Delta Project’s inaugural Gratitude Concert to spotlight unsung heroes making a difference

With the inaugural Gratitude Concert this Saturday, the Delta Project is spotlighting the unsung heroes who are helping "at risk" youth reach their potential.
Mykal Rose
“We need to be able to recognize the humanity of people and show gratitude towards people in our community who are trying to make a difference,” says Joel Van Kuiken, co-founder of the Grand Rapids nonprofit that helps youths in the juvenile justice system. 

The concert will feature Grammy award winning international reggae icon Mykal Rose, the lead singer of Black Uhuru from 1977-1985; Loftside Story, a hip hop band that features founding members of Euro-K, the first Grand Rapids hip hop band to sign to a record label in the 1980s; and Isobel, an emerging indie rock artist. 

Tickets are still available through the Wealthy Theatre website. The money raised will support the work of the Delta Project.

Equal Rights and Justice

Gabriel Homes, a youth specialist with the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, says it is a privilege to work with historically underserved youth. He is the inaugural winner of the Gratitude Award in the category of Equal Rights and Justice.
Gabriel Holmes
“My primary charge is to provide mentorship, positive mental support, as well as treatment needs and skills development to assist in successful reintegration of the youths’ return to the community as a positive and productive member in society,” Holmes says. 

“I am truly humbled and equally as grateful to be seen,” he adds, praising Delta Project for “seeing the work that I have done thus far. It is with great humility that I accept this award. We still have work to do.”

The Equal Rights and Justice Award recognizes someone who works in the juvenile justice system and is making a difference in the lives of youths and families that are dealing with these systems. 

“Gabriel Holmes is an iconic person in the system who all the kids know and gravitate toward,” Cole Williams, Delta Project co-founder and executive director, says. “He's made a huge difference in the lives of many, many young people.”


Amanda Jackson works for the 17th Circuit Court Family Division as a juvenile probation officer. Jackson is receiving the Gratitude Award in the category of Impact.
Amanda Jackson
“As a probation officer, I assume so many roles and responsibilities,” she says. “My job is important in regard to the safety and security of our community. However, for me it is more important to make a positive impact on the youth and their families that are involved in the juvenile justice system.” 

Jackson says she was surprised by her award.

“I don’t look for recognition for the work that I do with our youth. Watching them be successful is the greatest reward,” says Jackson. “I am grateful for the work and the impact that the Delta Project has had on our youth in our community. Being able to use them as a resource has been amazing.”

The Impact Award was created to recognize someone who is connected to the Delta Project and is really making a big impact.

“Amanda Jackson was there at the genesis of the Delta Project,” says Williams. “We started working back in 2019 in the juvenile detention center. She was with us when we did our first taping and first experimenting with the conversation series. She's so committed to the kids that she's helping.”“


Jolene Manley, director of school operations at NexTech High School, is receiving the Gratitude Award in the category of Education. She describes her role as managing a lot of behind-the-scenes tasks in the office. She tries to bring her parenting approach to her work with the students.
Jolene Manley
“I am a mom to three great kids, and I try to carry that with me into my day-to-day at school,” Manley says. “Mothers love kids unconditionally and offer grace and empathy regardless of the challenges or mistakes a child may face. I use that as my inspiration to support and take care of my kids at NexTech.” 

She adds that her work is meaningful because she is helping youth at a critical time – when they are journeying into adulthood. 

“Our students will eventually become adults responsible for their contributions to the world around us. I want them to feel like those contributions are valuable and worthwhile toward meaningful change,” says Manley. 

She admits that receiving the award feels a little uncomfortable.

“I love my role and my kids at NexTech,” Manley says, “and as much as I like to be loud for them, I’d rather stay quiet about myself. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to make an impact alongside the Delta Project.” 

The award was created to spotlight the work of an educator who is impacting high school students who need extra support and is helping them reach their goal of graduation. 

“The students are at a stage where they are determining what they're going to become long term in how they see themselves,” says Van Kuiken. “So the role that education plays in that is really important. Jolene Manley shows up and is unconditionally there supporting kids who might be on probation, or who are dealing with all sorts of issues as they try to complete their high school degree.”

Community Partner

Christopher Lovelady, the founder of the nonprofit All Good Sports, works with youth ages 14-18 to assist with navigating resources for removing barriers in academics, athletes, and affirmation. 
Christopher Lovelady
Lovelady is receiving the Gratitude Award in the category of Community Partner. The award honors someone in the community who is making a difference in the lives of youth by being a resource for them.

“I believe in leveling the playing field for community enrichment resources,” says Lovelady. “The work I am a part of is community work, often called village work. 

“In the village, it is important to advocate for the village's children and families. We all need to know that there are people in our corners advocating for us on our behalf. Everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive in an equitable space.”

Lovelady says receiving the award is humbling.

“I think of the many pillars and pioneers we have in our community who are doing the same work who are deserving of this award, and to be selected out is humbling,” says Lovelady. “I'm thankful.”

In addition to his nonprofit, Lovelady works at Bethany Christian Services, where he runs a mentorship program. 

A fifth accolade, the At Potential Award, will be given out to a youth. While the award will be announced at the concert, Williams describes the teen winner as “a testament to the power of resilience and the capacity for transformation.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.