Let's Talk About Our North Star


Finding the North Star can be challenging. Gazing at the night sky from the front porch of my home, I spot the Big Dipper. I trace an imaginary line from the Big Dipper’s two edge stars to find the Little Dipper’s handle. The North Star is at the end of the handle.

So, what does stargazing have to do with Grand Rapids Community Foundation?

For the past year, we have been on an adaptive strategic journey. Rather than taking on a traditional strategic planning process, I determined that we needed a new and fresh direction, something that would challenge us to think differently about our work and our role in the community. The initial phase, a two-day research process with select staff, trustees and community members, led to the creation of what we call our North Star. Like any star in the sky, it sits alongside the other stars—our values, mission and vision—that guide our work.


For West Michigan to grow and prosper, we must make sure that everyone can apply their talents and creativity to fuel our future. It is only by connecting across perspectives and overcoming inequities that we can build and sustain an inclusive economy and thriving community.


Consider this paragraph from “Addressing Economic Inclusion in Grand Rapids,” a 2016 report commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation: “The Grand Rapids region can take pride in its economic achievements, as it emerges as a growing region in a relatively low-growth state. Even though Grand Rapids has made great strides, many persistent challenges remain. One of the most pressing challenges is the concentrated poverty experienced by city residents in the near west and near south neighborhoods. These neighborhood residents often lack assets, education and training, and access to opportunities. As a result, a large segment of the city’s population cannot keep up economically. Given these realities, how can the Grand Rapids region truly thrive when a large segment of its core continues to fall further behind?”

How indeed?!

Our region can’t thrive without all of us doing well—and we are firm believers that education is where it begins. We know that without post-secondary education, people seeking work will always be limited in what they can earn. Those without a high school diploma face even harsher financial circumstances.


Our Challenge Scholars program is our greatest effort that shows how we can build an inclusive economy. Along with many organizations, businesses, area colleges and the Grand Rapids Public Schools, we are creating the conditions for change on Grand Rapids’ West Side. We are providing the opportunity for families to ultimately thrive. The focus is on students who may be the first in their families to graduate from high school and then go on to college or learn a trade.

Another example of helping everyone thrive is the recent $20,000 grant we made to The SOURCE. It offers a program that teaches people employed in low-paying jobs to write software code. While learning to code isn’t fast or easy, it can lead to a job that pays a living wage. Our preferred future is that everyone will have access to good paying jobs, safe and affordable housing, quality public education and much more! In the coming months, as we change our grantmaking focus, you can expect to hear more about this kind of work.

Is this a different road for the Community Foundation? Not necessarily, but our organizational compass (North Star, values, mission, and vision) is clearly pointing us to focus on helping our community be a place where all people can prosper. All aspects of this Community Foundation will be in alignment with our North Star—grantmaking, fund development, communication, administration, finance and human resources. We are in the process of developing plans for seven strategic approaches that are part of the adaptive strategic plan. This includes active community engagement as we broaden our internal decision making.