Our Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Are you a woman of faith?

January 31st, 2013

My blog postings have been infrequent at best in the past few months and I hope to step it up. This does take discipline and I need to buckle down to take a moment to write out of my busy days! But something happened yesterday that I cannot shake and I am compelled to write about it.

I met with a gentleman who has enjoyed a career in education worthy of note and admiration. I took this meeting because he wanted to share some of his ideas about reaching out to youth helping to change lives. I never met this man before and didn't really know much about him other than having knowledge of the people who referred him to me. He obviously didn’t know much about me either.

After we exchanged small talk at the beginning of the meeting, he looked at me and asked, “Are you a woman of faith?” My initial reaction was, should I launch into a lecture of “what business is it of yours” and respond accordingly as I was seething inside? No, I took a deep breath and answered in calm but frosty tone, “I am a woman of faith but what do you mean by your question?” I certainly knew what he meant and as he hemmed and hawed and squirmed in his chair, he asked, “Do you go to church? Do you belong to a church?” I did not answer his questions and said let's move on.

For the few of you who are reading this, you may have your own notions of how you would have responded and that’s fine. But here’s my real message as to why I am writing this. I am a person who wants to understand how people think and what shapes their thoughts and ideas. Frankly though, it is still a shock to me to encounter the questions of religion, faith or whatever. This hasn’t happened to me in years and has only happened here! Plain and simple, when it comes to religion and political leanings, it is not your business.

If we are ever going to be a community that embraces difference, that views the changes going on around us as exciting and full of possibility, and that works with people where they are without judgment, then we have got to stop asking these questions. People who move to our area share with me their shock when they encounter such questioning. The fact that there are people who still feel that they have the right to ask these questions is very disturbing to me.

I want to yell off the top of our building on Grandville and Oakes - "knock it off!" It is my business not yours.

I lead a Foundation that is built on the values that I hold dear: integrity, inclusion, excellence, sustainability, and going forth with bold aspirations. Inclusion means welcoming beyond acceptance. It means embracing change and difference. It means equity.

Grand Rapids and West Michigan, let’s move forward.

Dreams can come true!

December 19th, 2012

This morning brought great news that our colleague organization, Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), received a phenomenal stock gift of $500 million from Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook.  This gift will definitely help to transform lives and communities in the Bay Area! 

Can you imagine the strength of that gift?  Can you imagine the impact that gift can have for students who may not have any hopes of attending college or providing needed housing assistance to the family who is trying to make ends meet and things just aren’t working out? 

No stranger to philanthropy, Mark Zuckerberg signed the “Giving Pledge” in December 2010 promising to donate at least half of his wealth over his lifetime along with other notable persons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  He gave a significant gift to help the Newark Public Schools two years ago and certainly seems to have the faith and confidence in working with the SVCF to accomplish more of his vision for the future. 

As reported in the San Jose Mercury Times, Zuckerberg stated, “Today, in order to lay the foundation for new projects, we've made a contribution of 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation," Zuckerberg continued. "Together, we will look for areas in education and health to focus on next. I'm hopeful we'll be able to have as positive an impact in our next set of projects."

Also interesting is that in the same article the following was noted:  “While some of Silicon Valley's wealthiest executives -- such as William Hewlett and David Packard -- created their own foundations to distribute their wealth, others who channeled funds through the community foundation include former eBay President Jeff Skoll, who announced in 2005 that he had donated $150 million each to his own private foundation and to a fund affiliated with a forerunner to the community foundation.”

Emmett Carson, SVCF CEO, was gracious in his comment, "Mark's generous gift will change lives and inspire others in Silicon Valley and around the globe to give back and make the world a better place."

Obviously Mark Zuckerberg knows that the SVCF can make his aspirations come alive in his community just as the Grand Rapids Community Foundation can do the same right here in our area!  Our staff team is simply the best in identifying needs, fleshing out how organizations operate, what projects can really focus on making a positive impact.  Come and explore with us!  We do make things happen. As we say loud and clear, “Community Happens Here!” 

Congratulations to our colleagues at Silicon Valley Community Foundation!


Guest Post: Changing how we think of homelessness

June 6th, 2012

Guest post from Laurie Craft,Community Foundation Program Director

At Grand Rapids Community Foundation, we work to create a community that has all of the great qualities that West Michigan has—and to make it better. As an optimist, this is a great place to be. We have the opportunity and the resources to see change happen. But change does not happen overnight, and it is not without its casualties.

Consider the issue of homelessness – yes, it’s a big one. Relative to larger cities, Grand Rapids does not have a large and visible population of individuals “living on the street”.  But the economic downturn has taken its toll across the country and though our regional economy is improving, those who are closest to the edge are impacted first and hardest, and those numbers are growing.

The Salvation Army’s Housing Assessment Program completed 8,815 intake assessments from people experiencing a housing crisis in 2011–a 21% increase over 2010. Most of those assessed (94%) reported that they made less than 40% of Area Median Income (or less than $24,120 for a family of four).

What does this mean?

It means that changing a system doesn’t happen overnight. Since 2004, our community has been working to end homelessness by changing the way we respond to it.

We try to prevent homelessness by providing short-term rent supports for people in crisis, allowing them to stay in their home while they get back on their feet. Housing a family of four in emergency shelter costs $3,000 a month; the same $3,000 could supplement a family’s rent payments for six months.

If people do become homeless, we provide resources (when available) so they can move back to permanent housing as quickly as possible.  And we provide the systems and supports (like the data referred to above) to make sure that we can support and track the change, making course corrections as needed.

But change is not easy. We had many systems in place to support the homeless and they need to be reconfigured. Resources must be reallocated and people must change the way they think about homelessness – we no longer have the resources available to provide the levels of support we once did. None of this change happens overnight or without pain.

We are making progress.  But in this time of recovery, when we need it most, government resources are declining, as needs are increasing.

In order to pay for housing, one needs a job and transportation to get there.  Housing that is safe, affordable and energy efficient enables families to stay housed. Food benefits supplement a family’s income making housing payments possible for low-income families that have difficult decisions to make.

All of these resources are at risk.

All of these systems need to change – to work better together, to identify and track indicators of success, and to advocate for policy change and resources at local, state and federal levels.

Change requires leadership and adaptability.  Sometimes we don’t realize that until it’s too late.

Change happens here – just not as quickly as we would like.

Guest Post: Get Out There and Hug a Tree Today!

April 27th, 2012

Guest post from Kate Luckert Schmid,Community Foundation Program Director

Arbor Day is the perfect time to stop and take notice of the tremendous value trees have on our community.  While the beauty of a tree is evident, only recently has research begun to prove the lifetime benefits of a tree on our environment, our health, and our economy.   In fact, recent estimates have suggested that the current 35% tree canopy in the City of Grand Rapids provides over $372,000,000 in benefits from reduced storm water runoff and increased air quality alone. 

The Community Foundation is excited to support local effort to increase our urban tree canopy to 40% - requiring at least another 185,000 trees to be planted and cared for.  In order to have a thriving urban forest we are going to need extensive community support and action.  Since only about 5% of the available planting spots are on property owned by the City, the majority of trees will need to be planted on private property.  This is where you and I come in! 

We are starting with a two year grant to the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks which will afford them the opportunity to launch the Urban Forest Project – a multi-faceted effort to provide opportunities for people of all ages to get engaged in growing our urban canopy.  The Urban Forest Project is developing a web resource center for all things tree-related, a crowd-sourced tree inventory, and multiple events to encourage tree planting and care.  We encourage you to think about ways to involve others you are connected with – maybe your neighbors, classmates, church, or employer. 

Tools and resources to help build the long term vitality of our urban forest are on the way.  So, stay tuned for ways that you can help ensure an even greener Arbor Day in Grand Rapids’ future!

News at the ground level! The Rapidian is all about our community!

April 16th, 2012

My dad was an editor extraordinaire.  He was a valued employee at The Detroit News for more than 45 years starting as a carrier and climbing the ladder to become the highly regarded Sports Editor retiring in 1979.  His words of wisdom over the years still ring in my ears as he valued good writing and knew that the role of an editor was to make good stories even better!  (He would say, "Win is NOT a noun! I wish headline writers would stop using that word as if it was!")

With this as my personal backdrop, I listened to Roberta King, this Community Foundation's Vice-President for PR and Marketing, as she made the case for submitting a proposal to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of an initiative involving community foundations across the country entitled the Community Information Challenge a few years back providing an incentive for local level communications.

My initial reaction was - "so what impact will this really make and don't we have enough on our plates already?"  If anyone knows Roberta, you know that this is more of an invitation to create the best and not be deterred by a boss that may not quite "get it" thank heavens!

Enter Laurie Cirivello the president of Grand Rapids Community Media Center.  She has been a tremendous asset to the greater Grand Rapids area continuing to implement the broad vision of the late Dirk Koning.  Roberta knew that if anyone could help design an effort, that Laurie was the just the person to do so. Many design meetings were held in our conference room, ideas galore were generated landing on the plan that ultimately birthed The Rapidian.  The Knight Foundation agreed that this idea had legs and gave us a grant! 

From the beginning, the community participated in growing the idea into reality.  As Holly Bechiri, The Rapidian's Managing Editor notes: "Beginning April 16th, an Education Week will kick off [a] fund drive as we learn more about why we as a community need to embrace and support the news coming from our own citizens. Partnering rather than competing with local media outlets, The Rapidian instead gives citizens the opportunity to be involved with the changing landscape of media."

Encouraging people at the neighborhood level to provide their take on issues facing our community and new opportunities for growth, The Rapidian has grown in importance in the past two and a half years.  The Grand Rapids Community Foundation also proudly provided seed funding to bring this idea to fruition.

Now it's time to provide the opportunity for our community to financially support this on the ground, hyperlocal news source!  A great development actually - a move for sustainability.  While this blog isn't usually a place that reaches out to ask for financial support for the many worthwhile causes in our area, I am making an exception and asking for your consideration to support The Rapidian powered by the Community Media Center.  "Join me in supporting The Rapidian: the hyperlocal news source powered by the people of Grand Rapids!"  Visit The Rapidian website to learn more about this fund drive and the great services being provided!   http://therapidian.org


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