With two Union Square condos—one of them an Airbnb rental* business—on Grand Rapids’ West Side, Erica Curry VanEe and Brian VanEe are all about making the West Side the best side for everyone. These big picture philanthropists are early supporters of Challenge Scholars. They talk with organizational leaders before getting involved, and passionate goal-oriented leaders attract their attention. “If their work aligns with our mission of helping our neighbors or helping young people towards a better future, we partner up,” Brian said.
“We are committed to causes that strengthen and connect our local and global community. We support organizations that promote inclusion and equitable access to opportunities, particularly education. We believe the amount of education people receive directly correlates to the depth and breadth of their life choices,” Erica said.
“We look at our surrounding neighborhood first to see what organizations make an impact for our neighbors on the West Side. We love the idea of helping kids at a young age to support and encourage them in making good choices for their future. An organization that is putting young people on a path towards success resonates with both of us,” Brian said.
What do you get from giving?
“We believe that philanthropy involves giving our time, talent and treasures. We give our time and talent to many of the causes we financially support. When Brian and I were dating, we were walking in our neighborhood and realized it could use some attention and love. So, we starting picking up trash, and then we invited friends to join us. Last May we celebrated the 6th Annual West Side Community Clean Up, where over 200 volunteers came together to clean up the West Side. We feel our purpose on this planet is to learn and to love. Giving lets us express our purpose. It invites others into a community culture that believes in, cultivates and invests in an abundance mindset,” Erica said.
“I had a great upbringing with two parents who loved and supported me and demonstrated the importance of giving as an expression of faith. I attended Grand Rapids Public Schools and graduated from Rockford High. I went on to earn my journeyman’s license in tool and die, where I’ve spent my entire career. I’m thankful for my family and the opportunities that my education provided. I know that many kids don’t have what I did growing up. I want to give back so that other kids can have a chance for a better future,” Brian said.
Why do you support Grand Rapids Community Foundation?
“I’ve spent most of my professional life at the intersection of youth development research, policy and practice. And I have spent the best years of my personal life establishing roots and building community in my West Side neighborhood and home. When Grand Rapids Community Foundation announced Challenge Scholars, I knew we would become investors in this project,” Erica said. “Challenge Scholars is a huge initiative. We are so excited about how it is putting our young neighbors on a course for a bright future,” Brian said.