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Local nonprofit leader receives statewide award for outstanding service

Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director at Degage Ministries, has received the 2013 statewide Liberty Bell Award from the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) for her passionate work at the ecumenical organization.

The Liberty Bell Award is given each year by local bar associations, in conjunction with Law Day, to honor outstanding citizens within the local community. This award recognizes outstanding service performed by a non-lawyer citizen who has given time and energy to strengthen the effectiveness of the American system of freedom under law, in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution.

Palmerlee began her journey with Degage 20 years ago when she and her then-13-year-old son began volunteering at the ministry. At the time, Degage had four employees and served coffee every evening to about 50 people. Palmerlee knew they could do more. It wasn't long before her passionate giving led to the next logical step: attaining the position of executive director a few years later.

"We started meeting with people and asking them how we could help them in their journeys," Palmerlee says. "We listened to their most pressing needs and we acted."

That action resulted in the addition of a laundromat, hair salon, and showers; expanding their dining room; and starting a state ID program, as well as other programs and services, most recently the Voucher Program, which offers a commonsense solution to panhandling.

Degage also added Open Door, an overnight center for women who need a safe haven. Since its inception in 2003, the center has served more than 2,000 women. As for Degage, the ministry now serves about 500 people per day, 10 times more than it did when Palmerlee took over.

Established in 1967, Degage Ministries helps build relationships and offers programs that foster dignity and respect. Degage Ministries is an independent 501(c)3 ecumenical organization.

Get involved:
- Learn more about Degage, how to volunteer, and how to donate on their website.

Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Degage Ministries

Habitat for Humanity raises millions to revitalize GR's West Side

The West Side is about to become the best side. Habitat for Humanity of Kent County has raised $3.5 million as part of its $5 million Building Blocks campaign to revitalize Grand Rapids' West Side neighborhoods. Launched in January and chaired by community leaders John Benz, Laurie Termaat, and Ted Adornato, the Building Blocks campaign takes a holistic approach to transforming the western core of the city. Residents, businesses, churches, local government, and other nonprofits work together to implement a shared vision of renewal.

"This has been an absolutely amazing experience for Habitat and for our donors, friends, and families," says Mary Buikema, Habitat's executive director. "We started this year with a dream and a goal, and here we are, nine months later, and we've already raised 70% of that goal. The generosity of this community is humbling."

The Building Blocks campaign's objectives are to fund the construction, rebuilding, or renovation of more than 200 homes on the West Side; and to fund improvements at Habitat's ReStore outlets, which sell gently used home improvement items.

In its initial "silent phase," more than 120 community donors supported the fundraising effort. Now, as the campaign enters its next phase, the hope is to garner even more support. "We want to reach out to those who haven't yet participated and ask them to join in restoring our neighborhoods," says Benz. "You can see the trend in our community. Reinvestment and rebirth is happening on the West Side, and Habitat is helping to lead the charge."

Laurie Termaat of Chemical Bank says, "We are privileged to have one of the nation's most respected Habitat affiliates here in our community. It is our responsibility to ensure that it continues to impact our local neighborhoods in a positive and permanent way."

The public announcement of Building Blocks is both a celebration and a call to action, says Ted Adornato of Spartan Stores. "Raising $3.5 million in a recovering economy is something the entire community should be proud of," he says. "We now hope the public will embrace this campaign and help us raise the funds needed to complete our effort."

Established in 1983, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County builds hope and transforms lives through neighborhood revitalization and homeownership for families who otherwise could not afford a home of their own. Habitat Kent has helped more than 350 families turn their dreams of homeownership into reality and has lifted more than 1,000 children out of substandard housing.

Get involved:
- Support the campaign by donating online or by dropping off a donation at the Habitat Kent offices at 425 Pleasant St. SW.
- Volunteer at Habitat.
- Stay current with Habitat happenings on their Facebook page.
- Learn more about Habitat by visiting their website or by calling (616) 774-2431.

Source: Philip Zoutendam, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County

'Attendance Works' director Hedy Chang to deliver keynote address at Community Literacy Summit

Over 30 million adults in the United States can't read above the third grade level, a status that is categorized as "low literacy." In Grand Rapids, the low literacy rate of adults is 22%; in Kent County, it is 14%.

Low literacy affects all of us. Children who do not read at a proficient level by the third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, not attend college, and become low literate adults. Studies have shown that adults with low literacy skills are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed, and suffer from poor health conditions.

It doesn't have to be this way. Whether you're a parent, an employer, an educator, a health care provider, or other service provider, you can be part of the solution. Here's one way to get involved: Attend the Literacy Center of West Michigan's Community Literacy Initiative's second Community Literacy Summit on Wednesday, September 25 at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center, 1607 Robinson Road. The Community Literacy Summit's goal is to develop a community that is 100% literate.

The Summit will feature workshops on age-speci?c literacy, working with schools, English as a Second Language (ESL), and many other topics related to literacy. Delivering the keynote address is Hedy Chang, director at Attendance Works. Attendance Works is a national- and state-level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence.

A skilled presenter, facilitator, researcher, and writer, Chang co-authored the seminal report, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, and other articles about student attendance.

Chang has spent more than two decades working in the fields of family support, family economic success, education, and child development. She served as a senior program officer at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and as co-director of California Tomorrow, a nonprofit committed to drawing strength from cultural, linguistic, and racial diversity. In February 2013, Lang was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for her commitment to furthering African American Education.

Registration for the Community Literacy Summit is $35.00 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch, and workshop materials.

The Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) is a literacy coalition that seeks to empower community leaders, parents, and residents to improve literacy for all ages in West Michigan. CLI is a new formation of the coalition formerly known as Greater Grand Rapids Reads.

Get involved:

- Register online or download a registration packet. The cost for the Summit is $35.
- Visit the Literacy Center's Facebook page.
- Volunteer.
- Donate.

Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of The Literacy Center of West Michigan and  Attendance Works

'Michigan Saves' offers incentives and financing for businesses to save energy, boost bottom line

Upgrading costly refrigeration units or HVAC systems, replacing old light fixtures, or even adding insulation to a commercial space can help lower energy consumption and save businesses money. And now, there is an attractive incentive to do so: Michigan Saves offers business financing up to $150,000 as low as 5.9% for up to five years. Food industry businesses can get financing for a rate as low as 1.99% APR and an additional $2,000 rebate if consumption is cut by 20%.

Lansing-based Michigan Saves screens a statewide network of authorized, professional building contractors and other professionals with expertise in energy efficiency and on-site renewable-energy systems. With innovative, affordable financing for energy-focused building and equipment improvements through its Business Energy Finance program, the nonprofit aims to increase awareness and demand for greater efficiency.

Beginning the process with Michigan Saves is easy:
-       Find a Michigan Saves authorized contractor on the Michigan Saves website to get an estimate. Have an energy assessment or pick from a list of qualified energy improvements.
-       Complete the loan application. Your authorized contractor will help you, and you will get a decision within 48 hours.
-       Once the loan is approved, your contractor makes the energy improvements. Your contractor is paid directly by the lender once the work is done to your satisfaction.

Michigan Saves makes affordable financing and other incentives available through partnerships and grants with lenders in the private sector. The organization has no employees but is staffed by contract with public sector consultants and the Delta Institute in Chicago.The nonprofit offers programs for residential and commercial customers, and supports energy efficiency, geothermal, and solar PV projects.

Get involved:

- Learn more about Michigan Saves and begin the process.
- Visit their Facebook page.
- Become an authorized contractor.

Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Michigan Saves

Degage Ministries offers a dignified way to donate, respect, and help panhandlers

Last summer, a Grand Rapids federal judge overturned the state panhandling ban based on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Since then, the number of people panhandling at Grand Rapids intersections has increased dramatically. You've seen the homemade signs: 'Homeless,' 'Will work for food,' 'Out of work vet,' and several variations on those themes.

Whether these folks are truly homeless or not may be open for debate, but one thing is certain: Drivers can be uncomfortable with panhandlers. Many want to help but realize that the money they give often goes to feed addictions.

What if we took money out of the equation and changed the way we respond to this need?

Degage Ministries offers a way to help folks who are down on their luck with $2 vouchers. Go to Degage's website, click on the blue 'donate now' button, select 'purchase of $2 vouchers,' pay via credit card or e-check, and a few days later, you'll receive paper vouchers in the mail. The voucher program provides a positive means for both immediate help and long-term support. When a patron uses a voucher at Degage, he or she is exposed to the many services available there.

"You may not have the opportunity to say, 'How can I help you?' but a voucher will give someone the chance to come into Degage for a meal where workers there can sit down with [him or her] and ask, 'How can we help?'" says Marge Palmerlee, director of Degage Ministries.

Each $2 voucher is good for one of the following:

- meal
- hair cut
- one load of laundry
- locker for a week
- pair of shoes

Serving 400-500 individuals daily, Degage Ministries offers help and hope to homeless and disadvantaged individuals in our community. Responsive programming is designed to address both immediate and long-term needs, such as overnight respite for women in crisis, food, referral services, and hygiene facilities.

Get involved:

- To purchase $2 vouchers, email Carole (carole@degageministries.org) or call (616) 454-1661.
- Vouchers are also available online: click 'donate now' and then select 'Purchase of $2 Vouchers' from the drop-down list. You'll receive the vouchers in the mail.
- Volunteer at Degage.
- Donate to Degage.
- Follow them on Facebook.
- Follow them on Twitter.

Source: Marge Palmerlee, director of Degage Ministries
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Degage Ministries


Grand Rapids GiveCamp donates time and expertise to help West Michigan nonprofits step up their game

Funds for nonprofits are in a slump, staff and resources are stretched thin, and there is little time -- let alone money -- to redesign websites, develop databases, or beef up a social media presence, all of which are critical to a nonprofit's success.

So, what's a nonprofit to do?

Enter Grand Rapids GiveCamp. One of about 45 GiveCamps nationwide, GR GiveCamp is a weekend-long event that brings technology professionals -- such as designers, developers, database administrators, marketers, and web strategists -- together with nonprofit organizations to launch their efforts to the next level. Now in its fourth year, the event is comprised of approximately 20 nonprofit organizations and 150 technical professionals. This year, the event takes place November 8-10 at The Factory, 38 West Fulton, Suite 400. West Michigan nonprofits that wish to participate have until October 1 to apply.

Here's how it works: GR GiveCamp matches each nonprofit to the local technology professional that best meets the organization's needs; over the course of the event, nonprofits receive free technology services, such as new websites, databases, e-newsletter programs, and social media campaigns.

"The average annual value to the nonprofit community of the work completed at GiveCamp is $250,000 in donated technology services and resources," says Ross Hunter, president of GR GiveCamp. "With the 2013 event, we expect to surpass $1 million in total donated services since we began holding GiveCamp in Grand Rapids."

Suffice it to say that the customers are satisfied. The Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which participated in last year's event, ended up with a "professional, dynamic, and user-friendly" website, says Keri Amlotte, communications coordinator at the Land Conservancy. "The new site has improved our efforts in donor and volunteer relations and community engagement," she says.

The American Red Cross of West Michigan also participated in the 2012 GiveCamp and received a "robust, flexible, and mobile inventory database, specifically tailored to the Red Cross's needs, [which] will provide huge time and cost savings," says Chip Kragt, the organization's regional emergency services director. "The new database will be used and tested by the West Michigan Region of the American Red Cross before being implemented in additional parts of the country," Kragt says.

Since the idea's inception in 2007, GiveCamp programs around the country have provided benefits to hundreds of charities, worth millions of dollars of developer and designer time in services.

Get involved:
- Learn more about GR GiveCamp.
- Volunteer your time and expertise.
- Apply to GR GiveCamp.
- Follow them on Facebook.
- Follow them on Twitter.

Sources: Ross Hunter, president of GR GiveCamp; Keri Amlotte, communications coordinator at the Land Conservancy; Chip Kragt, regional emergency services director at American Red Cross of West Michigan

Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Adam Bird, Rapid Growth Media

Sponsor a local child struggling with hunger for only $1 per weekday or $20 per month!

Elementary years are an important time for a child's academic and physical well-being. But without access to regular nutritious meals, they can suffer long-term effects, both academically and in overall growth and development.

Here's your chance to help kids in our community. Now you can sponsor a local child struggling with hunger for only $1 per weekday or $20 per month, thanks to a new Kids' Food Basket program known as the "Sack Supper Club." A generous donor is matching all Sack Supper Club donations leading up to Kids' Food Basket's first day of service for the 2013-14 school year on September 16.

"One in four children in Michigan struggle with hunger," says Kids' Food Basket Executive Director Bridget Clark Whitney. "Our goal is to increase the number of children fed through the Sack Supper program over the school year and serve over 5,400 kids each weekday... in a way that's dignifying and accessible.

"We know that when kids have access to food their minds and bodies grow strong and they do better in school," says Whitney. "This is a community problem, and we have developed a community solution. Kids' Food Basket's mission is to ensure children in our community have the nutrition they need to succeed in school and in life."

Kids' Food Basket is the only organization in West Michigan focused solely on childhood hunger. As of July 1, the organization has served more than 680,000 kids in the 10 years since its inception.

Get involved:
- Learn more about the Sack Supper Club by calling (616) 235-4532 or visiting Kids' Food Basket’s website.
- Volunteer.
- Donate.

Source: Ashley Abbott
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of Kids' Food Basket

Green Gala: The greenest bash of the year offers great music and farm-fresh food

Get your green on at the Third Annual Green Gala on Thursday, Aug. 22, 6:30 - 10:30 p.m. It's happening in the parking garage at the Plante Moran/Christman Building at Fish Ladder Park, 634 Front Ave. NW in Grand Rapids.

The Green Gala is Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' signature fundraising event. It takes a lot of time, planning, resources, and money to plant trees, rehab playgrounds, protect natural areas, and rebuild vibrant parks. That includes help from citizen volunteers, city workers, neighborhood organizers, philanthropists, and businesses.

"Vibrant parks and public spaces are essential to our community's environmental health and cultural wellbeing," says Steve Faber, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. "The Green Gala raises funds that allow us to coordinate volunteers, cover capital costs related to development, and raise money that isn't connected to grants, so we have more flexibility in the way we can spend it."

This year's Green Gala will sport a 'picnic on the farm' theme accompanied by a bluegrass band and featuring a photo wall with barn slats and farm implements for your photo opp pleasure.

Green Gala guests will get updated on several projects, including the Tree Map that lets you explore, map, and add trees to make the Urban Forest Tree Map complete; a new park in Heritage Hill; and a green space acquisition on the west side that is in the works.

Tickets are $85 at the door.

Founded in 2008, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen-led, nonprofit enterprise that works closely with but is separate from the City. FGRP's mission is to identify specific park projects and to mobilize people and general resources to protect, enhance, and expand the City's parks and public spaces.

Get involved:

- Invest in your neighborhood and support the City's Parks and Recreation Department by voting 'yes' on the millage this November. For only $49 per year on a home valued at $100,000, the millage will help fund some much-needed city park improvements. Get more info here.
- Donate to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.
- Check out FGRP's Facebook page.

Source: Steve Faber, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images of the 2012 Green Gala: Terry Johnston Photography and Ian Anderson (StellaFly)

A Place for Mom: No-cost help finding a senior living option that fits your family elder's needs

Finding an appropriate, affordable place for a family elder can be a daunting, stressful task, especially if a decision has to be made quickly. There are myriad options, levels of care, and a wide range of price points to consider.

Launched in 2000, Seattle-based A Place for Mom (APFM) is a national senior living referral service that offers seniors and their families an easier way to find senior care. Although the company name focuses on "mom," they help dads, uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters, too -- anyone who may need help finding senior living options. (Full disclosure: Back in 2009, APFM put me in touch with a local West Michigan advisor, who helped me find a great retirement community that fit within my elderly mother's budget. Mom couldn't be happier.)

APFM's knowledgeable Senior Living Advisors and online resources help families and seniors make informed decisions, save time, and feel less alone as they face the many challenges of caring for aging parents or other loved ones. The advisors work one-on-one over the phone with families to understand a loved one's needs, and help them navigate through available care options to find the best fit for each family situation. This includes providing specifics on costs and potential resources to help finance senior care.

Participating communities and providers pay APFM to be listed in their national network, so the service is offered at no charge to families. The organization does not endorse or recommend any particular community or provider. The Senior Living Advisors visit communities in their local area to experience the features firsthand and build relationships with the local staff. Each year, APFM conducts an annual licensing review and violations audit.

Get involved:
- If you need help finding a place for your family elder, call toll-free (866) 344-8005. After answering a few initial questions you will be connected with a Senior Living Advisor in your local area or near the location where you need to find care. Multiple searches across the country are also made easier.
- Take a needs assessment here.
- Visit APFM's Facebook page.

Source: A Place for Mom website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of A Place for Mom website

Two powerhouse, brand-building agencies merge to DOMOREGOOD

"There's a seismic shift in the marketplace," says Bob Blanchard, CEO of DOMOREGOOD, a new agency formed out of the merger of Hanon McKendry in Grand Rapids, Mich. and The CSK Group in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The vast majority of consumers -- 87 percent according to a 2012 study -- want businesses to place at least equal weight on societal issues and business interests, yet only 28 percent believe businesses are performing well in this regard, says Blanchard.

"At the same time, brands that score the highest on the annual Meaningful Brands Index outperform the market by 120 percent," Blanchard says. "We don't believe this is a trend. It's a permanent market shift."

This trend is not limited to nonprofits. Many businesses recognize that operating with conscience and higher purpose is no longer a luxury, but a requirement, says Blanchard.

Operating out of its two offices in Grand Rapids and Colorado Springs, DOMOREGOOD will provide strategic and creative brand-building services to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations that are committed to making a positive impact on the world around them. Services include market analysis, brand strategy, brand identity and management, design, campaign development and production, video production, strategic marketing, web marketing and digital development, and media services.

"The goal is to help brands that do good, do more of it," says DOMOREGOOD President Steve Maegdlin. "We know that brands aren’t just shaped by how they look or sound. They're shaped, mostly, by how they act.”

Purpose-driven brands go beyond short-term charitable projects. They make a positive difference through their business practices, in their employee and supplier relationships, in their communities, and for their customers and constituents, Maegdlin says. "Our job is to help those brands take their driving purpose beyond business strategy and fully integrate it in their branding and marketing strategies."


Get involved:

- Check out DOMOREGOOD's website.
- Visit Hanon McKendry's Facebook page.
- Get out there and do some good.

Source: Amy A. LeFebre, Director of Corporate Communications, DOMOREGOOD
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of DOMOREGOOD

Metro Health Hospital Foundation announces recent grants

The Metro Health Hospital Foundation has approved more than $90,000 in grants to support programs and services provided by Metro Health. Nine grants ranging from $1,645 to $22,000 will support a wide variety of initiatives, through new equipment, educational opportunities, and technology.

The grants include:

- A $22,000 grant to purchase a CX-50 ultrasound unit for the interventional radiology lab that will allow physicians to view multiple images and vital signs on one monitor.

- A grant to the Compassionate Care Fund in the amount of $14,000 to provide support including durable medical equipment, costs for necessary treatments, transportation and hotel stays, and other items to patients and their families with limited financial resources.

- More than $13,000 to purchase and upgrade testing devices for the Endoscopy Department that are used in testing for gastroesophageal reflux disease and predetermining surgical need.

- A $12,095 grant to purchase a bladder scanner for the Emergency Department to accurately diagnose common urological conditions.

- $8,000 to fund screening and diagnostic services for breast cancer and cervical cancer prevention for women who are under-insured or noninsured and at risk for developing breast and cervical cancer.

- $5,000 to purchase a nasolaryngoscope that will allow physicians to evaluate patients with ear, nose, and throat concerns in the primary care office at the Metro Health Community Clinic on Breton Road.

The Metro Health Hospital Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of West Michigan through its support of Metro Health, an award-winning leader in community healthcare.

The Foundation's support of Metro Health allows individuals, employees, organizations, and businesses to contribute funds that help families cope with catastrophic illnesses, provide life-saving education and screenings, and improve overall patient care.

Get involved:

- Donate.
- Explore other ways to give.

Source: Mary Ann Sabo, Sabo Public Relations
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Metro Health Hospital Foundation

Grand Rapids Community Foundation awards $871,850 in scholarships to Kent County students

'Tis the season of generosity. Grand Rapids Community Foundation, 185 Oakes St. SW, recently awarded and distributed $871,850 through 552 different scholarship funds. The scholarships range from $300 to $10,000 with over 500 awards of $1,000 or more. GRCF processed over 1,777 scholarship program applications for the 2013-14 academic year.

Get ready for some more impressive statistics:

Of the 552 scholarship recipients, 63 percent are female and 37 percent are male. This year, 53 percent of scholarship recipients are first-generation college students. And 16 percent of the scholarships were awarded to current or former graduates of Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Michigan colleges received 76 percent of all the awards, which is $662,550 of the total $871,850 available funds. The top awarded Michigan colleges include: Grand Valley State University with $142,700, Grand Rapids Community College with $71,300, Michigan State University with $63,000, and the University of Michigan with $46,700.

"We appreciate the good work of the community volunteers who make up the 21 scholarship selection committees,” says Ruth Bishop, the organization's Education Program Officer. "The committees are very thoughtful in carrying out the wishes of the donors who have established scholarship funds at the Foundation."

New scholarships awarded this year include the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids Minority Scholarship Fund. This award was established to provide undergraduate scholarships to Kent County students of color attending a nonprofit public or private college/university majoring in Fine Arts including all visual and performing art forms. Also new is the Darooge Family Scholarship Fund, which was established to provide scholarships to full-time undergraduate students majoring in a construction-related field at any accredited two- or four-year college/university/trade school in Michigan.

Get involved:

- Visit GRCF's website.
- Donate to GRCF.
- Consider planned giving.

Source: Roberta F. King, Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing, GRCF
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Grand Rapids Community Foundation's website

The Frey Foundation's first, interactive online annual report highlights several successful projects

One of Michigan's largest family foundations is leading by example with its new, interactive online annual report. The electronic format reflects the Frey Foundation's commitment to conservation by reducing its environmental impact, and it expands the organization's reach into the communities it serves.

The Frey Foundation, 40 Pearl St. NW, Suite 1100, Grand Rapids, Mich., is led by two generations of family trustees dedicated to advancing a legacy of strategic philanthropy by supporting innovative projects in West and Northern Michigan. The recently released Frey Foundation annual report showcases a few of the many programs comprising the $7.4 million grant distribution in 2012.

"The Frey Foundation is a collaborative funder," says Steve Wilson, foundation President. "The organizations highlighted in this annual report represent the collective work of grantees and funders throughout the region and beyond."

Recent grantees highlighted in the online edition include photos and stories from University Prep Academy, Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center, Top of Michigan Trails Council, Crooked Tree Arts Center, and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.

"Frey Foundation trustees and staff have had the great pleasure of working with many innovative programs during the past year," Wilson says. "We are delighted to share some of their stories with you in the foundation's first online, interactive annual report."

Frey Foundation grants are provided to nonprofit organizations primarily in West and Northern Michigan for projects that enhance child development, protect natural resources, promote the arts and civic action, and expand the reach and role of philanthropy in local communities. The foundation was established in 1974 and permanently endowed in 1988 from the estate of the late Edward J. and Frances T. Frey.

Get involved:

- Read the Frey Foundation's interactive Annual Report.
- Learn about some of the programs funded by the Frey Foundation in 2012: University Prep Academy, Grand Rapids, Child Discovery Center, Top of Michigan Trails Council, Inc, Crooked Tree Arts Center, and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.

Source: Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis, Media Consultant, SallyZara Public Relations
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of the Frey Foundation


Catherine's Health Center helps low-income people get the healthcare they need

Admittedly, I have a keen interest in clinics that offer low- or no-cost services to people who cannot afford medical care. I am one of the millions of people over the age of 50, but under the age of 65, who cannot afford medical insurance.

So, when I heard about Catherine's Health Center, 1211 Lafayette Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, Mich., naturally I rejoiced. Since 1996, CHC has provided a variety of services, including examinations, immunizations, education, testing, screening, and referrals to qualified residents of the northeast sections of Grand Rapids.

There are specialized programs for women, including the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (BCCCP). Low-income, uninsured women aged 40-64 are eligible for free pap smears and mammograms. The Betty Ford Mobile bus makes stops regularly.

CHC's WISE Women Program (The Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) assesses chronic disease factors by conducting a health history, lifestyle assessment, and clinical screening (lipids, blood sugar, and BMI). An individual plan is then developed to help improve health.

Hard-to-access eye services are also available to those without insurance: routine diabetic eye exams, and screening for glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other chronic diseases that affect eye health.

CHC's Medication Assistance Program allows the clinic to work with pharmaceutical companies to enroll patients for prescription assistance, and to distribute free prescriptions, sample mediation, diabetic glucose monitor and testing strips, and short-term medication dispensing.

So, if you have no medical insurance or prescription coverage, CHC may just be a viable option for you. CHC is open by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Get involved:

- Volunteer.
- Donate.
- Keep up-to-date -- sign up for CHC's newsletter.

Source: Catherine's Health Center website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Catherine's Health Center's website and Facebook page


Girls Choral Academy has a new leader: Lori Tennenhouse

July started out with a bang for the Girls Choral Academy when Lori Tennenhouse, the founder and artistic director of the Grand Rapids Women's Chorus, became the Executive and Artistic Director of Girls Choral Academy on July 1. Tennenhouse brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position and replaces Dr. Monique Salina, founder of the Girls Choral Academy.

"I couldn't be more excited to join such an exceptional organization and look forward to touching and enhancing the lives of girls through music!" says Tennenhouse.

Founded in 1997, the Girls Choral Academy (2920 Fuller Ave. NE, Suite 104, Grand Rapids) enriches the lives of West Michigan girls through a program for those who love to sing and wish to grow musically, personally, in self-esteem, and in leadership skills. The organization also focuses on increasing math and reading comprehension through music education.

Girls Choral Academy performs three major concerts each year involving girls in nine choirs. These girls are from all over West Michigan and from a wide variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They attend public, private, charter, parochial schools, and some are home-schooled, but they are all united by their excitement about singing, about choir, and about being a girl. The organization is firmly committed to diversity in membership and repertoire.

Three of the choirs are located in southwest, urban Grand Rapids near Grandville Avenue. These choirs operate in cooperation with the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), including Southwest Community Campus School, Buchanan Elementary, and Chavez Elementary.


Get involved:

- Learn more about Girls Choral Academy.
- To become a member, click here or call (616) 361-6111.
- Donate to Girls Choral Academy.
- Become a mentor.
- Join the Girls Choral Academy Guild.

Images: Courtesy of Girls Choral Academy website

Get your ride on to help fight poverty

Gear up for a 39-mile ride from Holland, Mich. to Grand Rapids! Here's your chance to join the Sea to Sea Bike Tour on its ride through West Michigan. The largest cross-continental bike tour ever began June 21, 2013, in Los Angeles and will end nine weeks and 3,900 miles later in New York City. On August 3, Access of West Michigan will team up with Sea to Sea for a local ride as the group pedals through West Michigan.

Sea to Sea is a cross-country cycling tour that raises awareness and funds in support of those living in poverty around the world. Past tours have raised millions of dollars that supported community development, job creation, business training, mentoring, and other initiatives that helped transform thousands of lives.

The cyclists will arrive in Holland on Saturday, August 3, and the public is welcome to pedal along for the 39 miles to Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Those a little less adventurous may join the long riders at Calvin CRC and bike just over three miles to Calvin College.

The cost to join the long ride is $50 per person, and it's $20 per person for the short ride. All proceeds will go to support the programs of Access of West Michigan, an organization that links congregational, individual, and community resources to eliminate hunger and reduce the impact of poverty in Kent County.

Oh, and all riders receive a free T-shirt. You can't beat that.

Get involved:
- Join the long ride.
- Join the short ride.
- Donate to Access of West Michigan.

Images: Courtesy of Access and Sea to Sea

Degage Ministries' ID Office helps break the cycle of dependency

Having an ID, such as a driver's license, is something most of us take for granted.

"What many people may not realize is that without legal identification, an individual is unable to apply for a job, secure housing, cash a check, receive a Social Security card, or open a bank account," says Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director of Degage Ministries.

Since 2002, Degage Ministries, 144 Division Ave. S., has helped nearly 4,300 people obtain legal identification. With each ID Card comes the opportunity to become a more self-sufficient member of the community.

On June 3, 2013, Degage expanded the program by 50 percent to meet its growing demand. Prior to the expansion, many individuals were being turned away or asked to wait a long time for help. The expansion allows Degage to meet needs faster and more efficiently.

"Lack of proper identification prohibits an individual's ability to become self-sufficient," Palmerlee says. "The identification cards have proven to be an empowering right of passage where an individual is granted freedom and access to better opportunities and the chance to survive on their own."

People utilizing the program at Degage are often homeless, recently released from prison, new to Grand Rapids, or experiencing other obstacles preventing them from obtaining an ID on their own. To get a State of Michigan ID, many forms of hard-to-obtain documentation are needed. Degage staff members have tracked down school records from schools that burned down and found midwives who assisted home births in the 1940s. Staff members also have traced family roots and re-connected families.

Degage pays for most of the costs associated with the ID and required documentation; however, patrons of the program are asked to contribute a small percentage of the costs when possible. The program is only open to residents of Grand Rapids who can prove the need for financial assistance.

Get involved:
- Learn more about Degage Ministries.
- Volunteer.
- Donate.

Images: Courtesy of Degage Ministries website

KCAD's Woodbridge N. Ferris Building Grand Opening celebrates the generosity of donors and partners

The benevolence of Grand Rapids' movers and shakers has paid off in exquisite fashion with the noteworthy renovation of the old Federal Building, now known as the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, 17 Pearl St. NW. On Tuesday, June 18, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University thanked the donors and partners who made the $31 million renovation project possible.

'Creative red' fashion-wear splashed color amid the cream interior as 150-plus guests roamed the building and enjoyed a cocktail reception and strolling dinner featuring Michigan fare. Those present were treated to an exclusive exhibition preview of "Contemporaries, Then and Now: The Gordon Collection and West Michigan Painters."

Key project donors recognized at the event included Ferris State University, The Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, Meijer Foundation, The Wege Foundation, Herman Miller, Inc., The Frey Foundation, The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, George and Barbara Gordon, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, The Steelcase Foundation and Michael and Susan Jandernoa, The Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Nucraft Furniture Company, Haworth, Joseph Jeup, Inc., Dustin and Lisa Hoffman, and Sandi and Ron Steensma.

Among the partners recognized at the event were organizations that contributed to the project, including the City of Grand Rapids, the Michigan State Historic Preservation office, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the National Park Service, project developer and construction manager The Christman Company, architect of record Tower Pinkster, historic preservation consultants Hopkins Burns Design Studio, and interiors and furniture designers Via Design.  

The 1909 Beaux Arts-Style building is listed on the National Register of Historic places and has received several industry awards, including the 2012 Adaptive Reuse Award, the 2013 Governor's Award for Historic Preservation, and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network award, as well as LEED Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.


Get involved:

- Take a class or attend a workshop at KCAD. Beginners are welcome.

Source: Sandra Davison-Wilson, VP Administration and Finance; KCAD website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of KCAD website


Encore: 'The Piano Cottage Rocks!' will rock your socks off

On July 26 and 27, The Crescendo Foundation and co-sponsors Sightline Display Co. and Keyboard World will proudly present a two-hour concert, "The Piano Cottage Rocks!" -- performed by kids 8-16 -- at Peter Wege Auditorium (Wealthy Theatre), 1130 Wealthy St. SE.

Launched in 2012 to serve low-income children with limited access to music education in West Michigan, The Crescendo Foundation, 1400 Colorado Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, is the brainchild of dynamic musical duo Wright McCargar, winner of six local Grand Awards, and his wife, Jody Deems-McCargar. The nonprofit's mission is to cultivate access to tuition-free, quality music education in West Michigan.

The Crescendo Foundation nurtures learning in an inspiring and joyful environment where music sparks motivation, and discipline and focus guide each student's path to achievement. The performing students are selected through a rigorous audition and rehearsal process. The culminating concert features classic rock, pop, jazz, and blues. The kids produce the professional concert from concept to completion: logo, music selection, lighting, special effects -- you name it.

The Piano Cottage Rocks! 2012 concert received positive reviews from the community, sparking over 100 phone calls the next day from interested potential students, parents, and donors. Because music lessons for children in our community are often too costly for most to afford, the students decided it should be paid forward somehow for other kids to experience the benefit of learning an instrument.

Tickets for The Piano Cottage Rocks! are available online at for $10 each. Proceeds will go toward Crescendo's mission to create a tuition-free music conservatory in West Michigan.

Get involved:
- Visit Crescendo Foundation's website.
- Donate to the Crescendo Foundation.
- Be an instrument of change.
- Play it forward.

Source: The Crescendo Foundation website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of The Crescendo Foundation website

Elizabeth Merriman: "Lift as you climb"

The spirit, compassion, and empowerment of "doing good" always begin with the individual. If you know Elizabeth Merriman (and, as per full disclosure, I do), chances are you've received a gift of her home-baked goods or some random good deed.

Oh, and another thing: she always smiles.

Born in Grand Rapids, Liz Strong (the "Merriman" came later) grew up in Muskegon. Her family struggled to make ends meet.

"When I was growing up, my sisters and I had everything that we concretely needed, but there were no luxuries," she says.

Liz worked to help pay the family's bills and learned at a very young age how to fend for herself and act as an independent adult. In 2000, she spent a year in the Philippines. During her time there, her outlook on life changed drastically.

"I was surrounded by the exceptionally poor and downtrodden," she says. "I saw people struggling everywhere. And I noticed that despite their adversity, they were the kindest, most hospitable people."

"Lift as you climb" became her mantra.

"Appreciate what you have, and as you reach your goals, you should try to lift others up," she says. "If everybody did that, we would all be much better off. We would be a community -- not individuals competing against each other, but a community of individuals working together."

While in the Philippines, Liz lost an extreme amount of weight, and the pounds kept coming off after she returned home. She began studying welding and planned to become an underwater welder.

Then, in 2003, the extreme weight loss triggered stroke-like symptoms, and she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. The welding dream evaporated. Three months of rehab helped her walk and regain the use of her right hand.

Liz then involved herself in the film industry, attended Compass College of Cinematic Arts, and now has her own production company, Happy Hat, LLC. She and her husband, Scott Merriman, have been married five years.

"If I have it in my power to help someone who needs it, I will do what I can," says Liz. "I am not naïve to hardships and bad things in life, but I would rather go through life with a smile instead of a frown."


Get involved:
- Learn about Compass College of Cinematic Arts.
- Check out Happy Hat, LLC's Facebook page.
- Visit Liz's Linkedin page.

Source: Elizabeth Merriman
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Photos: Courtesy of Elizabeth Merriman

GRCF's $600,000 low-interest loan helps Kent County Land Bank acquire 180 foreclosed properties

Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF), 185 Oakes St. SW, has made a $600,000 program-related investment (PRI) -- a low-interest loan from its endowment -- to the Kent County Land Bank Authority (KCLBA), 82 Ionia NW, to help it acquire 180 foreclosed properties in the City of Grand Rapids.

Once acquired, some properties will be resold "as-is" with renovation plans provided by the buyer. Others will be sold to nonprofits for rehabilitation, or renovated in a subsidized program and then resold. Severely blighted buildings will be torn down. The properties go up for auction in July.

This is the second PRI that the Community Foundation has made to the KCLBA. The first, in April 2012, enabled the KCLBA to acquire 59 properties, 73 percent of which were renovated and 70 percent resold within the 2012 calendar year.

After obtaining a property, the KCLBA clears title, cleans up the property, and lists it on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The general public has access to MLS listings, and anyone may submit a purchase offer after meeting a set of requirements, such as submitting construction specifications, proof of financing, and proof of ability to make the renovations.

The KCLBA ensures that properties are redeveloped to protect and restore the integrity of the neighborhood, reduce visual blight, improve curb appeal, increase property values, and create a positive economic impact throughout Kent County.

"Through its work, the Land Bank was able to recoup the Community Foundation's investment and reinvest in additional properties," says Marcia Rapp, VP of programs at the Community Foundation. "Neighborhoods in Grand Rapids are better because of the work of the Land Bank."


Get involved:

- Donate to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
- Learn more about the Kent County Land Bank.

Source: Roberta F. King, Grand Rapids Community Foundation; KCLBA website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of KCLBA's Facebook page

Disability Advocates and AES help advance ZeroStep™ universal residential design

Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC), developers of ZeroStep certification, and the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability (AES) have teamed together to promote ZeroStep, a universal design certification for home and building accessibility. Their goal is to influence home construction throughout the U.S.

Twenty percent of Americans have accessibility needs, and that number is growing. Through training, education, design review, and third-party verification/certification of proper construction, ZeroStep encourages design, development, construction, and use of new and existing homes that accommodate people's needs for their entire lifespan. Thus, as people's needs change, their home remains accessible and family friendly.

ZeroStep encompasses the art and science of creating environments that are attractive, marketable, and user-friendly for people of all ages, desires, and abilities. The concept is designed for use by all family members -- young or old. The design consciously accommodates peoples' differences, not their similarities. Some aspects of ZeroStep include no-step entries, wider door widths, lower sill heights, and lower light switches.

According to DAKC Executive Director David Bulkowski, J.D., the ZeroStep certification takes "an approach to creating environments and products that are usable by all people to the greatest extent possible."
    
Disability Advocates of Kent County is a nonprofit disability rights organization whose mission is "to advocate, assist, educate, and inform on independent living options for persons with disabilities and to create a barrier-free society for all."

AES is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission of "working collaboratively to provide awareness, education, and access to sustainable building resources for individuals, experts, and leaders to encourage sustainable choices."

Get involved:

- Volunteer at DAKC.
- Donate to DAKC.
- Learn more about ZeroStep on their website.
- Learn more about AES on their website.

Sources: Jocelyn Dettloff, Development Director, Disability Advocates of Kent County; Brett Little, Executive Director, Alliance for Environmental Sustainability
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Disability Advocates of Kent County; Alliance for Environmental Sustainability

Landlord group teams with local youth to clean up neighborhoods

For the second consecutive year, teens tackled unruly lawns, overgrown shrubs, and unsightly trash around problem properties as part of a partnership between West Michigan landlord organization, Rental Property Owners Association (RPOA), 1459 Michigan St. NE, and the Grand Rapids nonprofit The Other Way Ministries (TOW), 839 Sibley St. NW.

The event kicked off on Thursday, June 20 with 10 teens cleaning the yard at 1025 Chatham on Grand Rapids' West Side. The goal is twofold: to provide summer jobs for teens and to improve the appearance of Grand Rapids neighborhoods.

RPOA provides financial support to TOW's Youth Employment Service (YES) and neighborhood associations for certain cleanup projects. The YES program, a summer nonprofit ministry program that hires teenagers to do yard work, provides teens with work experience and character development. Ten teens, including one teen assistant supervisor, mow up to 40 lawns each week. As part of the experience, teens participate in a variety of skill and character development exercises.

"RPOA supports the work and goals of the YES program and is pleased to support that program again in 2013," says RPOA Executive Director Clay Powell.

The endeavor is a "win-win-win-win" of sorts, says RPOA, as TOW, teens, area neighborhood associations, and landlords all stand to benefit.

"We are grateful once again to the RPOA for the financial support, but more importantly we are appreciative of their concern for the future workforce," says TOW Ministries Executive Director Wayburn Dean. "Our YES program is a great model for character development, so we are hoping to reach as many area teens as possible."


Get involved:

- Ask your neighborhood association to identify owner-occupied and rental properties with the greatest need in your neighborhood. YES will contact the owner of the property to convey the offer of cleanup and schedule the service. RPOA will provide financial support for the cost of the cleanup.
- Visit RPOA's website.
- Donate to RPOA's Charitable Fund.
- Attend an RPOA event.
- Join RPOA.
- Visit TOW's website.
- Donate to TOW.
- Volunteer for TOW.
- Learn more about TOW.

Source: Contact: Craig Clark, Clark Communication
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Craig Clark and The Other Way Ministries

Lights, camera... $1,000!

Cynthia Kay and Company Media Production (CK & CO) invites currently enrolled high school and college students to get professional experience, give back to their community, and win a $1,000 scholarship. All you have to do is use your creative skills to make a video highlighting a nonprofit or exemplary business that inspires you. The contest is now open and runs through August 15.

The public will vote on the first round of entries, with input from some Creative COW readers, and the top three submissions will advance to the final round. CK & CO staff will choose the winning video from the three finalists.

Here’s the timeline:
- Competition opened June 1, 2013
- Deadline for submission is 5 p.m. on August 15, 2013
- Voting will begin the following week
- Winner will be announced in September 2013

The winner gets a $1,000 scholarship to use for any educational purposes they desire. CK & CO will also give $500 to the nonprofit featured in the winning student's video, or if the featured organization is a business, $500 will go to the business' preferred charity.

"We decided to sponsor the competition for a number of reasons,” says Cynthia Kay. “First, we want to encourage students to have a hands-on experience so they can be better prepared for the world of work. And, we hope they will have fun with it as well. We also know that there are many nonprofits that are in need of video communications, so this can benefit them.”

CK & CO is a full-service communications company that provides media production and communications consulting. The company is located at 1255 Front Street NW in Grand Rapids.


Get involved:
- Enter the contest. You must show proof of high school or college enrollment.
- Visit CK & Co’s website.
- Check out their Facebook page.

Source: Janelle LaLonde, Cynthia Kay Project Manager; Lauren Shelton
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Cynthia Kay and Company Media Production


Lucky dog! Exciting, new changes happening for Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance

Their first executive director and a brand-new identity are two of the exciting changes happening at Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance, located at 165 Blue Star Highway in Douglas, Michigan.

Sara Decker has been named executive director of the nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing animals in West Michigan. The former executive director of the Allegan Area Chamber of Commerce, Decker also served for several years as a volunteer on Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance’s marketing committee before accepting the position of executive director. She is a member of the Allegan Rotary Club and holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Davenport University.

"I have a deep passion for Allegan County and for nonprofit organizations, especially Wishbone," Decker says. "My role will be to help further the awareness of the organization in the community and its very important role in operating the Allegan County Animal Shelter."

In 2009, Allegan County began contracting with Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance, founded in 2008, to manage and operate the Allegan County Animal Shelter (2293 - 33rd Street, Allegan, Mich., just north of downtown Allegan). The shelter provides pet adoption services as well as several programs that support the health and wellbeing of pets and the community at-large. Wishbone also operates Wishbone House, a thrift shop and pet-adoption center in Douglas.

In addition, Wishbone has updated its identity and website, thanks to the hard work of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) public relations students in a class project that focused on Wishbone’s image in the community. The project began in January and included online and "man-on-the-street" surveys to gauge awareness and the types of media the public uses to get information about Wishbone and similar pet organizations.

The new identity brings clarity and cohesion to Wishbone’s online and print collateral, including the Allegan Shelter website.


Get involved:
- Visit Wishbone’s website and learn more about the organization.
- Adopt a pet.
- Volunteer at Wishbone.
- Foster a pet.
- Donate to Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance.
- Keep up to date on their Facebook page.

Source: Molly Klimas, Intent PR
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance

LMCU raises funds to help TFCU rebuild tornado-flattened credit union

On May 20, 2013, an EF-5 tornado roared through Moore, Okla., killing 24 people and wiping some 12,000 homes and businesses off the map. The tornado took an amazing 17-mile swath.

Employees at Tinker Federal Credit Union (TFCU) had only one place to take shelter. As the tornado approached and warning sirens wailed, the employees locked themselves inside the vault. Freed by first responders, workers emerged to find the entire credit union flattened, except for the vault that saved their lives.

After hearing of the credit union’s destruction, Lake Michigan Credit Union (LMCU) Director of Business Development and Community Relations Vickie Smith (retired) felt compelled to act. She approached CEO Sandy Jelinski about organizing a relief campaign for the credit union’s employees.

A fundraising campaign was swiftly put into place at all LMCU branch and corporate locations, asking members and employees to contribute to relief efforts. Over the course of just three days, $2,700 was raised to aid TFCU’s employees. LMCU Corporate contributed another $500, and a check for $3,200 was sent to TFCU. The funds will be used to help TFCU employees needing financial assistance in the aftermath of the storm.

"The devastation was unbelievable," says Smith. "They are doing everything possible to assist many staff members who lost homes and possessions."

"LMCU is committed to being an integral part of the communities we serve," says Smith’s successor, Matt Cook. "We also feel it’s important to give our staff and members the opportunity to contribute to areas of need, even beyond our community."

Lake Michigan Credit Union is the largest financial institution headquartered in West Michigan, and the second largest credit union in the state. Assets exceed $2.9 billion, with over 253,000 members.


Get involved:

- Join LMCU - anyone can be a member.
- Visit LMCU’s Facebook page.

Source: Tim Perry, Senior Marketing Copywriter, Lake Michigan Credit Union
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of LMCU and TFCU

Face to face: KCAD students team up with DeVos Children's Hospital to create patient portraits

On May 30 at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, kids' faces out-sparkled the mosaics and out-dazzled the architecture as they encountered their own likenesses on display.

The patient portraits were the highpoint of a class project arranged by Lisa Ambrose, adjunct instructor at Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD), located at 17 Fountain St. NW in Grand Rapids. Ambrose partnered with the hospital's Child Life Specialists to create a special event connecting her senior illustration students with children receiving treatment at the hospital, located at 100 Michigan Ave. NE in Grand Rapids.

"Art and kids just go together," says Ambrose. "When you've got kids who are dealing with difficult things, it's nice to give them something else to think about."

Each student was matched up with a young patient who volunteered for the program. Kendall provided the materials, and the patients created their own artwork under the guidance of the students.

"I enjoyed being there as a teacher, not just an artist," says KCAD student Mike McClellan. "It was fulfilling to help someone else learn from something that I know how to do, and great to help people feel happy when they're going through something so serious."

The students worked with the patients to help them create self-portraits, and then created portraits of the patients. When the portraits were complete, each one was mounted on a panel beside the patient's own work, creating an intriguing juxtaposition that showed off both artists' skills and visions.

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally.


Get involved:

- Visit Kendall College of Art and Design's website.
- Donate to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
- Volunteer at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

Sources: Elena Tislerics, Chief Communications Officer, Ferris State University
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy KCAD of Ferris State University


'Grand History Lesson' pilot project celebrates one year at GRPM; IMMER5E Program launches this fall

On May 28, the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) hosted families, teachers, and administration from schools that participated in an innovative pilot program called the Grand History Lesson (GHL) over the past year: Sibley Elementary School, Grant Elementary School, and Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center. The evening included student presentations from year one, teacher perspectives, and more.

The program was based off the 'Big History Lesson' from the State Museum in Lansing. During the pilot year, teachers designed their own weeklong program that paired the core curriculum with multi-sensory, hands-on, and object-based learning. The Museum's collections, permanent and temporary exhibits, guided tours and programs, planetarium, and learning spaces were all made available for teachers to utilize. Funded by the Michigan Humanities Council and DTE Energy Foundation, the program encourages active learning, group participation, creative writing through observation, and discussion.

Launching this fall, Immer5e is the first phase of an ongoing educational partnership between GRPM, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD). IMMER5E, year one of the three-year planning to an eventual 'Museum School,' will be open to ten fifth-grade classes from GRPS for the 2013/2014 school year. The program will be loosely based on the Grand History Lesson, combined with human-centered design principles and place-based education to offer compelling 21st-century learning opportunities to the youth of our region.

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, GRPM is located in downtown Grand Rapids at 272 Pearl Street NW.  

GRPS is Michigan's fifth-largest public school district and the third-largest employer in the City of Grand Rapids, serving more than 17,000 students with 2,800 employees, including 1,500 dedicated teachers.


Get involved:

- Visit GRPS's website.
- Check out KCAD's website.
- Visit GRPM's website.
- Donate to GRPM.
- Volunteer at GRPM.
- Host an event at GRPM.

Sources: Kate Moore, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Grand Rapids Public Museum; John Helmholdt, Director of Communications and External Affairs Grand Rapids Public Schools
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of GRPM

Guiding Light Mission reveals recent renovations

The 125 people who attended Guiding Light Mission's (GLM) open house on June 5, 2013, got the inside scoop on the organization's recently completed renovations.

GLM is not a 'flop house.' The spruced-up facility now boasts five new offices; a new prayer room; updated safety, security, and fire protection; and a new set of bathrooms, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Since Executive Director Stuart Ray began working there four years ago, he has seen the staff grow from three people to 15. Before the renovation, people were scattered all over the building, which made communication difficult. Now everyone is centralized.

Ray's job is to lead and set the tone for the organization. "I'm fairly particular about the culture here," he says. "It's a form of respite to quiet the mind, and our goal is to create a culture of innovation. Our group is very passionate and committed to re-launching men back into the community."

GLM guarantees transportation to and from employers. Everyone has a savings plan, and the men give something back out of their wages. Entitlements are limited because at some point, the men must go back out into the real world. People are encouraged to stay, use GLM's resources, and develop an exit strategy.

"It is easy to just provide food, shelter, chapel, to kiss them on the cheek, and send them back out," says Ray. "But it takes a full year for the brain to recover from substance abuse. Generally, in the beginning, men make spontaneous decisions that are not necessarily well thought-out."

GLM is located at 255 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids' Heartside. In 2012, GLM served 72,415 free meals; provided 27,908 safe and secure overnight stays; and hosted 99 men who participated in the Christ-centered, in-house drug and alcohol recovery program. GLM also helped 161 men find full-time employment in Kent County. In the first three months of 2013, these men generated $772,800 in the local economy.


Get involved:

- Visit GLM's website.
- Donate to GLM.
- Host a fundraiser.

Sources: Stuart Ray, Executive Director, Guiding Light Mission; Jenny Luth, Clark Communications
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Guiding Light Mission

Tiger, tiger, burning bright... help the Zoo bring back its might

Heeeyyyyy, party animals... get ready to Rock and Roar at RendeZoo XXIV! It happens Friday, June 14, 2013, from 7 - 11 p.m. at the John Ball Zoo, 1300 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids.

For those who are Roman numeral-challenged, it's the 24th annual RendeZoo -- your chance to help the Zoo Restore the Roar, and bring back the tigers. Where else can you enjoy a nice, cool beverage face-to-face with a lion? Well, okay, you’ll be a few inches away, but still...

There are brand-new activities and areas to explore, like the Idema Forest Realm and Funicular, which just opened June 1. The funicular (a cable-driven tram), is a three-car ride to the top of the ridge where guests get a spectacular view of the cityscape. The Idema Forest Realm has a raised boardwalk, activity pods, touchable animals, and the BISSELL Tree House rental facility.

Dance to the '80s music of Square Pegz, get a taste of street fair food, and see all of the animals, including the renovated Meijer Grizzly Bear Exhibit. Enjoy animal training demonstrations and enrichment activities. There's also a silent auction and a cash bar. Dress casually -- it's an outdoor party.

Here's the nitty-gritty: The Sponsors' Pre-Party at the BISSELL Tree House happens from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m., and only a limited number of tickets are available at $125 each (call (616) 336-3036). The party proper starts at 7:00 p.m. and goes until 11:00 p.m. Tickets are $60 each.

John Ball Zoo features over 2,000 individual animals, including lions, grizzly bears, chimpanzees, touchable stingrays, an aquarium with a flock of Magellanic penguins, and many more.

Don't just sit there… ROAR!


Get involved:

- Visit the Zoo's website.
- Rock and Roar! Register here or call (616) 336-3036 or (616) 336-3309.
- Volunteer.
- Donate.
- Sponsor an animal.

Source: Krys Bylund, Marketing Director, John Ball Zoo Society
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of John Ball Zoo Society

Southeast Area Farmers' Market offers a bountiful summer

There are a lot of goodies in store for fresh food fans at the Southeast Area Farmers' Market, which kicked off its 2013 season on Saturday, June 1 at Gerald R. Ford Middle School (851 Madison Ave. SE) in Grand Rapids. The Saturday market will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through the first week of November.

Beginning June 7, a Friday Farm Stand Market will take place, on a smaller scale, from 3 - 7 p.m. at Garfield Park, located between 1558 Madison Ave. SE and 2799 Madison Ave. SE.

Then, on June 22, the market will host its official Grand Opening Celebration with special activities and music -- and an even greater selection of fresh, locally grown, chemical-free produce.

Our Kitchen Table
(OKT), located at 8 Jefferson SE, Grand Rapids inside The Bloom Collective, manages the market, and there is even more in store for the rest of the summer and into fall. Market partners Kent County Health Department and Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council will host additional market activities throughout the season.

Mark your calendars: Here's the lineup of OKT-sponsored events, all of which take place from noon to 2 p.m. at the Saturday market:

-       June 7, Weekly Walking Club kicks off
-       June 29, Healthy cooking demo with a local chef
-       July 6, Urban Foraging Workshop. Learn about local edible "weeds"
-       July 27, Healthy Cooking demo with a local chef
-       August 3, Make Your Own Hypo-allergenic Soap Workshop
-       August 24, Healthy Cooking demo with a local chef
-       August 31, Healthy Cooking demo with a local chef
-       September 7, Art at the Market
-       September 28, Healthy cooking demo with a local chef
-       October 12, Greens Cook-off and Fried Green Tomato Festival
-       October 26, Food Day Activities and Healthy Cooking demo with a local chef

Our Kitchen Table is a nonprofit, grassroots community activist organization working for environmental justice and food security in Grand Rapids area urban communities. OKT's Food Diversity Program is funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Get involved:

- Visit Our Kitchen Table's website.
- Grow a Garden.
- Go to the Farmers' Market!

Source: Stelle Slootmaker, OKT Communications
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Our Kitchen Table


HASU launches a networking sisterhood

Hook a Sista Up (HASU) invites women entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and experiences to attend HASU's launch event on Thursday, June 13, 2013, from 6 - 8:30 p.m. at Choice Business Service, 2525 East Paris SE, Suite 100, Grand Rapids. The cost is $12.

You'll learn tips for success and pitfalls to avoid, meet and network with other HASU entrepreneurs, and hear about their journeys. The organization offers one-on-one mentoring, seminars and workshops, networking, and access to the resources of its members, who come from various backgrounds and have a variety of expertise.

There's no monetary fee to join HASU. To become a member, you'll have to pay forward a skill to help other members or the organization succeed. Members are expected to share their knowledge and experience. This could take on many forms: helping a member get her finances in order, helping the organization with marketing... you get the idea.

The brainchild of Linda Otterbridge, HASU took root in 2011 in Charlotte, NC, where Otterbridge was living at the time.

"I looked around at all the different businesses and realized that most were owned by women," says Otterbridge. "I thought, what if we took all of our knowledge, experience, and resources and started a sisterhood -- not just helping women already in business, but those who don’t have a business at all and would like access to the resources related to business and entrepreneurship."

Otterbridge says that most women entrepreneurs work at jobs outside their businesses. She chose the name, Hook a Sista Up, to convey the concept of networking.

"We'll hook you up with resources to take you to the next level," she says.

How to get involved:

- Check out HASU's website.
- Go to the event. Register here.
- Become a HASU member.

Source: Linda Otterbridge, HASU founder
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of HASU

Transformation begins at the core: Urban Core Collective launches Transformational Leaders Program

On Friday, May 17, the Urban Core Collective (UCC) launched its eight-month Transformational Leaders Program (TLP), designed to equip 23 young leaders with the critical skills and knowledge needed to fill influential positions across Grand Rapids. The endeavor is made possible thanks to a $2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

It's a win-win proposition all around: diversity in community leadership produces diversity of thought, which in turn leads to innovative strategies, supports racial equity, and enhances the quality of life for all members of the community. The aim is to increase the capacity and accessibility of supportive services -- health, education, and other resources -- to people of color and marginalized families residing in Grand Rapids.

"Together we can move mountains and that is the beautiful thing about these organizations coming together to affect change," says Latesha Lipscomb, program support assistant for the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI).

During the monthly TLP learning sessions, participants will engage in a multi-faceted learning approach: from reading assignments, workshops, exercises, case studies, and webinars, to team projects, creation of a Career and Life Portfolio, and a series of off-site experiential learning sessions. Participants may serve on the board of a nonprofit community organization, volunteer to lead an initiative targeted to help address an issue, or offer up some other contribution of time, effort, and financial support.

Corporate and organizational mentors include Varnum Law Center, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Spectrum Health, Steelcase University, Michigan State College of Human Medicine, Grand Valley State University-Johnson Center, Goei Center, Cascade Engineering, and others.

The Urban Core Collective comprises six organizations: the Baxter Community Center, 935 Baxter SE; Family Outreach Center, 1939 Division Ave. S; Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, 301 Michigan St. NE, Suite 400; Grand Rapids Urban League, 745 Eastern Ave. SE; Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, 1204 Grandville Ave. SW; and United Methodist Community House, 904 Sheldon Ave. SE.

Get involved:

- Follow the Urban Core Collective's Facebook page to stay abreast of the organization's progress.

Source: Kim Bode, 834 Design & Marketing
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of the Urban Core Collective

STOP IT works to curb the trend of violence in Grand Rapids

"If we want safe communities, we all have to get involved," says Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk.

Following a spike in violent crime in Grand Rapids, organizations, including LINC Community Revitalization (1167 Madison Ave., Grand Rapids) joined together with local clergy and other community leaders to form STOP IT. The community initiative, which seeks to increase safety in Grand Rapids through the collective effort of private and public organizations, is built on the belief that violence is a community issue and thus needs a collective community response -- authentic community dialogue and collaborations among partnering organizations.

Guns, gangs, drugs, and convicted felons are just a few of the concerns discussed at a series of meetings held by LINC earlier this year. The Johnson Center for Philanthropy prepared a report from those discussions, and George Grant Jr., dean of the College of Community and Public Service, presented the report at a meeting organized by STOP IT on April 11, 2013, at Gerald R. Ford Middle School.

The Johnson Center's report indicated that violence is triggered by several factors: a lack of attention paid to the needs of the city's youth, an accepted culture of violence, discrimination, the availability of guns, and a sense of hopelessness. Of particular note is the feeling of hopelessness in the community. Some people felt they would not live to be 21.

Participants suggested several ideas for action, including block parties to increase a sense of community; direct mentorship between adults and youth; building a bridge between inner-city youth and positive peers; partnering with local businesses and organizations to provide jobs; and enforcing the curfew.

Founded in 2000 and originally known as Lighthouse Communities, Inc., LINC offers housing, economic development, construction, and neighborhood services. LINC has several initiatives, from a "Keep the Lights On" pledge to a "Buy local, Hire Local" economic campaign.

Get involved:
- Call LINC at (616) 451-9140 to find out how you can get involved to STOP the violence and START the healing.
- Follow the STOP IT Facebook page.

Source: Tyler Lecceadone, Seyferth PR
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of STOP IT

Believe 2 Become creates real opportunities for students: Summer Learning Academy is enrolling now

Your summer is what you make it, and Believe 2 Become -- a collaborative partnership of people and organizations who believe in Grand Rapids' students -- creates real opportunities for students to become the people they aspire to be. Delivered by neighborhood partners, student experiences expand learning beyond the classroom. Opportunities to read, study, travel, and work after school and during the summer help students achieve their goals.

This summer, make sure your child is in on the action: College campus visits, awesome opportunities, and fun field trips are in store for your child when he or she signs up for the 2013 Summer Learning Academy, which begins June 17 and runs through July 26 for Pre-K through Middle School. Summer Learning Academy for high school-aged students will end August 9. Summer Learning registration ends May 31.

So far, nearly 2,000 pre-K to 12th-grade Grand Rapids Public Schools students have enjoyed an I Believe I Become summer learning experience.

All students have the capability for high achievement, and efforts that support strong schools help students reach academic milestones and graduate prepared for college and career. Grounded in community partnership, Believe 2 Become involves local residents, congregations, and community leaders in planning, supporting, and celebrating student success. Parent resources help families prepare children for school and stay on track academically, so they complete key transitions from kindergarten to elementary, middle, high school, and beyond.

A neighborhood initiative designed to help children succeed in school, work, and life, Believe 2 Become was founded in 2010 as a collaborative effort of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation.

Get involved:
- Sign your child up for Summer Learning. Remember, Summer Learning registration ends May 31.
- Sign the pledge and let students know you believe in them.
- Follow their Facebook page.
- Learn more about I Believe I Become: watch these videos.

Source: I Believe I Become website
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of I Believe I Become

Community Foundation grant supports proven intergenerational mentoring program

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation Board of Trustees has awarded a $195,000 grant to Gerontology Network. The grant will support an intergenerational mentoring program at Harrison Park School called 'Traveling Grannies and Grandpas.'

Gerontology Network's previous mentoring programs have been very successful. Based on past results, at least 85 percent of participants are expected to show improvement in MEAP scores. Improvements in behavior are also anticipated.

"Gerontology Network has an extensive track record operating these programs and demonstrating significant academic achievement," says Community Foundation program director, Kate Schmid.

The educational and personal support students receive from their mentors complements the Challenge Scholars program also underway at Harrison Park. Challenge Scholars is a Community Foundation initiative that gives educational support and college scholarships to students from the school. Both the mentoring and Challenge Scholars programs focus on creating a college-going culture within Harrison Park.

"The intergenerational programs are so vital because they allow students to be mentored by older adults and to be influenced positively," says Jennifer Feuerstein, director of marketing, communications, and development at Gerontology Network.

Approximately 170 students of all grade levels are expected to be enrolled in the three-year mentoring program. Students will be selected for mentoring based on teacher recommendations and academic needs.

The program will also benefit the physical and mental health of mentors, all of whom are adults over 50 years of age. A stipend will supplement their incomes.

"When older adults volunteer with students, they live longer, healthier lives, have a more positive outlook on life, and are less isolated and lonely," says Feuerstein. "These opportunities are a win-win."

Financial support for the grant to Gerontology Network will come from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation's Lucy Barnett Fund for the Elderly.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation leads Kent County in making positive, sustainable change. With its endowment, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation supports local nonprofits, leads significant social change, and helps donors achieve their philanthropic goals.


Get involved:

- Volunteer at Gerontology Network.
- Donate to Gerontology Network.
- Give to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Sources: Jennifer Feuerstein, Gerontology Network; Kate Schmid, Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of Gerontology Network

From humble beginnings come great things: mini-grants help support 2013 Global Youth Service Day

Whether leading a food drive, building a community garden, or demanding equal rights for girls, young people around the world are finding their voice, taking action, and creating real change. To help in these endeavors, several Michigan organizations received support from Youth Service America (YSA) and the Corporation for National and Community Service to fund small projects for Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), April 26-28.

This year, the Michigan Community Service Commission, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, The League Michigan, and Michigan Campus Compact received more than $10,000 in mini-grant funds to support GYSD projects across the state of Michigan.

Twenty-eight Michigan organizations received these mini-grants, ranging from $87 to $500, to put together service projects tackling critical challenges in their communities, including education, hunger, homelessness, economic opportunity, public safety, clean energy, health, and environmental stewardship.

In Grand Rapids, Blandford Nature Center, Cherry Street Community HealthCorps, Harrison Park School, and Kent Innovation High all received mini-grants.

Thanks to a $200 mini-grant, the students of Harrison Park School participated in various service projects on April 25, including visiting with veterans, cleaning a park, helping out Habitat for Humanity with several chores, and packing lunches for Kids Food Basket.

On April 26, Cherry Street Community HealthCorps used its $300 mini-grant to educate the community about its Be.Nice. anti-bullying program and local mental health services.

Kent Innovation High's $87 mini-grant helped plant 100 trees in Riverside Park on April 27.

And Blandford Nature Center utilized its $500 mini-grant to help clear out invasive species and debris at the Center on April 28 to improve native habitats. Volunteers installed shrubs to help stabilize creek banks and protect eroding waterways.

Established in the U.S. in 1988 and globally in 2000, Global Youth Service Day is the largest service event in the world, and the only day of service dedicated to children and youth. GYSD is celebrated each year in over 100 countries.


Get involved:

- Follow Blandford Nature Center, Harrison Park School, Cherry Street Community HealthCorps, and Kent Innovation High on their Facebook pages for info on how to volunteer.

Source: Jamie Wilson, Communication Specialist, State of Michigan
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Blandford Nature Center, Cherry Street Community HealthCorps, Kent Innovation High, and Harrison Park School.



TEDxGrandRapids proves Einstein's theory of play

Recently, the Grand Rapids Children's Museum shared its popular Corporate Recess program as part of the sold-out TEDxGrandRapids event to show how free play spurs innovation. Free play and "time to think" are key parts of education. Come to think of it, these are key parts of workplace success and idea generation, too.

This is nothing new. Albert Einstein said it many years ago: "Play is the highest form of research."

But it certainly bears repeating, because it seems that it is so easily forgotten. This year's TEDxGR theme, "Tag - You're It," invited participants "to get in the game, make new connections, and be a catalyst in your community." And so, on Thursday, May 9, at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, the spirit of ideas spread and connected small groups. Participants took Corporate Recess breaks during the day to loosen up and just have fun in the nearby Kendall Building where 616 Lofts will reside in the future.

Bill Holsinger-Robinson, lead organizer for this year's TEDx, says the tag theme plays on multiple levels. "I love 'Tag' because it's a game everybody knows how to play," he says. "And it's a metaphor for leadership. You can be tagged with information as well. There's something that happens in the act of being tagged that transforms you to be able to see the world in a different way, and it catalyzes you to action."

Research shows that more unorganized play leads to:
- Stronger communities, stronger teams, and better communications.
- More problem solving, innovative thinking, organization skills, and creativity.
- Improved curiosity, resiliency and healthy social, cognitive, and emotional development.

Conversely, play deprivation leads to mental health challenges.

Now in its third year, TEDxGrandRapids is part of a global group of independent TED conferences that aim to spread ideas around technology, entertainment, and design based on the model of the legendary TED conference, founded in Long Beach, CA.


Get involved:

- Check out the TEDxGrandRapids YouTube page and get inspired.
- Read more fairytales. Einstein says it's good for you. And your kids.

Sources: Joe Serwach, Organik Consulting; Bill Holsinger-Robinson, TEDxGrandRapids; Albert Einstein
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of TEDxGrandRapids and Grand Rapids Children's Museum

Waterfront Film Festival wins $15,000 arts grant

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) has awarded $15,000 to the Waterfront Film Festival (WFF), a nonprofit organization that relies solely on grants and donations to continue its programming.

"We very much appreciate the ongoing support of MCACA, both for its monetary contribution to the festival and for its constant validation of our efforts to bring independent film to Michigan, its residents, and the region," says WFF co-founder Dori DePree. "Without this type of support, the programming of a large-scale, quality festival would be nearly impossible to achieve."

WFF celebrates independent film and filmmakers in a non-competitive environment. Located along the Michigan lakeshore, it is one of the leading destination film festivals in the Midwest, regularly hosting Midwest premieres of Academy Award-winning and -nominated documentaries. Recognized as a top-five film festival, WFF is a nonprofit event committed to creating a "middle coast" venue for independent filmmakers while further enhancing the cultural draw of West Michigan.

Independent filmmakers and thousands of people who appreciate fine filmmaking convene annually to enjoy Waterfront Film Festival, which brings more than 70 independent films, filmmaker panels, and lively mixers to the scenic Lake Michigan shoreline for four days each June.

MCACA awards grants to organizations each year as a way to "encourage, develop, and facilitate an enriched environment of artistic, creative, and cultural activity in Michigan" because "a vibrant arts and cultural scene is important to strong communities and Michigan's excellent quality-of-life, and ultimately, to Michigan's economy."

The 15th Annual Waterfront Film Festival will be held June 13-16 in South Haven, Michigan.


Get involved:
- Attend the 15th Annual Waterfront Film Festival June 13-16 in South Haven, Michigan.
- Like WFF's Facebook page.
- Follow them on Twitter.
- Become a sponsor.
- For volunteer opportunities, email or call the office (269) 767-8765.
- Purchase advertising space in the WFF program.

Source: Patrick Revere, Media Coordinator for Waterfront Film Festival
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Waterfront Film Festival

Help an inner-city nonprofit make its 20th anniversary dream come true

The Heartside Gallery & Studio (48 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids) is asking the community to help them raise $6,000 through a Kickstarter campaign by May 16, 2013, so that it can print an originally created, commemorative book called, An Irregular Heartbeat.The funds will cover the costs of mass printing through a local printer. Donors giving a minimum of $30 will receive a book once printed, and options to give up to $130 offer donor recognition in the final print.
 
"It is a life goal of mine to ensure this book is printed for the Gallery," says Sarah Scott, Arts Coordinator for Heartside Gallery & Studio. "I know that many artists share my sentiment as the Gallery has become their place of refuge, growth, and love."

The book highlights the history of the Gallery, its artists, artwork, and the needs of the community. Professional photographers have captured each artist's intrinsic character, and professional graphic designers have laid out images of artists and their artwork in corresponding pages. Artists tell how the Studio has affected their lives, and why it is an important fixture in the community. The book will also include autobiographies, stories, poems, and jokes from over 30 artists.

Artists in the Studio come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some are homeless, and others are impaired by varying degrees of substance abuse, and mental and physical health issues. Many are people from the neighborhood who simply wish to share their talents and expertise with their neighbors.

"I would not be where I am today without the Heartside Gallery," says long-time Heartside Gallery artist, Katalina Corona. "I am so honored to be a part of this book and have my artwork shown to the world!"
 
The Gallery began in 1993 as small offshoot of the nonprofit Heartside Ministry (54 S. Division Ave.). Since that time, the ministry has welcomed thousands of Heartside neighbors into a safe environment in which to create, exhibit, and sell artwork.

Get involved:

- Make a donation to the Kickstarter campaign by May 16, and share the link with all your friends.
- Donate to Heartside Ministry.
- Volunteer.
- Follow their Facebook page.

Source: Sarah Scott, Arts Coordinator for Heartside Ministry; Jennifer Luth, Clark Communications
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Heartside Gallery and Studio


How WMEAC rounded up over 1,500 volunteers during the Great Flood of 2013

As the floodwaters have receded in Grand Rapids, it seems a good time to reflect on some of the rescue efforts and how they came to be organized. Case in point: The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) (1007 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids) and its elevator ride call to action.

Sounds bizarre, but it really isn't. Utilizing smart phones, email, and social media, WMEAC staff members sketched out a call to action game plan during an elevator ride down from City Hall, and then disseminated the info to the community at large.

You see, WMEAC organizes two Grand River Green Ups each year that bring out hundreds of volunteers to help clean up trash in Grand Rapids in the fall, and in Grand Haven in the spring, traditionally during Earth Day weekend. But because of flood conditions this year, the Grand Haven event had to be postponed to June 1. This announcement came hours before Mayor George Heartwell hosted the first of many emergency press conferences to discuss the flood in Grand Rapids.

Crisis is the mother of opportunity. Interested in documenting the flood emergency procedures for the development of the Climate Resiliency Plan being written for the City, two WMEAC staff members attended the Mayor's press conference. There, they learned about his efforts to fortify the Wastewater Treatment plant to prevent damage from the flood. Turns out that WMEAC just happened to have 400 volunteers on standby after the Green Up was cancelled. Then came that elevator ride.

City staff quickly recognized the volunteer effort as an opportunity to fortify additional city properties and private facilities in downtown Grand Rapids. By Friday afternoon, the initiative had been organized into three daily shifts of approximately 150 to 300 volunteers each.

"Every once in a while, groups like ours are called upon to help organize responses to environmental catastrophes," says Daniel Schoonmaker, director of member services for WMEAC, "so we're really interested in opportunities to help prevent one, even if it's just to lend an extra hand."

In the end, WMEAC spearheaded what turned out to be a 1,500-volunteer sandbag effort to keep flood waters at bay. "And this was a situation where we were ideally positioned to provide support," says Schoonmaker.


Get involved:

- Join WMEAC.
- Volunteer.
- Take action.

Source: Dan Schoonmaker, WMEAC
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of WMEAC

New Mobile Food Pantry brings fresh food to Dickinson Elementary School students and families

Kids who come to school hungry may be angry or irritable, and they may have trouble concentrating, says Dickinson Elementary School Principal Nan Evans. "You might think that a student is ADHD when they're just hungry,” she says.

Enter the Cintas Corporation in West Michigan, which has teamed up with Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to sponsor a Mobile Food Pantry program at Dickinson Elementary School, 448 Dickinson St. SE, in Grand Rapids.

Dickinson's first Mobile Food Pantry on Thursday, April 25 was a huge success. Subsequent distributions will be held on the fourth Thursday of each month through January 2014 and will provide fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and baked goods to students and their families in the Dickinson neighborhood. Each of Cintas' 5,000-pound, farmers market-style distributions will provide 100 households with enough food to supplement their meals for three to four days.

According to Evans, that food is desperately needed. More than three quarters of the students at Dickinson Elementary are enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs.

Evans has witnessed firsthand the desperation food insecurity can bring. "I have parents that hover over their children to make sure that they get every morsel of food that we offer," she says. "Kids will hoard food in their locker … (because) they're saving it for family members."

She also recalls a time when the school cook found an expectant mother drinking leftover milk in the cafeteria.

Feeding America West Michigan reclaims edible surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. It stores, processes, and distributes that food through 1,250 local food pantries and other hunger relief agencies in 40 West Michigan counties. More than 100,000 West Michigan families rely on food from the organization.

The Mobile Pantry is the first of its kind organized specifically for students and their families. For Cintas, it's a chance to deepen their investment in the Grand Rapids community.

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Cintas Corporation designs, manufactures, and implements corporate identity uniform programs, and provides entrance mats, restroom cleaning and supplies, and other services for more than one million businesses.

Get involved:
- Give money.
- Give time.
- Give food.
- Host a mobile pantry.

Source: Linda Vanderbaan, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Feeding America West Michigan

Alive Celebration shares inspiring stories, asks for increased support for cancer patients

On Wednesday, April 17, Komen West Michigan gathered West Michigan cancer survivors -- including women helped by the Komen-financed Ottawa County program -- for an "Alive Celebration" aimed at sharing inspiring stories and obtaining increased support for cancer patients in five West Michigan counties. Hosted at Experience Grand Rapids, 171 Monroe Ave., Grand Rapids, the event drew about 25 people, including 18 survivors who told their personal stories.

"My goal was to create a real tie between Komen West Michigan and the people of West Michigan," says Jennifer Jurgens, executive director of Susan G. Komen West Michigan. "It's my experience that people do not give their time or money to a faceless organization; they give to help further a cause that has affected them personally. And there's nothing that makes us feel more connected to a cause like the story of a person we know who has lived through it."

Jurgens beat breast cancer by getting a test her mother didn't get in time. Her mom passed away from breast cancer at age 36, when Jurgens was just 12. She takes it personally that Ottawa County will lose free cancer screenings in May because Komen West Michigan levels fell short of the $50,000 needed to continue the program for the next year.

This year, Komen West Michigan is supporting six West Michigan breast health programs with $235,550 in grants. That figure, down from a year earlier, wasn't enough to help Ottawa County's City on a Hill Clinic and six other programs that met Komen's funding guidelines.

Last year, a $50,000 grant from Komen West Michigan helped City on a Hill Health Clinic treat 264 low-income women, providing breast exams, education, and mammograms. That's an average of $189 per patient, a fraction of the tens of thousands spent treating a single patient whose cancer isn't detected early.

Get involved:
- Volunteer.
- Make a donation.

Sources: Jennifer Jurgens, Komen West Michigan; Nicole Meloche, Organik Consulting
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Komen West Michigan

New healing center in GR helps grieving children and teens

"Unresolved childhood loss is often linked with poor school performance, adolescent and adult depression, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal tendencies," says Gerilyn May, managing director of Ele's Place. The healing center for grieving children and teens focuses its mission and energies entirely on grieving children, making a profound difference in their lives.

Ele's Place held its first annual Healing Hearts Society Fundraising Breakfast on Tuesday, April 9 at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The event, underwritten by the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation and the David and Carol Van Andel Foundation, raised nearly $300,000 in donations from the 450 guests who attended.

Ele's Place already has centers in Lansing and Ann Arbor, and the funds raised will enable a new center to open in Grand Rapids this spring. Enrollment is now open for children and teens coping with the death of a parent, sibling, or other loved one. Third Reformed Church on Michigan Street will host Ele's Place's programming and office.

Before coming to Ele's Place, many grieving children feel alone and keep their feelings inside, not wanting to burden their parents or other family members. Often, friends don't seem to understand if they haven't had a similar experience. But each week at Ele's Place, hundreds of grieving children find a warm and welcoming place to meet new friends who really understand how they feel, while they begin to heal after the death of a loved one.

The 21-year-old nonprofit is solely devoted to supporting grieving children ages 3-18 through weekly peer support groups. The program is provided at no charge to families.

The Grand Rapids branch will offer groups for children, teens, and their parents or guardians.


Get involved:

- To enroll, parents or guardians can call (616) 301-1605.
- For more information about Ele's Place programs and volunteering, contact Gerilyn May, call (616) 301-1605, or visit their website.

Source: Molly Day, Director of Marketing; Gerilyn May, Managing Director
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Ele’s Place

Sounds of Hope Benefit Concert helps combat illiteracy

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, kids who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. So, if "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak" (as William Congreve wrote in The Mourning Bride), could illiteracy, too, succumb to music's charms?

The Sounds of Hope Benefit Concert is giving it a go. Sponsored by Mercantile Bank of Michigan and performed by the Professional Orchestral Musicians Association - Grand Rapids (POMA-GR) , the benefit concert takes place on Thursday, May 2 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Park Congregational Church, 10 E. Park Place NE, Grand Rapids. Proceeds will go to the United Way's Schools of Hope and the Literacy Center of West Michigan (LCWM).

Concertgoers should come a little early to enjoy light hors d'oeuvres and desserts by Martha's Vineyard, a silent auction, and a reception from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person, or $25 for a group or family. Children under 5 are free.

The LCWM's mission is to build a literate community and transform lives by strengthening reading and language skills. United Way's Schools of Hope tackle the problem of illiteracy by focusing on early grade reading.

And POMA-GR is the voice that speaks for every member of the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), with this mission: "To continue to build upon our tradition of excellence in the performance of orchestral music for audiences of all ages."

Sharing the joy of music with children is an important part of that mission and each year, POMA-GR performs in concerts given to over 70,000 children in West Michigan. In addition, the members of the GRS teach hundreds of students private music lessons, passing on their knowledge and passion for music to the next generation of performers and music teachers.

Get involved:
- Attend the concert May 2 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Come early for the reception and silent auction. Get your tickets here.
- Donate to the United Way.
- Donate to the Literacy Center of West Michigan.
- Volunteer.
- Tutor a child.
- Follow the POMA-GR Facebook page.

Sources: Heart of West Michigan United Way; Literacy Center of West Michigan; Grand Rapids Symphony
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Image: Photo by Martin Hogan, courtesy of POMA-GR

Hope is in the hops: Local craft brewers partner with NDRC to protect the Clean Water Act

"Being surrounded by the Great Lakes here in Michigan, water is something that we've always cherished, and we never take it for granted," says Dave Engbers, co-founder and VP of brand and education for Founders Brewing Company. "Water is life -- nothing exists without water."

Over 20 breweries across the nation -- including three here in GR -- have teamed with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to stand up for clean water by launching the "Brewers for Clean Water" campaign. Their mission is to send a strong and straightforward message: Without clean sources of water, you can't make great beer.
 
"Whether brewers are creating ales, pilsners, porters, wits, or stouts, one ingredient must go into every batch: clean water," says NRDC Water Program Senior Policy Analyst Karen Hobbs. "Craft brewers need clean water to make great beer. This campaign is all about amplifying their voices in support of the most important protection for their most important ingredient, the Clean Water Act."

Few industries depend on clean water as much as craft brewers. While hops and malt can be sourced elsewhere, breweries are reliant on their local water supplies -- and the protections of the Clean Water Act to ensure the quality and availability of their main ingredient.

In recent years, attempts to roll back Clean Water Act protections have endangered not just the most important ingredient for craft beer, but also public health and resources for a wide range of industries. In joining the campaign, the brewers have taken NRDC's "Clean Water Pledge," acknowledging the importance of clean water and clean water safeguards. These issues are even more relevant today, as the public awaits improved Clean Water Act protections for American streams, wetlands, and headwaters. These reforms are due soon in Washington, D.C.

The multi-billion-dollar craft brewing industry brings a compelling business voice to clean water issues. Craft brewers are closely tied to their communities with a very real understanding of what bad policy can do to regional water sources.

Grand Rapids brewers that have taken the Clean Water Pledge are:

- Brewery Vivant
- Founders Brewing Company
- Harmony Brewing Company  


Get involved:
- Learn more about Brewers for Clean Water
- Take action.
- Follow the NRDC's Facebook page.
- Support your local breweries -- drink beer!
- Conserve water and 'shower with a buddy'.

Sources: Dave Engbers, Founders Brewing Company; Richard Exton, Jr., Seigenthaler Public Relations
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Founders Brewing Company

Food justice activist LaDonna Redmond tells it like it is

"Food justice is not just about nutrition," says LaDonna Redmond. "It's about dignity, and it's about being visible."

On Saturday, April 27, the nationally renowned food justice activist and TEDx-featured speaker will present 'Historical Trauma and Food Justice' from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sherman Street Church, 1000 Sherman SE, Grand Rapids. Lunch will be provided. (See how to RSVP, below.)

"We have a food system that has largely been built on the backs of people who don't have a lot of rights and access to our public policy infrastructure," says Redmond. "We need to collectively better understand the inequities in the food system, and make sure we include people who have faced these inequities in finding solutions."

Converting vacant city lots to urban farm sites is a great start. But, Redmond says, "I live in a community where I can get a semi-automatic weapon quicker than I can get a tomato. The public health issue of violence is connected to the public health issue of chronic, diet-related diseases. In my community, it is about living or dying. You can die by the gun or from the lack of proper food."

Redmond says that the food justice movement is really about the narratives of people of color and beginning to understand that the stories that we tell ourselves in the food movement are as important as the stories that we've left out.

"We must include in this the narrative of modern slavery," she says. "Our food system today is still based on the exploitation of the labor of immigrants in this country. While we are talking about access to free-range chickens and grass-fed beef, we need to also be talking about immigration reform and fair wages for those farm workers, but, the people who serve us, who fix our food, should be paid fairly."

A long-time community activist, Redmond has successfully worked to get Chicago Public Schools to evaluate junk food, launched urban agriculture projects, started a community grocery store, and worked on federal farm policy to expand access to healthy food in low-income communities.

In early April 2013, she launched the Campaign for Food Justice Now (CFJN), a membership-based organization that will use a race, class, and gender analysis to promote food and agricultural system reforms, and advocate for the adoption of right-to-food policies in the U.S.


Get involved:

- Attend Redmond's presentation at Sherman Street Church -- RSVP here or call (616) 206-3641.
- Watch Redmond's TEDx presentation on Food Justice.
- Visit the Campaign for Food Justice Now's website.
- Visit Our Kitchen Table's website to learn more about food justice.

Sources: Stelle Slootmaker, Our Kitchen Table; LaDonna Redmond, TEDx presentation
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images: Courtesy of Our Kitchen Table and LaDonna Redmond


Crash's Landing kicks off capital campaign to purchase Diamond Avenue NE facility

Crash's Landing was just about to go live with its crowd-funding campaign on indiegogo.com when its founding feline passed away on April 11. A quick edit was made, and the fundraising video now ends with a tribute to Crash.

"Our hearts are tender right now, but the need for a safe haven for stray cats has not lessened," says Dr. Jennifer Petrovich, founder of Crash's Landing. "Tomorrow is a new day, so we'll roll up our sleeves, set aside our grief, and get back to work making a difference in our little corner of the world, one cat at a time. This is the true legacy of Crash, and we are proud to continue what he inspired."

Crash's Landing needs to raise $210,000 to purchase the building it is currently renting at 1545 Diamond Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, and the capital campaign is being handled in four phases. Phase I, which kicked off April 12, seeks to raise $52,500 on indiegogo.com. (And we pause here in the interest of full disclosure: I am Director of Grant Writing and Alternative Fundraising for Crash's Landing, and I live with two Crash Cats.)

The namesake feline, only eight weeks old when he was rescued after being hit by a car back in 1999, became the catalyst for starting the organization.

Since 2002, Crash's Landing has offered a no-kill haven for stray, abandoned, abused, and neglected cats. And since 2004, the building on Diamond has housed 130+ Crash Cats at any given time. Big Sid's Sanctuary -- Crash's sister organization in a separate facility -- is home to 130+ cats who test positive for FIV or FeLV.

Crash's Landing has been in the news a lot lately for taking in and medically treating a little cat who was tossed from a car going 70 mph, and then tumbled across two lanes on the expressway. Although healing nicely, Squirt -- as she is now called -- is not out of the woods yet.

Get involved:

- Visit the website to learn more about Crash's Landing and Big Sid's Sanctuary. You'll find Squirt's story there, too.
- Donate to the indiegogo.com campaign and share the link with your family and friends.
- Or donate on Crash's Landing's website.
- Send a gift from Crash's Landing's Amazon.com wish list.
- Adopt a cat and give him or her a loving home.
- Volunteer.
- Sponsor a cat.
- Like the Crash's Landing Facebook page.

Source: Dr. Jennifer Petrovich, founder and executive director of Crash's Landing and Big Sid's Sanctuary
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of Crash's Landing


Celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees in a park!

The importance of trees cannot be overstated: According to the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project, trees improve air quality by filtering out pollutants; enhance water quality by reducing runoff of pollutant-filled storm water; reduce energy costs by shading buildings from the hot summer sun; add to our quality of life with their beauty and cool shade; and increase property values.

With all that in mind, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP) believe that vibrant parks and public spaces are key to supporting a community's economic competitiveness, environmental health, and cultural well-being, because a healthy park system requires a long-term commitment.

And now you have an opportunity to help FGRP make a difference: Meet up with them on April 26 and 27 and help plant trees in Riverside Park. The organization's most ambitious tree planting to date will help protect the Grand River watershed and increase our City's urban tree canopy.

What's in it for you? For starters, two exciting days of tree planting to improve water quality and restore lost Ash trees in Riverside Park. This is just one of many projects that offers the opportunity to get your hands dirty restoring Grand Rapids' urban tree canopy. The goal here is to plant a grand total of 150 trees with help from the community -- and that includes you. No previous tree planting experience is necessary.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks will provide the tools, trees, and training -- just bring drinking water, clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and gloves. Meet at the Riverbend shelter around 12:00 p.m. to get set up, and the planting will kick off at 1 p.m.

Founded in 2008, the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen-led, nonprofit enterprise that works closely with, but separate from, the City. They make park improvement projects happen by bringing together neighbors, park users, the City, funders, volunteers, and contractors.

Get involved:

- Help plant a tree on April 26 and/or April 27! Register for the event online, by phone (616) 581-7164, or by emailing Heather Kaweck.
- Visit Friends of GR Parks' website and become a friend.
- Donate.
- Like the Facebook page.
- Learn more about the important role that trees play in our City on the Urban Forest Project's website.

Source: Heather Kaweck, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Charity fashion show to benefit homeless women and children

Treat yourself to some fabulous fashion, family, and fun at the 24th Annual 'No Place Like Home' Fashion Show: Where Fashion Meets Art. The Wednesday, April 24 event runs from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Goei Center (818 Butterworth St. SW Grand Rapids, MI 49504) to benefit Liz's House and Bridge Street Place, two very special Dwelling Place housing communities.

"This event gets bigger and better every year," says Dennis Sturtevant, chief executive officer of Dwelling Place. "We will have great food, live music, art, and fun to benefit a great cause. This is a must-attend event!"

West Michigan radio celebs Tommy and Brook of STAR 105.7 will walk the runway as the guest emcees of the evening. The 2012 GR's Got Talent winner and musical guest, Bennett, will perform live prior to community celebrities taking the runway.

The evening's event will comprise a strolling cocktail party with hors d'oeuvres from Panera Bread, and feature the latest clothing fashions from Leigh's and Fitzgerald's. The children fashion's segment will showcase apparel from Snapdragon Boutique.

"Liz's House transitional housing program helps women, but we cannot forget the children that come into the program with them," says Sturtevant. "The proceeds from the fashion show benefit the entire family, and the children wanted to help."

Jeffery Richards Salon
will provide hair and makeup services. Guests may also look forward to a silent auction and raffle drawing, and an array of art will be on display from local artists along with live art by Reb Roberts and friends.

General event tickets are $50 per person. This year's sponsors include: Fifth Third Bank, Video-Tech-Tronics, Brewery Vivant, Mercantile Bank, Rockford Construction, Wolverine Worldwide Foundation, and many more.

Dwelling Place, a nonprofit Community Development Corporation, has served West Michigan for more than 30 years. Liz's House serves homeless women with small children, and Bridge Street Place is home to survivors of domestic violence. Both housing communities offer solace and comfort to individuals and families facing enormous challenges.

Get involved:

- Attend the event. Get your tickets here.
- Volunteer.
- Donate.
- Like the Dwelling Place Facebook page.

Source: DeWayne Cook, Dwelling Place
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Image courtesy of Dwelling Place

Rockin' music for a noble cause: Jake's Music Festival is April 13

Now in its ninth year, Jake's Music Festival -- a benefit concert for the local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) -- will rock it out on Saturday, April 13 at the Wealthy Theatre (1130 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids). Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. Here's your chance to enjoy some of the best musicians in West Michigan. Check out this lineup:
 
7:00 p.m.    Grand 'Piper' Entrance & Welcome
7:05 p.m.    Last Call Band
7:45 p.m.    Lynn Thompson
8:00 p.m.    The Nick Stevenson Band
8:45 p.m.    Otis Blueswell Jr. 
9:00 p.m.    Simien the Whale
9:45 p.m.    Jared Wekenman
10:00 p.m.  Igby Iris
 
Tickets are free, thanks to generous event sponsors, Frames Unlimited, The Gordon Group, Fat Tire Beer, WYCE, DVS, Connie's Cakes, and PJ's Sound and Backline. Donations to JDRF will be accepted, and all proceeds go directly to help find a cure for Type 1 diabetes. There will be a silent auction, free cake samples, and other surprises.
 
Jake's Music Festival was started by Rockford residents Tom and Mary Scheidel, and named for their son Jake who was diagnosed with Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes, 16 years ago when he was only six years old.
 
JDRF was founded in 1970 by parents of children with Type 1 diabetes. Since its founding, JDRF has funded $1.6 billion in Type 1 diabetes research, including more than $116 million in 2011. The West Michigan Great Lakes Chapter helps people with Type 1 diabetes by providing one-to-one connections, resources, educational programs, and furthering the search for a cure with an active advocacy program.
 
For more info, call (616) 460-5969 or email jmf@scheidelgroup.com.
 
Get involved:
 
- Go to Jake's Music Festival on April 13 at Wealthy Theatre from 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.
- Visit Jake's Music Festival online and donate via PayPal (you don't need a PayPal account to donate)
- Like the festival on Facebook
- Visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation West Michigan Great Lakes Chapter website
 
Source: Jake Scheidel and Tom Scheidel
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor
 
Image: Courtesy of Jake's Music Festival

The points are in: Wilcox Park Wins 'Park Makeover', Riverside Park and Cherry Park are runners-up

The City of GR's first-ever myGRcitypoints campaign -- sponsored by the City of Grand Rapids as part of the Parks Alive program with the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks -- was an amazing success. Thousands of participants contributed over 4 million points to their favorite City-owned parks. The park that received the most points -- Wilcox Park, with 962,601 points -- earned a Park Makeover valued at up to $50,000. The two runners-up, Riverside Park at 642,838 points and Cherry Park at 600,866 points, earned Park Spruce-ups valued at up to $10,000. 
 
The prize money was provided by the City of Grand Rapids from its existing parks budget. "The money was going to be spent on parks anyway, but now it's going to be distributed, essentially, how citizens say they want it distributed," says Jasmine Olsen, program coordinator.
 
Next step: City residents will select which improvements will be made to the park using the awards. Improvements will be made during events at each park starting in the summer of 2013. To continue encouraging individuals to earn points by volunteering, the City is offering points for participating in the upgrade work at the three parks.
 
"The City is excited to see the high level of excitement and engagement resulting from mygrcitypoints' Park Makeover contest," says Grand Rapids City Manager, Greg Sundstrom. "The City is committed to engaging citizens to improve our green spaces. Citizens will help choose the parks' improvements and, working with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, volunteers will help make the improvements.
 
"Community involvement is what makes Grand Rapids a great place to live."
 
The myGRcitypoints program was introduced two years ago as a way for individuals and businesses to connect. Individuals earn points through recycling and volunteering, and the points can be redeemed at local businesses for discounts on products and services.


Get involved:
 
- Visit myGRcitypoints online to find out more info.
- Sign up to start earning points.
- Volunteer to earn points.
-Like myGRcitypoints on Facebook 
-Follow myGRcitypoints on Twitter.
 
Source: Craig Clark, Clark Communications
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor
 
 

There goes the neighborhood, but in a very talented way

That five bucks that's burning a hole in your pocket? It begs to be spent on a ticket to the debut public performance of There Goes The Neighborhood, a nine-piece, teenage-student rock band that plays music from the '80s, '90s and 2000s. Save the date: Monday, April 15 at 7 p.m. at Jonny B'z, 638 Wealthy SE, Grand Rapids.

Hosted by Grand Rapids' only independent music school, Triumph Music Academy, the event is open to the public and sponsored by Guitar Center. Tickets are $5 (as mentioned upfront) and may be purchased at Jonny B'z.

Triumph Music Academy is a one-of-a-kind, local music school that strives to develop students' dreams into reality through live-performance rock bands. There Goes The Neighborhood comprises nine students between the ages of 11 and 17, and is the first of three teenage-student performance bands at the academy. Fun, yes, but the students also learn valuable lessons while immersed in their passion, including teamwork, dedication, and perseverance. They complete all the tasks of a real band.

The academy recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. Staffed with experienced, college-educated, professional, and diverse instructors, the premium school embraces a progressive attitude toward teaching music. Triumph Music Academy is all about achieving personal success, regardless of age or obstacle. It provides students with the means to achieve any goal, big or small. And it doesn't limit the study of music to just band or orchestra, or just classical or jazz: Instructors there teach the fundamentals behind the music, no matter what the genre.

Located at 949 Wealthy St. SE, Suite 200, Grand Rapids, the academy resides in one of the first LEED-certified business structures in the City.

Get involved:

- Attend the performance on April 15 at 7 p.m. at Jonny B'z
- Like their Facebook page 
- Take music lessons -- call (616) 454-2943

Source: Morgan Fedewa, Clark Communications
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor

Images courtesy of Triumph Music Academy. 


Open house at the DRCWM

The Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan (DRCWM) is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in Grand Rapids. The organization helps settle disagreements between neighbors, people in landlord-tenant disputes, educational issues, parenting disputes, small claims issues, victim-offender (i.e., restorative justice), and many more.
 
Full disclosure: I work here, and it's awesome.
 
Usually when there are disagreements, someone wins... and someone loses. The DRCWM provides a neutral setting, and trained mediators help people discuss their issues and create their own win-win solutions to conflicts. It's an excellent alternative to court action, which is costly and much more time-intensive.
 
"I have been proud to be associated with the DRCWM since I began my mediator internship here in February 2007," says Christine Gilman, DRCWM's new Executive Director. "It is amazing to watch the effect of mediation on two people in conflict. Participants often metamorphose from combatants to mutual dispute resolvers over the period of a two-hour mediation session."
 
Gilman says that plans are in the works to start a restorative discipline initiative in local schools to encourage school attendance and decrease school suspension and expulsion rates.
 
"Students, family members, peers, and school representatives can work together to promote communication and accountability," Gilman says.
 
The Grand/Kent Community Reconciliation Center first opened its doors in 1986. A staff coordinates volunteers and conducts training, while the actual mediation work is virtually all done by volunteers who have been through extensive training. In 1992, the organization began doing business under the name Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan. The DRCWM mediates disputes in seven Michigan counties: Kent, Ionia, Lake, Montcalm, Mecosta, Newaygo, and Osceola.
 
You don't have to be in the middle of a feud to attend the open house on Wednesday, May 1, from 4-6 p.m., 678 Front Ave. NW, Suite 250. The public is welcome.

Get involved:
 
- Contact the DRCWM at 616-774-0121, and visit their website at www.drcwm.org.
- Attend DRCWM's open house on Wednesday, May 1 from 4-6 p.m. at 678 Front Ave. NW, Suite 250.
 
Source: Christine Gilman, Executive Director, DRCWM
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor


Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda on "Maps Where Children Matter: Linking Children's Health to Our Environment"

How can children learn and thrive when they are exposed to environmental pollutants, such as arsenic, lead, secondhand smoke, pesticides, underground contaminants, and other toxins? That's what Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda resolved to find out.
 
Although pollutants aren't good for anybody, they pose an increased risk for kids because their bodies aren't fully developed, and their rapidly growing organs are especially vulnerable. Couple these facts with the propensity for kids to play on the ground, touch stuff, and then put their hands in their mouths, and it's easy to see why they can be exposed to higher amounts of environmental pollutants.
 
Enter Dr. Miranda, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE). She's the founder of the Children's Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI), and her innovative, pioneering work has made her a national expert on children's environmental health.
 
I've been told that she loves maps and statistics -- she's a professor, after all -- because maps help determine the link between the environment and human health. Once the link is identified, healthcare delivery can be adjusted to support preventive interventions. The goal is to help improve human health, especially in children.
 
Although driven by statistics and maps, Dr. Miranda is a highly engaging, passionate, and persuasive speaker. Don't just take my word for it -- she's the first speaker in The Wege Foundation's 17th Annual Wege Speaker Series (free and open to the public). You'll have a chance to hear her firsthand on Thursday, April 18 at 4 p.m. at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center (1703 Robinson Road SE, Grand Rapids). A reception will follow.
 
A Detroit native, Dr. Miranda became Dean of the SNRE in January 2012. She also holds an appointment as a professor in SNRE and in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, part of the University of Michigan Health System.
 
To RSVP, email harbuell@aquinas.edu or call 616-632-2805 by April 8, 2013. Limited seating is available.
 
Source: The Wege Foundation, www.wegefoundation.com
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor
 
Image provided by The Wege Foundation

Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters wants you to: Read. Write. Live.

A new literary nonprofit in Grand Rapids encourages, promotes, and celebrates the literary endeavors of writers within the Great Lakes region, thanks to three enthusiastic literati who used to work together at a small, independent bookstore. Roni Devlin, a full-time infectious disease physician; bookseller Josh Weston; and bookseller and poet Zachary Tomaszewski breathed life into the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters (GLCL) on January 1, 2013.
 
In the last year, Grand Rapids has lost two of its urban independent bookstores: Literary Life Bookstore & More (LitLife) closed its brick-and-mortar storefront on Wealthy Street in June 2012, and the downtown branch of Schuler Books shuttered its doors this past February.
 
"We recognized the need for ongoing literary services in the community," says Devlin, owner of LitLife. "The idea for the nonprofit actually began while the bookstore was still open."
 
Devlin says that a great idea for an author event, book launch, or literary festival was occasionally put on hold because LitLife didn't have enough cash flow or access to resources. "So, as the bookstore closed, the subsequent development of a literary nonprofit made perfect sense," she says. "With GLCL, the link to the literary community is not contingent on book sales or profit margins."
 
The three founders have lofty goals for GLCL: author events, writing contests and workshops, book clubs, and poetry readings. Eventually, GLCL hopes to establish a writing retreat, a community literary festival on Wealthy Street, and an independent literary press.
 
GLCL will work with independent bookstores that continue to thrive in West Michigan. "Our policy clearly states that bookstores have the priority when it comes to author events and book signings," says Devlin. "We will partner with locally owned stores for book sales when appropriate."
 
April is National Poetry Month, and GLCL will celebrate with free poetry readings: Chris Dombrowski (Sunday, April 7), Traci Brimhall (Wednesday, April 10), and Patricia Clark and Alison Swan (Wednesday, April 24). Two poetry workshops will be offered, with Chris Dombrowski (Sunday, April 7) and Robert Fanning (Sunday, April14). Each workshop is limited to 12 people and costs $40 to attend. To inquire, email info@readwritelive.org.

Get involved:

- Visit GLCL online for more information
- Donate to GLCL
- Like GLCL on Facebook
 
Source: Dr. Roni Devlin, GLCL
Writer: Victoria Mullen, Do Good Editor
 
Images: Photography by Jonathan Clay

West Michigan Co-Op provides fresh, local food year-round

As the farmers markets begin to close during the winter months, you may think that the options are slim for getting fresh, local produce. Enter West Michigan's Online Cooperative: an online farmers market created to serve the nutritional needs of the greater Grand Rapids area. 
 
Danielle Cenci, VP of the Board of Directors, is one of more than 1,000 volunteers that make up this organization. She is enthusiastic about the mission of the group, which is to support local farmers and producers and provide sustainable food sources for West Michigan. 
 
The West Michigan Co-Op's online shop consists of close to 50 active sellers offering around 1,250 products. You can check off most items on your grocery list, as well as purchase some other non-edible goods such as candles, clothes, pet products, and even personal toiletry items. 
 
To order, you must first become a member. An affordable annual fee of $35 opens up the entire market to you in a convenient online database. Because this is a volunteer-based organization, members are also asked to donate some of their time helping with product pick-up. 
 
West Michigan Co-Op offers a window of ordering farm-fresh products on their website beginning the first Saturday of the month and ending the following Friday. Giving the businesses time to collect the requests, a pick-up date happens on the third Wednesday of the month at Media Rare, a business owned by Co-Founder Jerry Adams. 
 
"Members receive an invoice of what they ordered online when they walk in," Cenci says. "Farmers and producers set up tables and usually have some extra products available."
 
Cenci points out that the types of members are diverse; however, "Most of our members are families. A recent survey shows that a majority of them come from East Grand Rapids and Eastown." 
 
Keeping the benefits of this project in West Michigan, the vendors are all located within a 50-mile radius of Grand Rapids. Farmers and producers pay the same $35 membership fee, but must first go through an application process that is reviewed by a committee to ensure the products and missions meet the Co-Op's guidelines.
 
Ever expanding, West Michigan Co-Op is looking for new members and volunteers to support upcoming educational events and to assist with product pick-up. There are several ways to get involved and keep connected with this valuable virtual marketplace:
 
- Visit West Michigan Co-Op online to join as a member, apply as a farmer or producer, or to stay 
updated about upcoming events. 
- Volunteer your time during pick-up days at Media Rare (1111 Godfrey Ave SW, Grand Rapids).
- Like them on Facebook.
 
Source: Danielle Cenci, Vice President of the Board of Directors of West Michigan Cooperative. 
Writer: Eirann Betka, Do Good Contributor
 
Image provided by West Michigan Co-Op. 
 

The House That Andy Built

There's a theory that only the good die young and in this case, it seems it's true. Beloved Grand Rapids Press editor and longtime journalist Andy Angelo passed away last summer from complications of asthma. He was only 55.

His kind, generous spirit touched the lives of so many people -- this writer included -- and after his death, his wife Mary, their two children, Press employees, and several others in the community wondered how they could honor his memory. Andy had given so much and cared so deeply, and they wanted to find a way to celebrate his kindheartedness permanently -- in a "bricks-and-mortar" kind of way. 
 
A logical place to start was in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood where he devoted countless hours of his time. Andy and Mary Angelo helped create Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities, which oversees the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center. Andy served on the board of directors and at one time, as board president. He was also the driving force behind the organization's annual June fundraiser, Día del Sol, now in its 12th year.
 
Mary Angelo and a group of women affectionately known as "Andy’s Girls" recently came up with the idea to build a Habitat for Humanity house to honor Andy. When they requested several months back that the house be located in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, little did they know it would be right on Grandville Avenue with a perfect view of the Cook Arts Center across the street. 
 
Mary says Andy would have loved that, and seeing the pink construction flag on the corner made her heart "skip a beat." 
 
Members of Andy's Girls include Mary Angelo, daughter Sarah Otis, Meegan Holland, Mary Ann Sabo, Sue Schroder, and Amy Snow-Buckner. (Snow-Buckner, the assigned Habitat staff liaison for the project, worked at the Grand Rapids Press with Andy for eight years prior to becoming the Donor Relations Coordinator for the nonprofit.) 
 
Sometime in mid-July, Andy's Girls and Habitat volunteers will break ground on "The House That Andy Built," a two-story home located at 661 Grandville Avenue. 
 
"Andy was a fabulous guy and probably more than anyone knew," says Angelo. "This is the perfect tribute to his memory and it feels like the right thing to do."
 
It's estimated the house will take approximately 45 volunteer days to complete and cost $125,000. Fundraising has already begun and several large donations have recently been secured, including a starting gift from the Cook Foundation.
 
Angelo says she's grateful to be working with Habitat as they know what they're doing when it comes to building houses and raising the money needed. 
 
"We don't need to reinvent the wheel," she says. "Habitat has already done that -- it's rolling down the road and we need to jump on it!"
 
A website and Facebook page have been developed so those interested can follow the progress of Andy's house. When asked about the green Converse high top shoes on the website, Angelo says they were actually Andy's and in a color so out of character for him. 
 
"If you asked anyone what his favorite color was, the answer would probably be brown," she says, sharing a story about Andy noticing the shoes in a store window in Manhattan and insisting they go back the next day to buy them -- a purchase that definitely surprised her. 
 
And while the shoes may have been a surprise, the community's "heartwarming" response so far to The House That Andy Built has not surprised her. 
 
"Andy was greatly loved by so many people," says Angelo.  
 
If you knew Andy Angelo, or if you simply want to honor a compassionate man who left this world too soon, there are many ways you can get involved. Here are some ideas: 
 
- Visit The House That Andy Built online to find out more. 
- Like The House That Andy Built on Facebook
- Gather a group of friends, coworkers, or others to create a team of 12-15 people to volunteer for a day. Habitat estimates they will need this many people each day for about 45 days of construction. Email Mary Angelo or Joni Jessup at Habitat to sign up. 
- Volunteer by yourself and join a team. Habitat will provide all training, but if physical labor is not your idea of a good time, offer to feed the volunteers for a day. 
- Donate toward the cost of the house. You can send a check to Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, 425 Pleasant St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI  49503 or donate online. Either way, be sure to note that you'd like your contribution to go to Andy's House.  
- Locate building and landscaping supplies such as nails, tile, shingles, plants, and more and donate these toward the project. 
- Host your own fundraiser and donate the proceeds to Andy's House.
 
Sources: Mary Angelo, Andy's wife, and Amy Snow-Buckner, Donor Relations Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by The House That Andy Built. 
 

The John Ball Zoo Society wants you to go wild

Feeling the urge to go wild lately? Well, don't ignore those animal instincts -- head on over to the John Ball Zoo and you'll find the wild just a few short minutes from downtown.
 
The John Ball Zoological Garden has been one of Michigan's major cultural attractions for more than 60 years with roughly 420,000 visitors annually, and they are continually growing and changing. 
 
New for this coming May are the Meijer Grizzly Bear Exhibit and the Jandernoa Children's Treetop Outpost, a treehouse-like elevated play area.
 
The grizzly bears in the old exhibit were separated from the guests by a moat. In the new and more natural-looking space, a glass wall will allow people to see the bears up close. Also, the bear trainer area that used to be behind the scenes will now be visible by guests. 
 
An area called the Idema Forest Realm has recently increased the Zoo's footprint by 43 percent. This is where the Children's Treetop Outpost can be found and it's the future location of a new tiger exhibit expected to open in 2014. A newly installed three-car funicular takes guests from near the Zoo entrance to this area and offers expansive views of the city during the ride.
 
With these new attractions and more than 2,000 animals from over 250 different species, there is no shortage of fun at the Zoo. While it's open from March through the beginning of November, guests can enjoy a range of additional Zoo "experiences" from mid May to mid-September, such as a 300-foot Zip Line, the Sky Trail Ropes Course, Swan Boat Rides, Camel Rides, the Sting Ray Lagoon, the Budgie Aviary, the Petting and the Pygmy Goat Corrals, and the Idema Funicular.
 
The best way to enjoy all that the Zoo has to offer is to become a John Ball Zoo Society member. Not only do members conveniently get into the Zoo for free, they get discounts or free admission to more than 140 reciprocal zoos and aquariums in almost every other state. Plus, members receive invitations to members-only events and discounts on parties, classes, seasonal experiences, gift shop items, and food. The Zoo News Magazine is also delivered quarterly and shares information about upcoming exhibits, events, the animals, and more.
 
Memberships range from $35 per year for an individual to the $150 Naturalist family membership. For those who really want to "go wild," the John Ball Founder's League and the Beyond the Ticket Club memberships offer additional opportunities to get involved. 

John Ball Zoo Society Executive Director Brenda Stringer says that along with supporting the Zoo, the memberships give "you the convenience of knowing you can come anytime you want and for as long as you want." She adds that sometimes people don't have a whole afternoon to spend at the Zoo, so being able to get in free allows for more frequent, shorter trips. 

The John Ball Zoo Society currently has approximately 8,000 family and individual members. Stringer is proud of how much the Zoo has grown over the years and how well the community appreciates it. She encourages everyone who enjoys animals and nature to join, even if you don't have children.

"The Zoo isn't just for kids or families," says Stringer. "It's usually very quiet in the morning."

Volunteers are needed all year long at the Zoo as well. Tasks include everything from animal care, educational programming, miscellaneous office work, and assistance with tours, events, and more. 

Now that spring weather is finally almost here, be sure to visit the John Ball Zoo and enjoy one of West Michigan's finest cultural attractions. You can also go wild and become a member, volunteer, or donate. Here is the information you need to get started: 

- Visit the John Ball Zoological Society online to find out more. 
- Check out the latest Zoo attractions and go visit. 
- For Zoo hours and admission prices, visit their information page
- Volunteer at the Zoo year-round, or, if you're a teenager, volunteer during the summer months with the teen program. 
- Become a John Ball Zoo Society member; a list of benefits is online. 
- Donate to the John Ball Zoo Society. 
- Like the Zoo on Facebook
- Follow @jbzsociety on Twitter. 
 
Source: Brenda Stringer, Executive Director of the John Ball Zoological Society
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the John Ball Zoo Society. 
 
 

Dan Verhil, humanitarian and all-around good guy

If you've ever been to The Cottage Bar or One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom in downtown Grand Rapids, chances are you've been welcomed by owner Dan Verhil and his friendly smile. He and his wife Lisa are almost legends around here for their active and charitable involvement in the community. And now, for the second time, the Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA) is awarding Verhil as the Michigan Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year.
 
Yes, that's right -- Verhil won this prestigious award, which was created by the National Restaurant Association, in 2007 as well. The Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year Award honors restaurant owners who go "above and beyond in community service and aim to inspire other restaurateurs to get or stay involved in their local communities."

Each state selects a Cornerstone Humanitarian to represent it at the annual National Restaurant Association's Public Affairs Conference in Washington, DC., held this year April 17-18. A grand prize winner is then chosen and that restaurant owner will receive $5,000. 

Along with the Humanitarian award, each state also awards a restaurant for its charitable contributions. This year's Michigan Restaurant Neighbor Award recipient is Buddy's Pizza in Farmington Hills and they, too, have a chance to win a $5,000 grand prize.  

Verhil was chosen because of the auction items and food he regularly donates to fundraisers and events in the community, and for The Cottage Bar's annual Chili Cook-off -- a 32-year tradition that has raised more than $145,000 for Gilda's Club. 

Until recently, Verhil partnered with WYCE for its Monday Night Hat Trick Concert Series, which happened in the fall, winter, and spring at One Trick Pony. During each week's concert, Verhil "passed the hat" and forwarded the donations to more than 90 local charities in the community, with contributions totaling $75,000 in the last 12 years.

After WYCE decided to end the series, Verhil and longtime friend Ralston Bowles began a new partnership with the Earthwork Music Collective. Starting on April 8, they will be hosting Monday night concerts once more every other week through May. This new series, which will begin again in the fall, will feature a variety of mid-Michigan acts and funds collected will go toward charity as before. 

The Cottage Bar, which opened in 1927, is the oldest bar in Grand Rapids, and it has been owned by the Verhil family for 46 years. Verhil purchased it from his father John in 1980 and began the annual Chili Cook-off shortly afterward. In 1995, he also opened the One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom next door and that building has a rich history as well as -- it is oldest continually occupied building in Grand Rapids. 

When asked what he would do with the $5,000 Cornerstone Humanitarian grand prize if he won, Verhil says he will "use it to continue to support nonprofits."

Verhil believes that "if you're fairly successful, you need to give back," and that's why he donates to so many charities in West Michigan. He also credits the many altruistic people in the community who inspire him to give.
 
"Philanthropy in this area is contagious," Verhil says, "and I want to help as many nonprofits as I can."
 
Grand Rapids needs more business owners like Dan Verhil. Please support him by visiting The Cottage Bar and One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom when you dine out. 
- Like One Trick Pony on Facebook
- Visit The Cottage Bar online. 
- Like The Cottage Bar on Facebook
- For more information about the new Earthwork Music Collective Monday Night Live Series at One Trick Pony, including the upcoming schedule, see John Sinkevics' piece on his Spins on Music website. 

Source: Dan Verhil, Owner of the The Cottage Bar and One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Dan Verhil. 
 

Neighbors helping neighbors on the Westside

Nestled amidst the polish halls, homes, and churches of Grand Rapids' lower Westside stands Steepletown Neighborhood Services, a beacon of hope and help for those still needing their GED and other services. 
 
Housed in a former convent at 671 Davis NW, Steepletown provides free GED assistance to students 16-24 and this is one of their most popular programs. It offers open enrollment year-round, not just July through June like other organizations. It also attempts to eliminate the barriers to education some students face. As of April 1, drop-in childcare will be available for the first time to those in the program. 

Steepletown relies heavily on volunteers for the GED program's one-on-one mentoring and group tutoring. They offer weekly orientations to anyone interested in volunteering and they could always use more help.

"We have a need for tutors in all subjects, but really our greatest need is for volunteers to identify with the student first, to engage with them," says Education Coordinator Melanie Straub. 

According to Straub, that connection keeps students interested and encourages them to ask questions and attend additional workshops and seminars.  

The 200 or so currently enrolled students work with a youth advocate to set up a schedule to achieve their GED and attend tutoring sessions from 9-12 a.m. or 4-6 p.m. 

"We graduate about 60 kids per year, with two graduation ceremonies," says Assistant Director Sandy Stuckhardt. "Kids progress at their own level and after graduation are encouraged to join one of our other programs, the West Side Garage Store or the Senior Lawn Care Program."

These other programs teach students leadership and job skills training, and they assist with career counseling post GED. 

Originally formed as a community resource by three neighboring Catholic churches -- St. James, St. Mary, and the Basilica of Saint Adalbert -- Steepletown promotes a "neighbor helping neighbor live with dignity and hope" mission. 

With tax day looming on April 15, many are also taking advantage of the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition (KCTCC) VITA Program available at Steepletown. Certified volunteers prepare basic tax returns on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. For those who have waited to file and are still in need, there are only three Wednesdays left before April 15. On average, the program assists around 200 people per tax season, although this season, the numbers are down slightly due to lack of volunteers.

Believing that a neighborhood is only as vibrant as the people who live there, Steepletown is committed to providing support services as diverse as the community in which it sits. If you'd like to get involved, here are some ways you can: 
 
- To find out more information about Steepletown's many services, visit their website
- If you're interested in volunteering and making a connection with students, call 616-451-4215 ext. 111 or email Melanie Straub.
- Donate to the organization. 
 
Sources: Sandy Stuckhardt, Assistant Director Steepletown Neighborhood Services, and Melanie Straub, Education Coordinator
Writer: Terri Spaulding, Do Good Contributor
 
Photos courtesy of Steepletown Neighborhood Services.
 
 
 
 
 

Standing out at GRCC

When Eirann Betka decided to return to college, she found little activity or support for the gay and lesbian community at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). She made it her personal mission to change that and now, she's the president of StandOut, GRCC's Gay-Straight Alliance student organization. 
 
Prior to Betka getting involved, the group was not very active and she says she wanted to "energize it and get it bigger." Since then, StandOut has been meeting every Monday at 1:00 p.m. in the Student Center's Farside Room with around 10-15 people attending each week. They also attend conferences and are currently planning activities for a Pride Week.
 
If you have noticed the abundance of buttons around the GRCC campus, it's most likely because of the button maker StandOut members use regularly. Once a month, they host button-making parties where guests cut out images and words from magazines and make them into buttons. Betka says the purpose is to make a stand with the buttons, but the events also "build camaraderie."
  
Betka and other members from StandOut also recently attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC) in Lansing this past February. The conference is the largest LGBTA college conference in the nation. Speakers shared ways to strengthen college organizations, network more efficiently, and create change. 
 
"I got fired up!" Betka says. 
 
She was still very much 'fired up' when she attended GRCC's Feb. 13 Diversity Lecture Series featuring journalist and gay rights activist LZ Granderson. At the well-attended event, Granderson spoke about what it means to be gay and living in Grand Rapids. He encouraged everyone to stand up to bullying and for equal rights, while sharing personal stories about his life.
 
Members of the GRCC Board of Trustees were also in attendance at the event and afterward, Board Trustee Richard Ryskamp was somewhat critical of the event and commented that if someone speaks on gay issues again at GRCC, that person should be someone "who has tried being gay but now regrets that path or is trying to walk a new path." 
 
Not only did Granderson publicly question Ryskamp's understanding of sexual orientation in response, but Betka challenged him on his assumption as well. Last week, she met with Ryskamp for more than two hours and left with "an agreement to disagree."

She says the two broke down his statements "word for word" and shared what the comments meant to each other. Betka says their candid, yet respectful conversation went extremely well, and he challenged the way she perceived her own community. 
 
"I respected how much he challenged me and I know I also challenged him," she says.
 
StandOut's president appreciated that she could have that type of conversation with Ryskamp and admits it humbled her and aggravated her at the same time.
  
"My intention is to cause change, whether this college -- or Michigan -- is ready for it or not," Betka says.
 
And that change may very well begin with GRCC's first ever Pride Week April 8-12. The StandOut group is collaborating with other student organizations on campus (including minority groups) as well as the GRCC Library, the Red Project, and the LGBT Network. Pride Week will feature an open mic night, an art show, and more, with additional information announced soon.  
 
GRCC's StandOut group wants to promote equality for all. If you agree with that idea and want to get involved, here are some ways you can:
 
- Like StandOut, the GRCC Gay-Straight Alliance, on Facebook
- Attend one of the Monday meetings in the Farside Room within GRCC's Student Center. StandOut meets weekly at 1 p.m.
- Participate in Pride Week at the GRCC campus April 8-12. More information will be posted on the group's Facebook page soon. 
 
Sources: Eirann Betka, president of StandOut, GRCC's Gay-Straight Alliance student organization 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by StandOut.
 

AmeriCorps gets it done

If you look around, you'll see them everywhere. AmeriCorps members cleaning parks and rivers; preventing and responding to disaster; teaching, tutoring, and mentoring everyone from school-children to college students to refugees; keeping owners in their homes, counseling the homeless, or building new housing; helping families gain financial stability and providing employment assistance; finding quality healthcare for the uninsured; and mobilizing a substantial number of diverse community volunteers to help them -- all of this in West Michigan, and all of these projects being just a subset of a much longer list.
 
"I don't think most people recognize the scope of the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps members are everywhere! They are critical to helping agencies like the Literacy Center of West Michigan serve more people in thoughtful ways," says Shay Kraley, family literacy director at the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

AmeriCorps is a national program, commonly described as the "domestic Peace Corps." Individuals, known as 'members', commit to a specific term -- usually one or two years -- and are housed in nonprofit organizations, schools, or other agencies. Over 1,000 of these members are serving in Michigan right now. AmeriCorps programs focus on human needs, education, environment, public safety, health, disaster preparedness, foreclosure prevention, and homelessness.
 
AmeriCorps also addresses critical issues for the members who serve. Members receive a small living stipend and, upon successful completion of their service, an education award applicable towards higher education or to pay student loans. Their experiences also create a pathway to employment by providing individuals with opportunities to gain valuable job skills and contribute in their own community.

"In my view, AmeriCorps service is a two-way street. Members give to the program and their host site organization; meanwhile, their host site and the program gives to them," says Rachel Diskin of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan.

Research has shown that after one year of AmeriCorps, members are more likely to stay in the community they served, pursue careers in the nonprofit and public sector, and continue a lifetime of volunteerism. "Many of the members are unfamiliar with the schools or the neighborhoods we serve, so (their service) really broadens their view of the community in which they live," say Kraley.

As a result of these benefits, recent years have seen a record-breaking number of applications for AmeriCorps positions -- more than 580,000 applied in 2011 for just 82,000 AmeriCorps positions. Although recent sequestration will likely shrink the program in the near future, overall, the impact and sheer manpower of AmeriCorps members will remain worthwhile -- and right under our noses.

Here's how you can get involved:
 
 - For more information about AmeriCorps or to learn more about specific programs, visit www.michigan.gov/mcsc.
 - Apply for a Michigan's AmeriCorps position here.
 
 
Sources: Michigan Community Service Commission, Rachel Diskin of the Community Economic Development Association; Shay Kraley, Family Literacy Director at the Literacy Center of West Michigan
Writer: J. Rae Young, Do Good Contributor

Promoting a thriving film and video community in West Michigan

Thanks in part to the State of Michigan's strong financial incentives for in-state film production, more producers and production companies are turning to West Michigan for their film and video needs. With up to 42 percent in incentives and rebates, the area is economically appealing and also equally as attractive with its many unique locations.
 
The West Michigan Film Video Alliance (WMFVA) makes it easy for anyone to find professional film and video crew members here with its peer-reviewed online database. The database is called Starmap, which stands for Search for Talent and Resources in Michigan Area Productions, and it allows visitors to search by name, keyword, category, star rating, location, or professional affiliation. A link to Starmap can be found on the West Michigan Film Office website and the Michigan Film Office also directs people to it.
 
Not only does WMFVA support the film industry and its members, but the corporate/commercial video industry as well. The organization began in 2005 to support and encourage a successful film and video production community in West Michigan and with nearly 170 members and well-attended monthly events, they're making good progress with this goal. 
 
"We definitely want to promote a thriving film and video community here in West Michigan," says Chair Glen Okonoski. "As a professional organization, we give our members the opportunity to network with each other, learn more about their craft, and show off their work."
 
Every fourth Wednesday of each month, WMFVA sponsors an event called 4Wall at Wealthy Theatre. These monthly events rotate between networking events, training sessions or workshops, or nights where film and video professionals can show off recent work. Some nights, they will show an assortment of demos from various people and other times, they will highlight one organization's work. The 4Wall events start at 7 p.m. and are free to members and $5 for non-members.
  
WMFVA is financially supported by its memberships, which range from student, individual, and premier. Members receive free access to 12 events per year and the annual membership party, as well as job listings and other perks.

The membership fees collected allow WMFVA to support local film festivals and awards ceremonies, such as the WKTV-sponsored Eclipse Awards on April 19. For the second year, WMFVA is the judging sponsor for this event that honors the best regional works in film, video, sound, and television production.
 
In addition to the Starmap database, WMFVA offers a valuable resource with its listserv online discussion forum. People can post comments and questions and get responses right away. 
 
Membership is not required for Starmap or the discussion forum, but members do get star ratings with their database listing to indicate their level of expertise. A panel meets six times a year to review this information. 

The main advantage of membership is to show your support for the film and video industry in West Michigan and Okonoski says he would like to see the WMFVA membership base grow this year. 
 
They're also looking for volunteers interested in serving on the board as well as speakers for upcoming training events or workshops. 
 
If you would like to get involved with the West Michigan Film Video Alliance, here are some ways you can:
 
- Visit WMFVA to find out more about the organization. (A new website is currently being developed.) 
- Search for film and video talent and production crews on its Starmap online database
- Like WMFVA on Facebook
 
Source: Glen Okonoski, Chair of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Image provided by the West Michigan Film Video Alliance. 
 

Sowing hope for women around the world

Roughly 1.5 billion women in the world live on less than a few dollars per day. When Mary Dailey Brown traveled internationally for her former job, she personally witnessed many women who were overworked, underpaid, and who had little respect or honor in their communities. 
 
"Women are the largest, most repressed group in the world," says Brown. 
 
This awareness eventually led her, her husband Doug Brown, and many helpful friends to start an organization that provides hope for these women.
 
SowHope, an international nonprofit founded seven years ago, was created to inspire women around the world by providing wellness, educational, and economic opportunities. Its name comes from a quote by St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is despair, let me sow hope.”
 
Since 2006, SowHope has positively impacted the lives of more than 33,000 impoverished women in nine different countries within Africa and Asia. And last December, they raised their one-millionth dollar, which is a milestone Brown is proud to share.
 
"Helping women is the most effective way to combat poverty," she says, and admits she didn't realize this when she first started the organization.
 
Brown now believes if you help a child, the impact may be limited to them; if you help women, they will then help others and that's how to go about changing nations.
 
The way the organization works is that they find and partner with individuals and organizations already on the ground helping women, or as Brown puts it, "local leaders with local solutions to solve local problems."
 
These local leaders are asked how could they do what they do better and what dreams they have. The next question asks what could be done with more resources. If the answer is measurable and realistic, SowHope helps them financially and in other ways. All they ask is that the local leaders keep track of where the money goes and the number of women helped. Sometimes training is needed for reporting the information, and SowHope provides that as well. 
 
SowHope focuses on helping women through three program areas: wellness, education, and economic.  

When it comes to wellness, the organization supports projects that provide clean water, maternal care, and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs. They also back programs that offer counseling for and help to prevent abuse, rape, and sex trafficking.
  
To advance women educationally, SowHope funds literacy, vocational, and technical training programs. They also assist women economically through micro loans and small business training.
 
In order to support these programs that help women, SowHope relies on donations. Nearly 98 percent of their funding comes from individual donations, with the remaining amount contributed by foundations and corporations. 

SowHope has six volunteer working teams to help it operate -- administration, finance, fund development, personnel, program, and public relations. A description of what each team does can be found on the organization's website if you're interested in volunteering. 
 
The last few years have been busy for SowHope as they continue to support women around the world. Right now, they're in nine countries, but Brown expects to expand that to 12 countries soon. 

"We have helped more women in the last two years than in the five years before that," she says.

If you want to support women around the world by giving them hope, here are some ways to get involved with this international nonprofit: 

- Visit SowHope online to find out more about the organization. 
- Volunteer your time and skills to one of the SowHope working teams. 
- Donate to SowHope. 
- Like SowHope on Facebook
- Follow @SowHopeOrg on Twitter. 
 
Source: Mary Dailey Brown, President and CEO of SowHope. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by SowHope. 
 
 
 

Stop human trafficking by starting in your neighborhood

Until The Manasseh Project created a buzz about human sex trafficking with their 2012 ArtPrize exhibit, many believed human trafficking only happened in someone else's neighborhood. The reality is that it can happen anywhere, even on your street.
 
The Manasseh Project, an outreach ministry of Wedgwood Christian Services, is dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of young men and women in West Michigan. They acknowledge that ending human slavery involves more than creating awareness; it requires eliminating the root causes that lead to it -- runaway youth, poverty, and abuse.
 
While statistics published around the world about human trafficking help generate awareness, in Founder Andy Soper's opinion that also puts numbers to something that is difficult to quantify.

"To end human slavery, we have to change the culture of how we buy and consume," he says.

On Feb. 28, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) designed to help the more than 20 million men, women, and children victimized by human trafficking in the U.S. and worldwide. Here in West Michigan, there are nearly 2400 human trafficking victims.

Two and a half years ago, Soper and his wife Marcy found themselves ill-equipped to address the needs of a child they knew after she fell victim to sex trafficking in Grand Rapids. Last October, he started the first shelter, which is already making a difference for victims.

Although middle class suburban white girls are often the face of trafficking in the movies and in the media, they represent only 25-30 percent of all victims with the majority being poor minorities.

While monetary donations help to provide safety and services for these victims, it doesn't stop the problem from happening. Soper believes one way to make a difference is to watch your own neighborhood.

"Ask yourself if a kid three blocks over is at risk," he says. "Reduce the risk of this happening in your neighborhood by engaging with kids."

Every summer, Soper buys a large tub of popsicles and word about the free treats quickly spreads around the block. This gives him and his wife a good opportunity to engage with the neighborhood kids. Soper often questions parents, too, when he notices their children are roaming around unsupervised, or are spending large amounts of time in his backyard. He also frequently offers to bring kids along on family trips to the library and gives working parents the option to drop off their children at his home during the day in hopes of getting them off the street. 

"What starts as a heroic approach to leadership, where we think we are going to do this alone, is really not possible," says Soper. "The Manasseh Project has worked hard to build partnerships with other groups that address homelessness and runaway youth. Prevention is 95 percent of this work, if not more."

Through community education and collaboration, The Manasseh Project not only provides support for victims of human trafficking, it empowers the people of West Michigan to end modern day slavery. 

"Being a hero does not mean kicking in a door and saving a girl," Soper says. "It means being vulnerable, and if you open yourself up, that is where change happens. We can open as many houses as we want, but we cannot change slavery unless we change our hearts."

If you want to do your part to end human trafficking, here is how you can get involved: 
 
- Visit The Manasseh Project online to find out more. http://www.manassehproject.org
- Learn more about trafficking in West Michigan. 
- Report a suspected instance of human trafficking. 
- Donate to The Manasseh Project. 
- Like The Manasseh Project on Facebook
 
Source: Andy Soper, Founder of The Manasseh Project
Writer: Terri Spaulding, Do Good Contributor

Images Courtesy of The Manasseh Project.
 
 
 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
 
 

Jazz students offered the chance to play at GRandJazzFest

Jazz students who want to perform in front of a large audience now have their chance. Auditioning jam sessions begin March 14 and those who think they have talent are encouraged to try out for the opportunity to play at this year's GRandJazzFest. 
 
Last August, West Michigan's first jazz festival celebrated its inaugural year with high attendance and beautiful weather. With that success under its belt, GRandJazzFest will be held again this summer and this time, it's happening over a two-day period on Aug. 17 and 18.
 
Steve Hilger, a local jazz musician whose band The Steve Hilger Jazz Quintet played at last year's festival, is excited that it's two days this year because "it demonstrates that there is a jazz community in Grand Rapids."

"It's fun to participate and exciting to be in on the ground level," he adds.
 
Hilger is also on GRandJazzFest's artist selection committee this year along with fellow musician Steve Talaga and West Michigan Jazz Society board member Eddie Tadlock. This committee and Founder Audrey Sundstrom wanted to have a way for young and/or unknown jazz musicians to participate in the festival and that's how the idea of the student set came about.

"One of our goals in year two of the festival is to increase the educational aspect -- to broaden awareness of jazz as a great American art form to diverse audiences and to provide a platform to celebrate up-and-coming jazz talent," says Sundstrom.

Students high school age and up who are studying jazz are invited to audition at Noto's Old World Italian Dining between 7-10 p.m. every other Thursday night beginning March 14. There is no fee to audition, and parents are asked to accompany anyone under 18.
 
Hilger, Talaga, and Randy Marsh or Evan Hyde will already be there performing as the TrioJazz band and they will play the first set. They will provide the drum set, keyboard, and amplifiers for students to use, but auditioning students are asked to bring their own guitar, bass, or horn. Student jazz singers are also invited to try out.
 
From now until the end of June, students are asked to attend the auditioning jam sessions as much as possible. They don't have to show up every other Thursday, but at least enough for Hilger and the other musicians to get to know them. The setting will be informal, so there is no need to sign up ahead of time. After the students play, Hilger will add their contact information to a list for the final selection.
 
"We're looking for the top student talent from the region to showcase at GRandJazzFest," says Hilger.
 
Around 5-10 students will be selected from those who've auditioned to perform in any or all of the 6-8 songs played on Aug. 18. This group of musicians, along with members of TrioJazz if needed, will kick off day two of GRandJazzFest at noon and also have a chance to perform solo during this time slot.
 
Hilger says the auditioning jam sessions are a good way for students to do more improvisational playing and "get over the fear of failure, which every musician has."
 
To find out more about GRandJazzFest or to audition as a student to play in this year's lineup, here is some information to get you started: 
 
- Visit GRandJazzFest online to find out more about this free, two-day jazz festival at Rosa Parks Circle Aug. 17 and 18. 
- Audition with TrioJazz at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining at 6600 28th St. SE. The auditions take place every other Thursday night starting at 7 p.m., with the first audition happening on March 14. 
- Contact Steve Hilger with any questions via email or at 616.458.3600. 
- Consider becoming a sponsor of this year’s GRandJazzFest. 
- Become a GRandJazzFest volunteer. 
- Like GRandJazzFest on Facebook
- Follow @GRandJazzFest on Twitter. 
 
Source: Audrey Sundstrom, Founder of GRandJazzFest, and Steve Hilger, jazz musician and one of the festival's artist selection committee members. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by GRandJazzFest.  
 
 
 
 


YMCA's Camp Manitou-Lin includes all children

For a child with a disability, going to a summer camp at the same time as a brother, sister, or friend hasn't always been a possibility -- if he or she is able to go at all. But now, thanks to a grant from the National Inclusion Project, YMCA's Camp Manitou-Lin is better equipped to give all children the opportunity to attend camp when and with whomever they want, and they can participate in nearly every activity while there.
 
The National Inclusion Project was co-founded by entertainer Clay Aiken to help bridge the gap between children with disabilities and those without by creating recreational programs and training to make after school programs, summer camps, and classroom activities inclusive for everyone. Its Let's ALL Play program gives special needs children the same experience as other children in recreational activities.
 
Greg Dodd, the executive director of Camp Manitou-Lin, says he heard about the project from another YMCA camp in North Carolina where the National Inclusion Project is based. This year is the second year the camp has been awarded a grant from the organization and last year's $10,000 grant allowed them to fund additional summer staffing positions and receive inclusion training. 
 
Dodd says partnering with the National Inclusion Project last year to make the camp more inclusive included a five-hour staff training session that "let it hit home" how important inclusion is. He adds that the training was not just about how to deal with the children with special needs, but how to teach the other children ways to include them.  

"The training was an eye opening experience for the staff," says Dodd. 

During the training, the camp's staff learned more about the different disabilities they may encounter and also how to improve collaboration with other organizations in the community.
 
This year, Camp Manitou-Lin received a grant for $8,000 and they plan on using the funds for additional staffing and inclusion training again. 
 
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Camp Manitou-Lin offers day, overnight, horse camps, and school group camps throughout the year, annually serving around 7,000 children from ages 4-17. Its 10 weeks of summer camps start mid June and run through August. More than 2,000 children visit then, with around 8-10 percent having some sort of disability, from mild to major.  
  
Last year, the camp had children with disabilities stay for its overnight camps and prior to then, Dodd says they looked at all activities and modified them so everyone could participate. "How do we set up games so everyone can play?" was the question asked and the staff came up with answers for every activity.
 
Their goal was to give the children with disabilities the opportunity be involved in the same way as everyone else and, at the same time, encourage the other children to interact with these children the way they would any other child. Some of the repeat campers questioned why activities were changed, so the staff took that opportunity to educate them about inclusion.   
 
Camp Manitou-Lin is not yet 100 percent accessible but Dodd says they are working on that. He wants to take the camp to the next level and make sure every child can attend and be included in everything.  
 
To help with the specific needs of the children with disabilities, the camp gets assistance from volunteer para pros and students from local colleges and universities. Dodd says they are always looking for more volunteers -- for a day, week, or longer -- and those who are interested will receive full training.  
 
"They just need a kind heart and a willingness to work with kids," he says. 
 
The camp also offers scholarships to children who cannot afford to attend the camp, so any donations are always appreciated. 
 
If you want to find out more about YMCA's Camp Manitou-Lin, they are having a family fun date on March 24 and here are some other ways you can involved: 
 
- Visit YMCA's Camp Manitou-Lin online to find out more. http://www.grymca.org/camp
- Volunteer your time. Contact the camp at (888) 909-2267 if you are interested.  
- Donate so a child who can't afford it can attend camp. 
- Like the GRYMCA on Facebook.
 
Source: Greg Dodd, Executive Director at YMCA's Camp Manitou-Lin. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by Camp Manitou-Lin. 
 


Gilda's Club Grand Rapids: helping people get their smiles back

On the other side of the bright red door, hope, help, and smiles wait. Whether people seek education, social interaction, personal growth, or just a safe place to recoup, they are sure to find a community of support at Gilda's Club Grand Rapids.
 
As the organization gets ready to launch its third annual 10-day LaughFest -- a festival celebrating laughter for the health of it -- many in the community think cancer support when they think of Gilda's Club. Although it originally opened in 2001 to serve individuals diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones, it has now evolved into an all-inclusive grief support haven for adults and children.
 
"Grief is grief, whether it is cancer related or not," says Wendy Wigger, VP of community relations and program development at Gilda's Club. "Our grief support programs focus on social and emotional support for children, teens, and adults, and include those facing cancer, an injury-related death, or loss of a loved one for any reason."
 
Emotional healthcare is at the core of the Gilda's Club approach. Recognizing a need in our community to support and respect the unique way children deal with grief, they began the Children's Grief Program in 2008 for kids, ages 3-18. It offers free support to teens and younger children grieving the loss of a loved one. 
 
Research shows that children are more likely to develop physical and psychological problems later in life if they do not receive support to help them understand their grief. Gilda's Club acts as a safe haven where children can let go of their emotions and have fun doing it, while being supported by others who understand. All of the grief groups are facilitated by a professional with a master's degree.
 
In an effort to raise additional funds for the Children's Grief Program, the Wege Foundation is offering to match all donations received -- from $5 - $50,000 -- through the end of March. Give a "High Five" donation of $5 and Wege Foundation will match it by donating another $5. The goal is to raise $100,000 to benefit children.
 
Gilda's Club, while affiliated with Gilda's Worldwide, is independently operated by a local board of directors. This nonprofit is supported 100 percent through charitable gifts, which all stay in West Michigan, and sustained by volunteers always ready to help people find their smiles again. Gilda's Club is a member-based organization, with no charge for membership or any activities. 
 
Wigger believes that no matter what grief situation people are facing, in time "most everyone has the ability to move forward, to gain back their smile, and not let a single diagnosis or event define their life."

The Gilda's Club motto clearly defines its cooperative spirit -- "In this together... Learn. Share. Laugh." If you want to learn, share, or laugh with the organization or get involved in other ways, here's how you can:
  
- Visit Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids online to find out more. 
- Donate to "High Five" to benefit the Children’s Grief Program. 
- Volunteer with Gilda’s Club. 
- Support Gilda’s Club in other ways.  
- Visit LaughFest online for more information. 
- Like Gilda’s Club on Facebook. 
 
Source: Wendy Wigger, VP of Community Relations and Program Development at Gilda's Club Grand Rapids.  
Writer: Terri Spaulding, Do Good Contributor
 
Images courtesy of Gilda's Club Grand Rapids.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Volunteers help new moms bloom

Imagine the joy of having a baby. After many months of anticipation, parents are excited and relieved to finally see their child. Friends and relatives visit the hospital and home and celebrate the birth. The baby gets held. Photos are taken. People are smiling, and it's generally a cheerful time.

Now imagine a short time later when the mother is home alone with her child. She may start to feel overly tired, overwhelmed by the responsibilities, or simply not confident enough on how to be a mom. In some cases, that mom may experience a perinatal mood disorder (PMD) such as postpartum depression. PMD affects one out of seven new moms and even some dads.
 
Sara Binkley-Tow, the co-founder and executive director of MomsBloom, understands PMD first hand as she experienced it after her children were born. She says she felt anxious, behaved in an obsessive-compulsive way, and was having intrusive thoughts. 
 
At the time, Binkley-Tow wondered if this was normal until she learned more about PMD. She says new mothers often "feel like we can do it all and we should do it all" and that creates stress.
 
Five years ago, this mother of two co-founded an organization to provide free physical and emotional support to new mothers. MomsBloom relies on around 40 active volunteers to be able to offer this type of care to nearly 250 families each year.
 
As part of the Flourishing Families program, the carefully-screened volunteers take care of babies so mothers can rest, help with household chores, provide nurturing and reassuring emotional support, and offer assistance in a variety of other ways. When necessary, they’ll connect women with resources in the community for additional help.
 
After going through a background check and the initial training, most volunteers average 2-6 hours a week. Binkley-Tow says they’re all "passionate about moms and babies" and most say they get more out of it than the families. Usually, the volunteer will work with the same family for 2-3 months and sometimes even longer.

By providing nonjudgmental social support, volunteers at MomsBloom are able to alleviate or prevent PMDs and help a mother bond with her child. If PMD is left untreated, it can change the life of the child and the family forever.
 
"Children are sponges and they take everything in," says Binkley-Tow.
 
Since MomsBloom began, they've helped more than 700 families "bloom" after giving birth. To celebrate five years of providing this support to new mothers (and a few dads), they’re having a "BloomBash" at the Richard App Gallery on March 7. The event is open to moms and dads, and more information about tickets can be found online. Binkley-Tow says they're currently seeking more sponsors and silent auction items if you'd like to get involved.
 
If you're a new parent who could use some additional support, or if you'd like to volunteer with the organization or attend BloomBash, here is some information to get you started:
 
- Visit MomsBloom online to find out more. 
- The BloomBash celebration is on March 7 at the Richard App Gallery in East Hills. Tickets are $35 or $60 for a couple and available online or by sending a check to PO Box 522, Cannonsburg, MI 49317.
- Volunteer your time. 
- Watch a short video about MomsBloom on the NBC Nightly News site. 
- Like them on Facebook
 
Source: Sara Binkley-Tow, Co-Founder and Executive Director at MomsBloom, Inc. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by MomsBloom. 

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation plans to award more than $1 million in scholarships this year

It's that time of year when students and their parents start wondering how to pay for college in the fall. Tuition is not cheap. Short of winning the lottery, many students get loans and end up leaving college with a mountain of debt. 
 
Scholarship awards may be the perfect solution to this problem. And since the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) manages more than 70 scholarship funds, they are the perfect place to start. Filling out the general application on their website will give students the chance to be eligible for most of their available scholarships, with some scholarships requiring a separate application.  
 
In 2012, GRCF awarded 574 scholarships totaling $844,000. This year, they expect to award more than $1 million in scholarships.  
 
Most of the scholarships range from $500 to $5000, with the average award being $1500. The Fred & Lena Meijer scholarship program that GRCF administers awards 100 Meijer team members or their children $2500, with two of those lucky recipients receiving $10,000 instead. 
 
Most of the scholarships are only available to Kent County residents, with a few open to those living outside the county or even the state, such as the Meijer scholarships, which are open to Meijer team members and their children in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky.
 
The student's chosen college or university does not have to be in Kent County, but a majority -- 82 percent -- of GRCF's scholarships were used by students who attended a Michigan college or university.
 
Ruth Bishop, education program officer and scholarship administrator, wants people to know these scholarships are not only for high school seniors. In fact, 60 percent of the scholarships awarded last year went to those already attending a college or a university.   
 
To qualify for a scholarship, the applicant must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and they will need their most recent educational transcript.
 
Bishop says many students are intimidated or discouraged when they see the application, but she assures them "it's not difficult." As part of the application, students are asked to write an essay of their aspirations and educational goals so that the volunteer members of the selection committees will know who they are.
 
"Take the time to do it; it's worth it," she says.
 
Also, while financial need is one of the deciding factors for which students get an award, it's not the only factor. 
 
"We take a look at their financial needs, but also their academic standing, how involved they are in the community, and what leadership skills they have exhibited," says Bishop. 
 
A full list of available scholarships can be found online and the deadline for the general application is April 1. The selection committees review the applications in the spring and the board finalizes their recommendations in June. 

For at least 50 years, GRCF has been awarding scholarships and, so far, more than $9.5 million in scholarships have been awarded. 
 
Last year, they reviewed 1877 applications for the 574 scholarships given, and of all the applications submitted, 635 were for the Fred & Lena Meijer scholarship program. 
 
With tuition costs rising, scholarships make a significant impact in making education more affordable. To apply for or donate to the Community Foundation's scholarship program, here is the information you'll need:
 
- Visit the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to find out more about what they do. 
- You can also show your support for the Community Foundation by engaging with them on Facebook and Twitter.  

Source: Ruth Bishop, Education Program Officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Logo provided by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

A safe and welcoming home for the LGBT community

Where in Grand Rapids can lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people go that's safe, confidential, and welcoming?

As many already know, the answer to that question is the Lesbian and Gay Community Network in Eastown.

The Network began 25 years ago as a way for the LGBT community to come together, be more visible, and work toward the advancement of equal rights. In their 3,000 square foot community center on Atlas Avenue, they provide LGBT people and their allies a welcoming place to hang out where they won't be judged.

"We are a very safe spot," says Christina Wade, the Network's office manager. "Everything in here is confidential and what's said here, stays here."

The mission of the organization is to "support people of all sexual orientations and gender identities regardless of ethnic background, race, religious affiliation, ability, socio-economic status, political affiliation, and age."

The Network offers groups, resources, referrals, and a newsletter for people thinking about "coming out," those who already have, and their families. Their facility houses computers and a library full of books, DVDs, and other materials as well.

Network groups that meet regularly include the Men's Social Group, Women's Social Group, Youth Group PLUS (People Like Us), Transgender Social Group, ACT (Allies Coming Together), Network Coupon Clippers Group, and the SWEAT (Support with Weight, Exercise, and Togetherness) Group.

The ACT Group is especially helpful for parents or family members of someone in the LGBT community. It's a place for them to share stories, gain a better understanding, and learn how to support their loved ones.

There is no cost to join any of the groups, however, if people want to join the Network as a paid member, they will receive a copy of the Network News each month. This publication includes articles, notifications, and resources in the community. The cost of membership is $39 per year, or $20 for students and veterans.

On April 27, the Network will be having a fundraiser at their location called, "The Network Presents Renaissance and Ruckus." The event is open to the LGBT community and its allies and will feature art to purchase, a silent auction, a DJ and live music, and beer, wine, and food. Their neighbor, the Red Project, will also be offering free HIV testing that night. The Network is seeking donations of artwork, silent auction items, or beer and wine for the event if you're able to give.

Wade is currently the only paid person at the Network. The board and everyone else involved are all volunteers dedicated to supporting this resource for the LGBT community. They could always use additional help, so contact them if you have some extra time.

Since not everyone knows about the Network, Wade hopes people will let others know about them, especially telling younger people who may be struggling with their identity or being accepted. She says no one gets judged when they're there.

If you want to become involved with the Lesbian and Gay Community Network, here are some ways you can:

- Visit the Network online to find out more.
- Attend their "The Network Presents Renaissance and Ruckus" event on April 27 from 7-11 p.m. (More information will be posted on their website soon.) They are currently seeking donations of beer, wine, artwork, or silent auction items for this event. Allies in the community are also invited to attend.
- Become a member and receive the monthly Network News. Contact them for more information at 616-458-3511 or via email. 
- Join one of the many groups at the Network.
- Volunteer your time at the Network.
- Donate financially to the Network.
- Like the Network on Facebook. 

Source: Christina Wade, Office Manager at the Lesbian and Gay Community Network
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Lesbian and Gay Community Network. 

Families affected by Autism empowered through networking and knowledge

Information about Autism can be found everywhere, but sometimes it’s overwhelming and that’s one of the reasons why Hope Network’s Center for Autism has started monthly networking and educational events called Family Rounds.

Clinical Neuropsychologist and Director of Children's Services Dr. Mohan Krishnan says it’s helpful for families to share what they’ve learned with each other and develop relationships.

“There’s a lot of info but families often feel isolated,” he says.
 
The idea for these monthly Family Rounds came from two of the fathers involved with the Center. They approached Krishnan and a partnership soon developed. Hope Network had already been doing a monthly lecture series called Grand Rounds that was geared toward the professionals who work with people with Autism, but there wasn’t anything for the families.
 
“We want this to be a networking and knowledge hub to empower families,” Krishnan says.
 
The first Family Rounds event took place in January at the Hope Network Education Center on 36th Street and about 25 people attended. Krishnan expects more attendees at the next event on Feb. 27 when someone from Network 180 will talk about accessing public mental health services.
 
Future events will cover Indian Trails camp, legal issues, continuing education, housing options, social development, and more. A calendar with the monthly topics can be found online. A one-hour lecture will be followed by time for networking and refreshments and all lectures will be posted on YouTube afterward for parents who cannot make it.  All events are free and open to the public.  
 
Hope Network’s Center for Autism is now in its third year and treats around 200 adults and children in Grand Rapids per year. One of their focuses is to work with an underserved population of children who are typically not being diagnosed or treated because of a lack of insurance or other reasons.

Krishnan wants people to realize the financial value of early diagnosis and intervention. He says the average cost to the state without any intervention is around $3.5 million, and with intervention, that goes down to around $600,000. The added expenses without intervention are for services such as disability, healthcare, and special education.
 
A common treatment option called Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) involves high intensity one-on-one care. It usually takes 10-30 hours a week and can be expensive, but Krishnan says it produces shocking results. 
“Kids can go from not talking to having an average I.Q.,” he says. 
 
With early diagnosis and treatment, the cost to the state decreases but more importantly, people with Autism can benefit their communities in many ways. Krishnan says children with Autism disproportionately turn toward careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Center for Autism wants to empower them so they are able to get these jobs someday and possibly make a positive impact. 
 
“Our dream is to make a difference from needing group homes when they grow up to needing graduate schools,” says Krishnan. 
 
The Family Rounds will create a central place where families can network, learn from each other, and gather information. 
 
“We want people talking about Autism,” Krishnan says. “We don’t want people or family members to feel like they have to be silent anymore.” 
 
To find out more about Family Rounds and the Hope Network Center for Autism, here are some links to get you started: 
 
- Visit the Hope Network Family Rounds page online to find out more about the upcoming events. 
- Visit Hope Network’s Center for Autism online. 
- Like Hope Network’s Center for Autism on Facebook
- Follow @HopeNetworkNews on Twitter. 
 
Source: Mohan Krishnan, PhD, Director of Children's Services and Clinical Neuropsychologist at Hope Network
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Image provided by Hope Network.
 

The World Affairs Council brings a global perspective to a local community

As the executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, Dixie Anderson meets many current and former presidents, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, and more, but the highlight of her 18-year career with the organization was being able to meet Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu when he visited Grand Rapids 10 years ago. 
 
“It was such an honor,” she says. “He radiates peace and energy.”
 
Continually hosting impressive speakers such as this, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan is a non-partisan, non-advocacy, nonprofit educational organization that currently has 50 member companies and more than 1,200 members. They are one of more than 100 Councils nationwide that focus on sharing information and creating dialogue surrounding U.S. foreign policy issues.
 
The local Council began in 1949 when two men, Edgar Orr and Douglas Hillman, thought West Michigan was becoming too isolationist. The original volunteers and meeting attendees were an elite group of people but now, decades later, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan has expanded their reach to a broad and diverse group of people, from students to retirees and everyone in between. 
 
Best known for its sponsorship of the award-winning Great Decisions Foreign Policy Discussion Series that began in the 1960s, the Council brings in think tank members, top policy makers, foreign diplomats, analysts from the CIA and the FBI, and more to speak every February and March. Around 250 people attend each of these events. 
 
Each year, the Foreign Policy Association (FPA) in New York City selects eight prominent foreign policy issues. Member organizations get the chance to vote on a range of topics and after the eight issues are finalized, the individual Councils choose speakers who can best share relevant insights.  
 
Anderson gets suggestions from other Councils, but after doing this for 18 years, she says she has "quite a rolodex of speakers."

The Great Decisions Foreign Policy Discussion Series is held every Monday evening at 6:00 p.m in February and March at the Performing Arts Center at Aquinas College. New this year, an additional session has been added on Tuesday mornings featuring the four March speakers. This one-hour series starts at 11:00 a.m. at the Gillette Auditorium in the Fifth Third Bank Building downtown and is geared more toward business people.
 
The events are open to everyone. Council members and some students pay $10 and non-members pay $15 per event. 
 
Students attending participating colleges and universities get in free as many offer credit through their political science or international departments. Currently, there are approximately 250 students involved and the Council provides a textbook for them to use, as well as posting the discussions on YouTube the next day. 
 
One Discussion Series speaker that Anderson is particularly excited about is Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council. Marashi is only 31, yet Anderson says he has a "sophisticated and nuanced view on the Iranian and U.S. relationship." He visited last fall and "blew everyone away" and now he's one of the first speakers they've had visit twice in the same year. He will be speaking March 4 and 5.  
 
The World Affairs Council wants to promote critical thinking and discussion on foreign policy. Anderson says people often question why they are bringing in certain people, but if she hears from both the left and the right, she knows she's doing her job well. 
 
When they brought former President George W. Bush here, Anderson received a lot of flack but says, "We accomplished our goal because everyone was talking about the Iraq war."
 
The Council hosts 30-40 events per year altogether, including webcasts and teleconferences. Each fall, they hold an anniversary dinner with a distinguished keynote speaker, and in May, they host a WorldQuest™ international trivia contest. 
 
A complete schedule of events can be found online and soon, a new website will be launched. If foreign policy issues interest you, here are some ways to get involved:
 
- Visit the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan online to find out more. 
- Find out more about the Great Decisions Discussion Series and download a brochure. 
- Watch this short video to find out more about the organization and see some of the former speakers. 
- Contact the organization if you'd like to donate or volunteer. 
- Like them on Facebook.
 
 
Source: Dixie Anderson, Executive Director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Photo: Myanmar River Taxi Rower, copyright and photo credit to Jerry Redfern.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Building bridges toward a brighter future

Next time you’re thinking about hiring someone for snow removal, lawn care, deck building, remodeling, or any other type of home project, consider contacting Building Bridges Professional Services. 
 
Not only will you receive professional services at reduced or competitive rates, but you’ll also give at-risk young adults an opportunity to earn money and gain valuable work, leadership, and cultural experiences. 

Building Bridges began in 2007 as a way to address youth violence and unemployment in the inner city by paying young adults to cut the grass at vacant and foreclosed homes. 

Now six years later, this program operated by Bethany Christian Services and Urban Family Ministries has grown to offer year-round, professional services to the community. 

Building Bridges provides work opportunities to low-income young adults, ages 16-24, with barriers to employment. The youth employed by Building Bridges may have previous criminal charges, be involved in the foster care system, come from a refugee family, or have difficulties finding a job for other reasons.

The Youth Services Department Manager at Bethany Christian Services, Justin Beene, also acts as the Program Director at Building Bridges. He says the program is "a hand up, not a hand out" and they encourage positive work habits. If an employee is late three times, for example, they are let go.  

The professional services Building Bridges offers include everything from snow removal to grass cutting, trimming, fall and spring cleanup, gutter cleaning, power washing, and more. They have recently added two licensed builders and a landscape architect, so now they can also provide remodeling, deck building, and landscaping services. 

Basically, if you have something inside or outside your home or business that needs to get done, ask them to give you a free estimate on the project. They prefer seasonal work, but can do one-time projects as well. 

Each project is managed by a site supervisor who will make sure the work gets done correctly. The company is also fully insured. Located within the Home Repair Services building on South Division, they primarily serve the southeast side of town, but they can perform work anywhere in Grand Rapids.    

In addition to earning money, youth also learn important personal and professional life experience. Once a week, the employees are invited to join in "enrichment activities" where they learn money management skills, interviewing and resume building techniques, anger management, and more. They visit colleges and local businesses and receive educational support as well.
 
On average, Building Bridges employs around eight youths during the summer months and four who work throughout the year. They each start out at minimum wage and get paid more with experience. 
 
"We believe work is an avenue to building character and transferrable skills," Beene says. 

The Building Bridges employees volunteer in the community as part of the program and also actively participate in the company by doing such tasks as creating the logo and marketing activities. The goal, Beene says, is "to mentor kids to take ownership in the company."

Building Bridges initially received grants from various organizations to start the program, and now about 50 percent of their funding comes from the fees they receive for services. They maintain many large contracts, including one for the Kent County Senior Millage that provides free lawn care to low-income seniors. 

The employees take pride in the work they do and don’t want people to hire them out of sympathy.  

"Hire us because we do an excellent job at a decent price," says Beene. 

If you'd like to help young adults build bridges toward a brighter future, here's how you can get involved: 

- Visit Building Bridges online to find out more. 
- Request an estimate to have work done around your house or business by filling out this form or by calling 616.574.7940. 
- To volunteer your time as a speaker or a mentor, or to donate hand tools and landscaping equipment, email Building Bridges.  
- Like them on Facebook
 
Source: Justin Beene, Youth Services Department Manager at Bethany Christian Services and also the Program Director at Building Bridges. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Building Bridges. 

Collecting and preserving West Michigan's history

For nearly 120 years, a group of devoted individuals has been collecting information about West Michigan's rich and diverse history. Their goal is to preserve accurate records so future generations will understand our past. 
 
The Grand Rapids Historical Society began in 1894 and currently has around 300 members. Memberships start at $30 and include The Grand River Times, a newsletter published eight times a year, and the Grand River Valley History, an annual magazine that just won an award from the State Historical Society. 
 
Members also get advance notice of the organization's monthly events. Every second Thursday, they offer a wide variety of program topics to educate the public about the history of Grand Rapids and the surrounding area. All events are free, with the exception of the annual May banquet. The Gerald R. Ford Museum co-sponsors most of the programs so the events are typically held at their location and average 50-100 attendees each month. 
 
The Grand Rapids Historical Society does not collect artifacts; they leave that up to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, and other organizations.
 
Rather, says President Gina Bivins, "We put on programs to educate people."
 
The Grand Rapids Historical Society often collaborates with other organizations on its programs as well. In March, they're partnering with the Greater Grand Rapids Women's Historical Council for a program called, "A Progressive Era Activist: Educator Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss." And in May, the Civil War Rountable group is co-sponsoring "Medical Myths & Misconceptions of the American Civil War."
 
On Feb. 14, Jennifer Moeling Metz from Past Perfect, Inc. is presenting a talk at the Gerald R. Ford Museum called, "Red-Lining and Auburn Hills: Developing an African-American Neighborhood in 1960s Grand Rapids."
 
Back in the 1960s, "red-lining" was used on maps to designate in which neighborhoods African Americans could live. At the time, many black professionals fought this blatant discrimination and eventually bought some land to develop their own neighborhood, which still exists today. The Auburn Hills neighborhood is located north of Leonard Street and east off Fuller Avenue. The Feb. 14 program will discuss how the white neighbors initially fought this development and despite their efforts, the first house was built in 1964.
 
Bivins and her husband Fred became lifetime Grand Rapids Historical Society members in 1979 because they both love history. She's also giving a talk in May about the people behind turn-of-the-century mug shots she found in a book at the Grand Rapids Public Museum where she works. 
 
"History is fascinating because it shows us where we came from,: says Bivins, and adds, "At every event, I always learn something unexpected."
 
In addition to the programs and publications, the Grand Rapids Historical Society hosts an online store featuring books and videos about West Michigan's history. Members receive discounts on their purchases. 
 
The Grand Rapids Historical Society is always looking for program speakers, new board members, committee assistance, and events to list in their newsletter that are hosted by other historical organizations. 
 
If you're a history buff or care about preserving West Michigan's rich and diverse history, here's how you can get involved with the Grand Rapids Historical Society: 
 
- Visit them online to find out more. 
- Attend an upcoming event. The next one is Feb. 14. 
- Purchase some of the many books, videos, and magazines produced by the Grand Rapids Historical Society. 
- Become a member and show your support for history. 
- Like them on Facebook
 
Source: Gina Bivins, President of the Grand Rapids Historical Society. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by the Grand Rapids Historical Society. The image of the Auburn Hills neighborhood is part of the Franks Family Archives. 
 

Boots on the ground to help cancer patients

A nonprofit organization that helps families affected by Leukemia, Lymphoma, and related blood cancers is opening a regional office in Grand Rapids soon, and in March, they’re hosting a swanky fundraiser at Reserve to benefit families in West Michigan.

The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan (CLF) has recently signed a lease for space in the McKay Tower and President and CEO William Seklar says he's "thrilled and delighted" to move into this historic building.

Founded in Detroit in 1952, CLF was started by a group of families who had each lost a child to Leukemia. Seklar says they came together at the kitchen table and decided they didn't want anyone else to "walk alone in this journey."

Now there are nearly 60 chapters around Michigan and the organization serves more than 4,400 families each year. The largest concentration of families -- around 25 percent -- is located in West Michigan, so it made sense to open an office here. CLF has been serving all of Michigan from its Southeast location, but Seklar says it's becoming less feasible to continue doing that.

"We need to have boots on the ground," he says.

This referral-based organization offers information, financial assistance, and emotional support to families when someone is diagnosed with Leukemia or another blood cancer. One of their main goals is to empower people with knowledge so they can make better decisions about their care.

"A cancer diagnosis affects the whole family," Seklar says. "More than half the clients CLF serves are at or below the poverty level, requiring them to make tough decisions about how to allocate already-stretched financial resources. At CLF, all our programs and services are free and no patient is ever turned away."

The good news is that the survival rate for someone diagnosed with Leukemia and related blood cancers is now 90 percent. When CLF first opened, the survival rate was only 10 percent.

It also used to be that adults were rarely diagnosed with the disease and it affected mostly children, hence the organization's name. Now, that has reversed and more adults are being diagnosed with Leukemia.  

In addition to opening an office in Grand Rapids, CLF is also hosting its first fundraiser here on March 9. CRUSH Grand Rapids Wine & Food Classic takes place at Reserve and it's one of several elegant CRUSH events held around the state.

This fundraiser, made possible by Dick and Betsy DeVos, will feature some of the leading chefs and sommeliers from Chicago and throughout Michigan. There will also be an awards ceremony honoring Dr. James B. Fahner, the director of pediatric hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, with its 2013 Pioneers in Medicine Award, and Varnum LLP with its Corporate Leadership Award.

All of the money raised from the event will stay in West Michigan to help patients and their families.

Soon, CLF will have a stronger presence here and be able to better serve local families affected by Leukemia and other blood cancers. If you would like to support them, here's how you can get involved:

- Visit the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan online to find out more.
- Attend the CRUSH Grand Rapids Wine & Food Classic event on March 9. 
- Donate to CLF. 
- Volunteer with CLF. 
- Like them on Facebook
- Follow @CLFMichigan on Twitter. 

Source: William Seklar, President and CEO of the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan.

"Magic in the Making" benefit for ACT

World-renowned tenor soloist Carlos Seise has never seen children with disabilities so well-behaved and to discover that creating art has that kind of effect surprises him.
 
This Grand Haven resident recently visited the Grand Rapids office of Artists Creating Together (ACT) to meet with Executive Director Michele Suchovsky. During his visit, around 15 children with disabilities were there painting.
 
“I was amazed to see how focused the kids were while painting,” says Seise. “I never thought art would help like that.”
 
Seise runs an organization called Evangelical Rural Community Center that educates around 1,200 children per year in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A small number of these children have disabilities and he says it's often difficult to get them to focus. Now that he's visited ACT and witnessed how art can make such an impact, he's impressed. 
 
"It was so much inspiration to my soul," he says. "It's proof that art can help your brain."
 
Seise started the Evangelical Rural Community Center 21 years ago to give rural children in Argentina a chance at an education. He says the program has been a success as many of the graduates now work as doctors, lawyers, and in other professional fields. Education changed Seise's life, and that's why he started the organization. 
 
"If you want to change a nation, you have to start with education," he says. 
 
Now Seise is helping children in West Michigan by performing a benefit concert called "Magic in the Making." The March 8 performance at Spring Lake High School will benefit ACT in Ottawa County. 
 
ACT is dedicated to connecting people with disabilities with art, artists, and art projects. They serve more than 8,500 children, youths, and adults per year and their art classes are open to anyone in West and Northwest Michigan. 
 
Prior to Seise's solo performance on March 8, the Pidgeon Creek Shakespeare Company will entertain the audience with a theatrical performance of Shakespeare's work.
 
Seise has traveled the world singing solo and performing the leading tenor role in numerous operas. His complete bio and videos can be found on his website. 
 
ACT is looking for sponsors for the "Magic in the Making" event, and volunteers are always needed at ACT, as well as cash or in-kind donations such as art supplies. If you'd like to become involved or attend the March 8 show, here's some information to get you started:
 
- Visit Artists Creating Together online to find out more. 
- Purchase tickets to the March 8 "Magic in the Making" event online. 
- Find out more information on the event page on Facebook. 
- Become an event sponsor by contacting Michele Suchovsky at 616-885-5866 or via email.
- Donate cash or art supplies to ACT. 
- Volunteer for ACT. 
- Like ACT on Facebook. 
 
Source: Tenor Carlos Seise
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Artists Creating Together and Carlos Seise.  
 


Rise up on V-Day!

One in three women around the world will be raped or beaten at some point in life. That means one billion women and girls will be affected by violence. 
 
One billion. 
 
If you find that unacceptable, join the One Billion Rising revolution and rise up on Feb. 14, also known as V-Day.
 
The V-Day global movement was created to gather strength in numbers and demand an end this violence. This year marks the 15th anniversary of V-Day events where women, men, and children walk out, dance, or rise up in protest. In conjunction with the anniversary, the One Billion Rising campaign was developed to show solidarity worldwide.
  
V-Day provides volunteers all over the globe with a coordinated way to create events that increase awareness, raise money, and inspire a world without violence against women and girls -- violence that includes rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery. 
 
More than 5,800 V-Day benefit events took place last year in the U.S. and globally, events occurred in 167 countries.  
 
In case you're wondering what the "V" means, the organization's website says, "The 'V' in V-Day stands for "Victory, Valentine, and Vagina." 
 
Pick whichever word you want, or all three, and then pick an event to attend that day. Grand Rapids has a few different options for you. 
 
The women-only "Dance to End Violence Against Women and Girls on V-Day" event at the Wealthy Theatre Annex is a night of free-form dance hosted by Awakened Potentials' president, Daina (Dinah) Puodziunas. 
 
She regularly hosts bi-weekly "Dancing From Within" dance nights there, providing a "fun, safe environment for women to free their inhibitions, fears, and other ways they withhold their authentic soul."
 
The music featured on Feb. 14 will be world beat and Puodziunas is asking for a $10 minimum donation to cover the cost of the room rental. Any proceeds will be donated to Women For Women International. 
 
As someone personally affected by violence, Puodziunas is "shocked" that so much of it still exists in today's world. She teaches women self-empowerment through mind and body awareness and wanted to participate in V-Day to raise awareness of this issue.  
 
"I know that if we don't rise up and take a stand, things won't change," she says. "It's up to us and the time is way past due."
 
Another V-Day dance event that's open to everyone is the "One Billion Rising: Grand Rapids Style" night at Eastern Avenue Hall, hosted by Chelsea Jandernoa. All ages are welcome and there is no entrance fee. A cash bar will be available. 
 
If you prefer a flash mob, Jessica Holmes is coordinating the "Grand Rapids Flash Mob One Billion Rising" dance event that takes place from 6-7 p.m. on Feb. 14. The location listed is the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and there are a few dance rehearsals posted on the event page.  
 
Sacred Beginnings, a transitional program for women recovering from human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and substance abuse, is hosting The Vagina Monologues at Davenport University. This award-winning play is based on V-Day Founder and Playwright Eve Ensler's interviews with more than 200 women, celebrating their sexuality and strength in a humorous yet graceful way. 
 
On Feb. 14, choose any one of these events and rise up to demand an end to violence against women and girls. One instance of violence is one too many. 
 
Here’s information about the organization and the various events happening in Grand Rapids: 

- Visit the V-Day website. 
- Visit the One Billion Rising website to learn more. 
- Like V-Day on Facebook
- Follow @VDay on Twitter. 
- Visit the Dancing From Within event page or the Facebook event. (Wealthy Theatre Annex from 6-7:45 p.m.) 
- Visit the One Billion Rising: Grand Rapids Style event page. (Eastern Avenue Hall from 5-11 p.m.) 
- Visit the Grand Rapids Flash Mob One Billion Rising event page. (Amway Grand Plaza Hotel from 6-7 p.m.)   
- Visit the Sacred Beginnings Vagina Monologues event page. (Davenport University at 6 p.m.) 
 
Sources: Daina (Dinah) Puodziunas with Awakened Potentials, and the One Billion Rising and V-Day websites
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images gathered from websites and provided by Awakened Potentials. 
 
 

Hope Network promotes new conversations about mental health

While celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Hope Network wants to initiate new dialogue surrounding mental health issues and how the community can provide better treatment. 

To kick off the conversation, they are sponsoring keynote appearances by former U.S. congressman Patrick Kennedy in March. The son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy has personally struggled with depression and bipolar disorder, and since leaving office in 2011, he has been devoting his time to raising awareness about the issues surrounding mental health. 
 
As the co-founder of One Mind for Research, Kennedy travels the nation advocating for removing the stigma about mental health and transforming policies relating to it. During his 16 years representing Rhode Island in the U.S. House of Representatives, he wrote and acted as the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity & Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which ensures access to mental health treatment to tens of millions of Americans who previously went without.
 
Kennedy is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids on March 25 and at the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club on March 26. Both events are open to the public and sponsored by Hope Network. 
 
Since 1963, Hope Network has been helping individuals gain more independence through its statewide specialty health and community services. With a holistic approach of caring for the whole person, they treat brain and spinal cord injuries, mental illness, and developmental disabilities as well as assist with transportation, residential services, and job training and placement. Headquartered in Grand Rapids, they operate with 2,700 staff members in 240 locations throughout Michigan and provide services to more than 20,000 people each year.  
 
How best to approach mental health is a complex issue and that's why Hope Network wants to initiate new conversations surrounding it in our state. Michigan is already one of the leading states in physical healthcare and now, with the proper focus and attention, it’s possible for our state to also be a leader in mental healthcare.
 
“We have a window of opportunity for Michigan to lead in this area,” says Executive VP Development & External Relations Ron Schutt. 
 
Schutt is a former Hope Network executive now acting as an independent consultant leading select mission-based initiatives for the nonprofit organization. He believes there should be an increase in public access to mental healthcare and treatment works best if integrated with physical healthcare. 
 
Right now, these two types of care often operate separately, but Schutt cites a study where the cost of treating a person's chronic physical disease -- diabetes, for example -- can be nearly 125 percent more when that person also suffers from a severe mental illness. He says this points to the need for a combined system so patients receive better care that costs less. 
 
After the public Economic Club talks, Kennedy and Hope Network executives will meet to discuss specific ways for Michigan to better integrate mental and physical healthcare.
 
The stigma surrounding mental health is a common reason why many people don't seek treatment. In addition, people often don't know where to turn when they are facing mental health issues, especially if they are uninsured. And to make matters even worse, the State of Michigan has cut non-Medicaid mental health care funding by $44 million since 2007.
 
"This isn't necessarily about throwing more money at the issue," Schutt says.
 
He suggests we need to find more innovative solutions to the problem, including educating the public and reducing the stigma, while also integrating mental healthcare with physical healthcare. 
 
When it comes to mental health issues, Schutt says it's important to diagnose the problem early and provide support before it becomes more severe. Early identification and prevention allow for much more cost-effective treatment as well.
 
If you want to know more about Hope Network’s mental health initiative or find out more about the March 25 and 26 events, here is some information: 
 
- Visit Hope Network online to learn more about them.  
- Register to attend the Econ Club’s March 25 event featuring Patrick Kennedy. 
- Find out more information about the March 26 event in Lansing
- Donate to support Hope Network's Michigan Mental Health initiative. 
- Visit the One Mind for Research website. 
- Download this PDF file to learn more about Patrick Kennedy. 
- Contact Ron Schutt for more information. 
- Like Hope Network on Facebook
- Follow @HopeNetworkNews on Twitter. 
 
Source: Ron Schutt, Executive VP Development & External Relations (Schutt is a former Hope Network executive who is now an independent consultant leading select mission-based initiatives for the state-wide nonprofit.); and Craig Clark of Clark Communications. 
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
 
Images provided by Hope Network and the Harry Walker Agency. 
 



One by one, Amway helps children around the world

With around 3 million distributors and 20,000 employees worldwide, Amway has plenty of people power. And when the generosity of these individuals is combined, it creates a powerful movement that positively impacts the lives of others.

During the last 10 years, Amway's altruistic distributors and employees have made a positive difference in the lives of 10 million children around the world and they will be celebrating this milestone throughout 2013. 

The Amway One by One Campaign for Children began in 2003 as a corporate initiative to consolidate giving and volunteer efforts on one social cause -- helping children. 

"We were already doing a lot of things but we were really unfocused," says Jesse Hertstein, Amway's Senior Corporate Citizenship Specialist. "This (campaign) was created to focus efforts."

The One by One Campaign is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and since it began, Amway distributors and employees have donated nearly 2.7 million volunteer hours to projects, causes, and organizations that benefit children. They've done this by working with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, government entities, and local organizations in the 100 countries around the world where Amway does business. 

Combined with corporate contributions, distributors and employees have donated $190 million to helping children through the One by One Campaign as well.  

Globally, the campaign's volunteers have positively impacted children's lives through projects such as providing the means for better nutrition in rural China, supporting welfare centers in South Korea, building homes for families in Guatemala, offering life-saving immunizations in Africa, giving books to libraries, and many other projects. 

Locally, Manager of West Michigan Community Relations David Madiol says the main focus is on education and the One by One Campaign partners with GRPS and Junior Achievement on various projects. Additionally, West Michigan volunteers help with children's hunger and wellness issues. 

Of the roughly 4,000 employees in West Michigan, more than half donate their time and talents to the One by One Campaign, equaling around 20,000 volunteer hours each year. 

And on an almost weekly basis, the campaign's volunteers can be found helping out at Kids' Food Basket. Amway's Operation Excellence Group also helped to streamline the packaging system at this nonprofit organization that ensures local children have enough to eat. After reviewing the sack supper packaging process, the group built a new workstation area that made the process more efficient. 

As one of the largest direct selling companies in the world, Amway has a lot of knowledge to offer the nonprofits they serve and currently, more than 50 percent of the company's executives sit on boards and committees in West Michigan. 

"We want to tie our expertise with our willingness to serve," says Nick Wasmiller, a Senior Public Relations Specialist with the company.

On Nov. 20, the One by One Campaign invites the community to help celebrate its 10th anniversary by participating in an event called the Amway Universal Children's Day. Hertstein says it will be a global day of service and anyone around the world can join Amway distributors and employees and participate.

"We know one day won't move the needle of every global social issue, but it's a demonstration of our commitment moving forward to help children for the next 10 years," he says. 

Helping children one by one is the goal of the Amway One by One Campaign for Children. If you would like to get involved and you're not an Amway distributor or employee, Hertstein asks that you volunteer your time or donate financially to local nonprofit organizations that make a positive impact in the lives of children and be sure to join them on Nov. 20. 

Here’s how you can find out more information:  

- Visit the One by One Campaign blog to find out more about the projects they are involved in around the world.
- Watch this short video about the 10th anniversary and helping 10 million children.
- Visit Amway online. 
- Like Amway on Facebook. 
- Follow @Amway on Twitter. 

Sources: Jesse Hertstein, Amway Senior Corporate Citizenship Specialist, David Madiol, Amway Manager of West Michigan Community Relations, and Nick Wasmiller, Senior Public Relations Specialist  
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Amway One by One Campaign for Children. 

United Way plans to cut high school dropout rate in half

Nearly 2,000 Kent County students dropped out of high school last year and the year before that, the numbers were the same.

To prevent that negative trend from continuing, the Heart of West Michigan United Way has developed a bold plan to decrease the dropout rate by 50 percent by the year 2020.

United Way's Education Vision Council recently created a strategy to reduce the high school dropout rate and they are now moving forward with their plan. The Council was created in early 2012 and co-chaired by Kevin Konarska, Kent ISD superintendent, and Lauren Walker, an executive at Amway. A cross-section of community leaders served on the Council as well.

Without a high school education, the lost lifetime earnings for these 2,000 students who dropped out last year equals around $500 million. This figure is calculated by taking into consideration the lower wages earned by these students, versus what those who graduate from high school or college earn. The need for government assistance for some of the high school dropouts factors in as well, and by making less income, these students will also contribute less in taxes.

There are a number of reasons why students drop out of high school, but the United Way and its Education Vision Council are focusing their efforts on one of the most preventable reasons -- having difficulties reading and understanding other basic skills.

A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation discovered that kids who don't read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. That's why the Council's plan puts early intervention and literacy skills as main priorities.

A part of United Way's Schools of Hope program has already been focusing on improving literacy and teaching basic skills for nearly 11 years. They currently have around 1,000 volunteers that tutor approximately 600 kids at several different area schools.

In addition, Schools of Hope has an after-school program operating at 22 sites locally and a family literacy program that teaches parents academic and English skills.

Vice President for Community Impact and Education Tony Campbell says there is "a direct correlation to a parent's educational ability with a student’s achievement level" and that's the reason for also helping the parents. All of the Schools of Hope programs will continue in addition to the new strategies recently developed. 

Going forward, the Education Vision Council recommends five solution teams that will work toward cutting the high school dropout rate in half by 2020. Two of these teams will focus on academic achievement, with a kindergarten readiness team and a K-12 team. The other three teams will tackle issues such as family housing, health, and employment.

These teams will work with a specific high dropout neighborhood yet to be announced and create intervention plans for various age groups. So, if a child falls behind and they're in that neighborhood, there will be a key intervention in place.

One of the key priorities is to make sure all students can read by the third grade. That's important, Campbell says, because "if you're behind at third grade, you never catch up."

Along with Education Vision Council members, anyone else in the community who wants to volunteer is encouraged to sign up for one of the solution teams. The contact information and other ways you can be involved with United Way are listed below.

-    Visit the Heart of West Michigan United Way online.
-    If you're interested in signing up for one of the Solution Teams, contact Ann Dard.
-    Other volunteer opportunities are always available. To find out more, visit the Volunteer Center on United Way's website.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @HWMUW on Twitter.

Source: Tony Campbell, VP for Community Impact and Education at the Heart of West Michigan United Way
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Writer

Images provided by the Heart of West Michigan United Way.

The MyGRcitypoints website adds new features

What began almost two years ago as an online program where people could earn rewards for recycling has now entered phase two. The City of Grand Rapids' MyGRcitypoints.com website has recently added two new two features that let people earn points and get involved in their communities.

The first new feature encourages people to volunteer with the incentive to earn rewards for their actions. The way it works is residents sign up for an account on the site and then volunteer for one of the featured opportunities. Afterward, they earn points that can later be redeemed for discounts on restaurants, services, and retail purchases.

Local First currently partners with the City to find area businesses to join the rewards program and now, the Heart of West Michigan United Way is partnering with the City to coordinate this new volunteer program. United Way already has its own Volunteer Center site with several hundred volunteer opportunities listed, and that will be used in conjunction with the MyGRcitypoints site.

The second new feature on MyGRcitypoints.com promotes involvement in the community by highlighting different campaigns. The first campaign is called Park Makeover and it will benefit the Parks Alive program of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

With this campaign, users vote by donating their volunteer or recycling points for their favorite City owned park. The park that gets the most points will earn a park makeover worth up to $50,000. Two runners-up will each earn $10,000 park spruce-ups.

The City of Grand Rapids is sponsoring this first campaign and using money from a minor capital improvement fund. The money is allocated to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks anyhow, but with the Park Makeover campaign, people in the community get to decide which parks will benefit from the money.

Phase one of the MyGRcitypoints program was developed to encourage recycling in the City limits. There are now around 10,000 users and the program has increased recycling by 80 percent. This new second phase is open to anyone in West Michigan, and not just City residents.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom says the key with phase two of MyGRcitypoints is not so much about earning points, but instead about "keeping local dollars local and building communities." He believes these two actions are important for our city's future.

More volunteer opportunities and new campaigns will be added to the site soon. Sundstrom acknowledges that they don't have everything fully figured out yet and that's why they wanted to start with one campaign and limited volunteer opportunities.

"But we are one of the first communities to do this and that sets Grand Rapids apart from other cities," he says. "It's kind of a radical idea."

The City is open to suggestions for the site and ideas for future campaigns that will motivate people to get involved in the community.

"All we've done is build the platform," says Sundstrom. "Others can now help figure out what to do with it."

If you'd like to earn rewards for your volunteer or recycling efforts, or participate in the Park Makeover campaign, here's how to get involved:

-    Visit MyGRcitypoints online to find out more.
-    Sign up to start earning points.
-    Contribute any points you already have to your favorite Grand Rapids Park in the Parks Makeover campaign.
-    Volunteer to earn points.
-    If your nonprofit needs volunteers, fill out this form.
-    If your business wants to donate a reward, fill out this form.
-    If you are interested in starting a new campaign, contact Project Manager Jasmine Olsen.
-    Like MyGRcitypoints on Facebook
-    Follow @myGRcitypoints on Twitter.

Source: Greg Sundstrom, Grand Rapids City Manager
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Logo provided by the City of Grand Rapids.

Design For Good

Good design can be more than merely aesthetics. It has the ability to solve problems, change thinking, and “do good” for the community. And nowhere is that concept more evident than at a Design For Good (DFG) event.

DFG is the brainchild of Doug Powell, the president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). The idea is quite simple -- get a group of designers in a room for a limited amount of time and ask them to come up with good designs for nonprofit organizations doing good in the community.

This mutually beneficial event gives creative people the opportunity to improve their design skills and thinking by collaborating with others to develop solutions. At the same time, nonprofits with a worthy cause and a minimal budget benefit from good design.   

Founded in 2009, AIGA West Michigan is one of the fastest growing chapters in the country with nearly 300 members. They are also one of the first AIGA chapters to implement a DFG event and others have modeled their events after it.

In September 2011, around 40-50 designers, illustrators, web developers, industrial designers, writers, project managers, and other creative types volunteered their talents for 24 hours to develop “designs for good” for five local nonprofits: Carol's Ferals, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kids' Food Basket, and Seeds of Promise.

This year, DFG West Michigan is expanding the event to a whole weekend and it will take place April 12-14. They are currently accepting applications for creative volunteers and nonprofit organizations. The deadline to apply online is March 1.

Nonprofits wishing to take advantage of the DFG talent need to being doing work that supports or gives back to West Michigan in some way. They also need to have a project that can be finished in a weekend. Obviously, projects such as a full ad campaign or a 50-page website aren’t realistic.

Once selected, the nonprofit will be asked to create a design brief and then meet with a team leader prior to the April DFG event to refine the project’s goals and manage expectations. Someone from the organization will also have to attend the initial kick-off meeting and the final presentation, and there is a $200 fee to help cover the cost of food and supplies.

The location for the event is yet to be determined and DFG Director Jon Czeranna is looking for a place that will allow the group 24-hour access. Instead of locking the volunteers in a room for 24 hours as they did in 2011, volunteers will be able to come and go this time. Czeranna says he realizes that some people work better in the morning and some thrive late at night so he wants to allow people to participate when it best matches their work habits.

Czeranna is also seeking partners and sponsors to help cover the cost of the event or to donate goods and services.

“We’re trying to make sure the designers are fed, their brains are working, and the coffee pots are full,” he says.

As the Creative Director at Alexander Marketing, Czeranna believes good design is comprised of three elements: a strategy; empathy for the client, their customers, and their challenges; and the actual craft of design. He says bad design usually lacks one of these three elements.

With that in mind, the DFG teams will be developing a strategy and empathy before starting on the designs.

AIGA West Michigan would like the DFG conversation to continue throughout the year so they’re considering another event in September with a speaker sharing thoughts on “designing for good.” A workshop is another possibility.

“DFG West Michigan is a movement poised to harness the power of design thinking to help great organizations solve real problems with good design,” Czeranna says.

One of the DFG speakers being looked at for this fall is Matt Dimmer. He started TheExtraMile.org, which is a site that collects frequent flyer miles from people to help others visit ill or dying loved ones.

“He exemplifies what DFG is all about,” says Czeranna. “He saw a real need for a problem to be solved and he solved it through design.”

So, if you’re a creative type who likes a challenge and wants to “do good” for your community, DFG would like you to sign up and join them April 12-14. Or if your nonprofit has a worthy cause and could benefit from good design, DFG wants you as well.

Here are some ways you can “do good” with Design For Good:

-    Visit the Design For Good West Michigan website for more information and to get involved.
-    Volunteer your creative talent for the April 12-14 weekend. Sign up on the website by March 1. 
-    Register your nonprofit to benefit from creative problem solving. The deadline is March 1.
-    Become a partner or sponsor of the April event by contacting Jon Czeranna.
-    Visit the AIGA West Michigan website to find out more about the organization.
-    Like AIGA West Michigan on Facebook.
-    Follow @aigawestmi on Twitter.

Source: Jon Czeranna, Director of Design For Good West Michigan, AIGA West Michigan Board Member, and the Creative Director at Alexander Marketing
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by AIGA West Michigan.





Grant Writers Roundtable shares best practices

Grant writing is often solitary work. Many of the people in the fundraising or development world have many face-to-face meetings, but not grant writers. They sit quietly at their desks alone and write to foundations and corporations requesting money to fund projects.

“It’s a different personality that does this type of work,” says Steven de Polo, the Director of Foundation Giving at Grand Valley State University.

In June 2008, de Polo though it would be a good idea to have discussions with other grant writers so he started the Grant Writers Roundtable of Grand Rapids (GWR). GWR is a professional, yet informal, networking and support group for West Michigan grant writers and foundation relations officers who raise money through the written word.

The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month from noon to 1:30 p.m., with an average of around 20 people attending each time. The meetings are free and guests may bring a bag lunch.

GWR is not only for grant writers -- anyone is welcome. Foundation relations officers, recent grads, communication professionals, and representatives from various local nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, corporations, and universities attend the meetings as well.

Some of the attendees have never written a grant, and de Polo says that's okay, but stresses that these meetings are not classes. If people want to learn how to write grants, GWR has book recommendations on its site and grant writing classes are offered at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and elsewhere.

The GWR meetings take place at a different location each month -- mostly at nonprofit organizations so members can learn more about them.

“We’re all basically nonprofit nerds,” says de Polo, explaining the rationale.

GWR is always seeking new places willing to host around 25 people with AV equipment available for presentations.

Volunteer guest speakers are also wanted. Each month, speakers such as foundation program officers, writing communication professionals, or experts on various subjects share their insights with the group. In addition to focusing on best practices, topics shared in the past include social media, project and time management, public speaking, presentation skills, and more.

GWR also shares articles, job postings, and a list of writers on its website and Facebook page.

The skill in grant writing is “about telling the story and being very clear,” de Polo says. “Anyone can do it as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing and understand it.”

He adds that grant writers can’t just walk over to a local foundation and ask for money. A grant proposal has to be written for a specific project and de Polo says there are deadlines, guidelines, and bureaucracy.

“If you’re impatient, you’re not going to do this type of work,” he says.

The work can be challenging and that’s why de Polo wants GWR members to share best practices and what they’ve learned so people “don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”  

GWR also fosters collaboration among nonprofits -- which the foundations encourage -- and provides opportunities for mentoring those who are new to grant writing.

The next GWR meeting is on Feb. 20 at noon at the Pregnancy Resource Center. Jason Zylstra, senior program officer with the RDV Corporation, will be speaking. The rest of the schedule can be found online.

If you want to get involved with GWR, here’s how you can:

-    Visit Grant Writers Roundtable online to find out more about the organization.
-    Join the group by contacting Steven de Polo.
-    Sign up to receive the newsletter.
-    Like the group on Facebook.
-    Attend one of the month meetings held on the third Wednesday of each month from noon - 1:30 p.m.  The locations vary so check the website or Facebook page for more information.

Source: Steven de Polo, Founder of the Grant Writers Roundtable and also the Director of Foundation Giving for University Development at Grand Valley State University
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Grant Writers Roundtable.  

Renters have rights, too

If you're renting a house or an apartment and have an issue with your landlord, what happens if you can't afford to move or hire an attorney?

While most landlords respect their tenants' privacy and maintain the homes they own, unfortunately not all do. And when there is little money to move or pay for legal advice, sometimes renters feel stuck and are unsure what to do.

A few years ago, a group of 21 organizations came together to discuss housing issues and they realized there was a lack of resources for people in this situation. The Kent County Renters' Alliance (KCRA) was born out of that discovery and opened its doors in September 2011 to offer renters free legal advice and more.

When the foreclosure crisis happened, the people who lost their homes became renters and many foreclosed homes were also converted to rental properties. Both of these factors changed the dynamics of neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

Director Kym Spring says that “between 2006 and 2009, there was a 70 percent increase in families renting single family homes -- that drove the bus.”

With this substantial increase in renters and minimal resources, she says many renters were “falling through the cracks.” Just in 2010 alone, more than 10,000 evictions went through the court system and a good number of them may have been preventable.

The mission of KCRA is “to promote fair renting practices, ensure tenant rights are upheld, and support permanent, quality, housing for all.” Their focus is on legal services, education and information, and organizing and advocacy.

No matter what their income, renters can visit KCRA on the first and third Mondays of every month from 12 - 2 p.m. to get their questions answered and receive free legal advice about landlord-tenant issues. KCRA is located inside the Steepletown Neighborhood Services building at 671 Davis NW.

No appointment is needed and renters are asked to bring in their lease and any other documentation that might be relevant. Spanish translation is also available if necessary.

Volunteer law students meet with the renters first to find out more about their situation. They make a list of questions for the attorney, who is also a volunteer. At the end of the meeting, written recommendations are given to the renter, along with a packet of information.

KCRA’s program was developed in collaboration with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and the Legal Assistance Center. Cooley provides the law students for the Monday sessions and coordinates the volunteer attorneys from around the community.

In addition to offering free legal advice, KCRA advocates for housing policy changes and encourages tenants to get involved as well. Their goal is to ensure everyone has access to safe and affordable housing. Organizers recently advocated to have all rental properties inspected and the City of Grand Rapids started doing this in July.

Resource materials to help educate renters on their rights can also be found on the organization’s website and are included in the information packet handed out to clients. One of the resources is the State of Michigan Tenant and Landlord Guide, which is a comprehensive booklet of renters’ rights. Links to other helpful nonprofit organizations are listed on the website as well.

KCRA averages around five clients each Monday they are open. So far, they’ve offered free legal advice to 155 clients since opening in 2011.

Going forward, the organization would like to find longer term funding so they can be sustainable. Since it began, KCRA has received funding from the Dyer-Ives Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters, Heart of West Michigan United Way, Steelcase Foundation, and Slemons Foundation.

Currently, Steepletown Neighborhood Services acts as KCRA's 501(c)3 fiduciary organization.

More attorneys are always needed and those wishing to donate a few hours of their time each month can contact Cooley using the information below. Since Spring is the only employee, she would welcome other volunteers as well to help greet people and deliver brochures.

With free legal advice, education and training, and advocacy on behalf of renters, housing stability will improve, ensuring an abundance of healthy neighborhoods throughout our communities.

If you’d like to get involved with the Kent County Renters’ Alliance, here’s how you can:

-    Visit the Kent County Renters’ Alliance online to find out more.
-    Stop by Steepletown Neighborhood Services at 671 Davis NW on the first and third Monday of every month from 12-2 p.m. to get free legal advice about your rental situation. No appointment is necessary; just bring all of your paperwork with you.
-    If you’re an attorney who would like to volunteer your time, contact Karen Rowlader at Cooley Law School.
-    Donate financially to Steepletown Neighborhood Services and indicate you'd like your money to go toward KCRA.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Kym Spring, Director of Kent County Renters’ Alliance
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Kent County Renters’ Alliance.  

Eat out, do good

Let’s say you and your friends are eating at a local restaurant tonight. If you knew the restaurant you chose would positively impact someone's life, would you choose that restaurant instead of another one that wouldn't?

FoodCircles hopes so. Since 2011, they have been helping to feed hungry children with their easy-to-use web and mobile applications. All you have to do is sign up, choose a participating restaurant and charity, and a child gets a meal. Plus, you get deals, too. It's really that simple.

Here's how the process works. Visitors sign up at the FoodCircles website or through the mobile app, which works with iOS or Android. Then, when you're ready to eat out, choose from the participating restaurants and select a discount option based on the number in your party. Next, choose your charity. Once you're done, you can either have FoodCircles call ahead to the restaurant or you can get a voucher to print or show on your mobile phone.

So far, more than 1,200 meals have been donated to children through FoodCircles and its two nonprofit charities. How's that for "feel good dining?"

Founder Jonathan Kumar came up with the idea when he and his friends didn't want to cook. They wondered if restaurants would give them any deals if they combined their “buying power” and then wondered how to harness that “power” for good.

Kumar says the idea is sort of like a “Groupon for good.”

FoodCircles currently partners with Kids' Food Basket locally and World Vision internationally to help feed children. They were chosen because Kumar believes they are doing something quantified with little money and their work goes beyond just throwing money at the problems.

“We picked two good ones doing awesome things,” he says.

Right now, the participating restaurants pay a monthly fee to be a FoodCircles member and for every group that eats at their restaurant, $1 is donated out of that amount to the charities.

Restaurants benefit from the program by getting more diners, gaining social credibility, and having the satisfaction of knowing they are helping children.  

A few years in and FoodCircles is now experimenting with some new ideas. Their upcoming “Buy One, Feed One” program, also known as BOFO, will let people buy appetizers, drinks, or desserts for a dollar and 100 percent of the money will go to charity.

“Buy One, Feed One is more symbolic than literally about food,” says Kumar.

He’s hoping to partner with some new nonprofits and they may not necessarily feed people, but help them in other meaningful ways.

FoodCircles is soon going to be sharing its mobile technology with nonprofits. Right now, Kumar and his team are creating mobile app for Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank that will allow people to donate, volunteer, or choose to eat at a FoodCircles restaurant by using the app. The nonprofit organization will get to keep 100 percent of all donations and when people choose to dine out on their behalf, FoodCircles will take a percentage.  

Kumar says he's also asking the mobile app customers to help him get more restaurant customers. The nonprofit will have a choice of either paying a one-time fee to have the mobile app developed, or they can sign up a certain number of new restaurants with the FoodCircles program and get the app free.
 
With around 700 Grand Rapids users, FoodCircles has 18 restaurants to choose from right now and they are adding four more over the next few weeks: CitySen, One Trick Pony Grill and Taproom, Two Beards Deli, and Louie Benton Steakhouse.   

Eventually, Kumar would like to expand the program nationwide and hopes to be in 10 new states by the end of the year. Locally, they are launching the FoodCircles program in Allendale, Grand Haven, and Muskegon in the next few months.

“Grand Rapids is our sandbox, our test market,” Kumar says.  

Since FoodCircles would like to add a lot of new restaurants to its Grand Rapids program this year, Kumar is willing to take a gamble and offer to buy dinner to anyone who signs up a restaurant. Restaurant owners and staff are eligible, yet there are some restrictions to this offer so contact Kumar for full details.

Before you eat out next time, consider using the FoodCircles program and let your dollars “do good.” Here’s how you can get started:

-    Visit FoodCircles online to find out more about how the program works.
-    Download the mobile app or register online to start using FoodCircles. 
-    Before eating out, visit the site and choose one of the FoodCircles restaurants.
-    Consider using FoodCircles when ordering food for your next big event.
-    If you don't see your favorite restaurant on the site, have them contact Kumar to be added. Or, if your own restaurant wants to participate, contact him to find out more.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @FoodCircles on Twitter.

Source: Jonathan Kumar, Founder of FoodCircles
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by FoodCircles.



Women's Resource Center honors employers who empower women

Each year since 1987, the Women’s Resource Center has honored local employers who have made significant contributions to help the women in their organizations succeed. These companies are recognized for empowering women through their innovative and progressive recruitment, retention, and advancement policies. The Women’s Resource Center considers them to be “pillars of support” and their efforts are highlighted at the annual Huntington Pillar Awards luncheon.

The 24th annual Huntington Pillar Awards luncheon will take place this year on Thursday, March 21 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the award recipients have recently been announced for this public event.

Express Employment Professionals, Porter Hills Retirement Communities, and an employer-led, re-entry initiative called 30-2-2 will each be recognized for empowering women in the workplace and for their commitment to talent diversity.

As this year is the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), the Pillar Awards will occur during a yearlong celebration of the organization’s longevity. Executive Director Sharon Caldwell-Newton estimates WRC will serve its 40,000th client sometime this summer, too.

Currently, WRC works with approximately 1,000 women a year. These women are typically unemployed or underemployed and many are going through a life transition such as a divorce or the loss of a job they’ve held for many years.

While the WRC tends to work with low-income, single mothers or women who’ve had a criminal record in the past, Caldwell-Newton says the “doors are always open” to anyone.

WRC helps the women with resume building, interview practice, wardrobe assistance, job searching, career development, and more. Basically, Caldwell-Newton says her organization provides ways for the women to “get on their feet again.”  

“Women’s Resource Center impacts hundreds of women and their families each year,” she says. “Not only do we help them prepare for and secure employment, but we help them find their self-confidence and hope for the future.”

To start working with the organization, new clients are asked to attend a free, hour-long orientation session, usually offered twice a week. They get a tour and learn about all of the services available to them.

Regardless of what employment services are needed, rebuilding the women’s confidence is one of the first steps in helping them achieve economic independence and that’s what WRC focuses on.
 
Tickets for the March 21 Huntington Pillar Awards luncheon are $60 each, or $650 for a reserved table with 10 seats. It runs from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and more than 500 business and community leaders are expected to attend. Guests will learn more about the award winners’ best practices in empowering women and how that benefits the community as a whole.

“These employers understand the value women bring to their operation and that the return on investment of workplace diversity and best practices is worth the initial cost and effort,” says Caldwell-Newton.

WRC expects to raise approximately $50,000 at the event and it will use this to continue helping unemployed and underemployed women find meaningful careers.

The organization is always looking for volunteers, donations, and employers willing to hire WRC’s female clients. If you’d like to get involved, here is more information:

-    Visit the Women’s Resource Center online to find out more about them.
-    Attend the Huntington Pillar Awards luncheon on Thursday, March 21 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
-    Become a sponsor of the Pillar Awards by calling 616-458-5443 ext. 114 or visiting the website.  
-    Volunteer your time and skills.
-    Donate to the Women’s Resource Center.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @grwrc on Twitter.

Source: Sharon Caldwell-Newton, Executive Director at the Women's Resource Center
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Women’s Resource Center.

MAKERS: The Women Who Make America

Look around you. Chances are, you’ll notice a woman or a girl who is doing something exceptional. She may be famous, or she may live right next door. Either way, she is making a difference in America.

As part of the WGVU Engage outreach and community engagement programs, a three-year inclusion initiative called Women and Girls Lead honors and empowers these exceptional women and girls.  

On Feb. 7, they’re hosting a screening event at Celebration! Cinema North to launch MAKERS: Women Who Make America, a national video and broadcast initiative. WGVU Public Media, PBS, and AOL are behind the launch of this dynamic, multi-platform collection of women’s stories highlighting the contributions that have shaped America.

In the documentary, women such as Katie Couric, Ellen DeGeneres, Billie Jean King, Maya Lin, Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem, and many more share the story of the women’s movement and how it changed our country.

The WGVU Engage Women and Girls Lead organization began in 2011 and is part of a national public media initiative that, according the website, is “designed to focus, educate, and connect women, girls, and their allies across the globe to address the challenges of the 21st century.”

The idea is to empower women and girls to step into leadership roles, improve their communities, and to be innovative. The local group hosts a few events each year and their focus is on making positive changes in three areas: healthy living, ending violence, and leadership.

“Women and girls everywhere are stepping into leadership roles and while we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go and more we can do,” says Steering Committee Co-Chair Deidra McClelland. “Women and Girls Lead has the ability to raise awareness around issues facing women and girls.”

As part of the Women and Girls Lead initiative, WGVU will also air more than 40 documentaries geared toward women and girls and those who support them. MAKERS: Women Who Make America is one of those documentaries and it will be shown in its entirety on Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. on PBS.

At the Feb. 7 “MAKERS: Women Who Inspire” event, there will be a short 15-20 minute screening of the film followed by interviews with local “MAKERS” and a panel discussion led by Shelley Irwin, host of the WGVU Morning Show.

The Women and Girls Lead Steering Committee has nominated 22 Michigan “MAKERS” and four will participate on the panel. The four panelists include: Avery McNew, Nicki Hurley, Synia Jordan, and Dr. Patricia Quattrin. A special recognition for the accomplishments of the late Eva McCall Hamilton will take place as well.

Local women and girls of all ages were nominated. The youngest is Avery McNew, an 8-year-old who won a national “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge” and became one of 54 children attending the first Kids State Dinner with First Lady Michelle Obama.  

Locally, more than 100 women and girls -- and a couple guys -- have joined the Women and Girls Lead advisory council and are working toward moving this initiative forward in West and Southwest Michigan. If you would like to get involved, here are some ways you can:

-    Visit Women and Girls Lead online to find out more.
-    Attend the local MAKERS: Women Who Inspire event on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at Celebration! Cinema North. Order your free tickets online or call WGVU at 1-800-442-2771. (Each guest will receive a $2 coupon for any combo.)
-    To see a preview of MAKERS: Women Who Make America and find out more, visit MAKERS online.
-    Watch the full MAKERS movie on PBS on Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.
-    Contact Linda Kennedy at 616-331-6777 or email her if you want to support Women and Girls Lead and be on the Advisory Council.
-    Like Women and Girls Lead – Engage on Facebook.
-    Like MAKERS on Facebook.

Source: Deidra McClelland, WGVU Engage Women and Girls Lead Steering Committee Co-Chair
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the WGVU Engage Women and Girls Lead initiative.

Warmer weather brings more kittens

Whether climate change is the reason or not, it has definitely been warmer in Michigan this past fall and winter. This means the breeding cycle of cats is now occurring all year long.

“Don’t think cats only have kittens in the spring and summer,” says Carol Manos, the founder and executive director of Carol’s Ferals.

Carol’s Ferals is an organization that has a mission of ending the feline overpopulation in West Michigan. They accomplish this by educating the community and through their Trap-Neuter-Return program. 

With around 60 active volunteers, the organization spayed or neutered more than 1,300 cats in 2012 and also found new homes for at least 200 cats.
 
“We broke all records this year,” Manos says.

She says it’s been an unusual year because of the warmer weather late in the season. Unfortunately, this means many kittens were born when it’s too cold for them to survive. Manos believes this “sad truth” and the feline overpopulation can be easily prevented if all stray or feral cats are fixed, and that it’s the responsibility of the community to help make sure this happens.

The idea behind the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program is that by fixing the stray or feral cats around your neighborhood and then returning them to where they were found, it prevents even more cats from being born.

Manos says TNR is basically “controlling your neck of the woods.”

The reason this is important is that by fixing only one female cat, it prevents another 11,000 cats from being born. A cat’s first litter can contain as many as 12 kittens. Within six months, these kittens can start having their own litters. Considering the breeding cycle of cats is only three months, one can see how quickly the situation can get out of control.

So, what do you do when you see a stray or feral cat in your neighborhood?

“Don’t wait,” says Manos.

If you’ve never trapped a cat before, the Carol’s Ferals website contains a lot of information and resources to get you started. The first step, Manos suggests, is to fill out the needs assessment form on their website. This will alert a volunteer who will respond to you within a day.

“Don’t trap a cat without a plan,” Manos adds.

Once a cat is brought in and fixed, it can then be returned to where it was found, or if it’s a friendly stray, it might be lucky enough to find a home. Carol’s Ferals has a cat re-homing program that includes a posting on PetFinder.com.  

In some cases, feral cats can also find a new home in a barn somewhere spending their days catching mice. Manos says these “mousers are the green alternative to rodent control.”

Applications can be found on the organization’s website for those wishing to adopt a friendly cat or a barn cat, and also for those who have the ability to foster cats or kittens. When kittens are too young to be fixed, a foster parent is required to take care of them until they’re older. Carol’s Ferals provides everything that is needed, however, the person must have transportation to get the kittens to and from the facility.

Right now, Carol’s Ferals has approximately 120 cats or kittens at their facility or in foster homes waiting for adoption. Open adoptions take place each Sunday from 2-5 p.m. and Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. at the northeast side facility. 

Manos stresses that taking in unwanted pets is not a part of their mission. She also asks that people don’t just drop off stray or feral cats without filling out the needs assessment form first and speaking with a volunteer. They take in cats three nights a week and like to know what they’re getting ahead of time. 

Since there are no paid employees at this nonprofit, voicemail and email are not always checked daily by the volunteers. The best way to reach the organization is through the website -- either through the needs assessment form or by filling out an application to adopt, foster, or volunteer.

Volunteers are always needed at Carol’s Ferals and for a variety of duties. Veterinary students who want to volunteer can receive hands-on training as well. Financial donations and supplies are always appreciated, too, and a list of items needed is on the website.
 
Since 2006, Carol’s Ferals has fixed more than 6,300 cats, making a big dent in reducing the feline population in West Michigan. Next time you see a stray or feral cat roaming around your neighborhood, contact them. Here’s how to get more information and become involved:

Source: Carol Manos, Founder and Executive Director at Carol’s Ferals
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Carol’s Ferals, with photography by Claire McGinn.

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.

Aquinas College aims to be a zero waste campus by 2014

Anyone who has ever been to a beer tent knows how much trash piles up by the end of the day. Large trashcans are usually overflowing with plastic cups and evidence of the massive amounts of food consumed with the beer. The scene isn’t exactly an environmentally friendly one.

Now imagine a beer tent serving more than 1,500 people and ending up with only two small bags of trash. Sound impossible? It’s not if the majority of the waste is recyclable or compostable.

For Homecoming weekend at Aquinas College this year, the Center for Sustainability there wanted to try something different -- a zero waste initiative. Working in collaboration with the Center, the Alumni Relations department and a student group called Students Driving for Sustainability (S3) spent many months planning ways to reduce the amount of trash that could eventually end up in the landfill from this event.

As a result, a beer tent that weekend produced only two small bags of trash. The rest of the waste was split between 16 bags of recyclable material and 12.5 bags of compostable material.

An 11-member, volunteer zero waste team was positioned at multiple waste stations throughout the campus for the Sept. 29 Homecoming weekend. They guided people on which items should go in the recycle, compost, or trash bins.

Prior to Homecoming weekend, the team contacted every vendor and asked that the items they used be either recyclable or compostable.

“We ended up composting or recycling 95 percent of the waste that day,” says the Center’s Program Director, Jessica Eimer.

Another waste eliminating effort the Center for Sustainability initiated was to reduce the amount of Homecoming weekend communication materials printed. An event app was created for attendees instead of a multiple-page printed program, with technical training provided to those who needed it. Mailings were cut to a fourth of what they were in previous years and Eimer says reducing overall paper use is a big focus throughout the campus. 
 
Aquinas currently has one of the most aggressive zero waste initiatives among colleges across the nation. As a part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, they had originally committed to becoming a zero waste campus by 2020. Confident about their sustainability program, the campus has now bumped up that deadline to 2014.

Their zero waste team plans to work in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students to reduce waste by 25 percent each semester for the next two years through education and campus-wide composting and recycling efforts. A zero waste website is being developed as well.

Eimer says the zero waste initiative is “an opportunity to educate the campus community on how to compost and recycle waste properly.”

Zero waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, means that 90 percent or more of the waste is diverted from the landfill or incinerator and recycled or composted instead.

“We are aiming to get to as close to 100 percent as possible,” says Eimer.

She believes that zero waste education, along with making it easier for people to compost and recycle, will play an important role in changing the culture at Aquinas and allow them to meet their 2014 goal.  

To find out more about the Zero Waste Initiative at Aquinas and support this effort:

-    Visit the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College online to find out more.
-    Donate to the Zero Waste Initiative at Aquinas. Your contribution will help cover the cost of additional collection containers, educational efforts, and the on-going waste audits. Make checks payable to Aquinas College and mail to Jessica Eimer, 1607 Robinson Rd. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.

Source: Jessica Eimer, Program Director, Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College.

Keeping jazz alive and well in West Michigan

The diverse musical style known as jazz began in New Orleans more than 100 years ago.

And almost 27 years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers led by the late Betty Forrest formed the West Michigan Jazz Society in order to create a culture of live jazz in our community. Based on the thousands of people who attend the weekly Jazz at the Zoo summer concerts, and the incredible turnout at the first-ever jazz festival downtown in August, it seems they have succeeded. Jazz is alive and well in West Michigan.
 
The West Michigan Jazz Society (WMJS) exists to preserve the legacy of jazz in our area and they do this by organizing and promoting live jazz events throughout the year and through their support of young jazz musicians.  

Each year, the organization awards college scholarships to high school students studying jazz. Interest income from the jazz scholarship fund pays for the program and WMJS welcomes financial donations to go specifically toward this fund. They hope to expand it in the coming years and offer more students scholarships.

Another way they support young jazz musicians is by featuring local high school bands at the summertime Jazz at the Zoo concerts. This past June, musicians from the East Kentwood High School jazz band kicked off the popular Monday night outdoor concert series and high school jazz bands often play during breaks for the regular acts.

The Jazz at the Zoo concerts celebrated their 12th season this summer. From June through August, an eclectic crowd of more than 1,000 attends the weekly outdoor shows Monday nights at the John Ball Park Bandshell. People bring chairs, blankets, picnics, and sometimes even their dogs. Event sponsorships and donations collected each week keep the concerts free so everyone can enjoy them.

Jazz at the Zoo acts have included the Beltline Big Band, Grupo Ayé, Edye Evans Hyde, Mary Rademacher Reed, the Mark Kahny Band, the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, and more, offering a variety of styles for every taste.

When the weather turns colder, Monday night jazz heats up and moves inside the B.O.B. The second floor Bobarino’s is the venue for the monthly concerts held fall through spring. Audiences are treated to a lively jazz performance, along with a special dinner menu and wine specials. Students and WMJS members pay only $5 to get in and nonmembers pay $10. Members may also park for free in the B.O.B. parking lot the night of the shows.

Max Colley III played the first Monday Night Jazz concert in October to a sold-out crowd. The next show is Nov. 19 and will feature Benje and Ashley Daneman backed by the Western Jazz Quartet.

Future dates and performers for this series include:
-    Jan.  21 - The Jim Cooper Quintet
-    Feb. 18 - Vocalist Kathy Lamar and pianist Bob VanStee
-    March 18 - Saxophonist Chris Bickley and The Maiden Voyage
-    April 15 - Steve Talaga, Tom Lockwood, Scott Veenstra, and Diane VanderWater

WMJS currently has around 550 regular members and 50 lifetime members. They receive discounts to events and the monthly Jazz Notes newsletter, which highlights area performances and stories about the musicians. Memberships start at $10 for students, $25 for individuals, and go on up to the $250 lifetime member option.

WMJS memberships help to ensure that the organization’s events are free or have a low admission cost so everyone can attend.   

“Our goal is to break even,” says Board President John Miller. “We’re not trying to make money on the events.”

He adds that the WMJS board and people who help with the events are all volunteers -- “no one makes any money.”

Encouraging a thriving jazz community is what WMJS is all about. In addition to the events they host, they also help promote local shows through their Facebook page and the Jazz Notes newsletter. This summer, they acted as the nonprofit fiduciary for the first annual GRandJazzFest initiated by jazz aficionado Audrey Sundstrom, helping her make the event happen.  

There is no shortage of talented jazz musicians in West Michigan either and each year, WMJS honors one that stands out. Mark Kahny was the 2012 winner, with Edye Evans Hyde and John Shea each nominated the two years prior. A complete list of winners is on the WMJS website.

“It’s amazing that in a town this size, we are blessed to have so many good musicians,” Miller says.

WMJS is continually striving to share their love of jazz music with new audiences, especially younger ones. Since jazz varies so much in its style, many people find they like at least one form of it, if not all, and the organization focuses on presenting this diversity of styles in its concerts.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep it fresh,” says board member Darryl Hofstra.

As they have since 1986, WMJS will continue to support the longstanding tradition of jazz music and promote it locally through a mix of concerts and education.

“Our goal is to keep jazz alive,” says Miller.

If you would like to support the West Michigan Jazz Society, here are some ways you can get involved:

-    Visit the West Michigan Jazz Society online to find out more.
-    Become a member of WMJS.
-    Donate to WMJS or become an event sponsor.
-    Attend the Nov. 19 Monday Night Jazz concert at the B.O.B.
-    Attend the holiday party Dec. 10 at the Watermark Country Club. Tickets are $30 and more information can be found in the latest Jazz Notes newsletter.  
-    Like WMJS on Facebook.

Source: John Miller, Board President of West Michigan Jazz Society, and Darryl Hofstra, Board Member
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the West Michigan Jazz Society.

Boys & Girls Clubs hires Casey Stratton to direct its new music program

It’s not often that kids get the opportunity to take music lessons from a pro for $5, but if they’re a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, now they can.

This fall, The Barber Foundation awarded a grant to Boys & Girls Clubs to start a new music program at the club’s three locations and they hired local musician Casey Stratton to be the program coordinator.

Stratton is a singer, songwriter, and producer who has recorded 12 albums and performed for many audiences around the country.

Now he’ll be sharing that musical talent with 1st through 12th grade students, teaching piano, guitar, and chorus classes. He’s excited about the opportunity and wants to make the classes as fun as possible so the kids will keep coming back each week.

“I want it to be very collaborative,” Stratton says.

Any child can become a member of Boys & Girls Clubs for $5 and participate in their weekday after school programs from 3-9 p.m. They offer six core programs:

-    An educational program that helps kids prepare for school
-    A sports and recreation program that offers a variety of activities including girls-only fitness programs
-    A health and life skills program to help give kids a healthy body image (By the way, there are no vending machines at any of the clubs and each day, a healthy snack and dinner are served.)
-    A character leadership program that teaches kids the importance of doing volunteer work in the community
-    An Arts program, which includes the new music program

While the grant came in mid-September, the music program is just beginning this week. Stratton’s first day was Oct. 17 and he’s been busy ordering keyboards, guitars, and percussion instruments, such as a tamborine and a xylophone. He wants to give the kids opportunities to play different kinds of instruments and experiment.

Children in grades 1-4 can join in on general music lessons and those in grades 5-12 can join in on the piano, guitar, and chorus lessons. The older kids have to make a commitment to be there each week for the one-hour class, and the younger group can participate as long as they’re in the room at the start of the class.

Stratton plans on using music the kids already know at first, and hopes that will get them interested in other music they don’t know. He’ll also be experimenting with improvisation and layering to help the kids discern the different parts. Above all, he wants them to be engaged.

“The more students feel they are in a role of leadership and part of the process, the more likely they’ll stay in the program and show up each week,” Stratton says.

He wants the kids to learn basic music principles and quality music. Studies he’s read have shown that music can help a child academically and socially and so he also wants to make sure each kid in the program is successful.

Stratton is hoping to have at least 100 kids in the lessons each week throughout the three clubs where he’ll teach.

“The kids seem really excited about it so I have a good feeling about it, too,” he says. 
 
If you want to support Boys and Girls Clubs, here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit Boys and Girls Clubs online to find out more.
-    Volunteer with the organization.
-    Donate financially, or if you have any musical equipment you’d like to donate, contact Casey Stratton.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @bgcgrandrapids on Twitter.

Sources: Casey Stratton, Boys and Girls Clubs Music Program Coordinator and Instructor, and Erin Crison, Program Director
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Casey Stratton and Boys and Girls Clubs. ?

$20,000 given to West Michigan nonprofits

Several local nonprofits will receive a nice gift this November thanks to a bank’s 15th anniversary and its generosity.

Mercantile Bank of Michigan launched its “15 Days of Giving” program Nov. 5 and for 15 consecutive days, they’re giving away $1,000 each day to area nonprofits chosen by the public on Facebook.

On November 19 -- the 15th day -- they’re also randomly picking one charity to receive $5,000. Altogether, the bank is giving away $20,000 over the 15-day period.  

The reason for the “15 Days of Giving” program is to celebrate the bank’s 15th anniversary and give back to the community that has helped it succeed.
 
As a local community bank, Mercantile Bank began in 1997 and now has seven full-service banking offices in Grand Rapids, Holland, and Lansing.

December 15 will mark 15 years for the bank and according to President and CEO, Robert Kaminski, “This is a special deal for us.”

Shortly after they opened, Mercantile experienced rapid growth and now, they’re the largest bank chartered in Grand Rapids and one of the largest headquartered in Michigan.

Kaminski says Mercantile fills “a niche between the very small banks and the big, regional banks.”

In addition to the “15 Days of Giving” program, Mercantile will celebrate its 15th anniversary with customer appreciation events at its branches. A ribbon cutting is also planned at the company's headquarters on Leonard Street in December, with local dignitaries and customers invited to attend.
 
“We want to have local folks there who have been very supportive to us over the 15 years,” Kaminski says.

For the third time in 15 years, Mercantile’s three corporate officers -- Chairman and CEO Michael Price, CFO Chuck Christmas, and Kaminski -- will also ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York City's Times Square in mid-December. Mercantile Bank Corporation's common stock is listed on NASDAQ under the symbol "MBWM."

To enter the “15 Days of Giving” program, visit Mercantile's Facebook page and post the organization’s name on their timeline. Nominations can be submitted now through Nov. 19.

Once selected, Mercantile will post the organization on its voting page and with a special app, users can vote for their favorite charity. Each person gets one vote per day between 9 a.m. and midnight with the winners posted on the Facebook page the next morning. The daily $1,000 winners will be chosen based on which one gets the most votes, and the $5,000 winner will be selected randomly with their award presented at a special ceremony.   

In order to be considered, the charity must be an approved 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Michigan. Anything that is political or deemed inappropriate will not be selected for the program.   

Kaminski expects the bank will get at least 100 charities entering the “15 Days of Giving” program throughout the 15-day period. He hopes by showcasing these nonprofits on Mercantile’s Facebook page, it will bring a greater awareness to the services they provide.

“We see this as a win-win for the community and a neat way to commemorate for us and our shareholders,” Kaminski says.

To find out more about the “15 Days of Giving” program and Mercantile Bank, here are some links:

-    Visit the “15 Days of Giving” program online for more details and to nominate a nonprofit organization.
-    Visit Mercantile Bank online to find out more about the services they provide.
-    Like Mercantile Bank on Facebook.
-    Follow @MercBank on Twitter.


Sources: Robert Kaminski, President and CEO of Mercantile Bank of Michigan
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Mercantile Bank.


PhotoVoice Project shares women's journeys to healthier lives

Fast food. Don't feel safe. Eating our emotions. No grocery store.

These are the words that fill the screen during the opening seconds of the seven-minute PhotoVoice Project video, which was initiated by Catherine's Health Center this past June and launched Oct. 11. The video tells the stories of seven women who were given new digital cameras to photograph the barriers in their communities they felt stood in the way of their ability to lead healthy lives.

Catherine’s Health Center is a nonprofit free health clinic serving low-income, un- and under-insured residents of Kent County and the seven women involved in the PhotoVoice Project are patients there. The project was funded by a grant through the W.I.S.E.W.O.M.A.N. (Well -- Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) program that Catherine’s participates in, and it’s the first video of its kind to be made in an urban setting.

AmeriCorps VISTA Lifestyle Counselor for the Center, Lyndi Weener-Kuiper, says that the PhotoVoice Project “is a video containing  photographs and quotes compiled by CHC patients that responds to the following question: 'What are the barriers in your life that make healthy living difficult?' The video addresses access barriers such as food deserts and high costs of gym memberships, but also positive existing community resources such as community gardens and healthy food pantries."

The PhotoVoice Project participants were taught to use the cameras by Ted Lausman of Mark’s Photo and Dr. Jack Walen, Medical Director at Catherine’s Health Center, who also has experience using digital cameras as a hobby.

The W.I.S.E.W.O.M.A.N. program focuses on helping woman with nutrition, physical activity, and smoking cessation. To better understand the women’s current barriers to getting healthy, Catherine’s Health Center chose to use the PhotoVoice method, which was developed by Caroline Wang at the University of Michigan.  

According to the video, PhotoVoice Research "allows people to record and reflect on their community's strength and concerns, encourages dialogue and knowledge about important issues through group discussion of photographs, (and) reaches out to policymakers and community change makers."

Some of the issues brought up in the video are the high prices of gym memberships; food deserts created by the few grocery stores in many communities; chemicals and additives in foods; lack of money; poor shoes, roads, and walking areas; physical disabilities; and the feeling of being unsafe in their neighborhoods.

To make the video more inspiring to viewers, the participants also photographed and discussed areas in their communities enabling to them to be well, like community gardens, pickleball courts, mobile food pantries, and even the beauty of our state.

Through the efforts of the project, the seven women have learned about themselves and their communities, and they have bonded together to achieve one goal: healthy lifestyles through making small, permanent changes in the way they live.

The video has had two public showings so far -- its premiere on Sept. 7 at Catherine’s Health Center during an event coordinated with Hunger Action Week 2012, and again on Oct. 10 at the Food and Nutrition Coalition, which is part of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force. The organization is seeking other places where the video can be shown as well.

If you’d like to help Catherine’s Health Care continue to serve women in the community by guiding them to lead healthier lives, here are some ways you can involved:

-    Visit Catherine’s Health Center online to find out more about them.
-    Watch the PhotoVoice Project video and contact Catherine’s at (616) 336-8800 if you would like to show the video with the photographers present.
-    Volunteer.
-    Donate financially. Catherine’s Health Center is privately funded and any amount donated is appreciated.
-    Sign up for their newsletter.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Lyndi Weener-Kuiper, AmeriCorps VISTA Lifestyle Counselor for Catherine’s Health Center
Writer: Ellie Phillips

Images provided by Catherine’s Health Center.

GVSU's Applied Global Innovation Initiative visits Nicaragua

The Central American country of Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Luxury accommodations are extremely rare and, wherever you stay, the water and electricity may get shut off randomly throughout your visit.  

Then why does the Applied Global Innovation Initiative (AGII) take groups of people there a few times a year?

The vision behind this Grand Valley State University (GVSU) initiative is to empower people in Nicaragua to improve their lives using their own resources. Through education and hands-on assistance, teams led by AGII encourage Nicaraguans to think about innovative ways to solve environmental, economic, and social issues, as well as help them design products that can be made locally.

What began in 1998 as GVSU’s disaster relief response to Hurricane Mitch has evolved to an innovation initiative with teams of faculty, staff, students, and community members from around the country traveling to Nicaragua to collaborate with local individuals and universities.

AGII is co-directed by Drs. Paul Lane and John Farris. Teams traveling from West Michigan have included designers from Tiger Studio, Kendall College of Art & Design, Herman Miller, and other local companies. Annually, two main innovation trips occur in May and August, with smaller trips throughout the year.

Dr. Lane says that because staff from AGII visits Nicaragua all the time, they’ve developed a strong relationship with the people there. He adds that it’s “not about writing a check” and leaving, but rather “working shoulder to shoulder.” The AGII team doesn’t tell the locals what to do; instead, they ask how they can help.

“It’s not about bringing the ‘great white hope’ to them,” says Gareth Hickson, assistant to AGII’s co-directors.

On Nov. 1, AGII and a team of six individuals from the Spring Lake-based furniture company, izzy+, will be traveling to Estelí, Nicaragua to design preschool education kits.
 
Market Development Strategist at izzy+, Brandon Reame, says the idea to sponsor this trip came about after the organization spent a few years giving away free vacations as part of one of its annual events. This year, he says they decided to do something different and “rally around a cause.”

With almost 1,700 people around the country interested in the design trip to Nicaragua, staff from izzy+ narrowed the selection to six interior designers to travel with the team.

Once in Estelí, teams containing two designers each will work with local preschool teachers to develop prototypes of four education kits that will travel between the schools. The design and collaboration will happen in a fast-paced, 48-hour time period.  

The four kits to be developed from unfinished wood boxes will consist of a performing arts kit, a visual arts kit, a sensory kit, and a scientific kit.

Since the teachers earn little money and the schools are very poor with dirt floors and not much furniture, these kits will be designed to be exciting, colorful, and fun, yet tough and functional enough to travel by bus and be handled by preschoolers. The goal is to encourage interaction and learning that’s interesting to the children.

Lane says the kits have to be “very exciting so when they arrive in an impoverished environment, they say, ‘Take me; try me.’”

The izzy+ designers will also spend time in Estelí partnering with the Vinculos cooperative of preschool teachers and design a portion of their new facility.

“What izzy+ is donating is amazing,” Lane says regarding the sponsor covering costs to send the designers to Nicaragua.

Reame hopes this will be the first of many trips they will partner with AGII on -- “it’s only the beginning.”
 
The Nicaragua innovation travel program is just one of four components of AGII. The other three projects they focus on include Water for the World, a program using smart phones empowering people to get simple solutions to water problems; Community Synergy, an online resource where people collaborate to solve global issues; and researching the countries they work with.

Funding for AGII comes from different sources. Initially, Drs. Lane and Farris put in their own money to start the program. GVSU and the universities in Nicaragua have provided some funding, and individuals and organizations contribute as well. The individuals traveling to Nicaragua pay a fee to go, plus their own airfare, as a way to cover some of the costs of the program. They receive lodging, food, and ground transportation with their fee, which averages around $1,200 per person with a GVSU-affiliated discount.

AGII is currently seeking people who want to participate in next year’s May 5-11 Nicaragua trip. For every program, they need people from a variety of backgrounds: web technicians, business people, engineers, designers, artists, and marketing people, who Lane says must be “willing to go with people to the street corner and get feedback to find out if an idea is good or not.”

Lane describes the innovation program as “industrial tourism” and says you don’t have to know Spanish, though it is helpful. Before every trip, they determine how your skills can be put to the best use so that you contribute positively to the organization and also have a good experience.

Most importantly, they’re looking for “people with a smile in their hearts and an adventurous spirit,” Lane says.

While the accommodations may not be luxury, he adds that the AGII trips are rewarding to everyone who goes and “life changing.”

If you’d like to get involved with GVSU’s Applied Global Innovation Initiative, here are a few ways you can:

- Visit GVSU’s Applied Global Innovation Initiative online to find out more.
- Contact Dr. Lane if you’re interested in getting involved with the organization, whether on a future trip or on the planning team here in West Michigan.  
- Make a donation to GVSU and specify that your donation is for the Applied Global Innovation Initiative.

Sources: Dr. Paul Lane, Co-Director at the Applied Global Innovation Initiative, Gareth Hickson, Assistant to the Co-Directors, Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by GVSU’s Applied Global Innovation Initiative.  

Affordable home energy assessments offered to 1,000 Grand Rapids residents

Interested in lower heating bills this winter?

Since the answer to that question is probably yes, BetterBuildings for Michigan has just launched a program you may be interested in.

The GR1K campaign, which began Oct. 29, will give 1,000 homeowners the chance to get a comprehensive, home energy assessment for only $99 through the end of December 2012.

This assessment is performed by a certified energy contractor and uses sophisticated thermal imaging technology and equipment to help people find ways to improve their home’s energy performance, lower their utility bills, and make their homes more comfortable.

Typically, an assessment like this would cost between $350-$500. As added incentive for the $99 fee, BetterBuildings contractors will also install energy-saving measures on the spot such as new programmable thermostats, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, pipe wrap, and CFL light bulbs.

BetterBuildings for Michigan is a statewide program that began in 2010 as the result of a $30 million grant awarded by the United States Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

Locally, the Grand Rapids BetterBuildings program is administered through a partnership with West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), the Community Development department within the City of Grand Rapids, and Michigan Energy Office.

On Oct. 29, the day the GR1K program launched, WMEAC had an open house at its headquarters at 1007 Lake Drive offering residents a 50 percent discount if they signed up that day. Around 20 people showed up and another 70 or so have called and registered online so far.

The program is limited to only 1,000 customers, so at least 900 spots are still open.

WMEAC Communications and Member Services Director, Daniel Schoonmaker, cautions people not to wait too long though.

“If you’re resident 1,001, you don’t get in,” he says.

The Grand Rapids BetterBuildings program had an original goal of doing assessments in 2,500 homes, but only to select neighborhoods, employers, and social networks. The GR1K program is open to all Grand Rapids residents and once it’s done, they will exceed the original goal due to a few hundred additional spots the City of Grand Rapids pulled in from other parts of the state.

The GR1K also offers incentives, rebates, and affordable financing to residents to make it easier for them to implement the recommended changes. On top of applicable utility rebates, the current package of incentives includes a 1.99% APR exclusive home energy loan for up to $20,000, or an up to $1,500 discount on improvements. Incentives may vary for homes outside of city limits.
 
If you want to participate in the BetterBuildings for Michigan GR1K program, don’t wait. Here’s the information you need to participate and find out more:
  • Visit GR1K online to register.
  • Call WMEAC at (616) 451.3051, ext. 40.
  • Be sure to tell your friends about the program. WMEAC is also looking for volunteer ambassadors for the program to help spread the word and these volunteers will receive extra incentives.
  • Like WMEAC on Facebook to stay informed on what they’re doing.
  • Follow @WMEAC on Twitter.
Sources: Daniel Schoonmaker, Communications and Member Services Director for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), and Selma Tucker, Contract Administrator and Regional Coordinator for BetterBuildings for Michigan.
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by WMEAC and BetterBuildings for Michigan.

Gardening in the Baxter community

Raised bed gardens may be sprouting up in yards all over the Baxter neighborhood next spring.

The Baxter Community Center gardening program is part of a larger initiative by the USDA to examine disparities in food access and enhance food security in underserved neighborhoods.

The USDA awarded grants to five universities throughout Michigan earlier this year to oversee the initiative and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) was one of them. In turn, GVSU then selected the Baxter Community Center as their partner to implement the program and track how gardens impact family health and food security.

GVSU presented Baxter with a five-year grant to help them promote raised bed gardening and healthier lifestyles throughout the neighborhood. The idea behind the program is that low-income residents with a limited amount of space can still grow their own food -- making healthier eating easier and saving them money.

Danielle Veldman, the Center’s grants and communications coordinator, says one of the reasons GVSU chose Baxter is because of their successful greenhouse program, which she also coordinates. The program began in 2011 after a Health Department food security assessment in 2006 showed the neighborhood to be located in a food desert, a place where there is little access to healthy foods.

The neighborhood that the Baxter Community Center serves is located between Wealthy and Franklin streets on the north and south, and Fuller and Eastern on the east and west. Nearly 34 percent of the almost 1,000 households live well below the poverty line.

The Baxter greenhouse provides area residents with affordable fresh produce that’s distributed through the Center’s Marketplace food bank. Since February, the greenhouse has produced nearly 450 pounds of food.

The greenhouse’s In The Garden program also offers classes on gardening and shares seeds and start-up supplies with the community. This year, 10 raised beds were built and 45 families received almost 1,100 seedlings in 34 varieties.  

A second part of the Greenhouse Initiative is called Around the Table, which teaches families how to eat healthier foods through cooking classes, canning workshops, and more.  

Veldman was already trying to figure out a way to encourage more of the neighborhood’s families to build raised bed gardens when GVSU approached the organization “out of the blue.”

“That’s totally providence,” she says.

Baxter is hosting a community meeting and potluck on Nov. 1 from 6-8 p.m. They plan to share the raised bed garden initiative with the 100 or so people invited to attend. Interested families will meet again later to get started.

Participants in the raised bed garden program will be asked to weigh the food they grow each week and harvest their own seeds for the following year. Baxter will guide the growers on the process and provide low-cost or free materials. Because Baxter buys materials such as soil and wood in bulk, and receives in-kind donations as well, they’re able to pass the savings on to the families.  

Once the beds are installed, staff from Baxter will regularly follow up with the participants to track their success and mentor them if necessary.

The goal of the greenhouse and gardening programs is to give everyone access to fresh, healthy food and the tools needed to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“We just want to promote healthy families and we think gardening is a good start with that,” says Veldman.  
 
If you want to support Baxter’s greenhouse and gardening programs, here’s how you can get more involved:
 
-    Visit the Baxter Community Center online to learn more.
-    Volunteer in the greenhouse year round. If you’re a master gardener, Baxter is interested in having you teach a class. Volunteers are also needed to help with canning and cooking seminars. 
-    Donate financially.
-    Donate in-kind goods such as gardening supplies and kitchen items like canning jars by contacting Danielle Veldman.
-    Like Baxter Community Center on Facebook.

Source: Danielle Veldman, Grants & Communications Coordinator and Greenhouse Program Coordinator at Baxter Community Center
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Baxter Community Center.

Air sealing program saves money and energy

With energy costs rising, air leaks in a home can be costly. A house is also more comfortable in every season when air is not leaking out.

To help lower-income homeowners save money and energy and enjoy a more comfortable home, Home Repair Services offers a program that locates and seals air leaks.

This air sealing program is an offshoot of an energy conservation class that began four years ago. Originally hosted by Home Repair Services and administered by the Area Community Services Employment and Training Council (ACSET), the class used to be required as part of a utility assistance program.
 
Resource Development Manager at Home Repair Services, Stan Greene, says that many people think air leaks mostly occur around windows, but they are often related to structural aspects of the house. He recommends that before people install new windows or installation, they get an energy audit of their home.

The air sealing program uses tools such as a blower door and an infrared camera to quantify heat and air loss.
 
A blower door is basically a frame with a nylon panel that fits over a door of the house. With all of the other exterior doors of the house closed and the interior doors open, a large industrial-size fan is then used to suck the air out and depressurize the home.

Once this is done, trained energy auditors can walk through the home and easily detect where air is coming in. Places such attics, basements, floor joists and bathroom fans are common places for air leaks, and spray foam, Styrofoam and plywood are used to fill the holes when found.

Greene says that finding and fixing the air leaks is “typically cramped and dirty work.”

The Home Repair staff often has to climb in someone’s attic to remove the current installation, fill any holes with spray foam and then reinstall the installation. Or, they may have to climb around in old basements and crawl spaces to find the air leaks.

While Home Repair Services performs the initial energy audit free of charge, homeowners have to pay for any work completed to fill the air leaks. Financially qualifying families typically pay a co-pay of roughly 10 percent of the total cost charged, with most projects costing an average of nearly $1,100.

Since the air sealing is permanent, customers will continue to see energy savings for many years to come.

“We can do a post test to determine how much savings that family will realize,” adds Greene.

This post energy audit is usually performed 90 days after the initial work is completed to check energy efficiency. From July 2011 to June 2012, 81 participating households surveyed a year later saved an average of 8 percent on their energy bills.

Home Repair Services recently formed a partnership with DTE where they will pay almost a third of the customer’s air sealing costs. The organization is currently seeking companies willing to match DTE’s 30 percent reimbursement to be able to help even more families.

Winter is coming soon, and with it, cold, drafty air. If you’d like to help Home Repair Services save its customers money and energy and stay warmer this winter, here are some ways to get involved.

-    Visit Home Repair Services online to learn more about its air sealing program.
-    Volunteer with the organization.
-    Donate.
-    Like Home Repair Services on Facebook.

Source: Stan Greene, Resource Development Manager at Home Repair Services
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Home Repair Services.

Halloween computers, not candy

At Rapid Growth, we've learned The Geek Group (TGG) is always up to something interesting. We've watched this Westside hackerspace located in the old YMCA on Leonard NW shrink quarters, make lightning, and tinker with robots. (For our full profile on The Geek Group, click here.) For Halloween, the nonprofit is doing something a little different. They're supplying children with computers, not candy.

TGG will donate 100 re-purposed laptops to students enrolled in Grand Rapids Area Pre-college Engineering Program/Engineering and Biomedical School who may otherwise not be able to afford one. These students are primarily focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), meaning they would highly benefit from receiving a laptop.

The computers are donated to TGG by Dart Container Corporation, a single-use foodservice packaging products manufacturer. Dart is committed to STEM education, and the laptops are just one of many donations Dart has made to TGG in the last four years. 

“As an employer of hundreds of engineers, IT and finance professionals in Michigan, Dart Container recognizes the need to encourage our state’s students to find their futures in these critically important fields of study,” said Lelah Melton, Vice President of Information Technology for Dart, in a press release. 

TGG is an ideal place for these students and TGG members to explore their STEM interest. The 43,000 square foot laboratory contains "more tools than a Lowe's Store," according to TGG Founder Chris Boden. Their Youtube channel contains educational videos, fun demonstrations, and has over 18,000 subscribers. Click play to see a promo video Boden made about their Computers, Not Candy event.




The Computers, Not Candy giveaway begins Halloween morning at 11 a.m. at TGG Labs. 

Want to get involved? Here's how:

Keep up with The Geek Group on Facebook
Visit The Geek Group online to become a member or donate

Source: Lelah Melton, Dart Container Corporation; Chris Boden, The Geek Group
Writer: J. Bennett Rylah, Managing Editor

Ready4Work gives men a second chance after incarceration

Second chances often don’t come easy for men after they leave jail, but a new project started by Hope Network is working to change that.

The Jail Reentry Project - Ready4Work teaches men the skills they need to find employment once they get out of the Kent County Jail. Reentry consultants begin working with them while they are still incarcerated, but the support doesn’t stop there. The Ready4Work staff continues to assist the men long after they get out of jail to guide them through their challenges.

Still relatively new, Ready4Work began in January of this year with an initial grant of $100,000 from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. Recently, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation granted the organization another $50,000 to expand and strengthen the program.

Laurie Craft, program director at the Community Foundation, appreciates the ongoing mentoring aspect of the program.

“(Studies) are finding that the longer you can support someone, the better results you get,” she says.
 
Ready4Work Reentry Consultant Ron Stuursma and another consultant meet weekly with men in what the jail calls the “reentry pod,” a separate area where those who are about to be released stay.

Each Tuesday, they meet for a full day with the roughly 30 men split into two groups - the freshmen, who are in the first four weeks of the program, and the seniors finishing the last four weeks of training.

The men learn how to create resumes and cover letters, how to answer interview questions, and other basic job readiness skills. Many of these men, usually in their mid-twenties, only have a 10th grade or less education level and most do not have much of a work history, if any at all.

It’s for this reason that the Ready4Work program goes beyond simply teaching workforce skills -- they teach them an attitudinal component as well. Lessons on how to deal with risk factors and barriers are taught. They teach acceptable attitudes required by employers and also get the men thinking about who they will surround themselves with once they get out of jail.

“We found they needed more than the technical skills,” says Stuursma.
 
The consultants from the Ready4Work program collaborate with those from Network 180, who teach the same men how to change the way they think with cognitive behavior training.

Once the eight-week Ready4Work program is complete and the men are released from jail, they are expected to report to Hope Network within five days for an additional two weeks of intensive training to prepare them for competitive or transitional work options.

Hope Network Industries (HNI) is one such transitional work option for the men. This training division of the organization acts as a real packing production business for area companies and it gives people an opportunity to prove they’re capable of holding a job.

Ready4Work reentry consultants meet with the HNI employee and his supervisor weekly to review progress. They want to make sure the employee is doing a good job, showing up for work regularly and on time, and after 90 days of a positive track record, the consultants then help them find a position in the competitive job market.  

While the Ready4Work program is still too new to measure its success, Stuursma says the “preliminary numbers look good.” So far, they’ve worked with 40 men; four of them are now employed and another 12 are working at Hope Network Industries, with more to start soon.

“Our goal is to stay with these men for at least six months after they get out of jail,” says Stuursma.

Typically, almost 50 percent of the men released from jail end up back there within two to three years. With the Ready4Work program, the hope is to get that number down to 25 percent or less. Stuursma and his colleagues know they can’t help everyone, but they are going to try to help as many men as possible see the advantages of having a job and staying out of jail.

If you believe everyone deserves a second chance and want to support the Jail Reentry Project - Ready4Work, here’s how:

-    Visit Hope Network online to find out more about what they do.
-    Donate to the organization.
-    Like Hope Network on Facebook.
-    Follow @HopeNetworkNews on Twitter.

Here’s how you can also support the Grand Rapids Community Foundation continue to give grants to organizations like Hope Network:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Community Foundation online to find out more.
-    Like Grand Rapids Community Foundation on Facebook.
-    Follow @GRCommFound on Twitter.

Sources: Ron Stuursma, Reentry Consultant at Hope Network, and Laurie Craft, Program Director at Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Hope Network.

EmploymentGroup "Give One - Get One" program gives back to the community

Give one. Get one.

This straightforward reciprocal idea has been put into practice recently by a local staffing and managed services company.

As part of an initiative to give back and support the nonprofit community, EmploymentGroup sent out letters to around 25 of its customers in August and asked which nonprofit organization was their favorite. From their responses, three were nominated to receive a week’s worth of the agency’s services for free. And, as a thank you for participating, the companies who nominated one of the winning nonprofits also will receive a week of complimentary services.

The Give One - Get One program came about from the desire to be “good corporate citizens,” says EmploymentGroup CEO Mark Lancaster.

“We feel giving back to the community is part of our responsibility as citizens,” he says.

The three nonprofit organizations chosen to receive a week’s help running their day-to-day tasks are the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, the Literacy Center of West Michigan, and the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.

EmploymentGroup will make a charitable donation of $100 each to the other 10 nomiated organizations in an effort to support them and foster growth.

The company chose the three winning nonprofits from the ones nominated based on their missions and the work they do for the community. Literacy is an issue Lancaster believes prevents many people from finding employment and that’s why the two organizations that teach literacy were selected.  

“Illiteracy is such a barrier to finding work,” says Lancaster, adding that when people come in to apply for work, “it’s very obvious and painful” when they cannot read.

Helping returning veterans find work is another issue important to EmploymentGroup and that’s the reason the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans will also receive its complimentary services.

“We wanted to honor the vets in some way,” Lancaster says.
 
Each of the winning organizations will receive one EmploymentGroup field associate for a 40-hour work week to help them with whatever they need. The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans has requested help with yardwork for their week of services.

EmploymentGroup provides everything from administrative work to professional, technical, light industrial work, and more. In addition, their Managed Services division offers outsourced services such as mail and document management, archives, courier, shipping and receiving, custodial, and grounds services.

On an average work day, EmploymentGroup puts around 1,500-1,600 people to work at it customers’ locations. They currently have more than 100 open jobs to fill and Lancaster says many of these temporary jobs eventually lead to permanent employment.
 
The customers asked to nominate a nonprofit organization are those that currently have a strong relationship with EmploymentGroup and are doing good things in the community as well.

One of the surprising twists of the Give One - Get One program is that Flexfab, the company that nominated the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, has decided to donate its week of services to the nonprofit instead of using it themselves.

Lancaster says EmploymentGroup will most likely run a Give One - Get One program again next year with the hope of getting more nominations and more customers to participate.
 
To support the Give One - Get One initiative, here are some ways to get involved:  

-    Visit EmploymentGroup online to find out more about them and see if your company could benefit from their services.
-    Support the nonprofits selected in the Give One - Get One program by volunteering or donating:
      - The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans 
      - Literacy Center of West Michigan 
      - Kalamazoo Literacy Council 
-    Like the EmploymentGroup on Facebook.
-    Follow @EmploymentGroup on Twitter.

Source: Mark Lancaster, CEO of EmploymentGroup
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by EmploymentGroup.

Pure Michigan Blood saves Michigan lives

Did you know that nearly one out of every seven people admitted to the hospital will need blood, or that 4.5 million Americans would die each year without receiving a blood transfusion?

It’s true. And if you or someone you know has ever received blood from a Michigan hospital, it most likely came from Michigan Blood.

Their blood bank supplies blood to more than 37 hospitals across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula -- including 100 percent of the blood used at Grand Rapids hospitals -- and they make these Michigan hospitals their first priority before meeting any other needs. They like to say their blood is “Pure Michigan” and they encourage people to “recycle themselves.”

As a member of America’s Blood Centers, a nationwide community of connected blood banks in the U.S. and Canada, Michigan Blood also helps this organization provide almost 50 percent of the blood supply in America and 100 percent of Quebec’s blood supply each year.

Through its nine locations and more than 3,700 mobile blood drives, Michigan Blood receives 120,000 blood donations each year. That may seem like a lot, and it is, but more blood is always needed because it’s perishable and can only be stored for a short while.

“It’s getting harder to get people to donate,” says Jim Childress, VP of community relations, adding that it has become “more complicated because of demographics and the economy.”

One factor he cites is that some of the corporations who used to hold blood drives all the time have now gone out of business. Another reason they need more blood is that as Baby Boomers age, they’re needing blood in greater numbers, and the generations younger behind them are smaller in size.

Much of the blood they receive today comes from blood drives at schools, churches, and other organizations.
Although anyone over the age of 16 can donate blood, only four percent or less of the population does. Michigan Blood wants to increase this percentage to help save more lives. Whether people need the blood in case of an emergency, for cancer treatments, surgical needs, or any other reason, the organization would like more people to donate to ensure they can provide what is needed to Michigan hospitals.
 
“We need blood donations all day, every day,” Childress says. “The need never stops.”

In addition to being a blood bank, Michigan Blood participates in the Be The Match® Registry national bone marrow donor program, which is a “source of pride” for the organization.

Another program they’re proud of is the umbilical cord blood program where mothers can donate cord blood after birth. This type of blood is very useful to patients with complex medical conditions. Michigan Blood is the first public cord blood bank in the state.

Michigan Blood has a few fun events coming up to help raise money and awareness.

An upcoming Zombie Dash will benefit the Michigan Blood Stem Cell Program, which recruits potential marrow/stem cell donors for the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be The Match® Registry. Zombies everywhere are invited to meet at Ah-Nab-Awen Park at dusk on October 27. A link with more information can be found below.

Another fun event that will also benefit the Be The Match® program is the Swing Shift and the Stars Competition. In a fashion similar to Dancing with the Stars, celebrities dance once a month to raise money for charity and Michigan Blood is one of five charities selected this year. You don’t have to attend this event to participate; you can simply visit the website listed below and vote to show your support.

And if you need an incentive to give blood, anyone who tries to donate blood at select locations the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21) will get a pie as a gift. The holiday season is always one of the busiest times of the year for Michigan Blood, so this is their way of saying thank you.

“The need for blood doesn’t take a holiday,” says Childress.

If you would like to support Michigan Blood, here are several ways you can:
-    Visit Michigan Blood online to find out more information.
-    Donate blood. Mothers who wish to donate cord blood should call 616-233-8604 (or 866-MIBLOOD), or email cordblood@miblood.org.
-    Make a donation for Michigan Blood in the Swing Shift and the Stars Competition.
-    Volunteer with Michigan Blood.
-    Attend the Zombie Dash on October 27.
-    Join the Be The Match national bone marrow registry.
-    Like Michigan Blood on Facebook.
-    Follow @MIBlood on Twitter.

Sources: Jim Childress, Vice President of Community Relations at Michigan Blood, and Meredith Gremel, Director of Public Relations and Marketing
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Michigan Blood.

Habitat for Humanity offers construction skills to women

Just because construction is typically a man’s work, that doesn’t mean women can’t also learn the same skills and build a house from the ground up.

This fall, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County (Habitat Kent) is offering onsite classes for women on everything from house framing to trim carpentry, priming and painting, flooring, landscaping, and more with its new Women Build program.

Habitat Kent hosted a National Women Build Week event for women in the past that coincided around Mother’s day and was designed to bring mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and aunts together to work on a house. The new Women Build program takes the weeklong program much further and, over a six-month period, teaches women the construction skills needed to build a house from start to finish.

The daylong classes start Nov. 16 and happen Fridays and Saturdays through May 11. There’s about a two-month break between mid-December to mid-February to give skilled professionals such as electricians and plumbers time to work on the house.

The complete schedule is online and women can choose to participate in any or all classes, or “whatever they’re comfortable with and whatever they can fit in,” says Amy Snow-Buckner, donor relations coordinator.

At the Habitat Kent house volunteer sites, Snow-Buckner says many of the volunteers who come have never done anything like this before so there’s always an orientation and safety guidelines shared at the beginning of each day.

Women must be age 16 and up for most Women Build classes, with a few exceptions where only those 18 or older can participate. Six of the classes also allow teenage girls as young as 14 to attend.

This year’s Women Build house is located at 307 Robey SE and the goal is to finish it the weekend before Mother’s day. A landscaping party will be held then so women of every generation can spend quality time together volunteering.

Habitat Kent, in collaboration with the new homeowners, volunteers and community organizations, rehabilitates or builds an average of 30 houses each year. Women are the head of the household in 66 percent of these homes. That’s part of the reason the organization wants to get more women involved in the construction process. The other reason is to empower women and teach them invaluable skills they can use in their own homes.  

“This is a great opportunity for women of all walks of life to come together and help hardworking families obtain affordable housing,” Snow-Buckner says.

To qualify for a Habitat home, a family must have a clear need for new housing, meet certain income and job requirements, and come up with money down. Each family also has to perform 300-500 “sweat equity” volunteer hours, either by working at the new house site or in the office.

Since Habitat Kent began in 1983, they have helped more than 350 families become homeowners. And since 2007, all of the homes are designed to be LEED-certified and energy efficient to ensure the lowest possible utility bills.

In partnership with the program, Lowe’s, a major sponsor of the Women Build house, will soon be offering clinics at its Plainfield Avenue location, too.

Habitat Kent has created a Women Build Steering Committee to help recruit more volunteers and raise funds so it can become an annual program. So far, 13 women -- some well known in the community and some from the construction industry -- have signed on, with openings for a few more members.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm in the community surrounding Women Build," says Snow-Buckner. "Women are embracing the program and wanting to be a part of it."

If you’re a woman who wants to learn construction skills and help a hardworking family own a home, here’s how to get involved with the Habitat Kent Women Build program:

-    Visit the Habitat for Humanity of Kent County Women Build program online to find out more.
-    Sign up for a Women Build class by calling 616-588-5240 or via email.
-    Inquire about being on the Women Build Steering Committee by contacting Amy Snow-Buckner at 616-588-5248 or via email.
-    Make an in-kind donation for Women Build by contacting Habitat Kent’s Director of Gifts In-Kind, Roger Peterman, at 616-588-5223 or via email.
-    Donate to Habitat Kent.
-    Volunteer with Habitat Kent in a variety of ways. Sign up here.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Amy Snow-Buckner, Donor Relations Coordinator of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Habitat for Humanity of Kent County.

GRadPICS offers professional senior portraits free to GRPS students

When professional photographer Terry Johnston discovered that most high school senior portraits cost around $1,200-1,400, his first thought was, “I need to take more senior photos!”

Then he realized that the average family in the Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) district where he lives probably had difficulty affording those prices. He soon found out he was right.

Many students at GRPS choose to skip having their senior pictures taken because it’s not in the family budget. And without a senior portrait, there’s no lasting yearbook photo.

“85 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunches,” says Ron Gorman, GRPS executive director of high schools and alternative education, referring to the National School Lunch Program and the district’s economically disadvantaged residents.

Johnston is one of three subcontracted photographers who shoots for Stellafly Social Media, a company that currently has a partnership with GRPS that's focused on promoting awareness about the school system, its programs and events through social media.

When Johnston approached Stellafly Founder Laura Caprara and shared his idea for providing free senior portraits to high school seniors, it seemed like a logical extension of the GRPS partnership and together, they created GRadPICS.

“It was one of those things that just made sense,” says Johnston.

GRadPICS provides GRPS high school seniors with two free senior portraits to choose from. Now in its second year, the organization has partnered this year with Color Inc. and Unitprints.com to be able to offer the seniors a free portrait package as well.

In order for GRPS seniors to qualify for the free portraits, they had to attend classes for the entire day on Oct. 2, which was the State’s Student Count Day. School funding is determined based on the amount of students in school on this day and organizers thought it was the perfect way to incentivize the 600-plus seniors in the district.

On Nov. 1, a team of professional photographers and assistants will visit each of the six high schools in the GRPS district -- Creston High School, Central High School, GR Montessori, Union High School, City High School, and Ottawa Hills High School -- and spend the day shooting portraits. Gorman estimates 20-30 percent of students will take advantage of the professional photography.

Johnston says that by the time they host the GRadPICS photo shoots in the fall, many of the students who can afford to hire someone have already done so over the summer. This way, the organization doesn’t take away from other photographers who shoot senior portraits for a fee.  

Professional photographers involved in GRadPICS this year include: Terry Johnston, Tim Motley, Ian Anderson, Katy Batdorff, TJ Hamilton, Rob Smith, Michelle Smith, Steven David Branon, and Raeanna Anglen. Assisting the photographers that day are: Danielle DeWitt, Richard App, Marcel Thibert, and Mark Curtis.

Gorman says he is “excited about GRadPICS this year because more planning has taken place and more students are involved.”

Johnston knew he was doing the right thing last year when a student came up to him and said he couldn’t wait to show his mom because he had never had a professional photo taken before.

“This is about the kids,” says Johnston, adding that he’s grateful for all of the people involved who’ve chosen to take a day off to shoot the senior portraits and help the students.

Here’s where you can find more information about GRadPICS:
-    Contact Stellafly Social Media if you want to volunteer your time.
-    Visit Grand Rapids Public Schools online.
-    Visit Color Inc. Digital Pro Lab online.
-    Visit UnitPrints.com online.
-    Visit Stellafly Social Media online.
-    Visit Terry Johnston Photography online.
-    Like GRadPICS on Facebook.
-    Like GRPS on Facebook.

Sources: Ron Gorman, Executive Director of High Schools and Alternative Education at Grand Rapids Public Schools; Terry Johnston, Photographer at GRadPICS and Terry Johnston Photography; and Laura Caprara, Social Media Strategist at GRadPICS and Stellafly Social Media
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photography provided by GRadPICS.  

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.

The Hispanic Center serves, educates and advocates

When Martha Gonzalez-Cortez started with Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in 1999, there was a rat living in the basement and the organization had about 30 days of funding left.

Fast forward 13 years, and the Center has gone from a staff of less than five people to more than 30 employees, and from an operating budget of $300,000 to a $2 million dollar budget that’s comfortably in the black.

In 2007, they moved into their current Gold LEED-certified building on the corner of Grandville and Hall. The historic building used to be an old fire station and, thankfully, there are no rats.  

The Hispanic Center has been serving, educating and advocating for the Hispanic community and others in West Michigan since 1978. With roughly 400,000 Hispanics living in Michigan, the West Michigan area has the second largest population in the state, the largest Cuban and Guatemalan populations statewide and the most migrant farm workers.
 
The Hispanic Center does not serve all of the Hispanics in West Michigan, only those who need them the most. They work with around 10,000 people per year and their clients are mainly those who don’t have a support network here in West Michigan, those in crisis and the working poor.

“Our goal is not to serve all Latinos, only the most vulnerable,” says Gonzalez-Cortez. “The Latinos with stable jobs and generations of families here don’t engage us.”

She adds that the Center doesn’t pretend to speak for all Hispanics, or serve all, because they don’t. They focus on those who truly need their services and the goal is always to promote self-sufficiency.

The organization’s family support services area helps with emergency housing assistance, domestic violence problems, mental health challenges, wage concerns, civil rights issues and they also act as an information and referral resource in the community.  

Gonzalez-Cortez says their core value is to be an “organization that unwaveringly believes in the power of culture to promote positive social change.”

The Hispanic Center also encourages “the upward mobility of all.” They lay the groundwork for this through the Center’s educational services, providing people of all ages with language skills, computer training, GED support and assistance in finding a job.

In addition to the family support services and the education and employment services, the Hispanic Center advocates for “the human dignity of all” by tackling unpopular causes such as immigration rights, migrant farm worker issues and the challenges associated with gang members and prison inmates. 
   
To promote a strong community in the future, the Hispanic Center has a popular youth program that tutors, mentors and supports Hispanic young adults from ages 13 to 21.

The organization is also behind such popular cultural events as the Hispanic Festival, the Latin Extravaganza, the Dia de los Muertos Celebration and more.

The Hispanic Center’s El Centro Translations serves individuals and organizations through Spanish classes, interpretations and translations in several different languages as well.

For nearly 35 years, the Hispanic Center has been providing social services to Hispanics in the West Michigan area, educating people of all ages and advocating on behalf of those who need it the most.

The easiest way to support them is by attending the Hispanic Festival September 7 and 8 -- you get to eat delicious ethnic food and enjoy culturally enriching entertainment while helping them raise the money needed to continue serving the community. Here are some other ways to get involved:

-    Visit the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan online to find out more.
-    Volunteer at the Hispanic Center. (You don’t have to know Spanish to volunteer.)
-    Donate financially or donate goods on the Center’s wish list.
-    Attend the Hispanic Festival September 7-8 at Calder Plaza.
-    Contact El Centro Translations at the Hispanic Center for Spanish classes or if you need something translated into a number of different languages.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, Chief Executive Officer at the Hispanic Center for Western Michigan

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Hispanic Center for Western Michigan.

Making Grand Rapids friendlier

Josh Leffingwell wanted to make Grand Rapids a friendlier place to live. He figured the best way to do that would be to bring together the people who were already doing good with the people who wanted to do good and help them develop relationships.

Leffingwell and friend, Tyler Doornbos, created Friendly Corps to convert this idea into an official organization. They then started talking to like-minded friends, who then talked to their friends. A group of people met for the first time in February and the Salon Urbanist Meetups have been happening monthly ever since.

The purpose of the group and the meetings is to organize, implement and advocate for projects in the areas of transportation, urban improvement, city planning, the arts and business and community development. In other words, the goal is to make our city friendlier in every possible way.  

“What’s wrong with Grand Rapids and how can we fix it?” Leffingwell says it’s this type of question that inspires most of the group’s conversations.

Friendly Corps’ Salon meetups occur on the second Thursday of each month at Bill Kirk’s Open Source Studio on South Division Avenue. Topics are announced through the Salon Urbanist Meetup’s group page on Facebook. Even though it’s a closed group, anyone who lives in West Michigan and knows at least one other member gets approved. The reason the group is closed is because any one of the nearly 200 members can post ideas, articles and topic suggestions -- sometimes spurring lively discussions.

Each meeting averages a little more than an hour and around 20-30 people of all ages, races and professions attend. Usually, representatives from local government offices and nonprofit organizations show up and developers and designers often frequent the meetings as well.

On the Salon Urbanist Meetup Facebook group page, it says, “Tell us projects you want to do, let us know if you need help and let us know if you need volunteers.”

That’s generally how the group operates. Leffingwell says he and Doornbos are “just the facilitators” of the meetups and everyone is equally involved. Anyone can present an idea to be discussed.

During the first meeting back in February, the group met to discuss ways to get bike corrals installed around downtown and last month, one was installed on Jefferson Avenue near Fulton Street. The group considers this to be progress and hopes several more will be installed soon.

Organizations such as the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, WMEAC and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition have presented at the Salon gatherings.

Recently, Lynee Wells from Williams and Works gave a presentation about the Build a Better Block initiative that’s expected to demonstrate a possible transformation of State Street next May. Friendly Corps is partnering with Wells on this project and the desired goal is to inspire developers and building owners to make permanent changes to the neighborhood as a result of the campaign.

A newly launched Friendly Corps project called Friendly Code shares the goal of making Grand Rapids a better place, but with the focus being online. Friendly Code, initiated by web developer Jonathan Pichot, is part of more than a dozen self-organized Code for America Brigades around the country. These “brigades” are independent groups of volunteer developers, designers and interested citizens who create and implement civic applications.

Friendly Code will have its first developer “hack night” on August 28 and has decided to focus its efforts on relaunching the Viget.org site. Viget is a wiki, a collaborative website that allows user-generated content, that was initially created in 2007 by local developers Michael Greene, Paul Wittenbraker and George Wietor as an online place for Grand Rapids residents to share information about local people, places, things and more.

The Friendly Code group is looking for interested developers and designers who want to work and can commit to seeing a project to completion.

“We don’t want people only interested in suggesting something," says Pichot. "We need people who will contribute and own what they've built.”

That summarizes the overall concept of Friendly Corps. The group is interested in people who are willing to “get their hands dirty” in working toward making Grand Rapids a friendlier place to live. The organization is not an official nonprofit, there are no dues and no one gets paid, unless you count the donations Leffingwell gets when he supplies the group with pizza and beer.

If you want to get involved, here’s all of the information you need:

-    Visit Friendly Corps online to find out more.
-    Join the Salon Urbanist Meetup Group on Facebook.
-    Like Friendly Corps on Facebook.
-    Follow @friendlycorps on Twitter.
-    Like Friendly Code on Facebook.
-    Find out more about the Friendly Code Developer Hack Night on August 28.
-    Sign up for the Friendly Code newsletter.

Source: Josh Leffingwell of Friendly Corps and Jonathan Pichot of Friendly Code.

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos credits go to Josh Leffingwell for the photo of the bike corral; Alissa Lane for the photos of Josh Leffingwell, the neighborhood block party and the Salon meeting; and Craig Hickerson for the photo of Jonathan Pichot.  

Eat local for 10 weeks

Next time you’re going to the grocery store or out to eat, think about how you can eat local. When your dollars stay in our community, it makes a big difference.

To demonstrate just how big of a difference it can make, Local First has a challenge for you. They’re asking you to shift $10 of your weekly food purchases to local food for 10 weeks.

That seems simple enough. And if 1,000 people do this, it will generate $100,000 for our local economy.

As part of its 5th annual Eat Local Challenge, Local First created the 10x10 Pledge campaign where individuals commit to spending $10 each week on local food for 10 weeks, beginning on August 28.

“Ten dollars is a drop in the bucket,” says Seth Galligan, Local First communications coordinator. “No one will have to make a substantial lifestyle change to meet this challenge.”

There are many ways to spend your weekly $10 for the 10x10 Pledge. Eating at a local restaurant is probably the easiest way for many. Shopping at a local grocery store instead of a national chain is another way. Buying locally made food products is something simple that can be done no matter where you shop and if you’re not sure if a product is made locally, look at the label or ask the store’s employees.

For every national restaurant, store or food product, we have a comparable local choice.

“We have alternatives,” Galligan says. “Just drive your car to a different parking lot.”

Registration to take the 10x10 Pledge is now open and colorful graphic icons can be downloaded to post on social media sites. People are encouraged to share their commitment with family and friends and engage in conversations about their experiences eating local food. A Facebook group called “The 10x10 Pledgers” has been created to promote this type of dialogue, and Twitter users are asked to use the hashtag #10x10 in their tweets about the pledge. 
 
Once you sign up for the 10x10 Pledge, you’ll receive a weekly email that’s sponsored by a local food business. The email will share information about eating locally, community workshop events, recipes and more.

The Eat Local Challenge culminates in Fork Fest, Local First’s annual fundraiser. Fork Fest happens on Thursday, October 18 from 5-9 p.m. at the Romence Gardens Greenhouse. For $25, you can sample products from more than 35 local food vendors while listening to the Fauxgrass Quartet.

Organizers at Local First realize it’s not practical to ask everyone to buy local 100 percent of the time, but the goal with this campaign is to create more awareness about the local food community. Galligan reminds us that we vote with our dollars and when we spend money locally, local businesses will stay and contribute to our economy.

Local First and its presenting sponsor, Valley City Linen, have a goal to get at least 1,000 people to commit to the 10x10 Pledge, which will in turn put $100,000 back into our local food system.

“It’s a positive change that everyone can make and every dollar will be beneficial to our community,” says Galligan.

Since our Rapid Growth Media readers already overwhelmingly support the local food community, the 10x10 Pledge will be a simple commitment, but be sure to sign up online and be counted. And if you still haven’t signed up by August 28, don’t worry, you can sign up any time during the 10 weeks. Encourage your family and friends to join you in the 10x10 Pledge, too. Here’s all of the information you’ll need:  

-    Visit the Local First 10x10 Pledge event page to find out more information.
-    Take the 10x10 Pledge to spend $10 a week for 10 weeks from August 28 through October 30.
-    Ask your family and friends to take the pledge as well.
-    Plan on attending the Local First Fork Fest event on Thursday, October 18 from 5-9 p.m. at the Romence Gardens Greenhouse.
-    Become a part of the 10x10 Pledgers group on Facebook.
-    Like Local First of West Michigan on Facebook.
-    Follow @LocalFirst on Twitter and when talking about the 10x10 Pledge, be sure to use the hashtag #10x10.
-    Visit Valley City Linen, the presenting sponsor, online to find out more about them.

Source: Seth Galligan, Local First Communications Coordinator

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Local First.

Improving lives through literacy

Literacy is not simply having the ability to read, but being able to correctly understand and use the English language at age appropriate levels.

In Grand Rapids, nearly 22 percent of adults read below a ninth grade level. This type of low literacy deeply impacts employment opportunities, income levels and parenting abilities.

For nearly 25 years, the Literacy Center of West Michigan has been working to change the lives of individuals by improving their reading and language skills. They offer one-on-one tutoring, community-based training to groups and schools, and customized workplace training for employers. In the last year, they have served approximately 1,500 people in West Michigan.

“We’re leading the effort to improve literacy,” says the organization’s Public Relations Specialist, Tatum Rucker. “That’s always been the goal.”

When people contact them, the first thing the Literacy Center does is identify what the learner’s goal is, whether that’s improving reading and writing skills or improving their English language skills.

People come to the Center for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they have a learning disability or they dropped out of high school. In other cases, visitors are recent immigrants or they never learned to speak, read or write the English language.

The Literacy Center relies on more than 300 volunteers to help with its one-on-one, personalized tutoring program. This program is open to anyone and for as long as needed.

“We’ll stick with them as long as we can and we have a tutor to work with them,” says Rucker.

The Center offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes that can be customized for employers, community-based or for individuals. Individual classes run 6-8 weeks and cost $25. The Customized Workplace English program is typically tailored to offer on-site, specific ESL training in the employer’s industry and allows employees to be able to communicate more effectively at work. Spectrum Health, Butterball Farms and Bookings.com are a few of the employers who have offered this training to their employees.  

Training is also provided at the Literacy Center to prepare individuals for the National Career Readiness Certificate. After a person passes this testing, they receive a certificate that lets employers know they have obtained a certain level of math, reading and writing skills and are employable.

In addition to these programs, the Literacy Center partners with the Heart of West Michigan United Way’s Schools of Hope Reading Program. While the United Way provides the tutoring for students, the Literacy Center provides tutoring and instruction to the parents to help with English language, reading and writing skills. They give parents the tools needed to support their child’s academic success. This program currently serves seven elementary schools and is expanding to more. It also recently won a Governor’s Service Award.

The Literacy Center’s programs are funded through federal and local grants, corporate sponsors and individual donations.

Volunteers are always needed for the adult tutoring program to teach reading, writing and grammar skills. Before any tutoring begins, goals are established with everyone involved and a curriculum is developed. The location and times for the tutoring are flexible once the tutor and learner are matched, and the Literacy Center asks for a commitment of 3-4 hours per week.

“It takes that long to see some actual progress with an adult learner,” says Rucker.

The Literacy Center contextualizes the tutoring to fit in with their every day life. If they want to learn how to read to their children, they teach them that. Or if they want to learn how to do certain activities at work, they develop a way to train them on that as well.  

“We try to make it practical for that person’s goals and life,” says President and CEO Susan Ledy.

Last year, the Literacy Center launched the Community Literacy Initiative, which is a coalition of more than 80 agencies who play a part of solving illiteracy.

“We wanted to take a leadership role in figuring out how we all fit into the puzzle of improving literacy,” says Ledy. “It gives a greater awareness to the community that there is this organized initiative.”

The upcoming Community Literacy Summit to be held on September 19 is designed to bring the group back together again to celebrate the work that has been done so far and to develop a plan for the future. More than 200 community leaders, teachers, agencies and parents are expected to attend. The registration deadline for this all-day event at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center is September 9.

Following the Community Literacy Summit, the Literacy Center plans to launch an online community literacy directory listing of all of the organizations involved with literacy. The aim is for it to be a valuable resource for tutoring programs, class listings, volunteer opportunities and more.

Other fall Literacy Center events include the Books for Bedtime book drive, which kicks off September 20 at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

The annual fundraiser Wine & Words is a casual, fun event with wine, food and games. This year, it will be held at the home of Mark Peters on October 11.  

The Literacy Center of West Michigan is committed to helping people reach their full potential through language and reading skills. Here are some ways you can support them in making sure everyone has this opportunity:
Sources: Susan K. Ledy, M.A., President and CEO of the Literacy Center of West Michigan and Tatum Rucker, M.A., Public Relations Specialist
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Literacy Center of West Michigan.
 

Retail program helps change lives through the power of work

If you shop at a Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids retail store, your money is going toward helping our community. Specifically, that money may be helping your friend or neighbor get a job.

With 18 retail stores in Grand Rapids, there are plenty of locations to choose from. Plus, the two new Blue boutique stores offer trendy clothing and items, and are designed to offer more of an upscale experience to customers. Most everything in the stores comes from donations dropped off at one of the drop off locations.

Goodwill offers a comprehensive job training program through its Hartley on Grand Career Center that exists because of the retail stores. The stores provide 65 percent of the funding Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids needs to operate. The rest of the operating budget comes from grants and private donations.

“Donations are essentially our fuel,” says Jill Wallace, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.

Last year, 3,000 people were served last year at the Career Center and just under 1,000 people were placed into jobs as a result. Altogether, more than 10,000 people have been assisted at the Hartley on Grand facility.

The Career Center is a walk-in place where people can visit to get advice, help with their resumes, job searching assistance, mock interview role playing and more. They have computers onsite and no appointment is needed.

They also have 20 different job training programs geared toward what is needed and in demand in the local community. Currently, programs in hospitality and nursing are popular choices, as are the Youth to Employment and Veterans Services job training programs. Training typically lasts 6-8 weeks. There is no fee to those participating because of the income generated through the retail stores.

To access the job training program, people meet first with a case manager who will assess their skill base and needs and find out what they are looking for.

Goodwill often works with people with barriers to employment, whether that may be a physical or mental disability, a veteran returning from duty, someone with a criminal record or any another issue that may make it difficult for them to find a job.  

The job training program is comprehensive and teaches participants not only specific job skills, but how to sustain a job by learning how to handle conflict, take direction and more.

Goodwill has worked hard to garner the trust of local employers so they will continue to hire those who have completed the job training program.  

“We have years of building relationships with employers,” says Wallace. “We show them how comprehensive our programs are and how the individuals sustain and retain employment.”

The program’s goal is to get people in the community to become self sufficient and if they can be gainfully employed, this is often the first step in that direction.

Wallace says they “want people to be proud of who they are and the decisions they make.”  

Volunteers are needed in a variety of ways at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids. They can help at one of the retail locations or at the Career Center teaching a class, showing someone how to write a resume, doing mock interviews and more.

Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids is “changing lives and communities through the power of work.” Here are some ways you can give back and support them on their mission:

-    Visit Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids online to learn more about them.
-    Shop at a local Goodwill store or online.
-    Shop at a Blue boutique location for “trendy merchandise in a hip, eclectic setting.”
-    Volunteer your time and skills in a variety of ways.
-    Donate materials to a Goodwill location.
-    Make a financial contribution.
-    Like Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids on Facebook.
-    Follow @goodwillgr on Twitter.

Source: Jill Wallace, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.  

Eating healthier and supporting Michigan farmers

Anyone who’s been to the grocery store recently knows how expensive food can be and, usually, the healthier the food, the more it costs.

So how do you encourage low-income families getting federal food assistance to eat more fruits and vegetables? You start by doubling their money.

Double Up Food Bucks is a program of the Fair Food Network (FFN) offering participants in the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) a way to double their money at farmers markets around West Michigan. Instead of spending only $20 on fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, they can now buy $40 worth.

“Whatever you spend on a Bridge card, you’ll receive double up to $20 per day,” says Double Up Food Bucks Program Director Rachel Chadderdon Bair.

FFN, an organization based in Ann Arbor, began the Double Up Food Bucks program in 2009 with a small pilot program in Detroit. Now available in 70 markets across the state, the goal of the program is to provide an incentive to encourage low-income families to eat healthier, while at the same time, support local agriculture.

Considering nearly one in five families in Michigan receive public food assistance, the program has the opportunity to affect the eating habits of a substantial number of residents.  

In 2011, the Double Up Food Bucks program led to a 190 percent increase of SNAP purchases at farmers markets throughout Michigan with $1 million dollars redeemed in 40,000 visits. Statewide, there were 11,000 SNAP benefit recipients who shopped at farmers markets for the first time, with 3,011 of those new visitors living in West Michigan. Chadderdon Bair has also heard traffic is up this year, so she expects these numbers to increase even more for 2012.

“Customers are excited to try a variety of new things,” she says.

The way the Double Up Food Bucks program works is when a SNAP recipient pays for food at a participating farmers market, a matching dollar amount up to $20 per day is given to the vendor at the time of purchase. The program “doubles the money flowing through the market” says Chadderdon Bair, and that’s why the vendors support it as well.
 
The Double Up Food Bucks program is currently offered at farmers markets throughout the state, including 16 locations in West Michigan.

FFN receives no state funding for the project and instead relies on 40 private companies and community foundations throughout the state to help pay for the program. Grand Rapids Community Foundation is the largest local funding partner.

The organization works in partnership with the Department of Human Services and The Food & Nutrition Coalition of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force.  

This Friday, August 10, the Fair Food Network will celebrate the success of the Double Up Food Bucks program at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. FFN representatives, including president and CEO Dr. Oran Hesterman, will be there from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to greet people and answer any questions. From 12:30 - 1:30 p.m., Molly Clauhs will host a “Taste of Double Up Food Bucks” cooking demonstration using fresh, in-season food from the market. Clauhs is owner of The Silver Spork, a Grand Rapids-based gourmet food truck, and the co-owner of Grand Rapids’ Cooking School.

“The hope for the event is to connect with some funders and community partners,” says Chadderdon Bair.

The Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program offers healthy food for Michigan families and supports Michigan farmers. If you’d like to help them continue, here are some ways you can get involved:

-    Visit Fair Food Network online to find out more about them.
-    Stop by the Fulton Street Farmers Market and say hello this Friday from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. 
-    Volunteer at the event on Friday by contacting Liz Kohn
-    Shop at your local farmers markets and volunteer your time. 
-    Like Fair Food Network on Facebook.  
-    Follow @FairFoodNetwork on Twitter.

Sources: Rachel Chadderdon Bair, Double Up Food Bucks Program Director at Fair Food Network and Liz Kohn, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Fair Food Network.

Grand Rapids GiveCamp offers free technical solutions to nonprofit organizations

Throw 80 or so tech professionals in a room for a full weekend, include nonprofit organizations seeking help with websites and other technical issues, add in unlimited food and beverages, and what do you get?

You get a whole lot done, that’s what.

Grand Rapids GiveCamp is a weekend-long event that pairs volunteer technology professionals with nonprofit organizations seeking technical solutions. Together, over the course of an active weekend, they strategize, design, develop and code, producing impressive results in a short amount of time.  

Now in its fourth year, GiveCamp takes place October 26-28 in The Factory, the collaborative workspace at 38 West Fulton Street. Organizers for this year’s event are currently seeking volunteers, nonprofit organizations and sponsors. The deadline for nonprofits to apply is September 1.

During GiveCamp weekend, teams of five or six individuals with a variety of skills work together with a nonprofit organization to create a dynamic, content management system driven website, upgrade an old site, consult on social media and marketing strategies, offer database assistance or provide other technical solutions as requested.

If the nonprofit organizations had to pay for these services, the estimated cost would be between $10,000 and $30,000 per project.  

Co-directing the event this year are J. Tower, a software consultant with Falafel Software, and Ross Hunter, a software craftsman with Mutually Human.

“Nonprofits have tight budgets and technology is a very expensive thing to pay for,” says Tower, explaining the reason for the event. “There are so many amazing nonprofits in West Michigan. We often give them money, but there’s a huge difference between spending dollars and spending your time. Getting to know the people is so much more meaningful.”

After the September 1 deadline, organizers select which of the nonprofit projects to work on in October. Projects are selected based on what will have the most impact for the organization and the community, and what can realistically be accomplished in a weekend with the number of anticipated volunteers.
 
“We want to make sure the projects are successful,” Tower says.

He admits it’s difficult to predict how many volunteers will show up, so they try to be conservative with commitments. Organizations are sometimes placed on a waiting list until more people volunteer for the event.

In 2011, 43 nonprofits applied and 13 projects were selected. Volunteers worked with organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and Catherine’s Health Center, to name a few.
 
Catherine’s Health Center Development Director Janet Zahn had a great experience with the volunteers and “can’t say enough good about GiveCamp.”

“In the course of a weekend, they built us a whole new website,” she says.

Volunteers converted the old, static Catherine’s Health Care website into a re-designed interactive site by adding new features such as online forms and a way to donate. Zahn says her organization has applied for help again this year as they hope to optimize their website for mobile devices and streamline the home page a bit.
   
Once a GiveCamp project is selected, a volunteer project liaison will connect with the organization to determine exactly what needs to be done and set goals and expectations. Teams are then set up based on skills matching the project.  

As much planning as possible is done ahead of the October weekend so the teams don’t have to waste time on Friday night getting into groups or asking questions.

Jonathan Pichot, a web developer with Rapid Development Group, has volunteered in the past and will donate his skills again this year. He says the Friday that GiveCamp starts is the most exciting and many people work late into the night.

“Sometimes we can be a little ambitious at first,” he admits. “Sunday is usually the most stressful day because you’re finishing details and realizing that you were too ambitious on Friday.”  

Volunteers are needed for just about everything, from project management to programming, database administration, design, marketing, writing, running errands, helping with clean up and more. People can volunteer for any amount of time they wish throughout the weekend as well.

Sponsors and donations are also needed for meals, snacks, swag, parking spaces and general operating expenses for the event.

GiveCamp offers a rewarding way for technical professionals to give back to the nonprofit organizations in our community. Here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit Grand Rapids GiveCamp online to find out more about the event.
-    Fill out an application for your nonprofit organization.
-    Volunteer your skills for the weekend.
-    Become a sponsor of the event or donate goods and services such as food, parking spaces and more.
-    Like Grand Rapids GiveCamp on Facebook.
-    Follow @GRGiveCamp on Twitter.

Sources: J. Tower, Co-Director of the 2012 Grand Rapids GiveCamp event and Jonathan Pichot, Grand Rapids GiveCamp volunteer

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photographs taken by Adam Bird.

Changes to the city's urban core begin with conversations and empowerment

Joe Jones has high aspirations for Grand Rapids and believes changes in the city’s urban core can make a world of difference in growing a vibrant community. He knows all too well that we have a lot of work to do yet, but he’s ready for the challenge and has already made a strong start in the right direction.  

Last year, Jones was tapped to be the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of the Grand Rapids Urban League after Reverend Dr. Walter M. Brame retired. In July, he began going through the process to become National Urban League certified and make the position permanent. Once Jones completes training and passes an interview process, he hopes to finalize the transition by fall.

As an African American male who grew up in Detroit, Jones says he was fortunate to be surrounded by positive role models. In 2000, he started a strategic communication company called E.E. Milestone + Associates that provides assistance to organizations with a desire to communicate more effectively with communities of color. And now he’s ready to guide the Grand Rapids Urban League into its 70th year with the goal of empowering people in the city’s urban core.

The Urban League provides African Americans and other people living in the urban core employment opportunities, housing assistance, educational initiatives, youth mentoring and healthy lifestyle programs.

“People have historically come here for a myriad of needs,” says Jones. “We are the ‘go to’ agency for the urban core.”

In the past, the Urban League has focused on helping African Americans, but with the “roller coaster economy,” Jones sees people in his office from all ethnic backgrounds.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” he says.

The National Urban League in New York City -- “the mother ship” as Jones calls it -- has been operating for 102 years and has nearly 150 affiliate offices around the country.

Jones describes the Urban League as a “civil rights organization with the philosophy that anyone can experience civil rights and social justice by way of economic empowerment.”

One of the main ways to achieve economic empowerment is through employment. That’s why the Urban League focuses on providing comprehensive employment assessments, counseling, training and placement opportunities to its customers.

“We offer an employment training program on steroids,” says Jones.

The organization is working with some local employers now, but Jones hopes to “cast the net out further to attract more employers.” Specifically, the focus is on corporations that may be more receptive to hiring people with a criminal record.

“There are a number of applicants who have skill sets but because of the ‘Scarlett letter’ of a felony, the door is shut in their face for employment opportunities,” Jones says.

His goal is to walk alongside CEOs and HR personnel to help them understand the urban culture, offer solutions and provide value-added partnerships.

“Everyone knows the problems [of the urban population], but how many people are working diligently to address these problems?” asks Jones.

The Urban League is trying different ways to solve the problems within the urban core. They work with customers to assess their employability. They counsel them, and they expect them to be accountable. At the same time, they ask employers to provide a livable wage to employees.

Overall, the approach is a holistic one with the rationale that if people are working and making a decent wage, they are able to contribute to local businesses, ensuring a positive economic effect for the entire community. Jones believes that when the city’s core is healthy, this spreads to the outlying areas making the whole region attractive to new businesses and industries, which then in turn creates more jobs.

Jones admits his organization often doesn’t have all of the answers or understand everything, but listening is the first step. When people come into the Grand Rapids Urban League, they receive two things: a dose of hope, and dignity. That’s always the starting point.  

“Everyone needs affirmation, no matter what stage of life,” Jones says.

Going forward, Jones and his staff at the Urban League know there is a lot of work to do when it comes to addressing the urban core problems, but they’re willing to make the effort. They hope to play an important part in transforming Grand Rapids into a thriving model city someday.

In order to grow economically as well as culturally, Jones also believes we have to get to a place in our community where we’re not afraid to have conversations about race and class. It may be difficult to make the necessary changes, but the Urban League is focused on finding solutions and being a part of the process.

“The most effective measure of growing in our community is when we step out of our comfort zones,” says Jones. “We’re not asking folks to step out of comfort zones by themselves -- we’ll step out with you.”

The goal of the Grand Rapids Urban League is to empower communities by changing lives. If you believe our city will become greater with a stronger urban core and want to get involved, here’s how you can:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Urban League online to find out more about them.
-    Become a member or a volunteer.
-    Donate to the Urban League or become an investor.
-    Become an ally of the Urban League and help them achieve a more vibrant and cohesive urban core.
-    The Urban League is seeking companies willing to partner with them and provide employment opportunities. If you own a company, contact them, or ask your employer to do so.
-    Like the Grand Rapids Urban League on Facebook.

Source: Joe Jones, Interim President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Urban League

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Grand Rapids Urban League.

Autism Support of Kent County offers resources and support to local families

One out of every 88 children is born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the likelihood is four times greater for boys. Currently, there are more than 400 people in Kent County living with some form of this complex developmental disability.

Autism Support of Kent County, Inc. (ASK) serves people with ASD and their families by providing information and resources, hosting family events and by funding music therapy, camp attendance and school outings.

ASD is caused by a neurological disorder that affects a person’s social interaction and communication skills, as well as their sensory system. It’s usually diagnosed before a child reaches the age of two.

Those with ASD typically have difficulty communicating with others, especially in social situations. Emotional outbursts are common and they may act extremely sensitive to light, sound and touch.

There is currently no cure for ASD, however, various treatments have been shown to reduce some of the challenges associated with the disability. Since the range of ASD varies from mild to severe, treatment approaches tend to be highly individualized.

Each year, ASK spends approximately $10,000 underwriting music therapy for children who are enrolled in one of Kent County’s 55 Autism classrooms. Licensed music therapists from the Franciscan Life Process Center in Lowell visit once a month to get the students interested in music while encouraging communication. Studies show that individuals with ASD respond favorably to music, making this type of therapy a helpful treatment option.    

“If a child can be engaged in music, that often helps with behaviors and communication,” says ASK Board Secretary Celia Andrus.

Andrus knows first hand what living with someone with ASD is like. Her own son, Josh, was diagnosed as a child after it became clear he wasn’t behaving the way other kids his age were. Andrus remembers that he would cry for hours and he never spoke or pointed at anything.  

“Back then, I didn’t even know what autism was,” she admits.

Josh, who is now 26, functions on the severe end of the Autism spectrum. He is nonverbal and experiences difficulty with his fine motor skills, meaning that his brain tells him one thing, but his body does another.

Andrus says there’s often the misconception that people who don’t speak, don’t understand, but in reality, they do. In 2004, Josh participated in a class in Austin, Texas, where he was taught how to use a letter board to communicate. It was then that Andrus discovered her son knew how to read and spell words. Many ASD therapy programs now use iPads as a tool to promote better communication skills.   

In addition to funding the music therapy program, ASK provides another $10,000 each year for Indian Trails Camp scholarships. This summer camp is a place where individuals with disabilities such as ASD can go to have fun while getting the one-on-one attention they need.  

ASK also provides assistance to disadvantaged students enrolled in one of the Autism classes. Each child gets up to $100 a year to use toward classroom community outings such as movies, lunch and more.

ASK is one of several local resources for people with ASD in Kent County and their services are free. They rely on donations from the community to fund their programs and events.

The organization operates inexpensively with an all-volunteer board and no office. They recently hired Pam Liggett to serve as executive director in the first permanent paid position since ASK began in 1973.

Every year, ASK hosts a walk, a Whitecaps baseball game and a golf outing to raise money. The eighth annual Golf Classic takes place on Monday, August 6, and there are still openings for individuals and foursomes. More information can be found below.

Monies raised from these events help pay for an annual holiday party, an Easter egg hunt and other fun activities throughout the year. These events offer families with Autistic children a comfortable environment where they don’t have to worry how their child will behave.

“If a child throws a screaming fit, we don’t judge,” says Andrus. “We’ve all been there.”

Autism Support of Kent County is making a difference in the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Here are some ways you can help them continue their efforts:

-    Visit Autism Support of Kent County online to find out more about them.
-    Attend the eighth annual Golf Classic on Monday, August 6 at the Highlands Golf Club on 2515 Leonard NW. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. with a shotgun start at 1:00 p.m. The event concludes with a 5:30 p.m. dinner, including awards and prizes. The cost is $95 per player or $360 for a foursome.
-    Donate to ASK.
-    Subscribe to their newsletter through a button on the home page of the website.
-    Volunteer for an event or attend a board meeting.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Celia Andrus, Board Secretary for Autism Support of Kent County.

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Autism Support of Kent County.


Symphony music for all tastes and all ages

Symphony music can be heard everywhere -- in movies, television shows, videogames and more. Evette Pittman says people often don’t make the connection.

“Try to see a movie without the music,” she adds. “It’s not the same.”

Pittman is the Director of Development Events & Community Engagement at the Grand Rapids Symphony. That’s a long title, but basically, her main role with the organization is to get more people of all ages interested in listening to symphony music.

She’s currently planning a new event for November 30 that’s geared toward the “next generation,” or those under the age of 40. Details are still being planned, but Pittman says to expect something different, with somewhat of “a 'Rock of Ages' feel to it.”

The Grand Rapids Symphony is currently celebrating its 82nd season with the next one kicking off in September. With strong community support behind it, the Symphony is recognized as one of the leading regional orchestras in the U.S. and can even brag about receiving a 2007 Grammy Award nomination. They have produced 12 musical CDs as well, with the most recent one in 2010 distributed internationally.

More than 170,000 people attend one or several of the approximately 400 symphony performances each year. Educational and community service programs allow students, senior citizens and people with disabilities to account for nearly half of the total attendees.

Each year, Music Director David Lockington and Associate Conductor John Varineau lead the Symphony orchestra in presenting nine different concert series. These include:
-    Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series
-    Fox Motors Pops Series
-    SymphonicBoom
-    Crowe Horwath Rising Stars Series
-    Edward Jones Coffee Classics
-    Sacred Dimensions
-    PNC Lollipop Series
-    DTE Energy Foundation Family Series
-    D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops at Cannonsburg Ski Area

The Symphony presents its “Symphony with Soul” concert to celebrate diversity within the community every year as well. The concert will be held this year on February 16 with a well-known guest musician soon to be announced. Proceeds from this event help support the Mosaic Scholar program, which offers private lessons, instrument rentals, concert tickets and more to African-American and Hispanic students between the ages of 11 and 18. This is part of a scholarship program initially created in 2006 with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“So many kids can’t even dream,” Pittman says in reference to schools cutting art and music programs. The Mosaic Scholar program offers students a chance to learn from professional musicians and provides opportunities they may not have otherwise.

The Symphony’s educational programs give more than 77,000 students and adults the chance to experience music, including the popular free concerts to third and fifth grade children.

Marketing Manager Jacalyn Wood says the Grand Rapids Symphony performs a wide variety of concerts every season in order to be relevant. The goal is to offer something for everyone, no matter what age or musical tastes.

“We want to be a part of the community, educationally and inspirationally,” she says.

Tickets for each performance can be purchased at the Grand Rapids Symphony office or through Ticketmaster and are sold individually, as a package of discounted tickets or in blocks for groups. The prices vary depending on the event.  

Not everyone realizes the Grand Rapids Symphony is a nonprofit organization that relies on donors and sponsors to present the concerts and events that they do.

“Ticket sales only account for 33 percent of the operating budget,” says Wood, adding that donations and sponsorships pay for everything else.

With a staff of only around 30 people, the Symphony also depends on nearly 500 volunteers each year to help with concerts, events and in the office.

“Volunteers are the backbone of what we do,” says Pittman. “They’re almost family.”

For its upcoming 83rd season, the Grand Rapids Symphony will continue to provide entertainment for the whole family and people of all ages with a variety of exciting new concerts. The complete schedule can be found online, but if you’re unsure of where to start, Pittman encourages people to call or stop by the office and ask the staff. They are trained to be able to guide you in finding out what might suit you best.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have a leading orchestra here in our town. Let's help them celebrate another 82 seasons.

Here are some ways to support the Grand Rapids Symphony:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Symphony online to find out about upcoming concerts and to learn more about them.
-    Visit their office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, or call 616.454.9451, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
-    Attend one of the many concerts and encourage your friends to join you. The upcoming schedule can be found online.
-    Volunteer at a concert, event or in the office.
-    Donate to the Grand Rapids Symphony.
-    Become a sponsor.
-    Like the Symphony on Facebook.
-    Follow @GRSymphony on Twitter.


Sources: Evette Pittman, Director of Development Events & Community Engagement, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Jacalyn Wood, Marketing Manager

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Growing an herbalist

When you visit Lisa Rose Starner’s home, it’s almost certain you’ll eat something out of her yard. She may casually pick a part of a plant while walking along and hand it to you.

“Try this,” she’ll say.

You agree and take a bite, not really knowing what to expect. And you do it only because you know you can trust Starner’s in-depth knowledge of all plants growing anywhere near her West side home.

Starner and her husband Seth, their two children, Jacob and Emma, and a friendly Golden Retriever rescue dog named Rosie live on just under an acre in a house that was once owned by Seth’s grandparents.

Shortly after moving into the house in 2002, Starner tore up the front yard and planted what she calls a “gypsy garden.” This urban garden is abundant with herbs, vegetables and fruits that go right from the yard to the dinner table or into a cup of tea.

“This land is an experiment I’m watching,” Starner says.

For many years, Starner has been a local food advocate, or “locavore,” eating food grown locally by others as well as growing food for her own family on her urban farm.

“I would rather buy locally and conventionally than organically and commercially,” she says. “The land around us means a lot to me.”

Starner is also an herbalist, practicing what she’s learned about Western Herbalism through various classes and teachers. She shares this knowledge by hosting classes that teach others how to forage, garden, cook with whole foods and use local plants and herbs for natural remedies. In addition, Starner runs an herbal Community Supported Agriculture program and offers individual consultations to those seeking to improve their health.

Starner truly enjoys teaching people how to grow gardens and forage.

“This is the way I know to create change,” she says.

She realizes that “not everyone’s going to till up their yard” and some may have to run to the health store to get their food and herbs. She also knows that “people aren’t totally comfortable jumping in the woods and eating plants.” But that doesn’t mean she won’t try encouraging them.

Starner believes it’s easier to change an individual than the whole system -- that’s a task that overwhelms her. 
 
As if she is not busy enough as an herbalist, consultant and urban farmer, Starner is also writing a book about the growing food movement in Grand Rapids. Last April, the History Press contacted her, unsolicited, and asked if she would tell the story about how the people in our community are growing their own food and opening local food markets and restaurants. The publishing company found Starner through her social media and blogging, and she admits being very surprised by their offer.

“They felt I was the perfect person to write it,” she says. “I agreed.”

So far, she’s interviewed farmers, community leaders and others who are intentionally promoting positive changes in how we get our food. The book’s working title is "Built from Scratch," and it’s expected to publish later this year.

Starner wants to continue her studies in herbalism, but she’s finding she’s running out of local teachers. It’s for this reason that she wants to travel to Ometepe, Nicaragua in November for clinical herbalism training with Natural Doctors International at their donation-based clinic. While there, she will get firsthand experience working with the physicians, herbalists and natural doctors.

The cost of the three-week training is $2,700. Starner is going no matter what, but recently a friend suggested that she ask the community for their financial support. She’s now set up an Indiegogo page where people can contribute toward her training as a way to say thank you for what she does for Grand Rapids.   

By advancing her training in Nicaragua, Starner wants to share this knowledge with our community and continue to give everyone ideas on how to live healthier.

Starner believes the natural world is magical. We can all learn from her appreciation of the land and what it grows. Here's how you can support Starner so she can continue to teach our community about eating local and using herbs to heal.

-    Donate to help fund the trip to Nicaragua for clinical training with Natural Doctors International.
-    Attend one of Lisa Rose Starner’s classes.
-    Schedule an individual consultation.
-    Follow the Burdock & Rose Tumblr.
-    Follow the Built from Scratch B-Roll Tumblr to get updates on the book.
-    Like her Burdock & Rose Page on Facebook
-    Follow @lisarosestarner on Twitter.

Source: Lisa Rose Starner

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Lisa Rose Starner and Heidi Stukkie.



Healthcare volunteers needed to support the community

Imagine having to decide between buying food and paying bills or having that nagging health care problem explored. In many situations, the basic necessities win this battle and what may start out as an easily-treated, minor health care problem turns into something more.

This is often the reality for many people who are uninsured or underinsured. A $100 doctor visit doesn’t fit in the budget so, instead of getting the care they need, they go without.

Catherine’s Health Center, a nonprofit medical clinic that began in 1996, offers free or low-cost health care to uninsured or underserved individuals in northeast Grand Rapids. Nearly 85 percent of their patients are employed, but still cannot afford insurance or adequate health care.

“We feel everyone has a right to health care,” says Volunteer Coordinator Kelsey Carriere.

To be able to provide this valuable community service, they rely on medical professionals to donate their time and skills. Carriere says her organization is currently operating at only two-thirds of its capacity and needs more skilled volunteers. The center is designed to serve a maximum of 15,000 patients per year and with the economy in the state it’s in, more and more people are turning to Catherine’s Health Care for their medical needs.

Anyone with professional medical training is encouraged to apply to become a volunteer. The clinic works with college students, retired professionals and everyone in between. Primary care professionals (MD, DO, PA, NP), physical therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, clinical social workers, optometrists, massage therapists, pharmacists, health educators and others are needed now more than ever.

Catherine’s accommodates flexible time commitments and offers malpractice insurance coverage to its volunteers. They want to make it as easy and rewarding as possible for people to donate their time. The clinic could not operate without the generous help of the healthcare community, and even as little as 4-6 volunteer hours a month are appreciated.  

An application can be found online and once Carriere receives it, she’ll contact the applicant for an interview. If the match seems like a good fit, she’ll verify credentials and run a background check. Once accepted, the volunteer attends an orientation process and then is assigned to work with a member of the team.

Oftentimes, volunteers have the opportunity to help in an area they don’t normally work in during their regular job, allowing them to gain new skills. Carriere says it’s typically a mutually beneficial experience for both the volunteer and the clinic.

“The relationship needs to be a partnership between both parties to be effective,” she says.
 
In January 2011, Catherine’s Health Center opened a new facility at Leonard and Lafayette. The space is modern and welcoming, and it reflects their commitment to providing quality care in a dignified manner.

Catherine’s Health Center’s dedicated volunteers make a difference in the lives of so many. If you’re a healthcare professional, please consider getting involved. And even if you’re not, there are other ways you can show your support for this organization so everyone can have access to quality healthcare. Here are some ideas:

-    Visit Catherine’s Health Center online to find out more about them.
-    Volunteer. If you are a medical professional, your skills are greatly needed. If not, there are still a number of other ways to get involved.
-    Donate financially. Catherine’s Health Center is privately funded and any amount donated is appreciated.
-    Sign up for their newsletter.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Kelsey Carriere, Volunteer Coordinator at Catherine’s Health Center

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Catherine’s Health Center.  

American Red Cross -- always there in times of need

In a perfect world, no one would ever need the emergency services of the American Red Cross. Unfortunately, accidents and disasters happen each day and it’s comforting to know someone will be there to help.

Cheryl Bremer, chief executive officer for American Red Cross of West Michigan, says, “During people’s darkest hour, they will find the Red Cross is there for them.”

She adds that no one ever thinks they will be the one affected by an emergency, but she believes that “at some point in our lives, every person will be touched by the Red Cross.”

Considering the vast assortment of services they offer, she’s probably right.

The Red Cross is well known for their emergency response services and that accounts for 75 percent of the work they do. They also provide training, educational and transportation services, as well as act as a blood bank.  

We typically don’t have large natural disasters here in Michigan, but we do have fires, floods and other emergencies. The Red Cross responds to every house fire and the first thing they do is remove the people involved from the scene -- whether that means giving them a place to rest temporarily inside a nearby vehicle, or by taking them to a local hotel where they can spend a few nights.

Each person is then handed a blanket, a comfort kit containing basic needs items and a stuffed animal.

“It’s amazing how even adults will cling to the stuffed animal,” Bremer says. “When you’re watching your house go up in smoke, you cling to anything.”

The Red Cross reassures its emergency response clients they will have a place to stay, food to eat and emotional support as they begin the first steps to recovery. Debit cards are often given to families to allow them to purchase food, clothing and whatever else they may need, with alcohol and tobacco being the exception.

“A typical disaster costs about $1,000 per family,” says Bremer.

Each year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters nationwide, with the majority of these being house fires. In the West Michigan region, which covers Barry, Ionia, Kent and Montcalm counties, more than 1,100 people affected by 375 disasters have been helped so far this year. The chapter responds on average to two emergencies each day.

With a track record like that, it’s hard to believe that most of the work is done by trained volunteers. The local Red Cross chapter operates with almost 600 active volunteers each week. With this many people involved, the cost to recruit, train and screen each of them makes up a large part of the operating budget.  

In addition to disaster response assistance for clients, the Red Cross also aids emergency personnel by providing food, drinks and other needs. Last summer, during Rodrick Dantzler's murder spree, they were on hand to support the police officers on duty.

The Red Cross provides emergency communication services between military members and their families as well. When a soldier is killed in the line of duty, volunteers inform the survivors. They also relay information about births, injuries and more.

The Preparedness Health Safety Services (PHSS) area focuses on teaching individuals, schools and corporations classes in first aid, CPR, defibrillator use, babysitting, lifeguarding, good hygiene and disaster preparedness. So far in 2012, more than 16,000 people in West Michigan have benefitted from Red Cross training. 
 
And despite having its regional office located next door to Michigan Blood, the Red Cross of West Michigan also holds its own blood drives with a storage facility located in Lansing.

A common misconception is that the American Red Cross receives government funding -- they do not. They rely on monetary contributions by individuals and organizations, yet they are still required by a government mandate to provide emergency services.

Each year, the Hometown Heroes Celebration acts as their signature fundraising event and it gives them a chance to honor individuals and groups who are making a difference in our community.

“We recognize ordinary people in the community doing extraordinary things,” Bremer says.

Anyone can nominate someone in various categories such as Humanitarian of the Year, Lifesaver Award, Spirit of Volunteerism Award and several more. Information can be found on the website describing each category. The deadline to vote is August 30.

The event takes place on April 25 and more information will be shared in the upcoming months. Guests can expect a fun evening of honoring people with food, wine, music and silent and live auctions, so be sure to mark it on your calendar.

Financial sponsorship opportunities are also available if you or your company is interested in showing your support to the Red Cross.

Whether you’re affected by an emergency such as a fire or a flood, require the need for blood or first aid, or have a loved one in the Armed Forces, chances are, you’ll benefit from the services of the American Red Cross at some time in your life. It’s good to know you can count on them, no matter what.
 
“Disasters and emergencies happen regardless of color, class or orientation,” says Bremer. “We are neutral and don’t discriminate against anyone.”

Let’s hope none of us need the emergency services of the Red Cross anytime soon, but here are some ways you can show your support now for when the need is there:

-    Visit the American Red Cross of West Michigan online to find out more.
-    Volunteer. Volunteers are needed in any capacity, whether as emergency responders, office helpers, first aid trainers and more.
-    Donate online or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can also text “Red Cross” to 90999 via your mobile phone to donate $10.
-    Give blood. The next blood drive is on Wednesday, August 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Chapter Office, 1050 Fuller Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
-    Take a class. Get trained in life-saving skills or become an educator and train others.
-    Nominate a Hometown Hero by August 31, 2012. We all know someone who deserves to be honored so here’s our chance. The nomination packet can be found on the home page.
-    Attend the Hometown Heroes event next April 25, 2013. Location and ticket pricing are to be determined, but mark the date on your calendar now.
-    Shop for Red Cross products and first aid kits online.
-    Read their blog.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @RedCrossGGR on Twitter.

Sources: Cheryl Bremer, Chief Executive Officer for American Red Cross of West Michigan, and Deanna Berkowitz, Regional Communications Officer

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by American Red Cross of West Michigan.



Volunteers feed the hungry with the help of a local food bank

Not everyone that has a job has enough to eat. Food prices are continuing to rise, but salaries are not. Plus, people who have been recently laid off often have to work elsewhere now for less money.

“Just because people are working, doesn’t mean they have enough money to buy food for their family,” says Kenneth Estelle, chief executive officer at the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

With the dry summer we’ve had here in Michigan, food prices will keep going up. Corn and soybean crops have been badly affected by the lack of rain, so products with these items in them will certainly cost more. Dairy will mostly like go up as well as cows don’t produce as much milk when it’s so hot outside, and chickens don’t lay as many eggs either. And, not to mention, the grains fed to the animals now cost more so that increase will also be passed onto the consumer.

People who are unemployed or who are receiving government assistance have it even worse than those who are working yet underemployed. Benefits are getting cut or reduced at the same time food is costing more.

Plain and simple, it’s getting harder for families and individuals to be able to afford to eat. In 2010, nearly 15 percent of households nationwide, or roughly 17 million families, were food insecure, meaning they were concerned about how they would get their next meal.

Each month, the West Michigan Food Bank provides food to almost 800 food pantries in a nine-county region surrounding Grand Rapids, and also to 40 counties throughout the state. These pantries serve as a way for families to get the extra help they need to avoid going hungry.

The West Michigan Food Bank is one of more than 200 organizations belonging to the Feeding America national network of food banks. They pay to be a member, but act as a separate nonprofit organization with their own board and bylaws.

Food is donated to the West Michigan Food Bank by food producers and growers, large retailers with excess or improperly labeled products and trucking companies with undeliverable loads. Walmart and Sam’s Club are two of the biggest contributors to the food bank.

All food that is accepted by the West Michigan Food Bank is inspected. They take this task very seriously. Government and Feeding America inspectors frequently stop by to inspect the food as well.  

“The whole point is to help people and we’re not helping them if we’re making them sick,” says Estelle.
 
Visitors to the local food pantries don’t pay for the food they get. The pantry, shelter or agency pays the West Michigan Food Bank a small handling fee of less than 16 cents per pound of food. These fees support half of the costs to run the food bank. West Michigan Food Bank relies on donations and grants to cover the other operating costs. Ideally, the organization would like to raise enough money to eventually eliminate the agency handling fee.

Nearly 80 percent of the food pantries come to West Michigan Food Bank’s warehouse in Comstock Park to pick up their food. The remaining 20 percent of agencies have the food delivered.

Approximately 25-40 volunteers work in the warehouse each day to prepare the food for pick up and delivery, and 1,740 volunteers helped the organization in 2011. Families, individuals, church groups, schools and corporations arrive daily to assist with packing, repackaging, sorting, loading and delivery.

“There’s no way we could do what we do without volunteers,” Estelle says.

The Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank is making sure no one goes hungry. Please get involved and help them with this goal. Here are some ways:

-    Visit the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank online to learn more.
-    Volunteer your time and services to the organization.
-    Make a charitable donation of any amount.
-    Find out more about the Million Meal March campaign to raise money and awareness about hunger. A hike on the White Pine Trail on September 29 will kick off a series of events.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @feedingwestmich on Twitter.


Source: Kenneth Estelle, Chief Executive Officer at the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.





Local refugee program helps people thrive

Loud noises and bright lights fill many summer nights. But if you’re new to this country and don’t know what fireworks are, the experience can be quite frightening. Knowledge can make a big difference in situations like this.

Thrive, an organization started by the South Wyoming Methodist Church in 2011, offers cultural training and assistance to help refugees in West Michigan better understand our culture so they are able to thrive here, and not just survive.

A 2009 United Nations report shows nearly 42 million people around the world either left or were removed from their homes because of conflicts and other dangerous situations. Today, many refugees currently live in camps for 10 years or more, waiting for an opportunity to go back home again. More often than not, they never get the chance.  

Shortly after World War II, a resettlement program was developed in the U.S. to offer a safe, permanent place for these uprooted people to live. Now approximately 40,000 - 70,000 refugees arrive in America each year from such places as Burma, Bhutan and the Congo region of Africa. Michigan receives around 3,000 of these refugees annually, with 600 or so arriving in Grand Rapids.

Official resettlement programs provide many of the basic needs for up to six months after arrival. Thrive fills in the gaps and provides ongoing support after this time period.

Executive Director Jessica Gladden first became interested in working with refugees when she visited South Africa in 1999. She says she kept getting marriage proposals on that trip from male refugees looking for a way out of the country. It made her realize the harsh situations many of the people are in.

Gladden is now a licensed master social worker who’s finishing her Ph.D. She also speaks fluent Swahili -- a skill that often comes in handy when working with the large number of Congolese refugees here.

Thrive helps refugees in West Michigan in three different ways. The first is by offering English as a second language (ESL) classes at its Wyoming office.

A second way of assisting refugees is through Thrive’s Cultural Broker Program. Volunteers partner with refugee families to give them the tools they need to be successful in our community.

“We figure out their biggest needs and find volunteers to match that,” says Gladden.

She tries to match the volunteer’s interests with what the family needs. About 25 people volunteer currently, but they could always use more help.

The Cultural Broker Program provides private tutors to help the families practice English. Volunteers also help with transportation assistance, either by showing the refugees how to use the Rapid busses or by offering rides. Educating the families on proper infant care and good hygiene are other key components, as well as showing them how to shop for food.

Something as simple as handling incoming mail is an area the agency has found refugees frequently need help with, too. They sometimes can’t tell the difference between important government documents and junk mail.  

Gladden says Thrive aims to spend about a year with each family in the Cultural Broker Program and evaluates their progress every six months.

The third focus of Thrive is social justice and advocacy work. They help educate the community to refugee issues and meet with local legislatures, neighborhood associations and police officers.

Thrive initially began with a seed grant from Metro Ministries, but now relies on donations to sustain itself. All of the services offered to refugees are free as most are living with little income.

The organization is hoping to raise money and awareness with its upcoming Barnstormer music festival benefit on August 24 and 25 at the Petersen Barn in Rockford. The all-volunteer, family-friendly event will feature more than 10 bands, a variety of workshops, arts, activities for kids and much more. Suggested donation amounts for tickets are on the website and guests are encouraged to order them ahead of time.

The goal of the Thrive is to help refugees who’ve lost their homes become physically, emotionally and economically self-sufficient so they can learn how to not simply survive here in America, but thrive as valuable members in our community.

“People are all the same, they want the same things,” Gladden says. “When you meet someone who’s different, you may not know what to do, but just say hello.”

Here are some ways you can help Thrive continue to be an active resource for West Michigan’s refugee community:

-    Visit Thrive online to find out more about them.
-    Donate to Thrive through Network for Good.
-    Volunteer in any number of ways. Thrive will match your skills with what is needed.
-    Attend the Barnstormer music festival on August 24-25.
-    Join the Barnstormer event on Facebook and invite your friends.
-    Like Thrive on Facebook.
-    Follow @ThriveRefugee on Twitter.

Source:  Jessica Gladden, Executive Director at Thrive

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Thrive.

Empowering those with disabilities -- and the rest of us

An organization designed to empower independence in people with disabilities wants everyone to be involved in the decision-making process on issues that may affect them. “Nothing about us without us” is a saying they use to demonstrate this philosophy of inclusion.

Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) began in 1981 as the Grand Rapids Center for Independent Living. As a non-residential housing organization, the name was changed in 2002 to better reflect what they do and the people they serve.

“DAKC plays an integral part in creating thriving communities by providing direct services and a platform for people with disabilities to be involved in the decisions on how the community looks,” says Tyler Nickerson, Community Organizer with DAKC.

The organization assists persons with disabilities and the community as a whole by focusing on two main areas: systems navigation and systems change.

In navigating the current systems in place for those with disabilities, DAKC finds out which programs exist and how best to use them. Then they pass this information on to clients who may not know where to go or even begin when needing help.

DAKC also evaluates existing systems and programs to see what might need changes or adjustments in order to work more efficiently.

David Bulkowski, Executive Director at DAKC, says that the people with the disabilities are often the ones making the changes and his organization supports them in their efforts.

“We help folks get to the microphone,” he says.

DAKC has strong partnerships within the community as well and acts as an advocate for all of us, disabled or not. Bulkowski reminds us that we will all lose some mobility as we age. He adds that there is “an 80 percent likelihood of acquiring a disability before you die.”

Recently, DAKC became involved with the Michigan Street Corridor study and gave committee members a taste of what life with a disability is like. Organizers asked each of the 25 or so members to try to get up the steep Michigan Street hill while in a wheelchair. They quickly realized it’s not that easy.

DAKC also helped place a blind man, Casey Dutmer, on the steering committee. Bulkowski believes having a disabled person involved can sometimes change the dynamics in the room, otherwise, it may be “out of sight, out of mind.”

Nickerson says the organization has a long history of advocating for smart community development, especially when it comes to transportation and housing. A year ago, they helped the Rapid Transit System promote and pass its millage to provide enhanced service in more areas. DAKC’s goal is to “move the community transportation system forward to meet the needs of all residents” says Nickerson.
 
The organization is continually asking, “What do we want the community to look like?” They want to ensure Kent County is one of the best places to live for everyone.

“Unless you have a family member with a disability or have one yourself, you don’t know what it feels like,” says Bulkowski, referring to the unique issues those with disabilities face.

DAKC would like the community to get more educated about disability issues and to become advocates for change. Here are a few ways to get involved:  

-    Visit Disability Advocates of Kent County online to find out more.
-    Attend the July 26 Americans with Disabilities Act 22nd anniversary celebration at Rosa Parks Circle. There will be live music and ice cream treats! More information is found on their home page.
-    Donate to DAKC.
-    Volunteer with DAKC.
-    Like DAKC on Facebook.
-    Follow @AdvocateAbility on Twitter.

Source: Dave Bulkowski, Executive Director at Disability Advocates, and Tyler Nickerson, DAKC Community Organizer

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Disability Advocates.





Mentor a child and make a difference

Marshall Booker, Jr.’s father always told him, “You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution.”

Booker took this advice to heart and for more than 10 years has volunteered as a “big brother” with the D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He’s been a mentor to a few different pre-teen boys and has stayed connected with them as they got older.

“If you talk to them, you can pull them up,” says Booker.

The local Big Brothers Big Sisters program began in 1965 as part of a national program that pairs adult volunteers with children ages 5-17 in a mentoring capacity. Often, these children come from single-parent homes and may be having some challenges in school or at home. Having the guidance of a responsible adult they can trust who is not their parent, relative or teacher can have a life-changing impact on the lives of these young adults.  

Right now, there are approximately 350 children on a waiting list for a mentor in the community-based program. Nearly 70 percent are boys and the average age is between 9-10 years old.

In order to participate as a big brother or big sister, the organization asks for a one-year commitment to the matched child for 1-3 hours per week. Volunteers must be 18 and have transportation. They can be single or married, college students, parents, working adults or retired.

Mentors and the children are both evaluated before they qualify to be matched. Someone from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program will interview the child and child’s family at their home after an application request and an initial phone conversation. Information from their school is received as well.

Program Manager Paul Miller says this helps get a “composite picture of the child” and afterward, the child is placed into the system until a match can be found.

On the mentoring side, volunteers are screened carefully. Interviews take place at their homes also with background and reference checks done afterward. Mentors are able to share any preferences for the match as far as age, sex and race goes. It’s for this reason that matches are not first come, first served. Sometimes it takes a while for a compatible match to happen.

“We want to make successful matches,” says Miller. “That contributes to the long-term success of the program. Our objective is to sustain the match and have a good experience for the child and the volunteer.”

No special skills are needed to become a mentor. The organization provides training on how to handle different situations that may arise and regularly checks in with both the adult and the child to measure progress. The mentors often teach the child social skills and manners, or they assist with homework. Sometimes the pair simply has fun by going to movies, games, restaurants and cultural events. Other times, they hang out at the mentor’s home or volunteer at another nonprofit organization.  

Unlike the community-based program, the agency’s school-based program allows for volunteers as young as 14 years old to get involved. The commitment is also only around nine months instead of a year. These mentors meet with students at their schools and stay on the property helping with homework or hanging out over lunch.

Booker encourages others to take a chance and give the Big Brothers Big Sisters program a try. Many of his friends were hesitant to get involved at first because they didn’t have any experience with kids, but they soon realized what a rewarding experience it is.

“You get more out of it than the kids,” he admits.

If you want to make a difference in a child’s future, here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit Big Brothers Big Sisters online to find out more.
-    Volunteer to mentor a child.
-    Donate
-    Give tickets to events that mentors can attend with a child.
-    Like D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s on Facebook.

Sources: Paul Miller, Program Manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Marshall Booker, Jr., a mentor in the program

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Ending homelessness... one family at a time

When you enter the office of Family Promise of Grand Rapids, you’ll see a frame on the counter containing many different photos of individuals and families. In the corner of the frame, a quote written by a 15-year-old guest reads:  

“Homeless, I am. Hopeless? That I will never be.”

Family Promise provides this kind of hope to more than 500 people in Kent County each year through its temporary and permanent housing, case management, mentoring services and furniture donation programs.
 
In the last few years, many families are finding themselves homeless or struggling to keep their homes for the first time in their lives, and a disturbing trend shows the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in Kent County -- now making up 50 percent -- is families with children.

Throughout all of Michigan, the number of homeless students counted by the schools has increased by more than 300 percent in the last four years, with almost 2,100 homeless students on record in 2011.

“When people think of the homeless, most people think of a person living under a bridge,” says Family Promise Executive Director Cheryl Schuch. “That’s not usually who we see.”

Schuch says of the families helped by Family Promise’s Interfaith Hospitality Network program, 65 percent are homeless for the first time. More than 70 percent are single moms and nearly 55 percent of the families have children under the age of four. Research has recently discovered that chronic stress in children within this age group can lead to permanent damage, enhancing the likelihood of challenges later in their lives. 
 
A lack of decent jobs and affordable housing options, changes to Michigan’s family assistance programs, marital separations and domestic violence are the most common reasons people seek the assistance of Family Promise.

While there are various shelters around town, most don’t have the capacity to keep families together in times of crisis. That’s where Family Promise is different.

“Our program allows families to stay together,” Schuch says. “This is a core critical piece to maintain strength.”

Through its Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) program, the organization works with several different host sites that take turns housing five families at a time at their facilities each night for a week. Most of the current host sites are churches, but Family Promise welcomes all faiths and is open to partnering with any organization that can provide proper housing for the families or volunteers to help with meals and other services.

During the day, the families are brought back to the Family Promise office where they can talk with staff and volunteers, work on their resumes, look for housing or simply relax in a safe and comforting environment.

Last year, 61 families participated in the IHN program and 93 percent went into independent housing where most still remain today. Schuch says the key to the program is sustainability, so they provide a comprehensive, long-term support system to help the families become self-sufficient and retain hope.

Since the program began in 1997, Family Promise has served more than 800 families, 2,500 individuals and 1,800 kids.

In addition to the IHN program, Family Promise offers a way for families to obtain affordable housing through its Partners in Housing program. Manufactured homes are purchased by the organization and then refurbished for qualified families. After the family demonstrates they’re able to consistently pay the rent and utilities, they can own the home six months after moving in.

A furniture donation program also provides beds, furniture and household items to families in need who are entering new living spaces.   

Volunteers are always appreciated to help with meals, transport furniture and household items, play with children or watch them while their parents look for jobs and housing, resume and budgeting assistance, or simply just supporting the families in whatever way is needed.

“Most of our volunteers talk about what they’re getting, not giving, at the end of their experience,” says Schuch, referring to rewards of volunteering to help the families.    

Family Promise’s goal is to end homelessness, one family at a time. Here are some ways you can help:

- Visit Family Promise online to find out more.
- Donate furniture, household goods and other items on the Wish List or donate to Family Promise financially
- Volunteer in a variety of ways.
- Vote on July 28. Family Promise has been selected as a finalist in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good campaign. This campaign awards 100 cars in 100 days to nonprofit organizations in need of a new vehicle. Currently, Family Promise lacks a way to transport furniture, household goods, food and personal care items for their guests. They’re hoping to win a Toyota Tundra through this campaign. The only day to vote is July 28 so mark it on your calendar!
- Play golf on September 17 in the 10th Annual Family Promise Golf Outing.
- Like them on Facebook.
- Follow @familypromisegr on Twitter.

Source: Cheryl Schuch, Executive Director at Family Promise

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Family Promise.

Too many animals and not enough homes

Everyone loves cute puppies and kittens, but what happens when there aren’t enough homes for all of them?

The sad truth is that many end up in shelters, or worse, roam free on the streets. In 2011, nearly half of all of the shelter animals taken in were euthanized. Preventing the overpopulation of these unwanted pets in the first place seems like the obvious answer, but many people simply cannot afford to get their pets fixed.

This is why the Community Spay-Neuter Initiative Partnership, otherwise known as C-SNIP, exists. Their goal is to reduce the number of animals euthanized each year due to overpopulation by providing a safe and low-cost spay and neuter alternative.  

Anyone can have their pet fixed at C-SNIP, but the organization gives first priority to low-income clients and encourages those who can afford a regular veterinarian to do so. The fee for a dog to be spayed or neutered is $75 and it’s $35-45 for a cat. These fees are typically less than half of what a veterinarian’s office would charge.

Pet owners can also get low-cost vaccinations and microchipping at the time of surgery, and financial assistance is available to those in need.

“We’ve never turned anyone down due to a lack of affordability,” says Executive Director Pat Schoen.
    
C-SNIP makes it convenient for someone to get a pet fixed. Their Kentwood facility is located on a Rapid bus route and they can provide transportation services if necessary, too. No return visits are required after surgery to remove stitches as they eventually dissolve.  

In partnership with the Humane Society of West Michigan, C-SNIP also offers a monthly vaccination clinic for low-income pet owners to protect pets from dangerous diseases.

C-SNIP employs professionally trained veterinarians, veterinary technicians and assistants to perform the surgeries and give vaccines. The office operates with full and part-time staff and volunteers. They don’t offer rescue or adoption services, but instead work closely with other animal welfare agencies in the area.

On an average day, up to 80 dogs and cats are spayed or neutered at the clinic. That amounts to 12,000 per year and, since C-SNIP opened its facility in 2006, they’ve fixed more than 88,000 animals.
 
Since C-SNIP does not receive any government funding, they rely on grants from various organizations and private donations to keep their fees affordable. Schoen says they also hold two major fundraisers each year to raise money. The annual Bow Wow & Beers event takes place each February and a golf outing happens every fall. This year, a new event based on the PBS series, Antique Roadshow, will be held on September 13 at Blue Door Antiques.
 
Schoen hopes the community will continue to reduce the population of unwanted animals.

“There are too many dogs and cats and not enough homes,” she says.

Here are some ways you can help C-SNIP with its mission:

-    Visit C-SNIP online to find out more about them.
-    Donate financially to C-SNIP or donate items on their wish list.
-    Volunteer at C-SNIP and help with everything from assisting with pet intake to laundry, surgical instrument cleaning, answering phones, event staffing and more.
-    Play in the C-SNIP Golf Classic on September 14. (More information is on the home page.)
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Get your pets spayed or neutered and ask your family, friends and neighbors to do the same.

Source: Pat Schoen, Executive Director at C-SNIP

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by C-SNIP.

Women helping women

What began in 1979 as a group of women gathering together to socialize and drink wine has evolved into a nonprofit foundation that provides statewide financial support for quality childcare and early childhood education.

The Women's Caring Program (WCP) believes every child deserves a chance to be successful in life, regardless of income. When children fail to get good, quality care prior to kindergarten, they often trail behind their classmates and many don’t ever catch up. This academic disadvantage can impact the rest of their lives.

WCP’s ChildCare Commitment program helps low-income working families cover part of the cost of licensed childcare and early education expenses. In order to qualify, recipients cannot receive assistance through any other source, including government assistance. At least one parent or guardian also has to be working full time or going to college full time, or both. Mostly single moms benefit from the program but there are some two-parent families who qualify.

The program is geared toward the working poor -- those who make too much to qualify for government assistance, but not enough to afford quality care for their children.

“We used to call it falling through the cracks,” says Maureen McNulty Saxton, a Women’s Caring Program board member. “The cracks are now such potholes.”

The ChildCare Commitment program pays 40 percent of the annual childcare and early education costs for one child under the age of five. The maximum reimbursement for one year is $2,544 and participants have to reapply each year.

With the annual cost for childcare in Michigan averaging $6,400, having 40 percent covered can make a dramatic difference in a family’s budget.

The WCP’s ChildCare Commitment program provides disadvantaged children an opportunity to get on the right path early in life so they have the tools necessary to succeed later on. So far, more than 1,000 families have benefitted from the financial assistance.

McNulty Saxton says the program “takes us back to our roots of women helping women.”

To honor and celebrate this tradition, WCP hosts a series of summer garden parties throughout the state called Twilight Gatherings. The Grand Rapids women’s Twilight Gathering is on August 22 from 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. at the home of Marge Byington Potter. Tickets are $75 for this elegant night of food, wine and friendship.

To get more involved with the Women's Caring Program, here are some ideas:
-    Visit Women’s Caring Program online to find out more about the organization.
-    RSVP for the August 22 Twilight Gathering via email or by registering online.
-    Make a donation to support the care and early education of a child.
-    Volunteer your time.
-    Like them on Facebook.
-    Follow @wcprogram on Twitter.

Source: Maureen McNulty Saxton, Women’s Caring Program Board Member and one of the co-hostesses of the Grand Rapids Twilight Gathering

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Women’s Caring Program.

Grand Rapids Community Media Center -- one of the best kept secrets in Grand Rapids

Are you member of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center yet? If not, perhaps you’re not quite sure what they do or why it would make sense to be involved. You’re not alone.
 
“We’re one of the best kept secrets in Grand Rapids, but that’s not something you want to be,” says Linda Gellasch, director of operations and finance at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC).

She says people are aware of certain programs and projects, but there is not an awareness of the Community Media Center as a whole and this nonprofit, membership-based organization hopes to change that.

One step toward this goal is the recent hiring in January of a development director, a position GRCMC has not had for a very long time. Gellasch says the new director, Carol Shirey, is “getting her feet wet quickly” in an organization that is “somewhat cumbersome to get your mind around at times.”

The GRCMC collection of different media programs and projects contains WYCE Radio, two GRTV cable access channels, the new Rapidian hyper local citizen journalism website, IT and web development services for nonprofits, the historic Wealthy Theatre and educational services, including MoLLIE -- the Mobile Learning Lab for Information Education.
 
Even though each area has different funding methods, GRCMC operates financially as a collective organization with one budget, sharing expenses for items such as administration, facilities, utilities and more. Gellasch says this method is much less expensive than if you had to run a radio station or a theatre by itself.

She also adds the reason for this cooperative model of shared expenses and resources is that some areas bring in more money than others. For example, WYCE Radio is nearly supported by donations, but The Rapidian and Wealthy Theatre are not yet self-supporting so they make use of CMC general fund monies.
 
When you become a member of GRCMC, you get access to all services such as the ability to book venues like Wealthy Theatre and satellite spaces; using venue services, production equipment and facilities; receiving members-only ticket discounts and pre-sales; becoming a programmer on WYCE; and getting discounts on media and technology classes. You’ll also receive member communications and obtain voting rights on bylaws and to select board members.
 
GRCMC offers something for everyone -- whether you like music, reading, writing, movies, live events or if you’d like to get involved with television or radio. Nonprofit organizations can benefit from the many services as well, and at costs much lower than what they would normally pay.
   
“We see ourselves as having a bunch of tools for the community and we’re here to teach you how to use them,” says Gellasch.
 
Support your community by supporting the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. There are many ways you can help:

- Find out more about the Community Media Center online.
- Become a member. Memberships range from $12 for a basic membership to $72 for a nonprofit organization membership.
- Donate to the Community Media Center.
- Volunteer in a number of different ways.
- Sign up for GRCMC newsletters.
- Listen to WYCE at 88.1 FM or online and support its sponsors.
- Watch GRTV on Comcast cable channel 25 and Livewire on channel 24.
- Read The Rapidian, support its sponsors and become a citizen journalist.   
- Attend events at the Wealthy Theatre.

- Like on Facebook:
  GRCMC
  WYCE
  GRTV
  Wealthy Theatre
  The Rapidian
  Education Services

- Follow on Twitter:
  @GRCMC
  @WYCERadio
  @GRTVaccess
  @WealthyTheatre
  @TheRapidian  
  @CatalystRadioGR

Sources: Linda Gellasch, Director of Operations and Finance at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, and Carol Shirey, Development Director

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor (and, in full disclosure, also an intern with WYCE’s Catalyst Radio show)

The power of art is changing lives, one child at a time

One of Stephanie Schlatter’s favorite quotes is by theologian Saint Augustine and reads, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

If true, then globe-trotting Schlatter would be considered an avid “reader” of the world.
 
The first international trip for this former hairdresser was to the Grand Canal in Venice -- a place that not only triggered tears of joy, but a love for travel that eventually inspired a new career involving it and art.

After noticing poverty in subsequent trips to India, Thailand, Mexico, Nepal and other places, she founded Art Aid for Tesfa in 2006 to bring art to the children of Ethopia. If art programs in America are the first to get cut, Schlatter figured these kids didn’t have a chance. She personally believes art is more important than math and that colorful art helps children survive in a sometimes difficult world.

“I got involved because I believed in the power of art,” Schlatter says. 
   
In a place where less than half of the children are enrolled in schools, with girls attending even less, schools don’t start until age seven in Ethiopia. Art Aid for Tesfa teaches art to children ages four, five and six, while at the same time helps fund their early childhood education. The organization is a division of the Tesfa Foundation, which just recently became a part of Ethiopia Reads. They currently operate eight schools, with more planned, and also work with some government schools as well.

Ethiopia wasn’t Schlatter’s first choice initially, but “somebody knew somebody who knew somebody” and now six years and many trips later, she has grown to love the place and its people. There are many challenges though.
 
“You have to be really flexible to work in the developing world,” Schlatter says. “You can’t get too attached to any one idea.”

The country has progressed quite a bit from when Schlatter first started going there in 2006 and she says an influx of adoptions has made a vast difference.

“When people adopt from there, they also adopt Ethiopia,” she says, referring to the desire for adoptive parents to give back to the country.

While she is grateful for the recent addition of wireless Internet in her hotel there, Schlatter -- with a disclaimer that she’s not an expert in economics -- adds, “Things are improving for tourists and the wealthy, but the poor seem to be getting poorer.”
 
Despite the challenges, it’s the “joyful, beautiful, well-behaved kids” that inspire her to keep going back. She says the kids in the schools she’s involved in play so quietly, even during the breaks, and they understand the importance of education and value it. 
 
“There is something so pure about a child whose never had a Game Boy and who makes their own toys out of trash,” says Schlatter.

One way Schlatter helps the children of Ethiopia is with a lively annual fundraiser here in Grand Rapids. Now in its sixth year, the event will be held this year on Nov. 9 at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center. Local African rhythm band Badenya performs at the event, interactive art demonstrations happen throughout the night and the Black Star Farms winery will sell bottles of wine with art from Ethopian children on the labels. These are only a few of the fun activities expected at this informal event where everyone is welcome.

After traveling to Ethiopia for six years, Schlatter says, “It’s hard to be at peace there without falling apart.”

She’s now learned how to protect herself emotionally from the suffering she witnesses. At first, Schlatter admits it was overwhelming and she wanted to help everyone. Now she realizes you can only help a few people at a time. And, that, she is certainly doing.

You don’t have to hop on a plane to Ethiopia to support this altruistic artist, but teachers are always needed there if you do want to go. Here are some ways you can help Stephanie Schlatter and Art Aid for Tesfa right here in West Michigan:

-    Visit Stephanie Schlatter Art or Aid Aid for Tesfa to find out more.

-    Sign up for the newsletter.

-    Donate money toward the education of an Ethiopian child. (Art Aid is already underwritten.)

-    Plan on attending the fundraiser on Nov. 9 at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center. Information will be on the website a few months before the event.

-    Volunteers are needed in many ways for the fundraiser, especially outgoing artists willing to donate their talents. Please contact Stephanie Schlatter if you’re interested in volunteering for this event or for anything else. Art framers are always needed, but there are many other ways to get involved as well.

-    Buy the art of Ethiopian children or Stephanie Schlatter’s art.

-    Like Stephanie Schlatter Art on Facebook.

-    Like Art Aid for Tesfa on Facebook.

-    Follow @sschlatt on Twitter.

-    And if you want to know why Stephanie Schlatter does what she does, here’s a good story to explain why.

Source: Stephanie Schlatter, founder of Art Aid for Tesfa

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Stephanie Schlatter Art.

The combination of art, design and fashion supports wounded veteran heroes

Even if you’re anti-war, you should still support our troops. At least that’s what Michael Hyacinthe, the creator of the Fashion Has Heart organization, hopes you’ll do.

“Someone volunteered on behalf of you,” he says, sharing the reason why he believes we have the freedoms we do here in the United States.

About four years ago, Hyacinthe was living in Colorado and volunteering with the Veterans and Military Families for Obama presidential campaign. He spoke with a lot of veterans during this time and began to understand their needs better. A former Navy Seabee for eight years, Hyacinthe says this helped him realize that “vets need to help each other out.”

A few years later, his wife Sara’s cousin, Corporal DeBoer, was killed in combat in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. While he and his wife’s family were grieving, the conversations he had a few years earlier kept coming back to Hyacinthe. It was then that he came up with the idea for Fashion Has Heart.

“It was time for me, as a vet, to do something,” says Hyacinthe.

The unfortunate family death occurred around the time of ArtPrize and that’s how art ended up playing a part in the organization. Hyacinthe decided that the combination of art, design and fashion would be a good, non-partisan way to support wounded veterans.

The first design project, called the Corporal Hoffman Series, was inspired by Marine Corporal Josh Hoffman, a wounded veteran now paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a bullet during combat in Iraq. One of his dreams, Hyacinthe learned, was to design a T-shirt.

During the week of June 18, five wounded veteran heroes -- one from each military branch -- were partnered with five designers to collaborate in a visual way to show the soldiers’ stories. These designs will transfer to T-shirts, handbags and military boots.

A special exhibit of the story-inspired designs will be on display during ArtPrize this fall where the public can purchase T-shirts and handbags featuring 15 different designs, three from each veteran. This merchandise is being printed by Threadless in Chicago and the veterans had the chance to visit the headquarters on June 20 and meet the owners.
 
On June 21, the five heroes worked with designers from the Bates Footwear design team at the Wolverine World Wide headquarters in Rockford. A limited edition of Bates military boots will be created using the veterans’ designs as well.

The wounded heroes involved with Fashion Has Heart’s Corporal Hoffman Series Design Project include Marine Corporal Josh Hoffman and Air Force Tech Sergeant Israel Del Toro, Army Specialist Danielle Green-Byrd, Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate Third Class Michael Bell, Marine Corporal Combat Engineer Chris Wiers and Navy HN Darrell Butler.

The design partners are Chuck Anderson, Priscilla Wilson, Seth Herman, Phil Jones and Tyler Way.

For the next design project, yet to be named, Hyacinthe would like to get more people in the community involved and also acquire more partners. He says he is grateful for all of the collaboration, sponsorship and event partners who helped out for the Corporal Hoffman Series Design Project.
 
Hyacinthe hopes that all people in the U.S., regardless of political affiliation or views on war, “start understanding what the soldiers sacrifice on behalf of them.”

Here are a few ways you can support the Fashion Has Heart organization and wounded veterans:

-    Visit Fashion Has Heart online to learn more about them.

-    Donate by clicking on the Donate link on the site. You’ll be redirected to PayPal.

-    Visit the Corporal Hoffman Series Design Project during ArtPrize (Sept. 19 through Oct. 7) at 138 East Fulton Street.

-    Like Fashion Has Heart on Facebook.

-    Follow @supportfhh on Twitter.

-    Thank a veteran for their service and let them know you appreciate what they’ve done.

Source: Michael Hyacinthe, CEO of Fashion Has Heart

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Career development program offers hope and empowerment

Instead of simply handing out money, a local organization provides hope and life-changing opportunities to people living with poverty through its career development program.

The West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology -- better known as WMCAT -- offers an 11-month program that trains and supports low income or unemployed adults for careers in the medical coding, medical billing or pharmacy technician fields.

The most unusual aspect is that these courses, which are estimated to cost roughly $13,000 per person, are free to those who qualify financially and demonstrate a commitment to the program.

“It’s a free program and that’s what sets it apart,” says Amy Knape, WMCAT Development Coordinator. “We want to help people who may not be able to succeed in a traditional program.”

The Adult Career Training program is not government funded but instead supported through donations by foundations, corporations and individuals.   

The program began seven years ago when WMCAT opened and it is the first replication of a proven model developed by Bill Strickland at the Pittsburg-based Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

Since 2005, 109 adults have graduated from the program with nearly 75 percent employed in West Michigan’s thriving healthcare industry. Compared to other similar programs around the country, this placement rate is high due in part to strong relationships with members of the healthcare community, and many are on the WMCAT advisory board.

In July, 19 more students will graduate after completing a six-week, hands-on externship at Spectrum Health, St. Mary’s Healthcare or a local pharmacy, depending on their area of study. Class sizes are intentionally kept small to offer more personalized training and to avoid “flooding the market” with qualified talent.

The first step for people wishing to enter WMCAT’s Adult Career Training program is to attend an informational session. After an application has been filled out, each person must go through a criminal background check and get pre-tested to determine math and reading skills.

Applicants are then screened for success through experiential-based interviews. The staff at WMCAT realizes that life can be challenging for those living in poverty, so they look at what kind of support system each person has in place and what possible barriers exist that may prevent them from graduating. Questions are asked about how the person will get to class, pay their bills and handle child care as well as what their motivation is for taking the course.
 
“It’s a complicated approach to a complicated situation,” Development Director Louise “Punky” Edison says about the process.

In addition to professional health care training, participants are also taught personal development skills such as how to work with the public, create a resume and use standard office software.

WMCAT’s students are well prepared to succeed in the healthcare industry by the time they graduate from this empowering and life-changing program. For many, confidence and hope are restored and, as one student recently told Edison, the training made her “feel powerful again."

A statement on WMCAT’s website reads, “Making a difference in a community is never a challenge. It’s a reward.” If you would like to reward WMCAT’s efforts for making a difference in our community, here are some ways you can:

-    Visit WMCAT online to find out more about the adult programs as well as programs for high school students.
-    Donate cash or in-kind goods and services to WMCAT.
-    Visit the international fundraising site, See Your Impact, and click “like.” A $5 donation will be made to WMCAT’s youth program when you do.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Sources: Louise “Punky” Edison, WMCAT Development Director, and Amy Knape, Development Coordinator

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by WMCAT.
 

Grassroots organization promotes a bicycle-friendly community

The Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (GGRBC) is cruising forward on its strategic priorities after receiving grants from the Frey Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, along with donations from a successful Founding Sponsors campaign.  

GGRBC, a grassroots, community-based coalition created during the planning of the 2009 Grand Rapids Bike Summit, provides a centralized organization that advocates for a safe and healthy bicycling community.

Since it began, GGRBC has hosted two Bike Summits; produced a map showing street lanes, singletrack routes and bicycle trails in Greater Grand Rapids; sponsored the first regional bicycle traffic count; initiated a youth bicycle safety education program; and launched a bicycle-friendly business program and the May 14-18 Active Commute Week.

Recently, GGRBC received a $45,000 grant from the Frey Foundation that will be paid over three years. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation also gave a $10,000 one-year grant and encouraged the organization to reapply again next year.

Marcia Rapp, VP of Programs at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation -- an organization committed to the idea of a bicycle-friendly city -- says she is impressed with GGRBC’s level of advocacy and their ability to increase bike lanes and gain supporters.

Rapp says, “GGRBC is likely close to reaching a ‘tipping point’ where people will say, ‘of course we need to be a more bike-friendly region’ rather than ‘why do we need bike lanes?’”

She adds that that as more people use non-motorized methods for commuting to work and elsewhere, “Our air will be cleaner, our people will be healthier and our region more sustainable.”

The Interim Director of GGRBC, Tom Tilma, says that in addition to the recent Frey and Community Foundation grants, the organization has raised more than $42,000 since January as part of its Founding Sponsors campaign. Each sponsor pledges a three-year financial commitment and receives permanent recognition and lifetime membership in the coalition. A list of all of the 2012 donors is on GGRBC’s website.

The monies from the grants and campaign donations will go toward the implementation of the coalition’s advocacy and education priorities as well as start-up operation costs. The organization is also evaluating staffing needs and looking at options for establishing an office.

An advocacy project in the works called “100 by 2014: Bike Lanes Now!” proposes adding bike lanes to 100 miles of streets in metro Grand Rapids by 2014. Progress toward that goal is being made and, after several months of engagement with City of Grand Rapids officials, GGRBC is excited to learn funding for 25-30 miles of bike lanes has been added to the City’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year starting July 1.

GGRBC also educates children on how to bike safely. Recently, 1,431 future bicycle commuters currently in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades participated in a bicycle safety program.

Tilma, who averages nearly 50 miles of bicycle commuting per week, and the coalition want to create a “a thriving, growing bike culture” in Greater Grand Rapids. He says GGRBC is always looking for volunteers to help with its advocacy and educational programs to promote cycling as a part of daily life.

If you’d like to help GGRBC make Greater Grand Rapids a more bicycle-friendly community, here are some ways you can get involved:

-    Visit GGRBC online to find out more about the organization.
-    Become a member.
-    Donate to GGRBC.
-    Volunteer your time and skills.
-    Help advocate for a bicycle-friendly community.
-    Sign up to receive their newsletter.
-    Like GGRBC on Facebook.
-    Follow @bikegrandrapids on Twitter.

Sources: Tom Tilma, Interim Director of the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, and Marcia Rapp, Vice President Programs at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition.
 

Local organization prevents health and safety hazards in our neighborhoods

Imagine discovering your beautiful one-year-old daughter has permanent brain damage because of lead poisoning.

Or imagine spending the night in the emergency room watching your son struggle to breathe from an asthma attack caused by pests or mold in your home.

Now imagine losing loved ones in a fire because you didn’t have a working smoke detector to warn of the danger.

These are real and serious health and safety hazards that can be prevented. The number one reason these situations still occur is because of a lack of money. Considering one in four families in Kent County live in poverty, our community has some work to do to ensure everyone can live a safe and healthy life.

That’s where the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan comes in. This nonprofit organization with a staff of five and not nearly enough volunteers tirelessly educates and helps low-income people so they are able to live in healthy homes free of environmental hazards.

Executive Director Paul Haan says they offer “low cost, common sense solutions.” He acknowledges there are companies who offer the same services they do, but “the problem is that people often can’t afford it.” Many of the services at the Healthy Homes Coalition are free to those who qualify.

The organization focuses on families with pregnant women and children under the age of six. Haan says the brains and lungs of children are still developing until they reach this age and many preventable environmental factors cause dangerous health issues.  

The Healthy Homes Coalition offers the following programs to the community:
-    Visual inspections for lead paint, mold and moisture
-    Radon testing
-    Installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
-    Pest management by offering simple lifestyle changes and home repairs to prevent and eliminate mice, rats and cockroaches, which have been shown to aggravate asthma and allergies
-    Educational programs on how to prevent lead poisoning and other environmental hazards
-    Family mentoring
-    Advocacy  

Volunteers are always needed to help with these programs and in other ways. Your talents as a handyperson, writer, photographer, graphic designer, accountant or any number of other skills are needed. No matter what you’re capable of, the waiting list at the Healthy Homes Coalition is long and they will find some way for you to get involved.

“Everyone deserves to live in a healthy home” is the motto the organization operates by. Haan reminds us that the person who needs help may be your next-door neighbor or a family member. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a single mother living in an impoverished neighborhood; it could be the married woman who served your lunch at the local café who needs help.

“Poverty’s not just out there behind closed doors; it’s everywhere in the community,” Haan says. “Neighbors have to help neighbors.”

If you’d like to help the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan prevent avoidable health and safety hazards in our community, here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan online to find out more about the organization.
-    Volunteer your time and skills.
-    Donate to the Healthy Homes Coalition.
-    Like the Healthy Homes Coalition on Facebook.

Sources: Paul Haan, Executive Director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, and Besty Quinlan, Volunteer Outreach Coordinator

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
 

Volunteers support the North Country National Scenic Trail

America’s longest scenic trail traverses through the western part of Michigan and thanks to hundreds of dedicated volunteers, it’s well maintained.

The North Country National Scenic Trail spans across seven states -- from New York to Pennsylvania, and through Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. When completed, it will encompass 4,600 miles and pass through 10 national forests and more than 150 public lands.

Based in Lowell, Mich., the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) partners with the National Park Service to develop, maintain and promote the scenic trail. They rely on volunteer chapters throughout the seven states to maintain specific sections.

The NCTA’s Western Michigan Chapter is one of the association’s largest chapters, with more than 250 volunteers. The area of the trail they “adopted” runs from Grand Rapids north to the southern part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, covering both Kent and Newaygo counties.

Paul Haan, trail manager for the local chapter, says the trail is set in areas designed to be interesting to hikers and often located near bluffs, waterfalls, rivers and lakes. With natural surface trails 18-24” wide and NCTA signs and blue blaze guide markers along the way, there is a sense of consistency throughout the entire trail.

“The experience of the North Country trails is the same, but the terrain changes,” says Haan.

Haan began volunteering with NCTA in the late 1990s when, as a frequent hiker, he saw a need to get involved. People don’t always realize that the maintenance of the trails “are not your government tax dollars at work, but volunteers at work,” he says.

The Western Michigan Chapter is always looking for more volunteers, but Haan stresses they must be “willing to learn and follow instructions.” There are specific ways things need to be done, standards to follow and safety precautions.

People of any age or physical condition can volunteer, with a parent or guardian present for anyone younger than 16. Most of the volunteer work on the trail is done in the spring and fall because Haan says the group has found that “once the AC goes on inside, volunteers drop off outside.”

When people call or email to volunteer, they’ll be told where the chapter will be on the trail and when. All new volunteers go through “tailgate training” when they first arrive. Volunteers can stay for as long or as little as they would like, but if they say they will be there, the organization counts on people to honor that commitment, as they need to know how many tools to bring and how to plan the day’s work.

Sometimes people camp out overnight and work for two days, but Haan adds, “There’s plenty of goofing off in there, too.”

Upcoming volunteer opportunities are the Mowing and More days when the trail areas are mowed and repairs are done on certain structures. Haan says the chapter uses “lawnmowers on steroids” to cut back the trails so people don’t get covered in wet grass or ticks while hiking.

Volunteers are always needed for non-trail activities, too, such as website updates, newsletter creation, membership administration and event staffing.

In addition to maintaining the trail, members of the Western Michigan Chapter participate in planned hikes and various social events throughout the year.  

Haan encourages people to be mindful and respectful while using the trail and, while out there hiking, give some thought to the volunteers putting in efforts to make it better.
 
If you want to find out more about the North Country Trail Association and its Western Michigan Chapter to volunteer or hike the scenic trail, here are some resources to get you started:   

- Visit the North Country Trail Association online.
- Become a member and get product discounts, plus a subscription to the quarterly magazine, the North Star.
- Volunteer with the Western Michigan Chapter.
- Buy a map or guide and hike the North Country Trail. (Note: members get 30% off.)
- Like North Country Trail Association on Facebook.
- Like the West Michigan Chapter on Facebook.

Source: Paul Haan, Trail Manager for the NCTA’s Western Michigan Chapter

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos taken by Paul Haan and Doug Boulee were provided by the Western Michigan Chapter of the North Country Trail Association.

Communication through art

Artists Creating Together (ACT) is dedicated to connecting people with disabilities with art. With a recent name change and a move to a new facility, they’re now better prepared to embrace the future.

The organization formerly called Very Special Arts changed its name in March 2011 to Artists Creating Together because the name wasn’t advancing what ACT believes.

“The word ‘special’ has a negative connotation and didn’t reflect our belief in an inclusive community that recognizes the potential of everyone,” says Executive Director Michele Suchovsky. “We believe everyone is special.”

Shortly after the name change, the organization moved to its new location at Monroe Avenue and Leonard Street. This facility is more accessible with no stairs, plenty of parking and lots of natural light.

ACT serves more than 6,000 children, youths and adults per year. Its art classes are open to people ages 2-65 and anyone in the community can participate, not just those with disabilities. Siblings of those with a special need are encouraged to come along as well.  

“We’re open and inclusive to everyone,” Suchovsky says.

Attendees range from those with minor or no disabilities, to those with severe learning disabilities and with severe multiple impairments -- both cognitive and physical. There are support systems in place so everyone may participate.

ACT believes the role of art is to share a view of the world from an individual perspective and people with disabilities offer such a unique perspective.

“Art is such a wonderfully equalizing way to communicate,” says Suchovsky. “It’s a way to shine and everyone can do it.”

The response for the classes is overwhelmingly positive and participants say it’s a place where they can be themselves, express themselves and “no one looks at you funny.”

Summer classes, which start this week, take place in their new facility. During the school year, classes are held in area schools and in three local hospitals: Metropolitan, Mary Free Bed and the Spectrum Continuing Care Facility.

Often, ACT partners with arts organizations such as Meijer Gardens, Children’s Museum, Civic Theatre and Grand Rapids Ballet Company and holds classes in their facilities. Suchovsky says the goal is to “help people with disabilities access the wonderful creative community we have here.”

ACT also selects three artists to participate in ArtPrize each year through a program called the Legacy Trust Award Collection. Anyone can enter this contest, following the rules of ArtPrize. A public vote takes place at a reception displaying the artwork of all entrants. The top three artists with the most votes are then sponsored as ArtPrize artists and get to display their work at the Amway Grand Plaza during the international competition. Winners this year are Leanne VandenBos, Lane Cooper and David Chupp.

Funding for ACT mostly comes from community support, including two annual fundraisers per year: a luncheon held in the spring and an art auction held in the fall. The date for this fall’s art auction is November 15, held at the Goei Center.

Class fees pay for 20 percent of the operating budget. Scholarships are available to participants based on financial need. The Autism Society of West Michigan also offers a scholarship for people with autism 16 years or older.

“We have a policy that we don’t turn anyone away,” says Suchovsky.

Volunteers are always needed at ACT, as well as cash or in-kind donations such as art supplies. More than 550 people volunteer for this nonprofit organization each year.  

There are a number of ways you can get involved with Artists Creating Together. Here are a few suggestions:

-    Visit Artists Creating Together online to find out more.
-    Donate cash or art supplies to ACT.
-    Volunteer for ACT.
-    Sign up for a summer class at ACT.
-    Attend the annual art auction fundraiser on November 15. More information coming soon.
-    Like ACT on Facebook.

Source: Michele Suchovsky, Executive Director at Artists Creating Together, along with Program Directors Katie Timmermans and Becky Althaus.
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photographs provided by Artists Creating Together.  

Center offers "bunny slippers and bubble wrap" to members of the LGBT community

The idea of coming out as a lesbian prior to her senior year at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) was scary and nerve-racking for Whitney Pavlica. She was afraid of what people would think and especially concerned about the reaction from her family.

That changed after she visited the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center on GVSU’s Allendale campus. Like many others before her, Director Colette Seguin Beighley welcomed her, let her know she was not alone and gave her permission to be true to herself.

When people enter the LGBT Resource Center for the first time, “We put bunny slippers and bubble wrap on them,” says Seguin Beighley, acknowledging that it’s hard for many people to make that first step.

“We want to create an inclusive environment that’s welcoming to all students,” she says. “The Center is a safety net.”

The LGBT Resource Center's mission is to educate, support and empower students to lead authentic lives, to challenge gender and sexuality stereotypes, and to work for social justice.

Seguin Beighley says the Center helps parents as much as students. More parents have been involved this year than in the past, wanting to learn how to better support their kids and be reassured of their safety on campus. As the mother of a son who’s gay, she admits parents often don’t know what to do when a child comes out.

“They don’t teach parents how to do this,” says Seguin Beighley.

The LGBT Resource Center sponsors events and offers a variety of resources and programs for LGBT students, their families, GVSU faculty and staff, and members of the community. Movie nights, support groups and a monthly conference are examples of a few.  

Each April, the Center hosts Lavender Graduation, a special ceremony to celebrate and highlight the achievements of LGBT students and their allies.

A library within the Center serves as a resource for LGBT books and entertainment and a place to study.

One of the major programs facilitated by the LGBT Resource Center is Change U: Training for Social Justice. This semester-long class is open to anyone in the community and because of a grant from the Arcus Foundation, it’s free. GVSU students can also take the class for credit.  

Seguin Beighley says, “The purpose of Change U is to empower students to work on social justice issues by developing a critical analysis of intersecting systems of oppression.”

“When one community is oppressed, we all suffer,” she adds.

The grant from the Arcus Foundation also went toward sponsoring the documentary film “A People’s History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids,” which premiered last November at GVSU’s Loosemore Auditorium. 
 
Pavlica’s coming out experience was positive and she’s received lots of good support from family and friends. Not all students are this lucky, and that’s why it’s important that Seguin Beighley and her staff at the LGBT Resource Center are there to support and offer comfort when needed.

“The center helped ground me and make me realize I’m not alone,” says Pavlica. “It’s such a great place for resources and for meeting people you can talk to in a safe environment.”  

GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center is a valuable asset not only to the LGBT community, but to West Michigan as well. Here are some ways you can give “bunny slippers and bubble wrap” back to them:

- Learn more about the LGBT Resource Center at Grand Valley State University.
- Donate to the LGBT Resource Center to financially support the endowment, scholarships or the action fund.
- Donate to the West Shore AWARE Scholarship Fund for GVSU LGBT students.
- Enroll in the Change U: Training for Social Justice class that begins next January.
- Attend a weekly meeting of Out 'N' About, GVSU’s LGBTQIA Cultural Organization.
- If you are a GVSU faculty or staff member, consider becoming involved with Allies & Advocates.
- Like the LGBT Resource Center on Facebook.
- Follow @gvsulgbtcenter on Twitter.

Source: Colette Seguin Beighley, Director at GVSU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, and Whitney Pavlica, a GVSU senior in the Creative Writing program.

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the LGBT Resource Center.

Philanthropy and Pizza

Imagine a high school student having to decide where to spend $45,000. That’s a big responsibility for a teenager, but with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to guide them, these students handle the challenge quite well. And during monthly meetings complete with pizza, they also have a lot of fun.
 
The Community Foundation’s Youth Grant Committee (YGC) is made up of high school students from the greater Grand Rapids area who volunteer to serve the community. The students find out more about local youth issues, interview and visit nonprofit organizations, review grant requests and make recommendations to the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees. In the process, they learn about leadership, philanthropy and responsibility.

More than 200 teenagers have volunteered with the YGC program since it began in 1994. The current committee is comprised of 32 students, with one who is homeschooled and the rest attending 20 different high schools in the area. Most students get involved their freshmen year and stay with the committee until they graduate.

Roberta King, VP of PR & Marketing at the Community Foundation says, “It’s often the most meaningful and important thing they do in high school,” adding that the students don’t usually learn about the grant process anywhere else.

“When these kids have job or college interviews, they get asked about this committee way more than any other thing they’ve done. It’s different.”

The YGC gets approximately $45,000 each year to divide among the grant applications it reviews. The Community Foundation staff may offer advice, but the students are free to divide the money between whichever youth programs they believe will have the most impact.

The grant money comes from income generated by an endowment established in 1991 with $1 million in matching funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The current value of the Youth Fund is nearly $1.8 million.  
   
Since it began, the YGC has awarded more than $1 million in grants to 227 nonprofit organizations. This year, students reviewed 50 grant proposals with requests totaling more than $195,000. After researching each one, sharing their opinions and coming to an agreement, 11 of these proposals were brought to the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Grants totaling $44,884 were later presented at a celebration dinner on May 16 to the following organizations:

- Baxter Community Center, Inc.
- Calvin College
- City of Grand Rapids
- Comprehensive Therapy Center
- Grand Rapids Track Club GRPS
- Youth Program
- Grand Valley State University
- Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
- R.E.A.A.L.
- Specialized Language
- Development Center
- VSA Arts of Michigan - Grand Rapids
- Worldwide Christian Schools

While it may seem like all work and no play, YGC member Anneke Lehmann thinks it’s a lot of fun. Lehmann, 15, says she enjoys meeting kids from different schools and learning about nonprofit organizations. She’s learned how to review grant proposals and budgets and knows that YGC will look good on future college applications.

The committee also spends time volunteering for past grant recipients. This year, the students handed out United Way volunteer bracelets one day at ArtPrize and made sack suppers for impoverished kids at Kids' Food Basket another day.

Lehmann says “it’s really cool” to be able to make a difference and would recommend YGC to anyone.

“You learn so much about the community and you get to be a part of the community, too.”

Here’s how you can support the Grand Rapids Community Foundations Youth Grant Committee:
- Learn more about the Youth Grant Committee.
- Encourage someone to join. High school students interested in volunteering on the Youth Grant Committee can fill out an application online. New members are selected in August. 
- Donate to the Youth Fund endowment through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
- Like the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on Facebook.
- Follow @GRCommFound on Twitter.

Sources:
Roberta King, A.P.R., Vice President, PR & Marketing at Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Anneke Lehmann, Youth Grant Committee member

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Grand Rapids Community Foundation

A circle of sustainability benefits Cherry Park

Thanks to $10,000 in art sales and the kindness of a nearby socially responsible restaurant, a 100-year-old park in the East Hills neighborhood is now cleaned up and ready for summer.  

Located inside the Green Well Gastro Pub, the Off Center Gallery and its artists commit to donating 10 percent of all art sales to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and sustaining local parks and public spaces.

A dozen artists have shown their work in the gallery since it opened in early 2011. With $1,000 raised so far, the Green Well matched this amount in May, making a total donation of $2,000 to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. General Manager Douglas Berg says his restaurant will continue this partnership by matching the 10 percent donation amount every three months when the gallery changes artists.

Cherry Park is located a few blocks down the street and is a historic part of the neighborhood. The Green Well requested that its donations stay in the East Hills community and go toward the restoration and improvement of this cherished local park.

“Cherry Park is our park,” says Berg.

On May 21, he and 35 Green Well employees put their community pride into action and spent the day cleaning and restoring Cherry Park. The restaurant closed its doors and volunteered at the park one day last spring as well.

Berg says it’s “great to see the camaraderie and effect on the community,” adding that many of the neighbors came in and thanked the staff afterward.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks Executive Director Steve Faber is glad Berg didn’t simply hand him a check and walk away. Instead, Berg and his staff made the park “look cared for in a short amount of time.”

“Without the Green Well and other volunteers, the park wouldn’t look like it does,” says Faber.

In addition to cleaning up the park, Green Well employees were asked to fill out a park report card. This gives Friends of Grand Rapids Parks a baseline of the condition of the park and helps develop future improvement plans and a vision for Cherry Park.

Next time you’re in the East Hills neighborhood, take a stroll through Cherry Park. Afterward, savor a meal prepared with local foods at the Green Well. While you’re there, view the Off Center Gallery art. And if you see something you like, buy it and enjoy the satisfaction of completing a full circle of sustainability.

Here are some other ways you can get involved:
-    Visit the Green Well Gastro Pub online and in person at 924 Cherry Street Southeast.
-    Fill out an application to show your art at the Off Center Gallery.
-    Visit the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks website.
-    Donate to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.
-    Like the Green Well on Facebook.
-    Like the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks on Facebook.
-    Follow @thegreenwell on Twitter.
-    Follow @friendsGRparks on Twitter.

Sources:
Douglas Berg, General Manager at the Green Well Gastro Pub
Steve Faber, Executive Director at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Clark Communications

Local Westside residents pour some love into their community

The triple D black bra is not the most unusual thing a grass-roots Westside neighborhood organization found during their annual community clean up. That designation might go to the 1962 newspaper piece found this year. Then again, the Australian coin they found was fairly unusual, too, but the heroin, used needles and crack pipe and discovered are definitely the most dangerous finds so far.

One of the organizers of the Westside community clean up, Erica Curry Van Ee, says, “You get a good sense of the people inhabiting a space when you pick up that space.”

If that’s true, it’s clear the Westside hosts a very diverse community. It also has a rich history. The first Native American Mission and one of Grand Rapids’ first high schools were located where the Union Square Condos now sit.

Nearby on 3rd Street, the Native American Community Services painted a wall mural, which, unfortunately, has now been defaced -- a painful reminder to Curry Van Ee that there is much work yet to do on the Westside. 
 
Curry Van Ee and her husband, Brian Van Ee, started the first Westside community clean up shortly after they began dating in January 2008. Both community-minded residents at the Union Square Condos, they decided to “pour some love” into their neighborhood and asked others in their building to join them.

The first clean up day happened in April 2008 after a few months of planning. As Curry Van Ee says, “That was our courtship.”

The annual community clean up has taken place each year since then, with the exception of 2010. The Van Ees got married that year and “were a little overwhelmed with the wedding planning to do anything else,” admits Curry Van Ee.
 
Committee members for the 4th annual Westside community clean up include Curry Van Ee, Kristi Klomp, Mark Therrien, Todd Duncan and Michael Lundie.

This year’s clean up was on May 19 and 52 people showed up to help. Many of the participants are residents of the Union Square Condos, or the nearby Riverhouse and Boardwalk Condos, but other neighbors, local businesses, community organizations and churches get involved too. The event coincides with LiveWest, an annual campaign by WelcomeWest to promote Westside businesses.  

City of Grand Rapids trash bags and vests are provided to those who help, along with tools, gloves and refreshments. Volunteers are encouraged to download the City’s 311 mobile application so they can report graffiti, potholes and other items in need of repair while out in the neighborhood.

After a morning of picking up trash, sweeping sidewalks, pulling weeds and working in the area’s rain gardens, the clean up crew is rewarded with a lunch and “fun swag” donated by area businesses. This year, the Union Square Condos sponsored the lunch at the nearby Broadway Bar where local community leaders and organizations had the chance to engage with the Westside residents.

Curry Van Ee knows the spring clean up is not enough to change the neighborhood, but “it only takes a spark.” She believes the most effective community movements “honor the legacy of the past by understanding the history and supporting the assets of the neighborhood.”  

“For the Westside to emerge as a vital and vibrant place to live, work and play, it will take a shared vision, an open invitation and a sustained commitment to engaging, creating and investing,” she says. “The community clean up is just one way to support the Westside.”

Next year’s Westside community clean up will occur around Earth Day on either April 20 or 27. Curry Van Ee encourages anyone with ideas or an interest to be involved to contact her.

If you’d like to “pour some love” into the Westside community, here are some ideas:

- Email Erica Curry Van Ee if you’d like to get involved or have ideas for the annual clean up. She is currently looking for people who know how to maintain rooftop rain gardens or repair defaced murals. 

- Check out Westside neighborhood organizations such as the West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) or WelcomeWest.  

- Like Union Square Condos on Facebook.


Source: Erica Curry Van Ee

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by Erica Curry Van Ee.


Transforming the Grandville Avenue neighborhood with arts and literacy

In a southwest Grand Rapids neighborhood where poverty is rampant and opportunities are few, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities has transformed the lives of thousands of children for more than a decade with its arts and literacy programs.

Within the boundaries of Wealthy Street, Century Avenue, Burton Street and Godfrey/Clyde Park, the population in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood is 73 percent Hispanic and 11 percent African-American, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The majority of students at two nearby schools, Southwest Community Campus and Cesar Chavez Elementary, live in households with income low enough to qualify for the federal lunch program.

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities operates the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, which are both located on Grandville Avenue SW. Executive Director Marjorie Kuipers says the goal of these centers is to improve the lives of the neighborhood children.

“We give children opportunities they otherwise might not have,” says Kuipers.

The Cook Arts Center offers kids and adults a chance to discover their artistic side through classes in visual art, pottery, dance, music, theatre and more. All programs are free to Grandville Avenue neighborhood residents, but others in the community may also participate for a fee.  

While the Cook Arts Center taps creativity, the Cook Library Center focuses on the intellectual side. In addition to being a learning resource for the neighborhood, children often come here after school as a safe place to go until their parents get home from work. The library offers a structured environment and requires that students finish their homework first. Kids participate in daily reading and writing exercises to improve their English and grammar skills as well. And for fun, they play games such as Scrabble and chess. Kuipers believes chess is a “great game to develop intellect and learn good sportsmanship.”

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities is hosting its annual fundraiser, Día del Sol, on June 21 from 5–7:30 p.m. The public is invited to this celebration at the Cook Arts Center, 644 Grandville Avenue SW. Tickets are $25. Día del Sol will feature South American music by Villalobos and dance performances by Grupo Tarasco, MI Peru and local breakdancers. Chef Tommy Fitzgerald is catering the event and there will be a cash bar. Guests can create their own T-shirts, bid on items in a silent auction and more.

If you’d like to help the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center continue to “Do Good” in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, here’s how to get involved: 


  • Learn more about Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities.
  • Donate cash or in-kind donations such as gently used books or art supplies.
  • Attend Día del Sol on June 21.
  • Become a sponsor of Día del Sol or donate a $25 gift card for the silent auction.
  • Follow them on Facebook.
  • Volunteer by contacting Steffanie Rosalez at (616) 742-0692. Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities is always looking for help with the following:
    - Homework, reading and writing assistance at the Cook Library Center
    - Helping Cook Arts Center instructors with students and materials
    - Walking kids to either center from nearby schools
    - Chaperoning field trips to local colleges, theatres and more
    - Event staffing

Source:  Marjorie Kuipers, Executive Director, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Local artist to collaborate with Israeli and Palestinian artists

Is it possible for a group of artists to inspire peace in a region torn apart by war and conflict for nearly a century? Perhaps. In July, a team of North American, Israeli and Palestinian artists will meet to collaborate on art projects and discuss how art might play a role in peace and reconciliation.

Local artist Georgia Taylor has been chosen to travel to Israel with more than a dozen other artists, writers and musicians from North America. This artist residency trip is a part of a project called Hope Equals Art and is sponsored by Christian Reformed World Missions. It won’t be a typical mission trip, however, as participants will share art and ideas instead of religion.

Taylor is the founder of Salon 477, a Grand Rapids-based art movement that supports, mentors and provides opportunities to artists. Her own art is somewhat eclectic and includes portrait drawings, photography, paintings and graphic design. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Kendall College of Art and Design and later interned with renowned artist Paul Collins. Taylor currently teaches graphic design at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT).

As a first-time passport owner, Taylor admits traveling to Israel is a bit scary. She’s curious how she’ll be perceived as a woman and what it will be like to be surrounded by a constant military presence. The expected cultural differences intrigue and frighten her at the same time.

“You think you’ll respond a certain way, but you don’t know until you get there,” says Taylor.

During the two-week trip in July, Taylor and the other artists will attend workshops, lectures and many of the historical Jewish, Christian and Muslim tourist sites. Artists will work together on art projects, integrating their respective cultures into the final pieces.

Taylor expects the collaborations with the Israeli and Palestinian artists will influence her artwork in some way. She also believes the experience will be invaluable to her as a teacher and she’s eager to help her students at WMCAT “understand that there is so much more than what’s in Grand Rapids.”  

The Hope Equals Art residency trip is not free and Taylor estimates she’ll need approximately $4,000 for airfare, ground transportation, hotel, meals, admission fees and other expenses. To raise money, she’s contacted friends, relatives and business acquaintances and also set up a fundraising campaign online. Those who donate will be invited to a viewing of Taylor’s new artwork this fall and, for $25 or more, will also get an 8”x10” print after her trip.

When asked why people should support her, Taylor responds by saying it’s a way to support a local artist and nurture the creative community. She plans on bringing what she’s learned back to Grand Rapids and making the arts community richer here.

“I’m not going anywhere; I’m true to G.R.,” Taylor adds.

If you believe in supporting peace and your local arts community, here’s how you can help Georgia Taylor:

-    Learn more about her and Salon 477.
-    Like Salon 477 on Facebook.
-    Learn more about the Hope Equals Art project.
-    Donate any amount on Indiegogo.
-    For larger, tax-deductible donations made through Christian Reformed World Missions, contact Georgia Taylor at (616) 710-1428.

Source: Georgia Taylor, Artist
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos by Jonathan Timothy Stoner

Riding Across the Desert to Cure Diabetes

Imagine riding your bike more than 100 miles through one of the hottest, driest places in America -- a place where temperatures often hover above 100 degrees and water is scarce. Now imagine doing this same ride with Type 1 Diabetes.
 
Katie Clark not only survived riding her bike across Death Valley National Park, but she’s done it six times. For her, it’s personal. The annual Death Valley bike ride raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Clark was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) when she was two years old and her oldest daughter Ellie, now 12, was diagnosed at age four.

T1D, also called Juvenile Diabetes, is different than Type 2 Diabetes in that it has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, and it’s often diagnosed at a young age. With T1D, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. People with T1D must inject insulin several times a day or wear a pump that continually feeds it into the body in order to stay alive. 
 
As a board member at the JDRF Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter, Clark is in charge of outreach and also supports the national chapter’s online communities. She helps with the local Walk to Cure and Ride to Cure events as well.   

Clark and her husband Steve participated in their first JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in 2006, but she didn’t actually finish the entire Death Valley route until the 2009 ride. She says the 11-hour, 103-mile bike ride in 108 degrees that year was “life altering.”

There are about 40-50 riders in West Michigan who get together regularly to bike. Each April, they start training with a “short ride” of 20 miles and work up to 70 miles or more by the end of the summer. 
 
“Once we find a cure for Type 1, I’m never riding my bike more than 20 miles at a time again,” Clark admits.

For now, she and her family will continue to find ways to raise money so JDRF can keep searching for a cure. Clark and her husband plan on riding the 100-mile Death Valley route again this fall and they’re considering riding another 72 miles in the Lake Tahoe Ride to Cure Diabetes, also in the fall. Ellie’s Elephants, a team named after their daughter, will gather in September for the annual Walk to Cure and each August, the family hosts a golf outing fundraiser. Clark estimates she and her family raise around $30,000 each year for JDRF, with approximately $200,000 raised since 2005.

If you want to help JDRF, you don’t have to ride your bike 100 miles across the desert. Here are some other ways you can support this organization:

-    Find out more about JDRF.
-    Volunteer for the Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter.
-    Play in the 8th annual JDRF Ellie Clark Charity Golf Outing on August 3 at the Old Channel Inn in Montague. Email Katie Clark for more information.
-    Walk 5k in the September 15 Walk to Cure at Ah-Nab-Awen Park.
-    Ride in one of the five Ride to Cure bike rides.
-    Like the Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter Bike Team on Facebook.

Source: Katie Clark, Outreach Committee, JDRF Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor


130 West Michigan children receive the gift of sight

OneSight is dedicated to improving vision for those in need worldwide through outreach, research and education. Since 1988, the nonprofit organization’s outreach efforts have helped more than eight million people around the world see more clearly. And on May 8, they brought their mobile clinic to Grand Rapids to serve West Michigan children.
 
“OneSight provides important opportunities that help children succeed in school and, ultimately, in life,” says Jamie Kwiatkowski, OneSight spokesperson. “We have seen many cases where a pair of glasses has made the difference in helping a child succeed in school or enabling a parent to find meaningful work to support their family. Seeing a child’s face light up because they can see clearly for the first time is something I will never forget.”
According to the American Optometric Association, up to 94 percent of children with reading problems have reduced visual skills.  This is the main reason OneSight provides a mobile clinic throughout the United States. Its visit to Grand Rapids was the first since 2007.
Held at Ottawa Hills High School, volunteers for OneSight provided 130 children in grades K-12 with free vision care including full vision exams and new eyewear.  This gift to our community is well appreciated. And you can help put the good back in do-gooder by assisting OneSight with their efforts. Here’s how:
 
·       LIKE them on facebook
·       Learn more about OneSight http://www.onesight.org/
·       Sign up for newsletter
·       Collect eyewear
·       Donate to the charity
 
Source:  Jamie Kwiatkowski, OneSight
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

West Michigan receives $275,000 in breast cancer services

Determined to save lives and end breast cancer forever, Susan G. Komen West Michigan has awarded seven grants totaling more than $275,000 to local organizations providing breast cancer services and programs to uninsured and underserved populations in West Michigan.

“To meet needs we have discovered right here in our community, this year’s grant slate specifically addresses underserved and uninsured men and women,” explains Executive Director Emma Powell. “These grant dollars focus on gaps in services and opportunities to receive the mammograms needed for early detection and treatment.”

The grant recipients include:
·       City on a Hill: serves the Hispanic community in Ottawa County.
·       Hackley Community Care Center: provides care to African American and Hispanic populations in Muskegon County.
·       Metro Health Hospital: provides screening to the uninsured in Montcalm, Newaygo and Kent Counties.
·       Muskegon Family Care: assists African Americans within the county.
·       Saint Mary’s Healthcare: treats Hispanic and all women of color in Newaygo, Montcalm and Kent Counties.
·       Spectrum Health Genetics: screens underserved populations in Kent, Ottawa, Montcalm, Muskegon and Newaygo Counties
·       Spectrum Health Betty Ford Breast Care Services: treats at-risk populations in Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa counties.

In order to ensure that funding addresses specific unmet breast cancer needs in the west Michigan community, Susan G. Komen West Michigan works with local healthcare professionals and community leaders to conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment.

“We are excited to partner with Susan G. Komen West Michigan to offer mammography services to underserved women in Newaygo, Montcalm and Kent Counties,” expresses Metro Health spokesperson Ellen Bristol. “Until a cure is found, early detection is the best tool we have to fight breast cancer. This grant helps ensure more women have access to this important tool.”

In 2011, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, working in concert with local organizations, awarded more than $80 million in needs-based community grants. That's in addition to the 25 percent of income that Affiliates contribute toward the many millions the organization invests each year in promising research.

West Michigan is fortunate to have such a generous organization in our midst. Let’s help them continue to put the good back in do-gooder. Here’s how to get involved:

·       LIKE them on facebook
·       Learn more about the organization
·       Volunteer
·       Check out their events calendar
·       Donate to the charity

Grand Rapids Public Museum says, "Game on!"

Children all around West Michigan will soon be saying hello to summer vacation. In anticipation, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is welcoming those soon-to-be empty scheduled children to their latest exhibit, Game On!

The Museum will be offering vintage pinball games, carnival mid-way games, giant chess, ping pong and motion control dance party games -- all free with general admission from June 5-Sept. 1. Games will be set up in all areas and guests will be invited to try something new or rediscover an old-time favorite with a fun new twist. Pop-up exhibits throughout the Museum will display artifacts and tell the history of games and gaming.

The Museum’s circle theater will be set up as a mini arcade. Gamers can try their hand at Ms. Pacman, Marvel vs. Capcom, shooting game Point Blank, driving game Twin Rush 2049 and Donkey Kong -- all set on "free play." Motion control dance party will fill the center of the space and give the younger ones a chance to show off their moves. The Museum’s Barrel Factory and Carousel Promenade will house amusement park games including air hockey, a bank of skee ball games and Hammerhead, a variation on Whack-a-Mole. The Galleria will come alive with ping pong, Twister, oversized chess, oversized Connect Four, dominos and indoor bocce ball. Additional programming is planned around the theme for guests of all ages, and weather permitting, some games will be set up outdoors.

It’s easy to take part. Just visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum:

Tues: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Weds.-Sat.: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Help put the good back in do-gooder by supporting the great organizations we have here in West Michigan. Here's how to get involved with the Museum:

·       LIKE the Grand Rapids Public Museum on Facebook
·       Learn more about the Grand Rapids Public Museum
·       Become a member
·       Volunteer
·       Donate

Source: Kristy Harrington, Grand Rapids Public Museum
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor
 

Woman Power: East Hills neighbors being honored

For more than 25 years, East Hills Council of Neighbors has worked on crime prevention, community building and home ownership initiatives. They have seen great strides and are proud of their efforts, but they couldn’t do it alone. So, for the third year, they are honoring women who have helped them make a difference.

“The strong feminist spirit of our neighborhood has shaped East Hills into one of the most progressive communities in the city,” explains Community Organizer Claire Fisher.

The Third Annual Women of East Hills event celebrates some of the women who have made East Hills awesome, including:

* Bridget Cheney: Congress Elementary
* Haylea Gray: One Girl's Treasure/East Hills Resident
* Heather McGartland: Imagination Creations
* Amanda Shepherd & Joy Anderson: Salon Re
* Lori Slager: GR Creative Youth Center/Sparrows Coffee Shop
* Teresa Weatherall Neal: Grand Rapids Public Schools
* Renee Williams: Huntington Bank

“The event is a continued celebration of the strong and creative women that enrich the atmosphere of the neighborhood through education, entrepreneurialism and activism,” says Fisher. “[It] is a way for us to tip our hats to these wonderful women that make our neighborhood a great place to live, work, shop and play.”

To attend the upcoming festivities, stop by Gaia Café (209 Diamond Ave SE) on Monday, May 14 starting at 6 p.m. A $20 donation is suggested for the food and wine available. And, because you are the do-gooder I know you are, here are a few more opportunities to get involved:

•    Get the details of the event  on facebook
•     LIKE East Hills Council of Neighbors on facebook
•    Visit the East Hills Council of Neighbors website
•    Join their mailing list
•    Volunteer
•    Donate

Source:  Claire Fischer, East Hills Council of Neighbors
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Kids' Food Basket expands to Muskegon

As KFB’s work in Grand Rapids grew, serving 35 sites and over 4,800 children daily, the organization became aware of acute needs in neighboring communities. In its first ever reach outside of Grand Rapids, Kids’ Food Basket (KFB) is launching a satellite location at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School in Muskegon Heights.

“KFB is excited to be collaborating with the United Way of the Lakeshore, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District and Muskegon Central United Methodist Church to provide sack suppers to children at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School,” explains Bridget Clark Whitney, KFB executive director. 

One in four children in Michigan lives in food-insecure households, not knowing where their next meal might come from. Areas like the Muskegon Heights district of Muskegon County experience vast food insecurity, with more than 90 percent of students living at or near the poverty level.

With that knowledge, KFB stretched its program and will provide 500 children by Fall 2012 with a nutritious sack supper. They are currently packing brown bag suppers at Muskegon Central United Methodist Church and have future plans to expand the outreach to other area elementary schools with similar needs.  

 “No one wants to think about a child going home uncertain about what may be for dinner. Our volunteers were also excited to be able to bring something positive to the students in Muskegon Heights. This program has the potential to impact their education and health, which are so key to a child’s success in life,” says Lisa Tyler, VP of community impact for United Way of the Lakeshore and one of KFB’s partners. “Our focus is on education, income and health, because we know they are the building blocks for a good life. This program addresses all three and we are enthusiastic for it to begin.”

“The dinners we provide will not only be making an impact on the students, but also the future of Muskegon County,” says Clark Whitney. “The children we provide dinner to today will be the community members of tomorrow, so ensuring they receive quality food for proper brain and physical development is essential for community development. This is a great community endeavor and we hope that the Muskegon County community will participate by volunteering, holding a food drive or supporting KFB’s Campaign for Muskegon County.”

Here’s where you can help – even if you don’t reside in Muskegon. Get involved with these opportunities and help put the good back in do-gooder:
Source: Bridget Clark Whitney, Kids’ Food Basket; Lisa Tyler, United Way of the Lakeshore
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

2012 Transplant Games of America coming to Grand Rapids

The 2012 Transplant Games of America are a multisport event for those who have undergone lifesaving transplant surgeries or served as living donor -- and they are coming to our great city. Approximately 1,200 athletes from 46 states will participate in the games primarily held at Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus July 28-31.

“The Transplant Games of America carry on a 22-year tradition, bringing athletes and donor family members together to celebrate and highlight the critical importance of organ donation,” says Bill Ryan, chairman of the Transplant Games of America.

Spectrum Health will serve as the presenting sponsor of the games and they couldn’t be happier. It will support their efforts to bring increased awareness to organ and tissue donation; one of their specialties.  There are currently more than 112,000 individuals on waiting lists in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved each year if more people registered as organ and tissue donors.

“Spectrum Health’s commitment to transplant services and organ donation, plus their role in bringing the games to West Michigan, is greatly appreciated,” says Ryan.

Spectrum Health is partnering with community, state and national organizations to run donor registry drives aimed at registering 20,000 or more new members by the end of the games. Their partners include the office of the Michigan Secretary of State, Gift of Life Michigan and Donate Life America.

According to Donate Life America:
•       113,115 total patients are waiting for organ donations
•       1,801 are pediatric patients
•       In 2011, there were 28,535 organ transplants performed nationwide
•       In 2011, there were 14,444 organ donors

“Spectrum Health’s participation in the Transplant Games is fitting on a professional and personal level,” says John Mosley, executive VP and chief strategy officer, Spectrum Health System. “My life was saved by a double organ transplant. While on the waiting list, all I wanted was a second chance at life.  As a transplant center, Spectrum Health is giving the people of West Michigan greater possibilities for a new life. As the presenting sponsor of the Transplant Games of America, we encourage people to join the organ donor registry and to celebrate the athletes who are coming to compete here.”

Help put the good back in do-gooder. Get involved. Here’s how:
 
Source: Bill Ryan, Transplant Games of America; John Mosley, Spectrum Health System
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Horsing around for great opportunities with a Downtown Derby

The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan (DSAWM) is a resource and advocacy organization promoting public awareness and supporting lifelong opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition, occurring in one in every 691 babies born each year.

This very energetic organization will once again be bringing the Kentucky Derby to town on May 5 this year to raise funds for the Association and the vital educational programs it provides.

The 2012 Winners Cup Benefit incorporates the viewing of the Kentucky Derby with silent and live auctions, a sit-down dinner, guest speaker and dancing with a live band. Guests arrive in their best “Derby” attire, including the famously stylish hats and dresses for the ladies, while the men generally don blazers and seersucker suits.  

"The Winners Cup is an incredible day of celebration with friends who want to raise awareness, raise money and support the hope of a better world for all people with Down syndrome, all while having a lot of fun doing so,” explains Executive Director Melissa Werkman. “We are so fortunate to live in a community such as West Michigan that has supported our event and cause for the past 11 years [where the money raised] will go towards programs and advocacy so that those with Down syndrome and their families have a voice and it is heard.”

Since this particular event's inception in 2004, the benefit has raised more than $600,000. Organizers are hoping to surpass last year’s fundraising efforts of $100,000. Proceeds will assist DSAWM with support, social connections and information for families who have a member with Down syndrome from birth to young adult. The money raised will also help the organization with their efforts at the legislative level as well.

Saturday’s event runs from 4:30-11:30p.m. at Kent Country Club. Tickets are $125 per person. They can be purchased by contacting the DSAWM at 616.956.3488 or online at www.dsawm.org.

Here’s your chance to put the good back in do-gooder. Get involved with Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan:
•    Learn more about the organization at their website
•    Attend the Winners Cup Benefit
•    Check out other upcoming events
•    LIKE them on facebook
•    Become a member
•    Volunteer
•    Donate

Source: Melissa Werkman, Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Hope Network leader receives statewide honor

Phillip W. Weaver, president and CEO of Hope Network, has been selected by the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI) as the recipient of its Community Service and Leadership Award. Weaver was honored at BIAMI’s Annual Legacy Society Spring Tribute Dinner.

Established in 1999, BIAMI’s Legacy Society raises community awareness and the visibility of the brain injury field while subsequently celebrating individuals in the brain injury movement. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to improving the lives of people affected by brain injury.

“I am humbled by this award,” says Weaver. “There are many people that make a difference every day in the lives of others, and it’s an honor to be recognized as one of them. The BIA is the leader and voice of so many individuals. Without them, these voices would never get heard.”

Hope Network is a nonprofit Christian organization founded in 1963 to empower people with disabilities or disadvantages to achieve their highest level of independence. With specialty health and community services, Hope Network’s areas of expertise include the treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries, mental illness and developmental disabilities. Weaver joined Hope Network in 2006 and has become a significant voice in support of services for people living with brain injury as well as other disabilities.

“Phil was chosen for the Community Service Award for two reasons,” says Dr. Owen Perlman, co-chairperson of the Legacy Society Spring Tribute Dinner and BIAMI Board Member. “One was for the breadth of his accomplishments and contributions over his long career. The second was his ability to articulate his incredible vision of where we should be in the future. He is a true visionary and a fabulous leader.”

Here’s how you can help. Put the good back in do-gooder by getting involved with the award-winning Hope Network:
•    Learn more about the organization at their website
•    LIKE them on facebook
•    Check out upcoming events
•    Stay informed
•    Donate

Source: Phil Weaver, Hope Network; Own Perlman, Brain Injury Association of Michigan
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Which Grand Rapids organization was named one of the Top 100 most visited in the world?

One of the world’s most significant botanic and sculpture experiences, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, serves more than 550,000 visitors annually. It also was ranked in the 100 most visited art museums in the world, according to Art Newspaper.

The leading authority on global art news published the survey in its April issue, ranking Meijer Gardens 94th among iconic museums Louvre, Guggenheim and MoMA. Meijer Gardens attracted 578,020 visitors in 2011. Believe it or not, it is the only Michigan arts organization to make the list, joining Art Institute of Chicago (ranking 30 with 1,440,599 visitors) to represent the Midwest.

“Such recognition celebrates the legacy of our beloved Fred Meijer, who passed away last November,” says Joseph Becherer, VP and chief curator. “How terrific it was for him to enjoy our 2011 exhibitions and how thrilled he was by our recent acquisitions of iconic works by Jim Dine, Roxy Paine, Peter Randall Page and Kiki Smith.”

The 132-acre grounds feature Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, one of the largest children’s gardens in the country, arid and Victorian gardens with bronze sculptures by Degas and Rodin, a carnivorous plant house, outdoor gardens and a 1900-seat outdoor amphitheater featuring an eclectic mix of world-renowned and local musicians every summer. The internationally acclaimed Sculpture Park features a permanent collection including works by Rodin, Oldenburg, Moore, Bourgeois and Plensa, among others. Indoor galleries host changing sculpture exhibitions with recent exhibitions by Picasso, Degas, di Suvero, Borofsky, Calder and Dine.  

“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is honored to be recognized for our commitment to welcome and inform such a wide and growing audience,” explains Becherer. “We know that our guests come from across the country and around the world to enjoy our unique collections and exhibitions, gardens and grounds.”

And, you can get involved. Here’s how to be a do-gooder:
•    Learn more about the organization at their website
•    LIKE them on facebook
•    Plan a visit
•    Become a member
•    Volunteer
•    Donate

Source: Joseph Becherer, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids celebrates one year

Marjorie Behm of the Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids says the innovative fundraising group has raised a little over $15,000 in their first year. To celebrate, the group is having their one-year anniversary party on May 10.

"We're a network of socially conscious professionals who like to give back while enjoying the restaurant and bar scene," Behm explains. "We go to a different event at a different venue each month and have a different beneficiary each month. All our charities are local."

Attendees simply provide a $10 donation, which entitles them to one free drink ticket and complimentary appetizers served during the first hour of the event. "The events are really informal -- no formed mingling, no name tags," Behm says.

Behm received the inspiration for the group when a friend of hers began a similar club in Chicago. This chapter has raised close to $200k in the three years they've been active, with an average of 300-500 people at each event. The Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids is currently average about 150 guests at each event as they continue to grow.

Join them for their one-year anniversary on Thursday, May 10 at the Grand Woods Lounge from 5:30-9:30 p.m. A number of local celebrity hosts will be promoting the event. Entertainment will be provided by local cover band 9 Mile Smile. Proceeds will benefit the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.


Want to be a do-gooder? Here's how:

Like the Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids on Facebook.
Attend their Anniversary Party (details here).

Source: Marjorie Behm, Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids
Writer: J. Bennett Rylah, Managing Editor

The West Michigan Susan G Komen for the Cure affiliate adds four new members to its board of directo

According to Emma Powell, executive director, the Komen West Michigan board gets down to business and is instrumental in providing direction to the organization. "As a strong business-minded community board, they take the lead on determining the Affiliate initiatives and the resources needed to engage. The board provides oversight to the executive director and acts in support for the needs from staff."

The new members include: Brian Behler, director of rooms at the JW Marriott, Dennis Zoet, COO of Intervention Insights, Chris Atwater, president of Michigan Commercial Space Advisors and Carol Perschbacher, executive assistant at Monsma Marketing.

Powell indicates that selection to the Board involves both an application process and demonstrated commitment to the organization through volunteer experience. "We strive to maintain a diverse board in gender, age, culture and skills to best represent the many faces of breast cancer in West Michigan," Powell says.

To learn more about Komen West Michigan, you can visit their site here.

Source: Emma Powell, Komen West Michigan
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


DecriminalizeGR continues to collect signatures

DecriminalizeGR, a grassroots ballot initiative committee hoping to decriminalize marijuana in Grand Rapids, is doing well after their fundraiser on April 20 at The Pyramid Scheme. The group has amassed well over 1000 signatures, needing another estimated 5000 by August.

"DecriminalizeGR has been overwhelmed with the support we have received from the community and the endorsements from elected officials. We are not having problems collecting signatures and find most people to share the same feelings DCGR does about marijuana policy in the city," DecriminalizeGR's Michael Tuffelmire says.

The initiative has been endorsed by former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie and the petition has been signed by current Mayor George Heartwell. Support has also been given by City Commissioner Jim White and County Commissioner Jim Talen. Grand Rapids spent a reported $2.5 million last year arresting, trying and jailing people for simple possession. Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana in Grand Rapids believe this act would increase social equity, save city resources and establish consistency, as the punishment does not always fit the crime.

"I've never understood our marijuana laws," Talen says. "What's the big harm to the public of a private adult citizen using or possessing a small amount of marijuana? I don't see how the punishments we currently have, or the costs to the public, make sense. Doesn't it make more sense to give violators a ticket and generate some revenue rather than use scarce tax dollars to arrest and prosecute them? This isn't about dealers -- it's about personal use and possession."

DecriminalizeGR is basing their initiative on a similar act passed by Ann Arbor in 1974.

Tuffelmire says, "We are building our permanent petition locations and volunteer base so we will be at several locations until August 6, collecting signatures. People should check out our website to learn about our whereabouts."


Want to get involved? Here's how:

Check out DecriminalizeGR online for petition locations, volunteer opportunities and information
Like them on Facebook


Source: Michael Tuffelmire, DCGR; Jim Talen, County Commissioner
Writer: J. Bennett Rylah, Managing Editor

Milan's Miracle

Milan Maria Capobianco was born December 8, 2000 in Grand Rapids. She was told she would never walk, but she danced in flip flops. Then she was told she would be legally blind, and instead she saw the world clearly. But in the end, Milan lost her biggest fight with an inoperable brain tumor. And, sadly, she died at the age of eight on Febraury 12, 2009. Milan’s Miracle Fund was established by her parents, Sharyn and Philip, at first to help her, but now to support families with kids coping with cancer.

Cancer is the number one cause of death in children, more so than any other disease. In the United States alone, there are 46 children diagnosed with some form of cancer each day. One third of them will die within the first year. Brain tumors are the deadliest of all childhood cancers, but brain tumor research is underfunded and the public remains unaware of the magnitude of this disease.  

Did you know pediatric cancer receives 30 cents compared to every dollar going to breast cancer?

As part of the effort to raise awareness and rally support for the cause, Milan’s Miracle Run is the first 8k run in West Michigan dedicated to fight pediatric cancer. Why an 8K? “This is to highlight the fact that there are eight primary pediatric cancers,” says Milan’s parents.

The second annual event will take place on April 29 at Millennium Park. Also, since all money raised stays local, donors can rest assured that children right here in West Michigan will be the beneficiaries. Last year’s event included 500 runners and raised $15,000. This year’s event will also include a 3K walk and a 1K Superhero & Princess dress-up “fun run” for children.

Want to get involved? Here’s how to put the good back in do-gooder:

·         Register to run in the 8K event
·         Learn more about the organization
·         Make an online donation
·         LIKE them on facebook

Source:  Sharyn and Philip Capobianco, Milan’s Miracle Fund
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

An unusual benefit of running

There are many obvious benefits for those who run: weight loss, improved cardiovascular and respiratory health, reduced total blood cholesterol and the strengthening of bones. But did you know community service can also be included? Well, it can be, if you are part of Girls on the Run.
 
The Kent County Girls on the Run, now in its eighth year, is a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers girls at an early age in order to prevent at-risk activities such as substance/alcohol use, eating disorders, early onset of sexual activity, sedentary lifestyle, depression, suicide attempts and confrontations with the juvenile justice system.
 
Their 2012 season includes 121 teams under the direction of 294 volunteer coaches. The teams, comprised of girls in grades 3-5, meet twice a week after school and follow a 10-week curriculum that mixes running workouts with games and group discussions on topics ranging from emotions and gratitude to gossip, bullying, drugs and nutrition. The program culminates in a non-competitive 5K run, but the girls also participate in community service.
 
"Participating in a community impact project introduces our girls to experiences in compassion and service," says Girls on the Run Executive Director Lori Burgess.
 
So, on April 12, 30 little girls in pink running shirts loaded 4,000 shoes onto an In the Image truck at Excel Charter Academy. Their actions are the final step in a school-wide campaign to bring awareness to the millions of children who live without proper footwear.
 
Burgess explains, "They are experiencing one of the 20 lessons in the Girls on the Run curriculum."
 
Who would have thought learning to run could have benefits beyond health? The members of Girls on the Run know this. You can get involved in this wonderful community program, too. Here’s how you can help:
 
• LIKE them on facebook 
Learn more about them 
Donate 
 
Source:  Lori Burgess, Kent County Girls on the Run
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

How a burger and a beer can help The Red Project

Dining out for dinner on April 26 will help a local organization raise money for a very important cause. The Grand Rapids Red Project, an organization dedicated to creating awareness and educating individuals about HIV/AIDS and other life-altering diseases, will join more than 55 cities throughout the United States and Canada to raise money for local HIV/AIDS support organizations with its day long Dining Out For Life® event.
 
Throughout North America and Canada, more than 3,500 restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds from this one special night to the licensed agency in their city. Nearly $4 million dollars is raised each year to support the missions of agencies throughout North America.
 
“We are extremely grateful to our participating restaurants and generous sponsors,” says Tami VandenBerg, board president for The Grand Rapids Red Project. “Preventing HIV and supporting our neighbors who are HIV positive benefits all of us -- our entire community.  We are fortunate to have such forward-thinking businesses in Grand Rapids.”
 
The establishments involved in this year’s city-wide event include:
• Amore Trattoria Italiana
• Bar Divani
• Bartertown
• Biggby Downtown
• Bistro at Courtyard Marriott Grand Rapids
• Blue Water Grill
• Brewery Vivant
• Brick Road Pizza
• City Sen at City Flats Hotel
• Cygnus 27
• Green Well Gastro Pub
• Harmony Brewing Company
• HopCat
• Mangiamo!
• McFadden’s
• Red Jet Café
• Noto’s Old World Italian
• The Score
• six.one.six  at the JW Marriott
• Skywalk Deli
• Stella’s
• Twisted Rooster 
• Viceroy
 
Be a do-gooder and get involved. Here’s how:
 
Dine out at one of the participating restaurants on April 26 
• LIKE the Red Project on facebook
Find more information about programs and services
Contribute to the Red Project through Network for Good 
 
Source: Tami VandenBerg, The Grand Rapids Red Project
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

It's not all PINK cupcakes!

Pinkalicious is a story of a precocious little girl who is in love with the color pink and cupcakes. Despite many warnings, this love of pink cupcakes takes a colorful turn when Pink turns a brilliant shade of her favorite color.
 
“This is the ‘it’ book series for children right now,” boasts Penelope Notter, Civic Theatre director. Notter is bringing this fanciful tale and award-winning children's book to life April 20 - 29.
 
The musical is for both girls and boys. Young audience members will laugh and sing along with familiar characters, all while learning the importance healthy eating, a balanced diet and the introduction of a new love -- green vegetables.
 
 “We know this show will be a first theatre experience for many of the children,” says Notter. And, the Civic Theatre is ready and waiting. With early sales of the production sky rocketing, this is sure to be a sell out show.
 
The Civic Theatre is one of the largest community theatres in the country, and their School of Theatre Arts has been entertaining and educating West Michigan since 1925.
 
Want to be a do-gooder? Well, here’s how to get involved:
• Purchase tickets to Pinkalicious
• Become a member
• LIKE Civic Theatre on Facebook
• Learn more about Civic Theatre
• Join their mailing list
Donate 
 
Source: Penny Notter, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Planets align for Earth Day

Earth Day, recognized on April 22 annually, marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement. It was in 1970 that Earth Day was born, but that is not to say that Americans were environmentally conscious. We drove automobiles that took leaded gas, factories were unregulated and air pollution was prevalent back then.
 
Today, Earth Day is the hallmark for the environmental and sustainability efforts celebrated in over 175 countries by millions of people. The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) Earth Day Celebration is the largest independent Earth Day event in Grand Rapids.
 
They are hosting their Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 20 at Fountain Street Church from 7-11 p.m. 
 
“This is our fourth year celebrating Earth Day at WMEAC, and we’re sure it’ll be the best yet,” boasts WMEAC executive director Rachel Hood. “We have a lot to celebrate this year. We’ve achieved major milestones in the regional environmental movement and our organization as well. We’re looking forward to big news in the coming year.”
 
She is speaking about the Michigan Jobs, Michigan Energy ballot initiative which would boost the amount of renewable electricity provided by utilities to 25 percent by 2025, along with the strong progress on regional issues such as stormwater management in Grand Rapids, energy planning in Holland and airport run-off in Cascade Township. 
 
Next week’s celebration will be headlined by Earthwork Music artist Steppin’ In It, a six-piece band from Lansing that will bring a brand of old-time county, soul and Americana infused songs. Local artists, Karisa Wilson and Jim Shaneberger, will also be sharing their musical talents. The event offers a cash bar and food from What The Truck/The Winchester as well as educational exhibits and speakers on regional and national environmental issues.
 
Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at Schuler’s Books, online at wmeac.org, or at the event. A $10 discount ticket is available for students and GRPL library card holders.  
 
Want to get involved? Be a do-gooder and participate. Here’s how:
• Purchase an Earth Day event ticket 
• Learn more about WMEAC
• LIKE the organization on Facebook
• Sign up for their e-newsletter
• Find more upcoming events
Donate
 
Source: Rachel Hood, West Michigan Environmental Action Council
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor
 

Sexual assault crisis intervention program honored with award

• Two in five women will experience abuse or violence in their lifetime.
• There were 5,232 nights of emergency shelter provided to women in Ottawa County last year.
• Last year, 3,168 phone calls were answered on the emergency crisis line at the Center for Women in Transition.
 
The Center for Women in Transition’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, based in Holland and servicing Ottawa and Allegan counties, was named as a 2012 Hometown Health Hero from the Michigan Dept. of Community Health. 
 
“This award recognizes organizations across the state working tirelessly to maintain and improve the health of their local communities,” explains James Koval, coordinator of the Michigan Public Health Week Partnership. “The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program was chosen because the Partnership determined it made an important contribution to the health of the communities.”
 
The Hometown Health Hero Award is a major part of the annual Public Health Week observance in Michigan, and the Center will receive special recognition in Lansing on April 25, 2012.
 
“We are honored to work with the nurses in our program,” says Charisse Mitchell, executive director at the Center for Women in Transition. “They demonstrate uncommon commitment and sensitivity.”
 
The sexual assault examiner nurses offer crisis intervention services to victims of recent sexual assault 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is the only service of its kind in Ottawa and Allegan counties, and 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of the program.
 
Rather than going to an emergency room following sexual assault, victims can call the Center’s 24-hour crisis line and be met by a specially trained nurse at the Center for Women in Transition. In a private setting, these nurses administer timely, sensitive and comprehensive medical exams that maintain legal chain-of-custody for any evidence collected. The nurses in this program are true "health heroes," helping their patients take the first steps toward healing from sexual assault.
 
Want to help put the good back in do-gooder. Get involved:
• Learn more about the Center for Women in Transition 
• Read survivor stories
• Upcoming events
• Check out their wish list of items 
Donate 
 
Source: Charisse Mitchell, Center for Women in Transition; James Koval, Michigan Public Health Week Partnership
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor
 

Kent County Kids Living Out Loud

One in 10 Kent County youth indicated they had five or more drinks in one sitting in the past 30 days. For this reason, the Kent County Prevention Coalition (KCPC) exists. And, they are holding a Live Out Loud Youth Summit to encourage and motivate kids to live above the influence.
 
This year’s summit is created in partnership with the national Above the Influence movement. In 2011, the KCPC mobilized thousands of community youth via many activities and celebrated the choices local youth make daily to live above the negative influences that surround them. The KCPC creates spaces for even the most vulnerable to use their voice to make a difference. Knowing there is still much to be done to reduce underage substance use in our community, the summit acts as one of these spaces. 
 
The summit takes place on April 27 and 28 at DeVos Place, and will include a meet and greet with elected officials, a fashion show, talent showcase, youth resource fair, kidspeak, a pajama jam, a VIP lounge and life changing workshops.
 
“Our goal is to engage and empower youth to be the change our community needs to reduce and prevent underage substance use,” explains KCPC co-director Shannon Cohen.
 
The summit will also include presentations on discovering your gifts and talents, making dreams a reality, getting smart about matters of the heart, personal branding and style, as well as what life in the real world looks like.
 
Be a do-gooder and spread the word about this great organization and its upcoming event to make a community stronger. Here’s how:
 
• LIKE the organization on Facebook
• Learn more about the event and download the registration form 
• Learn more about the organization 
 
Source: Shannon Cohen, Kent County Prevention Coalition
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Jake’s Music Festival ROCKS for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved.  
 
Jake Scheidel was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, 15 years ago when he was six years old. Jake is the now the namesake of Jake’s Music Festival, a day long music event created by Jake's parents, Tom and Mary Scheidel, to raise funds for The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Frames Unlimited is proud to present this year’s eighth annual event, taking place at Wealthy Theatre on Saturday, April 14. The event is free to the public thanks to the generosity of its many sponsors.
 
JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes research. They strive to improve the lives of all people affected by T1D by accelerating progress on the most promising opportunities for preventing, curing and better treating the disease. Donations to the local chapter of JDRF will be accepted during the event. Likewise, this year's silent auction includes an overnight stay at the JW Marriot, a gift certificate to John Russo's Wine Warehouse and a beautiful quilt.
 
This year’s music lineup is quite possibly the most eclectic mix of live music in West Michigan. Featured performers include Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys, The Fainting Generals, Valentiger, The Waxies, Creolization, Karisa Wilson and Lynn Thompson, among others. 
 
Jake’s request: “Please help us raise the money to help find a cure for diabetes, a condition that affects millions of people.”
 
Here’s how you can help put the good back in do-gooder. Get involved:
 
• Attend the upcoming event on April 14 at Wealthy Theatre from 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.
• LIKE the group on facebook 
• Learn more about the music festival 
• Check out the band line-up
Visit the JDRF West Michigan Great Lakes chapter website 
Donate 
 
Source: Jake Scheidel, Jake’s Music Festival
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Fierce Heart Award honors two West Michigan leaders

In 2009, The Early Childhood Investment Corporation (ECIC), Michigan’s early childhood authority, established the Great Start Fierce Heart Award. Its purpose is to honor and recognize those who have shown unwavering dedication to the Great Start vision to ensure that Michigan’s children are prepared to arrive at school safe, healthy and ready for success. 
 
Children’s Healthcare Access Programs (CHAP) of Kent County's Program Manager Maureen Kirkwood and Medical Director Dr. Tom Peterson were this year’s honorees.
 
"I am honored to be the recipient of the Fierce Heart award, but feel that it reflects the efforts of many,” Kirkwood confesses. “None of this work would have been possible without the leadership of Dr. Tom Peterson and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, the support of the First Steps Commission, Priority Health, our funders, ECIC and the hard work of the wonderful CHAP team I am privileged to lead."
 
Using a team approach to providing health care, CHAP ensures that a child has a single place for immunizations, well-child visits and care for acute and chronic illnesses. CHAP also supports physicians who provide coordinated care delivered in a comprehensive and culturally sensitive manner. During the first three years of CHAP of Kent County, the project helped drive down the number of emergency department visits and inpatient hospital admissions of vulnerable children.
 
CHAP works exclusively with children on Medicaid and helps them access quality health care using a more efficient system. In 10 years, from 2001 to 2011, the number of children in Michigan enrolled in Medicaid grew from 23 percent to nearly 40 percent. Today, Medicaid covers more than half of all births in Michigan.
 
Here’s how you can help. Put the good back in do-gooder by getting involved:
 
• LIKE the ECIC Great Start program on facebook
• Learn more about CHAP of Kent County 
• Act now
Connect with local childhood resources 
• Check out the Great Starts newsletter 
 
Source: Maureen Kirkwood, Children’s Healthcare Access Programs of Kent County
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

How you can help Aquinas College serve the world

The Aquinas College alumni and friends are on a mission -- a mission to serve the world with 125,000 acts of kindness. 
 
In honor of the University’s 125th anniversary, 8,000 tokens were mailed to graduates and friends alike in October, requesting the recipient offer kindness to someone, encouraging the pay it forward attitude, and then share their story. If each token is paid forward 5 times, the goal will be achieved. To date, there have been 8,000 participants and 220 stories shared.
 
You are able to discover the numerous stories on a world map at the school’s website where you can learn about Women’s Lacrosse Assistant Coach Katy Mohr. While on a trip to southwest Uganda, she took children to their HIV treatment as well as played with them and taught them songs. Or, you may find Board Trustee Ed Carlson’s volunteerism with the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City. He helped staff a resale fundraiser to support the organization’s mission of helping those in need.
 
You don’t need a token to participate. In fact, you don’t even have to be in another city, state or country. All you have to do is serve someone else. And then, of course, encourage the recipient to continue the kindness. Isn’t that what being a do-gooder is all about?
 
Help put the good back in do-gooder. Here’s how to get involved:
Share your act of kindness 
• View the map
Find ideas and resources to get you started on an act of kindness 
• Learn more about Aquinas College  
• LIKE Aquinas College on Facebook  
Donate 
 
Source: Jenny Luth, Clark Communications
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Mobile Mammography takes a tour through Grand Rapids

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer over the course of her lifetime is about one in eight, a shocking statistic to many. This is one of the many reasons the American Cancer Society recommends all women 40 and older get annual mammograms.
 
A mammography bus will be kicking off its journey through our community at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure West Michigan Affiliate offices (710 Kenmoor Ave SE) on April 2. The Betty Ford Breast Cares Services mobile unit is a 40-foot clinic on wheels that uses state-of-the-art digital technology. 
 
“We are so thrilled to engage with Spectrum Health as a grantee of Komen for the Cure and offer this service to our area communities,” says Susan G. Komen for the Cure West Michigan Affiliate Executive Director Emma Powell.
 
She continues, “With or without insurance, people are encouraged to call and make an appointment. Spectrum Health will work through the funding needs and can offer services to anyone wanting their annual mammogram."
 
Participants are asked to call 616.267.2626 or 877.495.2626 to schedule an appointment. Breast cancer is most treatable and curable when it is detected early, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity.
 
Want to help put the good back in do-gooder? Check out these links for Susan G. Komen for the Cure West Michigan Affiliate:
• LIKE them on Facebook 
• Sign up for newsletter
Donate
 
Source: Emma Powell, Susan G. Komen for the Cure West Michigan affiliate
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

A Spring Break out of this world

Will you be enjoying a spring break staycation with the family this year? The Grand Rapids Public Museum sure hopes you do. Why? They have an exhibit that is out of this world, just for you.
 
The latest offering, Facing Mars, takes guests on a journey to the red planet. You’ll learn firsthand what it takes to plan and undertake a two-year trip to Mars and back, giving you an informed perspective with which to ponder the exhibit’s opening and closing question: “Would you go?”
 
There’s also an astronaut lab for the youngest children. There they will learn about gravity, space fitness, weight and weightlessness and the effects of space travel on the body. Likewise, special activities will be available from 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily, April 2-7. The special programming includes riding a hovercraft, strapping on moon shoes, creating a Martian mask and even trying freeze-dried astronaut food.
 
And if that isn’t enough, you can spend your evening gazing and wondering about the space above. Be sure to catch a glimpse of Mars as well as Jupiter, Venus and the moon through high-powered telescopes on the Museum’s front lawn. But if spending the evening isn’t an option, you can always check out the planetarium show to get your space odyssey fix. 
This is an extraordinary time the kids will love -- and love you for it!
 
Want to be part of the goodness? Here’s how:
• LIKE the Grand Rapids Public Museum on Facebook
• Learn more about the Grand Rapids Public Museum 
• Become a member 
Donate 
 
Source: Kristy Harrington, Grand Rapids Public Museum 
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

An unconventional environmental experience for the whole family

Want to teach your young children about the importance of sustainability and environmental impact? Well, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) has found a fun and family-oriented way in which to do so.
 
They will show FernGully: The Last Rainforest at Wealthy Theatre on Wednesday, April 4. The film, part of the WMEAC Film Series, is presented in partnership with the Wealthy Theatre Centennial Capital Campaign, which works to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint and enhance existing technologies, ensuring its sustainability for decades to come.  
 
It’s an educational opportunity that kids and parents will both appreciate. The movie will screen at 7 p.m. with free treats and giveaways for kids and kids at heart before the film. 
 
FernGully is meant to be a fun event that will introduce kids to significant environmental issues in a way that will be entertaining for them,” says Jen Shaneberger, chair of the WMEAC Events Committee, which organized the series. “It’s an environmental favorite for parents that their kids can now enjoy watching too.”
 
WMEAC brings FernGully: The Last Rainforest to the Wealthy Theatre in partnership with Moms Clean Air Force, a band of moms (and dads) fighting for their children's right to breathe clean air, founded on the principle that moms have passion and power -- an unbeatable combination. The initiative is harnessing the strength of mother love to fight back against polluters.
 
A $5 donation per adult is suggested for film entry. Doors open at 6:30 pm.
 
Be a do-gooder and join WMEAC at the film. And, here’s how to get more involved:
 
• Follow WMEAC on Facebook
• Sign up for the e-newsletter
• Learn more about WMEAC
Donate
 
Source: Dan Schoonmaker, West Michigan Environmental Action Council; Jen Shaneberger, West Michigan Environmental Action Council
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Young Women Strong Leaders conference visits Grand Rapids for the first time

The annual statewide conference, Young Women Strong Leaders, is scheduled to take place Friday, March 30 at Davenport University.  This will be the first time the forum, which encourages high school and college girls to be the best they can be, is held in Grand Rapids.  
 
It’s a day of network building, mentorship and leadership role modeling from across Michigan -- and it's open to the public. It’s also an opportunity to build a relationship with a professional in a particular field of study. Presenters include Rachel Mraz, Bridget Clark Whitney and Jennifer Phillips Wilson.
 
The keynote speaker for this year’s event is Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, the 17th President of Kalamazoo College. She brings her work record of distinction in the realm of higher education and early child development, both in this country and abroad, to the stage to inspire and motivate.
 
The conference is presented by the Michigan ACE Women’s Network, Michigan Women’s Commission, Michigan State University Women’s Resource Center, Michigan Department of Education and Davenport University.
 
Want to be a do-gooder? Well, of course you do. Here’s how you can get involved:
 
• Learn more about the Young Women, Strong Leaders conference 
• View the schedule of events 
Register for the conference 
 
Source: Heather Kalafut, Davenport University
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

TEDxGrandRapids opens to educators for FREE

If you haven’t heard about TEDx, then you are missing some critical information. It’s a conference based on the original and annual TED conference, but in your local community. It’s also where big ideas happen and where words are replaced with inspiration and action.
 
Grand Rapids is gifted with the experience of TEDx due to the generosity and volunteerism of many community members. Now in its second year, TEDx Grand Rapids -- the single-day forum that brings some of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers to Grand Rapids -- is offering teachers a free livestream of the event on Thursday, May 10 at Forest Hills Fine Arts Center.
 
“We are all students and TED is a global classroom, showing us what is possible. TED introduces us to the people who are moving our world forward -- those people inspire us. And then we, in turn, can inspire others,” says Dalin Clark, host of the Livestream for Education event. “TEDxGrandRapids’ 18-minute talks will span science, the arts, important world issues and extraordinary personal experiences, which can be immensely valuable for teachers to use as springboards for classroom discussions or projects.”
 
The event will invite 1,000 educators to experience the TEDxGrandRapids program in real time. They’ll have the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas and figure out their own answers to the TEDxGrandRapids theme “What Now?” Additionally, teachers are invited to nominate up to 10 outstanding students, 10th grade and older, who would also benefit from the TEDx conversation.
 
Livestream for Education is designed to inspire those who are committed to our youngest innovators -- teachers, administrators, after-school mentors, coaches, support staffers and everyone affiliated with education. Like the main event at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, the Livestream for Education audience will be curated to gather an audience of remarkable individuals who can inspire, challenge and offer diverse and unique perspectives.
 
The Livestream for Education application is now available at here. The deadline is March 30.
 
Source: Adam Clarke, TEDx Grand Rapids; Dalin Clark, Livestream for Education
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

The fifth Hurrah, and definitely not the last

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 by attending HURRAH!, an event to benefit the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation. 
 
The Foundation pays for programs, equipment, supplies and other enhancements which require funding beyond what the state and district provides. There’s always a need with more than 3,000 children enrolled in East Grand Rapids’ five public schools.
 
“State funding for education in Michigan is continuing to tighten for many basic programs and [has become] insufficient to fund regular and enrichment programs,” explains Executive Director Amy Stuursma. “Gifts to the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation maintain excellence in education while enhancing the quality within the East Grand Rapids Public Schools.”
 
The fifth annual HURRAH! is a casual evening of fun, food and camaraderie, featuring a raffle, cash bar and live music from River City Stew, Celtic Kilroy and Twin Thistle.  This year’s event will feature tastings from local restaurants and specialty food shops including Acorn Grille at Thousand Oaks Golf Club, Amore Trattoria Italiana, Bar Divani, Big Bob’s, El Barrio Mexican Grill, Founders Brewing Co., The Green Well, Mary Ann’s Chocolates, Olives, Ramona’s Table, Rose’s on Reeds Lake and TCBY. Late-night eats will be provided by Arby’s and Jet’s Pizza.  
 
The event will be held at the Widdicomb Building (665 Seward Ave. NW) this year. Since its inception, more than $184,000 has been raised through HURRAH! to impact education in our community. Want to help put the good back in do-gooder? Here’s how:
 
• Learn more about the Foundation 
• LIKE them on facebook
• Purchase Hurrah tickets online
• Check out the latest e-newsletter
Donate 
 
Source: Amy Stuursma, East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Catherine's Health Center receives national grant award

The Avon Foundation for Women has awarded a $26,300, one-year grant to Catherine’s Health Center to increase awareness of the life-saving benefits of early detection of breast cancer through their “Count Me In” program. 
 
Catherine’s Health Center is a nonprofit, community-based free clinic dedicated to serving low-income, uninsured residents of the NE sections of Grand Rapids, primarily those residents who live in the Creston and Belknap neighborhoods.
 
The “Count Me In” program has reached almost 6,000 local women with information about the importance of early detection of breast cancer, and has referred more than 1,200 women for mammograms and clinical breast exams. 
“We are proud that the Avon Foundation for Women shares our mission and has chosen to continue to support our program,” says Executive Director Karen Kaashoek. “With these funds, we will be able to provide breast health education, screening and access to care for the low-income, uninsured women in our community.” 
 
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States and the leading single cause of death overall in women between the ages of 40 and 55. While advances have been made in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure, early detection still affords the best opportunity for successful treatment. Programs such as “Count Me In” help ensure that all women have access to early detection information and options, even poor and medically underserved women.
 
Want to help with this goodness? Here’s how:
 
• Learn more about Catherine’s Health Center 
• Find out more about the Avon Foundation for Women 
• LIKE Catherine’s Health Center on facebook
• Subscribe to the Health Center’s newsletter 
Donate 
 
Source: Karen Kaashoek, Catherine’s Health Center
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good editor

Find your HeartMatch

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., taking the life of one in three women -- almost one woman every minute. More women die of heart disease than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer, meaning everybody knows someone who is battling this disease. But no one should have to fight heart disease alone.
 
That’s why the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women® is helping women connect with one another with a free program that gives women the ability to find the emotional support they need to survive a heart disease diagnosis, care for a loved one with heart disease or work to prevent heart disease.
 
Heart Match is an easy-to-use, online program that connects women with similar profiles and allows them choose to build their one-on-one mentor/mentee relationship in the way they prefer. It is free and accessible 24/7 at http://www.goredforwomen.org/heartmatch.
 
“Having the American Heart Association build this network will help patients know they are not the only ones with this particular set of cardiovascular circumstances,” explains Prerana Manohar, MD, FACC, FACP, FRCPC of the Heart+Wellness Institute. “In some cases, having a willing listener can help with depression and stress, which are both barriers to healing. HeartMatch also overcomes geographical barriers, which can leave some cardiac patients feeling isolated.  It can be a vicious cycle and this program can help.”
 
Heart attack survivor Stephanie Chan agrees.
 
“When I connected with Go Red For Women, I met wonderful ladies who have become my dear friends,” she says. “I’d kept my feelings about my treatment, procedure and recovery to myself for so long that being able to talk with someone who understands what I went through allowed me to heal in ways I didn’t realize were possible.”
 
The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke -- America’s No. 1 and No. 3 killers. They team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases.
 
Want to be a do-gooder? Get involved. Here’s how:
 
• Visit HeartMatch
• Learn more about the American Heart Association – West Michigan 
• LIKE them on facebook
Donate 
 
Source:  Dr. Prerana Manohar, Heart + Wellness Institute; Stephanie Chan, American Heart Association
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

On the front lines of Heartside homelessness

Homelessness is something most people don’t want to talk about. Or, they think it’s something that happens somewhere else. The scope of homelessness in West Michigan reaches far beyond what most realize. In 2008, 6,022 people were homeless. That number has presumably risen since that time due to unemployment and inflation. Yes, we have a homelessness problem in Grand Rapids.

“In the heart of Grand Rapids, a few blocks from burgeoning urban developments and a growing community of business professionals, exists one of the poorest neighborhoods in Grand Rapids,” explains Guiding Light Executive Director Stuart Ray. “The Heartside neighborhood is both racially and culturally diverse, and its neighbors represent the greatest cross section of homeless and destitute citizens of Kent County.”

Guiding Light Mission provides emergency services by offering day shelter and meals to men, women and children, as well as overnight shelter for men -- nearly 70 each night. They average 6,700 meals per month and nearly 66,740 meals are distributed to local charities and emergency food basket providers.

“Spend a day in our organization and you just begin to understand,” says Ray as he chats about what life is like on the streets.

Not only does Guiding Light Mission provide shelter, the charity also offers a Christian-based, residential substance abuse and life recovery program known as The New Life In Christ Program. This program, formerly known as the S.T.A.R.T. program, is designed to instill in its participants the skills and values necessary to rejoin the community and reclaim their lives.

They are changing the face of homelessness one life at a time. You can listen to the stories of some of the men they have worked with through testimonials. Surely, you want to help put the good back in do-gooder. You can. Here’s how:

·         LIKE them on facebook
·         Learn more about the nonprofit organization
·         View their fact sheet. It will certainly surprise you.
·         Hear stories of men on the street
·         Volunteer
·         Make a donation

Source: Stuart Ray, Guiding Light Mission; Jessica Manfrin, Guiding Light Mission
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Will you be “Making Strides” this year?

Twenty years ago, the first Making Strides walks were held to end breast cancer. Now, two decades later, the American Cancer Society honors the millions of birthdays that have been celebrated thanks to the millions of dollars raised by Making Strides participants.

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is the American Cancer Society’s premier event to raise funds and awareness to fight breast cancer. This year, the walk will be on May 5 at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. However, the kickoff for the 5K walk is this week.

“I never take life for granted and I cherish every day I get to spend with my children, husband and family,” says breast cancer survivor Amy. “I wouldn't have made it through this without the love and support from my family, friends and strangers. I'm keeping my head bald until the walk to represent women with breast cancer.”

You can now sign up to join the 20th walk, create your own walking team and raise money for the charity so that countless others can celebrate their success over breast cancer -- and celebrate more birthdays.

Do you know someone who has battled breast cancer? You can walk in their honor. Be a part of the goodness. Here’s how:

·         LIKE the organization on facebook
·         Learn more about the charity
·         Visit the Team Grand Rapids page
·         Sign up for the walk at Rosa Parks Circle

Source: Jaime Counterman, American Cancer Society
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Are you throwing that away?

Do you recycle? How about compost? Grand Valley State University does. In fact, they ask their students to separate their trash into three separate piles before anything is taken to the landfill. Would you be willing to do the same? It’s a request the school’s Environmental Coalition wanted to test.
 
The student group theorized that students are not taking the proper steps to minimize their waste stream.  So they conducted a waste audit -- a physical analysis of the contents of several dumpsters on campus -- to see exactly what students were throwing away.  
 
“We had our suspicions that the composting and recycling facilities offered to students were being grossly underused and misused,” explains GVSU Student Environmental Coalition member Josh Lycka.
 
During the event held on February 20, two dumpsters were emptied out and sorted by volunteers clad in protective clothing.  
 
“After sorting through their contents, we found that an overwhelming majority of waste was in fact misplaced,” confesses Lycka. “The fact that we have invested in sustainable waste management is swell, but the student body needs to make use of it and show that they understand and care about using our resources efficiently.”
 
 According to GVSU Campus Sustainability Manager Bart Bartels, 80 percent of the garbage found in the dumpster could have been diverted into either a recycling or a composting bin. Currently, the school has a 42 percent diversion rate, meaning 42 percent of trash is composted or recycled rather than being sent to a landfill. That is more than double what it was less than a decade ago. 
 
The waste audit was billed as a part of the GVSU’s involvement in Recyclemania, a national intercollegiate competition to promote waste reduction on college campuses.
 
Want to help put the good back in do-gooder? Here’s how:
 
• Join the facebook group 
• LIKE Grand Valley State University on facebook
• Learn more about recycling, composting and other environmental measures you can take 
 
Source: Josh Lycka, Grand Valley State University Environmental Coalition; Scott Kaplan, West Michigan Environmental Action Council
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Who are these Road Warriors?

The Fifth Third River Bank Run has a reality team.  
 
The Road Warriors team consists of both veteran and novice runners who serve as ambassadors for the Fifth Third River Bank Run. They are also challenged to try new training methods, test new gear and participate in the 25K road race on Saturday, May 12, 2012.
 
Road Warriors are required to share their journey with the community by blogging on a weekly basis at www.53riverbankrun.com about their progress and how the challenges impacted their performance. Out of 200+ applications, 10 participants were ultimately were chosen to be 2012 Fifth Third River Bank Run Road Warriors.
 
“I'm a Road Warrior,” says runner Kristen Sisson. “We are a team of five men and five women who train together.”
 
There's a twist though: each team member has chosen a charity to raise money for with his or her journey. This year they are representing Paws With A Cause, Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, Hope Network, Gilda's Club and the American Red Cross.
 
"We're all honored to be a part of the Fifth Third River Bank Run Road Warrior program,” says Sisson. “The chance to raise funds for these very local and wonderful charities is just a huge bonus."
 
Want to help put the good back in do-gooder? Sure you do. Support the Road Warriors as they train for the upcoming 25K race and their charity partners. Here’s how:
 
• Learn more about the Road Warriors and read their blog
• Check out their Charity Parnters
• Find out more about the 5/3 River Bank Run 
• LIKE the Fifth Third River Bank Run on Facebook 
 
Source: Kristen Sisson, Road Warriors
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

GVSU receives International Invitation for their performing arts

A theater company from Grand Valley State University is the only group from the U.S. invited by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, to perform during the 2012 international Spanish Golden Age Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, TX, March 6-8.
 
 “It is a huge honor for Grand Valley to be invited to perform as part of the Spanish Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Memorial,” says professor of theatre Karen Libman. “The other groups invited are professional theater companies from Mexico and Spain.”
 
The GVSU thespians will be performing an English translation premiere of Antona Garcia.
 
“The Spanish Golden Age plays were serious/comic diversions usually about powerful men who fell in love with beautiful women, or women characters who dressed as men to vindicate their honor,” explains James Bell, assistant professor of theater in the School of Communications. “Antona Garcia is different in that one woman is the dominant character, and she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s a woman, but rather is valued for her beauty, strength and accomplishments.” 
 
Believe it or not, you can see this adaptation for yourself right here in Grand Rapids. Encore performances will be featured at Grand Valley’s Performing Arts Center March 30 - April 7. To purchase tickets, $6-$12, call the Louis Armstrong box office at 616-331-2300.
 
Be a part of the Grand Rapids goodness. Here’s how:
 
• LIKE Grand Valley State University of Facebook 
• Learn more about Grand Valley State University 
• Purchase tickets to the show 
 
Source:  Karen Libman, Grand Valley State University; James Bell, Grand Valley State University
Writer: Jennifer Wilson, Do Good Editor

Project Blueprint: Training future leaders

Have you heard about Project Blueprint? It’s a program through the Heart of West Michigan United Way promoting diversity and inclusion on Boards and committees at local nonprofit organizations.
 
Project Blueprint seeks identified ethnic minority candidates with strong leadership qualities who want to be more involved on the boards of West Michigan charities. Candidates may be nominated by individuals, organizations or self-nominated.
 
“Project Blueprint strives to create the future leaders in civic and community development and engagement for Grand Rapids,” says program admin