10 Years of Our LGBTQ Fund's Impact

LGBTQ Fund Blog Banner 1

Our LGBTQ Fund was established to provide a safe, welcoming and healthy environment for LGBTQ+ communities by increasing wellness and prosperity levels, visibility, acceptance, support and access to resources. In 2014 Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik, fund founders and Jack Chaille Community Philanthropy Awardees, created what was then known as Our LGBT Fund with a matching gift of $100,000. Community partners exceeded their matching gift – more than doubling it! – saying loud and clear, “It’s time to support our LGBTQ+ communities.”

A First Focus on LGBTQ+ Youth Experiencing Homeless

Our LGBTQ Fund is led by community volunteers and through grantmaking, community engagement and collective giving, the fund has been supporting local LGBTQ+ communities for a decade. At the time the fund was established, the founders and early contributors rallied around the cause to support LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness in West Michigan. They wanted to target their resources on a very specific need as the fund was growing.

The research at the time from UCLA School of Law reported that LGBTQ+ youth made up a disproportionate 40 percent of the population of youth experiencing homelessness. This housing crisis affected many other factors including likelihood to experience sexual violence, risk for victimization, and mental health challenges. Further, the 2012 statistics reported that LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness were victims of suicide at twice the rate of their heterosexual peers experiencing homelessness.

This year, more than a decade after their original investment and leadership of the fund, Carol and Shelley share:

When we initiated the fund, we hoped to increase awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and to begin to address the issues of youth homelessness.  With the incredible generosity of the West Michigan community, we have experienced some positive impact, but we have a long way to go, and it is our hope that the fund continues to grow in size and impact.”

Current research from The Trevor Project reminds us that LGBTQ youth continue to be overrepresented among young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability. The need to support these young people persists.

Support from Community

Since the start of Our LGBTQ Fund, hundreds of community members across religious backgrounds and political viewpoints have come together to invest in LGBTQ+ communities in West Michigan. The last decade has seen some historic moments of progress as well as attacks on that progress and the rights of LGBTQ+ communities in our community, country and around the world. Donor partners have responded at every step to grow the capacity of this fund to support those needs.

Through monthly contributions, one-time gifts, estate plans and more, donors have invested nearly $1.5 million in this fund. These gifts are building a legacy for the future through an endowment, as well as making impact through grantmaking. As of June 30, 2023, Our LGBTQ Fund has been supported by:

  • 611 donor partners
  • 1,758 of gifts, pledges, and Donor Advised Fund transfers
  • $1,425,300 total raised

One group of people who have shown a deep commitment to this fund are Our LGBTQ Fund Leadership Circle members. Leadership Circle Members lend their resources and voice to support Our LGBTQ Fund. By becoming part of Our LGBTQ Fund Leadership Circle, members help ensure LGBTQ+ communities are supported now and into the future. This group is currently made up of 68 donor partners.

To donate or learn more about the opportunities to support the fund financially, head to GiveGr.org/LGBTQFund.

“We are proud of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s commitment to issues of LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance in West Michigan.”

– Darlene and Connie, Our LGBTQ Fund Leadership Circle Members

Impact through the Region

As the fund grew in financial resources, Our LGBTQ Fund Advisory Committee volunteers have made grant awards to the incredible nonprofits and organizations throughout West Michigan doing this work. Over a decade Our LGBTQ Fund has awarded 22 grants totaling $403, 971. Those partnerships have included supporting Arbor Circle, Well House, Out on the Lakeshore, Grand Rapids Trans Foundation scholarships, Grand Valley State University’s LGBTQIA+ Social Justice Education Track, West Michigan Partnership for Children and more.

As donations continue to increase the fund’s ability to award grants, the volunteer advisory committee has widened the scope of the grant priorities. What began with a targeted focus on LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness has broadened with each successive grant round. The current grant application focuses on applications for funding from community organizations with programming that addresses social determinants of health for LGBTQ+ communities. This broadening was made possible due to increased resources from donations, important input and feedback from community members and generous volunteerism from many committee members.

Intersectionality and Partnership

In July 2022, Our LGBTQ fund, alongside the Community Foundation’s Somos Comunidad and Black Legacy funds hosted focus groups with members of their respective communities, noting their intersections. Their goals were:

  • To listen more deeply to the aspirations and concerns of community members
  • To live into our desire to be in deeper relationships with communities we care about, and
  • To co-create investment opportunities in service of communities we care about.

The focus groups intended to provide a space for deep listening, including noting what was implied or more implicit in the conversation. The purpose of the sessions was not only to obtain feedback around the technical inputs related to grantmaking but, more importantly, to highlight the relational elements within communities that foster sustainable relationships and movement building. The sessions also allowed members of the respective funds to take part as observers, allowing them to listen to the voices of their communities around their respective concerns and hopes for the future. The feedback from these sessions informed the fund’s current grantmaking priorities and focus on social determinants of health, including:

  • Increasing access to housing for LGBTQ+ communities, especially LGBTQ+ communities of color and LGBTQ+ youth
  • Navigating and accessing physical and mental health services, especially for transgender and nonbinary communities, including identity and gender-affirming care
  • Opportunities for wealth building, including the creation of mutual aid spaces and direct giving, entrepreneurship, and leadership development by and for LGBTQ+ communities, especially LGBTQ+ leaders of color
  • Social, cultural, or recreational activities that strengthen support networks and a sense of belonging and/or amplify the voices and experiences of LGBTQ+ communities, especially LGBTQ+ communities of color and LGBTQ+ youth
  • Research and data collection around key issues affecting LGBTQ+ communities, especially communities of color and LGBTQ+ youth
  • Community organizing and/or advocacy efforts for access to any of the areas listed above

Learn more about the currently open grant round, recent grant award and the feedback sessions at GRFoundation.org/LGBTQFund.

Looking to the Future

Over the course of a decade, Our LGBTQ Fund has seen incredible growth and support from West Michigan. The donor, nonprofit, community and volunteer partners who have come together to support this work are incredible and Grand Rapids Community Foundation could not be more grateful for their investment and involvement. One decade of impact has made a difference for many lives in our community. And we know that the work is not complete. The needs are not met. The challenges continue to come. But together, we will continue to find ways to create opportunity, prosperity and belonging for everyone who calls West Michigan home.

Join us and learn more at GRFoundation.org/LGBTQFund