Who would have thought that being a do-gooder could be cool?
But that's just what is happening in the Grand Rapids metro area, thanks to an fortunate combination of old line philanthropic families and the youthful energy of young professionals who are drawn here to work for nonprofit agencies.
As evidence of that vibrancy, a whopping 30 finalists will be considered for 10 awards given out at an awards dinner on Oct. 15 by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) of Greater Grand Rapids for their work in the nonprofit sector.
"Our chapter may be thinking bigger than its britches, but it has a lot of vitality," says Jenn Schaub, educational chair of local YNPN chapter who works in the neighborhood revitalization department for The Dwelling Place.
Small but Sassy
Formed less than a year ago, the local YNPN chapter represents perhaps the smallest metropolitan area of all the national organization's 25 chapters. But that seems fitting, since the Grand Rapids metropolitan area has surpassed much larger cities in per capita giving of disposable income. The metro triangle bounded by Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon was ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as second in the United States for its charitable giving per capita five years ago.
In addition to personal giving, one only needs to pass by major construction sites in Grand Rapids to catch the names of hometown philanthropists and family foundations that are pouring large sums of money into the local economy. Local prominent citizens are investing their wealth in brick-and-mortar projects here, but also in social programs that raise the quality of life in West Michigan.
With this solid support for philanthropy, it's only natural that a specialized group of young professionals would be attracted to this area and want to start a support group, Schaub says.
Tera Wozniak Qualls, 25, co-chair and co-founder of the local YNPN, is excited about honoring these hard-working nonprofit professionals in the community. "The idea for the awards is to recognize what young nonprofiters are doing in our city now. They're making the city better."
The YNPN provides support, including professional development, education and networking to young nonprofit professionals and is emerging as a sure-fire source of vision and community.
"Leadership begins in the community," Qualls says "We want to continue the longstanding legacy that nonprofits have already begun, and we want to make it better." And, she asserts, because Grand Rapids has such a vital philanthropic nature, it is one of the best places for young nonprofit professionals to thrive.
Energy and Involvement
The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network began as a small group of like-minded people in San Francisco coming together to support each other's nonprofit ventures and has since turned into a 15,000-member network with chapters in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and other large cities.
With roughly 200 people participating and attending events, the Grand Rapids chapter is all about energy and involvement. Members of the group are generally in their mid-to-late 20s, seeking ways of communicating with each other about what's happening in the nonprofit sector. The goal of the YNPN is to offer support while building a strong base of knowledgeable, confident nonprofit professionals.
Schaub, 30, radiates the energy of a nonprofit leader. She is immediately helpful, wanting to answer questions with precision and a confident voice. "Each chapter is unique to the city it's in," Schaub says. " There's a different flavor in D.C. or Chicago than there is here in Grand Rapids. Our chapter, rather than just networking, focuses on the educational component, especially practical learning."
Schaub and the YNPN board know that many young nonprofiters just coming out of college want to gain practical experience, so the Grand Rapids chapter offers training on how to manage personal finances and gives insight as to how different personality types work in a professional setting.
When asked about the purpose behind starting a Grand Rapids chapter, Schaub reasserts that it's not just about networking. "It's about knowing that others are in the same boat as you and about having a peer base," she says. "You can find out about the amazing things happening in Grand Rapids and commiserate with other nonprofiters." And, of course, the added bonus is professional connections.
The local YNPN is keen on networking at happy hours, but also offers educational events and what they call "conversation starters." Interesting topics affecting the nonprofit sector are chosen to get conversations going, and everyone is encouraged to contribute. "We want to hear what young professionals have to say," Schaub says. "We want them to be part of the conversation, to hear their ideas and what resources they're using in their professional worlds. This is a way to interact and contribute to the conversation in a relaxed setting."
A recent conversation starter at Schuler Books & Music on 28th Street featured Sandi Frost-Parrish, a revered nonprofit fundraising consultant, who spoke about the changing dynamic of philanthropy in the current economic state. Schaub says plans for another conversation starter are in the works.
Qualls, who is also the program coordinator for the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University and is on the YNPN's national board, also maintains the importance of "quality programming and networking opportunities" within the organization. She says the reason for creating a local chapter is to establish a "support structure and education for those struggling to move forward because of the lack of funds in professional development."
The Honor Roles
The upcoming YNPN Leadership Awards to be held at the Wealthy Theatre will honor those that best exemplify young nonprofiters. With 10 categories and three finalists in each category, the evening will be jam-packed with Do-Gooder praises. Qualls says it's essential to recognize these individuals because "we're trailblazers and ahead of other young professional organizations in the area, which is why the awards ceremony is so important."
Dustin Dwyer, Michigan Radio's West Michigan reporter, will host the event where nominees will receive awards under headings such as Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year, Exemplary Executive, the Good to Great, and the Connector.
The finalists for the Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year are Lindsy Griffis, fund development director of ACCESS of West Michigan; Matt Chapman, communications director of Alternatives in Motion; and Janelle Hill, community services coordinator of Arbor Circle. The award is given to the individual who excels in her or his work, always going above and beyond the call of duty and looking for a new way to make a nonprofit service better.
"I feel so honored to be nominated for Young Nonprofit Professional of the year," says Griffis. "I am new to the nonprofit sector and ACCESS has been nothing but encouraging and supportive. I have never seen a group of people so passionate about the work that they do. Their passion is contagious and it is a privilege to be part of their team."
The other nominees include:
Exemplary Executive Award: Bridget Clark-Whitney, executive director of Kids Food Basket; and Luisa Schumacher, executive director of WMCAT.
Champion Award: Steven Depolo, GVSU Development; Lucy Joswick, Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore and DeDe Esque, volunteer and consultant.
DoGooder Award: Janelle Hill, community services coordinator for Arbor Circle; Emily Stoddard Furrow, president, League of Women Voters Grand Rapids; and Mindy Ysasi-Castanon, board member for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
Edison Award: Shannon Garrett, Great Lakes field director of The White House Project; Maria Gajewski, independent contractor; and Marie-Claire Camp, executive director of Ellohay West Michigan.
Advocate Award: Cassie Truskowski, Angela Nelson and Bridget Clark-Whitney, executive director of Kids Food Basket.
Resource Award: Grand Rapids Community Foundation, BL2END and School of Public and Nonprofit Administration at Grand Valley State University.
The Connector Award: George Wietor, Grand Rapids Community Media Center; Mike Goorhouse, Council of Michigan Foundations; and Maxine Gray, marketing communications committee co-chair, BL2END.
Good to Great Award: Elissa Sangalli-Hillary, executive director of Local First; Matthew VanZetten, management analyst/Kent County Family and Children's Coordinating Council, County of Kent Administrations; and Jamon Alexander, Devos Children's Hospital Foundation.
Dynamic Duo Award: Elizabeth Goodard and Becca Schaub, ArtWorks manager for UICA; Nicole Hansen, community outreach operations director of YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and Renee Kane, community outreach project development director of YMCA Greater Grand Rapids; and Mindy Firlan, director of the GRCC Academic Service Learning Center and Mike Schavey, associate director at the center.
In addition to information posted on the YNPN national website under the Grand Rapids chapter link, individiuals can also follow YNPN's local and national movement on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Bona Van Dis is a freelance writer living in Grand Rapids. When she isn't chasing her 4-year-old son, she's writing and editing for the Aquinas Magazine. Photos:
A partial gathering of Young Non-Profit Professionals
Becca Schaub (left) and Elizabeth Godder
Tera Wonzniak Qualls (left) and Amanda St. Pierre
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved