt, donate or volunteer to help the cats

An eight-week-old kitten that survived a car crash became the catalyst for veterinarian Jennifer Petrovich’s cat rescue shelter. Dr. Jen, as her customers at the Clyde Park Veterinarian Clinic call her, treated the kitten back in 1999 after someone brought him in. He was appropriately named Crash.

Crash suffered fractures in three of his legs, a shattered foot and a broken tail. No one thought he would make it, but he recovered fully and now, at age 13, still greets visitors to the veterinarian office today. He’s the reason Crash’s Landing is in business and has saved the lives of almost 3,000 cats since 2002.

Crash’s Landing is a no-kill cat rescue and placement center that Dr. Jen says she began because people were always contacting the veterinarian’s office asking where they could drop off cats and she always found the other shelters full.

The shelter doesn’t take in unwanted family pets or kittens under the age of six months, but cats that are abandoned or neglected are given a second chance at having a loving family. Their priority is for sick, injured or at risk cats, so they typically refer the healthy cats to other organizations. The Crash’s Landing shelter can only hold 130 cats at a time.

Another shelter owned by Dr. Jen called Big Sid’s Sanctuary holds another 130 cats that have been diagnosed with Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus. Previously, cats diagnosed with FIV and FeLV were euthanized, but with the right environment and care, these cats can now live long, healthy lives and they are available for adoption too.

Nearly 200 volunteers help maintain Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary -- no one gets paid, not even Dr. Jen. People visit daily to feed the cats, pet them and clean, but more volunteers are always needed. Shifts are as little as two hours once a month or as often as someone is available, and the clinic is open 365 days a year.

All cats at Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary are adoptable so if you are looking for a cat to join your family, there’s an application online and photos of the available cats.

You can also sponsor a cat waiting on adoption for $20 a month. Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary do not receive any federal or state funding so they depend on donations and sponsorships to help pay their costs of $8-9,000 a month.

If you’re wondering how you can help Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary, Dr. Jen simply says, “Adopt. Donate. Volunteer.”

You can also attend one of two upcoming events. Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary are having an open house on October 27 from 1-5 p.m. if you want to tour the facilities and look at the cats available for adoption.

Or, on November 2, a wine and art gala fundraiser will be held at the Thousand Oaks Country Club to celebrate the organization’s 10-year anniversary. More information can be found online.

As many cat owners know, owning a cat can be a very rewarding experience. If you love cats, please consider adopting or sponsoring one from Crash’s Landing or Big Sid’s Sanctuary or volunteering your time. Here’s how you can get involved:

-    Visit Crash’s Landing and Big Sid's Sanctuary to find out more about the organizations.
-    Attend the open house on October 27.
-    Attend the November 2 Wine and Art Gala at Thousand Oaks Country Club.
-    Adopt a cat and give it a loving home.
-    Volunteer for Crash’s Landing in whatever capacity you can give.
-    Donate to the organization.
-    Sponsor a cat.
-    Like Crash’s Landing on Facebook.

Source: Dr. Jennifer Petrovich, founder of Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Crash’s Landing.

Fashion Has Heart for ArtPrize

Rapid Growth got the opportunity this week to tour several ArtPrize venues in and around downtown Grand Rapids. One venue that really stood out was the Fashion Has Heart gallery at 144 E. Fulton Street. This venue, up for a juried Venue Award from ArtPrize, is built around the Corporal Hoffman Series. Rapid Growth wrote about it originally back in June of this year.

Despite severe disabilities as a result of a sniper's bullet in Iraq, including the loss of speech, Corporal Josh Hoffman, now 29, is determined to use his heart, mind and creative passion to inspire other wounded warriors to continue to live and dream back in the U.S. Through the nonprofit organization Fashion Has Heart, wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are paired with shoe and T-shirt designers to create one-of-a-kind apparel.

According to their website and curator Spencer Covey: "The result of their work is silkscreened onto a Threadless T-shirt to become a wearable work of art that carries a significant story. This [Fashion Has Heart] project also includes each of the five heroes working with designers from Bates Footwear to custom-design their own military-inspired boot that aid to further tell their story through the medium of fashion."

The exhibit at the small retail storefront on E. Fulton (near One Stop Coney), contains works from Hoffman and four other soldiers, representing all five branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard).

Michael Bell - Coast Guard
Seth Herman - Designer
Michael's largest inspirations have been the Navy and cycling. His shirt design represents those two passions along with the can-do attitude of "Adapt & Overcome"

Israel Del Toro - AirForce
Chuck Anderson - Designer, No Pattern
Israel's T-shirt design is a rendition of a tattoo depicting the rising from flames to be a new person in the spirt of a Phoenix.

Danielle Green-Byrd - Army
Phil Jones - Designer
Danielle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade which left her without her dominant left arm. Her design shows the transition from using her left and right arms along with the loss of her husband as shown by the half-open door as the transition occurrs.

Josh Hoffman - Marines
Tyler Way - T.Way - Designer
Josh Hoffman is the namesake of the exhibit.  While in Fallujah Josh was hit by a sniper leaving him fully paralyzed. Josh communicates through a complex system of letters and number which we used to design his fashion line.

Chris Wiers - Marines
Priscilla Wilson - Designer
Chris was left disabled by a roadside IED.  Chris's design is a memorial to those who have shed blood on the dangerous roads of Iraq. His shirt has the Marine motto: "Often Tested, Always Faithful, Brothers Forever."

One of the stated goals of Fashion Has Heart is to recruit other veterans to join in the cause, but it's also to raise money for veteran advocacy. The uniquely designed T-shirts are available for sale during ArtPrize, and the $25 retail price goes toward their fundraising efforts.

Several of the designs, and the cause, certainly evoke powerful emotions. The shirt design by Danielle Green-Byrd, with a series of left-hand swinging doors signifying the loss of her left arm, followed by a series of right-hand swinging doors signifying the death of her husband upon her return from war, are particularly powerful.

Fashion Has Heart's venue at 144 E. Fulton is one of 161 venues this year for ArtPrize. Venue hours run from Monday - Thursdays 5 p.m. - 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays Noon - 10 p.m., and Sundays Noon - 6 p.m.

Jeff Hill is the Publisher of Rapid Growth Media

Photos by Jeff Hill

Take a look at these videos to see and hear from some of the veterans in person:

[FHH] ArtPrize 2012 - Summer from Fashion Has Heart on Vimeo.

[FHH] Presents: A Special Announcement from Fashion Has Heart on Vimeo.

Migrant Legal Aid presents Good Grower award

Each fall, Migrant Legal Aid celebrates another summer of farming with a luncheon to honor the migrants and growers. Elected officials and community members attend and an award is given to a company that best demonstrates fair employment practices and that brings plants and produce to the market in a socially responsible way.

During the Harvest of Justice luncheon on September 12 at Versluis Orchards, the 2012 Good Grower award was presented to Kalamazoo-based Wenke Greenhouse for showing “extraordinary compassion” to its workers after learning of a human trafficking situation they were involved in.  

“Rather than look the other way, they chose to make the situation right,” says Teresa Hendricks, executive director of Migrant Legal Aid.

Hendricks says the staff at Wenke Greenhouses suspected something suspicious and started asking questions. Once their suspicions were confirmed, they removed the migrants from the situation, providing safe housing and transportation at the company’s expense. Wenke Greenhouses then contacted Migrant Legal Aid for help and there is now an investigation pending.

One of the human trafficking victims spoke at the event and told the audience of more than 100 people that he went from feeling constant fear to having a legitimate place where he could take care of himself and earn a living. 

Migrant Legal Aid offers civil legal services to migrants who need assistance with employment pay, benefits, education, housing, civil rights issues, unacceptable worker conditions, immigration, domestic violence and healthcare access problems. Since 1973, they have been giving a voice to migrant workers and their families.

Often, migrant workers don’t speak English well, or at all, and can sometimes be duped into accepting illegal employment practices such as payment below the legal minimum or hazardous working conditions. Also, if an employer suspects or knows a person is here illegally, some may take advantage. 

Other times, migrants are the victims of domestic violence and have no one to turn to. A recent example involved a woman who was beaten and raped by her husband and had no family nearby. Migrant Legal Aid was able to have the spouse deported and get the woman legal status here so she could get a job and find her own place to live.   
With a small staff of six people that swells to 10 in the summers, Migrant Legal Aid covers the entire state of Michigan and its nearly 900 migrant camps.

The nonprofit organization receives no federal or state funding and relies on donations and grants from local foundations to operate. With high gas prices, it costs a lot for the staff to drive all over Michigan. There are also legal fees and expenses to cover. Yet, the services of Migrant Legal Aid are free to migrants working in agriculture who have an income level below poverty.

If you want to help Migrant Legal Aid continue to give a voice to those who need one, here’s how you can get involved:

-    Visit Migrant Legal Aid to find out more about what they do.
-    Donate to Migrant Legal Aid.

Source: Teresa Hendricks, Executive Director of Migrant Legal Aid

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
Photography provided by Migrant Legal Aid. 

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan gives back to the community

Have you seen those donation boxes at McDonald’s restaurants? Almost $600,000 a year is raised for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Outstate Michigan this way. That sure is a lot of change.

RMHC of Outstate Michigan will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013. Many people believe RMHC of Outstate Michigan only supports the Ronald McDonald Houses, but that’s only a part of what they do. Since the charity began, they’ve awarded nearly $7 million in grants to approximately 350 nonprofit organizations supporting children’s causes throughout 58 counties in Michigan.

“The money people put in the donation boxes goes right back out to the community,” says Lesa Dion, executive director of RMHC of Outstate Michigan.

Four years ago, the organization also began awarding college scholarships. Now, each year, RMHC of Outstate Michigan awards 10 high school seniors with an $8,000 four-year scholarship. So far, they have awarded $320,000.

While financial need and academic achievement need to be demonstrated, the reviewers look for a student’s community involvement too.

“We like to see that they’re giving back, because we give back,” Dion says, adding that the students who earn the scholarships are “the cream of the crop, unbelievable kids.”
While grants to nonprofit organizations and the scholarships make up part of the charity’s budget, the Ronald McDonald Houses also rely on them for some funding.  

There are more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world and each one is designed to be a home away from home for families who have a child receiving medical care.

The Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan opened in Grand Rapids in 1990 and serves more than 450 families each year. It has 17 bedrooms, many common areas and a playground for the children.

RMHC of Outstate Michigan has awarded the Ronald McDonald House in Western Michigan and the one in Lansing, the Ronald McDonald House in Mid-Michigan, nearly $700,000 in grants since 2007. The houses each do their own fundraising as well.  

A $20,000 grant was also recently awarded to Arbor Circle’s The Bridge, which provides housing and development services to runaways and homeless youths. The money went toward an interior makeover of the 30-year-old facility, including the painting of the shelter’s seven rooms and new furniture and household items. The teenagers currently living at the house helped paint the rooms and decorate, learning valuable skills in the process.  

Arbor Circle’s The Bridge is only one of several nonprofit organizations to receive a grant from RMHC of Outstate Michigan this year. Any children’s organization can apply for a grant, in any amount, as long as they are tax exempt and serve children under the age of 18. The board meets four times a year to review applications and typically awards around $100-200,000 each time, with an average grant of $10-30,000.

RMHC of Outstate Michigan’s board awards grants that go directly toward changing the lives of children. With each application, Dion says they ask, “How is this going to affect the health and well-being of a child?”

If you would like to help Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan continue to give back to our community and change the lives of children, here are some ways you can get involved:

-    Visit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan online to find out more.
-    Donate online or by putting your change in the donation boxes at local participating McDonald’s restaurants.
-    Volunteer your time at the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan. They’re always looking for people to help prepare the rooms, welcome the guests, cook meals, make cookies and drive guests to and from the hospital.
-    Like the Ronald McDonald House Charities on Facebook.

Source: Lesa Dion, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
Photos provided by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Outstate Michigan.  

Cooley's Access to Justice Clinic offers pro bono legal services

The two principles behind the development of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s pro bono law clinics are that everyone should have access to justice, even if they can’t afford a lawyer, and that every law student should get hands-on practice in court with real cases before they graduate.

There are 10 of these legal clinics spread out among campuses in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Auburn Hills and Ann Arbor.

In Grand Rapids, the Access to Justice Clinic handles civil cases that focus on family and consumer law. Upper class law students have the chance to process actual cases and try them in court. This practice not only gives them an edge on starting their careers, but it helps those who otherwise could not afford a lawyer have their case handled professionally.
Now before you contact all of your friends who are considering a divorce, know that the Access to Justice Clinic’s cases are only referred by the Legal Assistance Center at the Kent County Courthouse. You can’t contact the Cooley Clinic directly.

The Legal Assistance Center acts as a first step screening agency. Once they determine a person financially qualifies and is in need of the services provided by the Access to Justice Clinic, they refer them and the clients then meet with the students.

Michael Dunn, the Clinic’s director, and Misty Davis, a staff attorney, closely supervise all cases and one of them is present in court whenever a law student appears before a judge. Third year law students may enter the two-term program as part of their legal degree curriculum.

“These are students who are very motivated to get practice before they get out of law school,” says Dunn.

Dunn also says the judges who hear the student’s cases are nurturing and want to see them succeed. Once a term, one of the courtrooms is closed to the public so the students can practice in front of a judge.

“We have a very giving bench,” Dunn says of the judges in our community.

For each case the Access to Justice Clinic handles, a team is created consisting of a senior level student, a junior level student and a paralegal from the Davenport University paralegal program. Cooley law students work regularly with the Davenport paralegal students in order to form complete legal teams.

Currently, there are 13 law students enrolled in the program working with seven paralegal students. During the 14-week term, the group will handle approximately 40 cases involving family and consumer law issues. The Clinic operates exactly like an actual law firm and the same ethical rules apply. 
Dunn, who has 25 years of law experience, teaches criminal practice classes and child abuse and neglect classes in addition to serving as the Access to Justice Clinic’s director. He says he and Davis work well as a team in guiding the students toward gaining professional legal experience that will help them after they graduate. Many law firms expect new hires to already have the skills that the Clinic teaches when they start.   

“What we’re graduating is lawyers, not law students,” says Dunn. “When they go to their first job, they hit the ground running with confidence.”

The Access to Justice Clinic has existed for five years. The other clinics operating out of Cooley’s Grand Rapids location are a Public Sector Legal Clinic, which handles transactional work for public sector clients, and the Kent County Public Defender Clinic, where students work on public defender cases.

None of the clinics receive any funding so expenses such as transcripts and mediation costs usually have to be absorbed by the client or the Clinic. The fee waivers the Clinic files on behalf of the clients don’t cover these expenses. The Access to Justice Clinic is currently considering becoming a nonprofit organization so they have the ability to raise funds.

In the meantime, their nonprofit partner, the Legal Assistance Center, is always looking for volunteers and donations. Here’s how to get involved:

-    Visit the Thomas M. Cooley Law Clinics page to find out more.
-    Visit the Legal Assistance Center online to find out more.
-    Donate to the Legal Assistance Center.
-    Volunteer at the Legal Assistance Center.

Source: Michael J. Dunn, Associate Professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Director of the Access to Justice Clinic

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
Photos provided by the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

The 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, an organization well known for community service and changing the lives of the girls who get involved.

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low started the Girl Scouts in Savannah, GA in 1912 and the Grand Rapids group started a few years later in 1914. Today, the Girl Scouts has a membership of more than 3.2 million nationwide with 59 million alumnae. One in every two women in the U.S. has been a Girl Scout at some point in their lives.

The local Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore group currently serves more than 11,000 girls, ages five to 17, in 30 counties in Michigan, from Zeeland to Alpena.

At the time Girl Scouts began, there was a defined class system so Gordon Low had everyone wear uniforms. That way, you couldn’t tell a person’s social status. Everyone in the group appeared equal and since the beginning, the organization has always been integrated.

“We’ve always been inclusive of all girls at all stages of life,” says Gloria Lara, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore chapter.

Now in its 100th year, the national organization is celebrating its success. Recently, a quarter of a million Girl Scouts, volunteers and alumnae from across the country participated in a giant sing-along on the National Mall. The local group sent three busloads of women and girls to join in.

Locally, the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore is hosting an anniversary gala, alumnae get togethers and more to celebrate.

Being a Girl Scout is not just all about camping, cookies and crafts as some may think, but rather it instills three other “Cs” in its girls: courage, confidence and character. It’s those characteristics that change the lives of girls not only while they are young, but well into the future.

Recently, a study done by the Girl Scout Research Institute showed that women who were once Girl Scouts had a better life outcome than those who did not participate. These women have higher household incomes and more education. The Alumnae Impact Study also showed that former Girl Scouts are more apt to be involved in their children’s extracurricular activities and 77 percent of them vote. Plus, 80 percent of all women business owners and 68 percent of the women in Congress were former Girl Scouts. This study demonstrates the positive impact that investing in girls makes.
The Girl Scout organization is constantly evolving, too. They have updated their badges and handbooks recently to be more modern and they have added many new ways for girls and adult volunteers to become involved. There are now several ways besides being in a troop for girls to participate such as attending events, traveling, classes and much more.

“We expose girls to opportunities they may never be exposed to,” Lara says. “And this is a safe environment for girls to try out new things.”

Positive role models are needed in any capacity, whether that means volunteering for the Girl Scouts a few hours a year or weekly. These mentors can share their unique talents and gifts in a number of ways.

The upcoming 100th anniversary gala will be held on October 24 at DeVos Place. Anyone is welcome, including men, and people are encouraged to take a current or former Girl Scout to honor them.

For 100 years, Girl Scouts build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. Here are some ways you can support them:

-    Visit the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore online to learn more.
-    Attend the 100th Anniversary Gala on October 24.
-    Volunteer for the Girl Scouts.
-    Donate to the Girl Scouts.
-    Buy cookies and other products to support the organization.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @GSMISTS on Twitter.

Sources: Gloria Lara, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore and Meahgan Pear, Director of Marketing & Communications
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore.

Kent County Search and Rescue team locates the missing

A child is missing.

He’s been gone for a few hours. It’s now dark and the temperature is hovering in the teens. Finding the child soon is critical for survival.  

After an initial call to the 911 Dispatch Center, two police officers show up. They ask questions, look around a bit and decide to call the Kent County Search and Rescue (KCSAR) team for additional help.

Within a short period of time, several KCSAR team members arrive with their equipment and dogs and immediately start searching. Soon enough, they find the child and bring him home safely.

This story ends well because the KCSAR team is organized, efficient and extremely well-trained. But none of them get paid to do this -- they’re all volunteers. They buy their own equipment and use their own vehicles and gas. And most of them spend more than 100 hours each year on search and rescue missions.

Why do they do it?

“Someone’s got to do this -- there’s a true need for it,” says Brian Toronyi, deputy director - human resources. “If it’s your loved one, you would hope there are people trained and skilled who do what we do.”

The KCSAR team includes 57 dedicated volunteers expertly trained to safely locate, assist, stabilize and transport missing persons in Kent County and surrounding communities.

Duke, Emma, Gracie and Gus help locate people too, but only with their noses. These four dogs make up the K9 search and rescue team. They’re each owned and handled by KCSAR volunteers and go through grueling training before working in the field.

KCSAR began in 2004 at the request of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Management Division. The team is a division of the Kent County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) group and both groups fall under the jurisdiction of the Emergency Management Division.

The KCSAR team involves smaller units tasked with different search and rescue responsibilities: ground, bike, K9, communications and the management unit, which is responsible for investigations, planning and operations. Many volunteers operate in more than one group.

When a missing person call reaches Toronyi, he admits it’s “an adrenaline rush.” On average, KCSAR gets 50 calls per year, but only half turn into actual searches. Many situations are resolved before the team arrives. So far this year, they’ve had 12 successful searches.

The KCSAR team has a scientific method for locating the missing, which are commonly children, elderly people or those with mental impairments. When they first arrive on the scene, they begin with a three-page questionnaire that gives them a better idea of who the person is, what their habits are and their mental and emotional states. This information is then compared to a database, along with the time and location where the person was last seen. The volunteers then know about how far in any direction that person could have gone and what signs to look for.   

“This gives us the ability to understand the situation as best as we can,” Toronyi says.

KCSAR is always looking for more volunteers, but Toronyi cautions that it’s a big financial and time commitment. Initially, volunteers spend approximately 100 hours in training for the first several months before they go in the field. The backpack filled with supplies they each carry on search and rescue missions can cost up to $1200.  

Current volunteers include both men and women and people of all ages, from college students to retired people. Many have emergency or medical experience, but it’s not necessary. Toronyi works in IT and there’s even a beer salesman on the team. The most important factor is “the willingness to drop everything and respond.”

An open house for anyone considering volunteering will be held on November 1. The two-hour meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and a link to register is listed below.

Another fun way to find out more about KCSAR is to host a Missing Party. As part of the K9 team’s practice each week, they will come to your house and search for your “missing” friends around the neighborhood.

“You supply the missing, we supply the dogs,” says Toronyi.

Since KCSAR is not locally or federally funded, donations are always appreciated, but they don’t necessarily have to be in cash. Recently, Life EMS donated two ambulances, with one to be used as a communications truck and the other as a support truck. Before the ambulances could be used, they had to be painted and Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Painting donated $5,000 in painting services.

The KCSAR team also helps with Kent County emergency communication and severe weather monitoring and notification when necessary.

“It’s rewarding to help a person in need,” Toronyi says. He adds that everyone on the team shares a caring and compassionate attitude and that’s why they do what they do.

If you want to become a KCSAR volunteer, host a Missing Party, donate or find out more information, here are some links to get you started:

-    Visit Kent County Search and Rescue online to learn more.
-    Learn more about becoming a KCSAR volunteer at the open house on November 1. Pre-registration is required.
-    Host a Missing Party.
-    Make a donation to KCSAR.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Brian Toronyi, Kent County Search and Rescue Deputy Director - Human Resources.

Writer: Heidi Stukkie

Photos provided by Kent County Search and Rescue.

$265,000 in college scholarships awarded

When Leah Nawrocki was nine, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The 20-year-old Aquinas College junior is now completely cured, but her mother Ann says her daughter remembers the kindness shown to the family by the child life specialists where she was treated.

Nawrocki is currently studying psychology with the dream of someday becoming a child life specialist and paying that kindness forward. Now thanks in part to a $2,500 scholarship she received, the cost of college tuition won’t prevent her from earning her degree.

Nawrocki is one of 100 students recently awarded a college scholarship from the Fred & Lena Meijer scholarship program. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) administers this scholarship fund and awarded $265,000 in scholarships this year to Meijer team members and their children in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky.

To qualify for the Fred & Lena Meijer scholarships, a team member must be employed with Meijer for at least a year. Full- and part-time employees of the retail chain and their children are eligible for these competitive scholarships.

The Community Foundation has been administering the Fred & Lena Meijer scholarship fund since in began in 1975. Scholarships were originally only awarded to children of Meijer team members, but in 2010, the program expanded to include current team members as well. This year, the scholarships also increased to $2,500 and two $10,000 scholarships were added, with one each in Fred and Lena Meijer’s names.

“Our father believed that you should never stop learning no matter where you receive that education,” Meijer Co-chairman Hank Meijer says. “It means a lot to our family to help further the education of our Meijer team members and their children.”

Amanda St. Pierre, PR & Marketing Specialist for the Community Foundation, says that allowing Meijer team members to apply “significantly impacted the number of applications received this year, increasing the average amount by 400.”

GRCF currently manages 73 college scholarship funds. They reviewed 1,877 applications this year and awarded 574 scholarships. Of all the applications submitted, 635 were for the Fred & Lena Meijer scholarship program.

Education Program Officer Ruth Bishop says GRCF assembles scholarship fund selection committees with six to eight members each to review all applications. Students are asked to write an essay of aspirations and educational goals, and their financial needs, academic performance and community involvement are taken into consideration as well.

“We look at all of the applications and choose the ones that demonstrate and reflect the best of all of those qualifications,” Bishop says.

Of the $265,000 awarded by the Fred and Lena Meijer scholarship fund, two recipients received $10,000 with another 98 students receiving $2,500 each. Lowell resident and Meijer team member Benjamin Kraft received the $10,000 Fred Meijer scholarship and Lansing resident Tianna Saint Marie, the daughter of a team member, received the $10,000 Lena Meijer scholarship for her pre-med and nutritional science studies at Michigan State University.

Kraft, a single father of three, is earning his nursing degree at Grand Valley State University. He wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for college until he received the $10,000 award. After getting the notification letter, he stopped by the GRCF office downtown to thank everyone and Bishop says he was “extremely grateful.”

Nawrocki, whose father Joe works in the design department at the Meijer Corporate Headquarters, says she counts on scholarships to pay for college. She was in Costa Rica for a study abroad program when her father told her about the scholarship program. Applying from there was a little challenging, but she’s glad she did. Nawrocki says she especially liked sending a thank you note to the Meijer family for her $2,500 award.  

“It was really cool to receive a scholarship from the people who gave my dad a job,” she says.

With college tuition costs rising, scholarships make a big impact. If you’d like to donate toward a student’s education, you can do so through GRCF’s website:

- Donate to a scholarship fund

You can also show your support for Meijer and GRCF by engaging with them on Facebook and Twitter.

- Like the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on Facebook.
- Like Meijer on Facebook.
- Follow @GRCommFound on Twitter.
- Follow @Meijer on Twitter.

Sources: Ruth Bishop, Education Program Officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Amanda St. Pierre, PR & Marketing Specialist at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Leah Nawrocki, scholarship recipient and Aquinas College junior; and Ann Nawrocki, Leah Nawrocki’s mother

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Growing food in the city

Even if you live in the city, you can still be a farmer, and there’s a good chance you can make money selling the food you grow. All you need is a little bit of land, a small investment of time and money and the knowledge of how to get started.

That’s where CityFarmers.us comes in. This new website is designed to be a place where those interested in urban farming can find out how to begin growing food in the city, share expertise and ask questions. Registered users earn access to a variety of resources such as blogs, forums and posted articles.

Andy Dragt, a local urban farmer and part-time pastor at The Branch Church, developed the site mostly because he wanted a centralized place to organize and share information. He’s spent the last several years researching ways to grow food in the city and noticed there was not a site that combined the knowledge in one place. 
Dragt recently went to Toronto for the Urban Agriculture Summit, a conference dedicated to people growing food in cities and those who support them. The idea behind the urban farming movement is that the number of farmers growing food on huge plots of land is decreasing, yet we still need to eat. Turning small plots of land into food growing areas provides neighborhoods with fresh, affordable food. Urban farming also helps the environment and may lead to employment opportunities.

Along with developing the CityFarmers.us website, Dragt, his friend Jeff Verkaik and a group of several families have started a SPIN farming adventure here in Grand Rapids. SPIN stands for Small Plot Intensive and it’s a type of farming where individuals or groups grow food on less than an acre of land. The land may be on their own property, the property of others or in an open space.

Not only is the food grown for personal consumption, but SPIN offers a methodology for earning a decent return on the investment of city farming by selling produce to local restaurants and markets.

“If you choose the right crops that make sense in the city, manage them well, and grow things that can grow in succession, then you should be able to generate $50,000 on a half acre of land,” Dragt says.
Dragt, Verkaik and friends rented a 6,000 square foot plot of land from Bazzani + Associates located on Wealthy Street near Diamond Avenue. They spent a day tilling the land in July and recently planted their first seeds. They’re calling the space Uptown Farm and hope to sell some of their naturally grown salad greens and root vegetables to local restaurants and businesses after the fall harvest.

Next summer, the goal is to start planting earlier and grow a succession of crops throughout the season. The Uptown Farm group is interested in working with restaurants in the area committed to using local foods. They may also sell produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market during the Wednesday Evening Market when new vendors have the chance to participate. Ideally, they want to show that the Uptown Farm on Wealthy Street has economic value.

“It’s an extended effort by many families, which lets us take the risk and try this,” says Dragt.

The idea for the Uptown Farm and the CityFarmers.us site evolved from weekly dinners involving Dragt, Verkaik and a few others. They realized they shared the same passion for growing food and if they combined their efforts, they could bring about sustainable change in their community.

“We all like growing things in our backyards and have gardens,” says Verkaik. “We thought it could play a bigger role in Grand Rapids.”

The group wants to help others learn about urban farming and share the resources they’ve discovered. They’re considering a cooperative membership organization where city farmers work together, sharing tillers and seeders as well as manpower.

The Uptown Farm group is looking for additional land, too. If anyone has extra, un-used space on his or her property, no matter how small, food can be grown there in a way similar to the community supported agriculture (CSA) philosophy.

“In exchange for letting us use their land and water, the owner would get a basket of food each week,” Dragt says.

Dragt and Verkaik insists they’re no experts, but they want to get people thinking about growing food in the city and they want to use the social networking cityfarmers.us site as a way to collect and share ideas.

“Anyone with minimal resources can give urban farming a shot,” says Dragt.

The Uptown Farm group would like to share their knowledge about urban farming with others. They're also interested in talking with local restaurants and anyone with available land. Here’s the information you need to find out more:

-    Visit CityFarmers.us online to find out more.
-    Become a member on the site and share your experiences with others.
-    Contact Andy Dragt if you are interested in buying produce or if you have land available for an urban farm.  
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @4cityfarmers on Twitter.

Sources: Andy Dragt and Jeff Verkaik

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos taken by Jenn Anibal Photography.
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