Since our very first scholarships awarded in 1945 to help address the nursing shortage during World War II, Grand Rapids Community Foundation has been steadfast in our commitment to provide access to educational opportunities for students in Kent County. Through the decades, this philanthropic support has taken many forms to meet the needs of the times—including scholarships, grant partnerships and community leadership initiatives.
A cornerstone of our identity as a community foundation is our responsibility to work with partners to adapt and respond to the most pressing community needs. The educational landscape in Kent County has changed significantly in recent years, with the addition of the Grand Rapids Promise scholarship and other regional and statewide efforts to expand post-secondary access and affordability for students. The reality is barriers still exists for many students.
As we strive toward increased educational opportunities and a more equitable community for all, the Community Foundation will grow our investment in community-led grantmaking and community-led advocacy. We will continue to use scholarships to make college affordable for students throughout Kent County. We believe this expanded and collaborative approach will contribute to a more equitable educational system and position more Kent County students to live out the vision they have for their futures. To allow this transition of resources, we will enroll students in the class of 2028 as our final cohort of Challenge Scholars this fall. Our scholarship commitment to current Challenge Scholars (the classes of 2020-2027) remains.
The Community Foundation remains committed to educational equity. Through our scholarships, grantmaking, and partnerships, we will continue to strive toward a community that provides all students the opportunities they deserve.
We are excited about the partnerships and possibilities that lie ahead and will provide updates along the way. For more details about this evolution of our work to realize educational equity in our community or specific questions about Challenge Scholars, please visit challengescholars.org/FAQs.
Looking for more information?
If you are a student or family member from a Challenge Scholar school (Union High School, Harrison Park School or Westwood Middle School) or simply have questions about Challenge Scholars, please contact a member of our Challenge Scholars team:
- Cris Kutzli, Challenge Scholars Director firstname.lastname@example.org 616.454.1751 x 118
- Giuliana Estrada, Challenge Scholars Associate (Habla español) email@example.com 616.454.1751 x 128
- Carla Villasana-Moore, Scholarship and Education Assistant (Habla español) firstname.lastname@example.org 616.454.1751 x 112
If you are a Challenge Scholar donor partner or are looking for ways to support the Community Foundations’ work around educational equity, please contact a member of our Development team:
- Marilyn Zack, Vice President, Development email@example.com 616.451.1751 x127
- Shaun Shira, Major and Planned Gifts Director firstname.lastname@example.org 616.451.1751 x139
For your convenience, here are responses to some of our most frequently asked questions.
What does this mean for Challenge Scholars?
- Challenge Scholars will continue until 2032, four years after the final cohort of students (the class of 2028, who are currently fifth graders) graduate from Union High School. Our scholarship commitment to current Challenge Scholars remains. Some elements of the program, including events and opportunities like Kick Off Camp might be phased out over time or replaced with other opportunities.
What is the Grand Rapids Promise?
- In 2020, the introduction of the Grand Rapids Promise Zone Scholarship expanded educational opportunity for students in Grand Rapids by offering access to Grand Rapids Community College to eligible students.
Who was involved in the decision-making process for this change?
- With Community Foundation staff, these changes were conceived by the Challenge Scholars Advisory Committee. We recognize the implications of these decisions on students, families and others who are deeply connected to Challenge Scholars. We believe our future direction will ensure the greatest impact in educational equity for students throughout our community.
What is community-led grantmaking and community-led advocacy?
- The Dream Fund Committee will serve as the foundation for our community-led grantmaking around education. The Committee is working on re-defining its priorities and processes to align with the broader shift in our education strategy.
- Community-led advocacy is a new area of partnership for the Community Foundation, and the work is still taking shape.
- Examples of the types of partnerships we will be leaning further into through this approach include, our recent collaborations with the African Resource Center of West Michigan and a collaboration of local community-based organizations who came together to provide in-person, academic support for K-12 students and families navigating virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I gave to Challenge Scholars – what will my gift be used for? Will you continue to raise funds for Challenge Scholars?
- Our commitment to Challenge Scholars students extends through 2032. The Community Foundation will continue to raise funds in order to fulfill our commitment to enrolled Challenge Scholars students, and would be grateful for your support.
For more FAQs, please visit challengescholars.org/FAQs.