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Grant Stories

Grants from the Community Foundation ensure all of our children have an equal chance for success in school, nurture and prepare all of our young people for life beyond school, support individuals and families from all walks of life, and enhance community prosperity in every corner of Kalamazoo County. The following stories take you inside the impact our grantmaking has made on the greater Kalamazoo area.

Hether Frayer has set out to prove that a sprinkling of fairy dust, at least when it comes to food, is healthy for us all. With the support of a Good Neighbor Grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Frayer is on a mission to use fresh food to improve the health of children in Kalamazoo County.

Frayer is the owner of Fresh Food Fairy, one of Michigan's new L3C organizations that bridge the gap between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. In her persona as the Fresh Food Fairy, Frayer works in classrooms and school cafeterias, primarily with students in kindergarten through middle school. She also does kids' after-school workshops and chef demos for adults.

"The idea was born at one of the Community Foundation's ChangeMakers workshops," says Frayer. "I began doing programs in the fall of 2011. My goals is to encourage good nutrition by making fresh food fun. I show kids that it is colorful and has cool shapes, interesting textures and yummy flavors, and helps us grow strong and smart."

"My presentations are always hands-on," she continues. "When Kalamazoo teachers invite me to their classrooms, I work with them to incorporate age-appropriate activities. For example, the kids love power-crunching green beans and making veggie faces. Having fun helps them create positive associations with fresh food, making it more likely that they'll eat it when they can."

Frayer has a goal of reaching 25 classrooms and 450 students this year. To accomplish this, she purchases seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms whenever possible. "My main push is in the fall when there's a lot of locally grown produce being harvested," she says. "That's the freshest available, and it's the best tasting and best for the economy. Plus, I want to expose kids to food that's grown right here."

In addition to the Community Foundation, Frayer's partners include Fair Food Matters, People's Food Co-op and the Sustainable Communities Initiative for the Vine and Edison neighborhoods. Even with this support, she understands she's in an uphill battle. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overweight children has doubled and overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980.

"The domestic food and beverage industry spends billions of dollars a year on marketing mostly junk food," Frayer explains. "This is beginning to change a little, but few people are doing much to encourage kids to eat healthier. So as the Fresh Food Fairy, my main job is to be a spokeswoman for fresh fruits and vegetables. I want kids to think apples are as much fun as sugar-coated cereal!"

A $45,000 grant by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to ISAAC –– Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community –– is helping to maintain smaller class sizes for many students throughout Kalamazoo County’s nine school districts.

ISAAC’s Building the Beloved Community project was able to work with other organizations statewide during the past year, including the Michigan Department of Education, to continue class-size reduction funding for students in kindergarten through third grade. The state’s decision to continue this funding was made in time to keep smaller class sizes for the current 2012-2013 school-year.

“Education and learning is one of our top priorities and we are thrilled that ISAAC was able to work toward maintaining reduced class sizes, which has been shown to increase student success,” says Amy Slancik, a community investment officer at the Community Foundation. “It is wonderful to see one of our nonprofits in this community demonstrate the kind of leadership necessary to ensure that state funds continue to help students and families here in Kalamazoo County.”

According to ISAAC Executive Director Brendan Flanagan, “ISAAC found the support from the Community Foundation invaluable to our organization’s effort to mobilize the community to advocate for retaining small classroom sizes.”

The Community Foundation’s grant to ISAAC’s Building the Beloved Community project was a one-year grant to achieve goals in three broad areas: bringing diverse people together across racial, religious, geographic, and generational lines to embrace common values; offering monthly training sessions accessible to leaders of varying levels of education and experience; and increasing access to programs that move families toward self-sufficiency, increasing the number of affordable family care units, and increasing the number of residents engaging in community-building activities.

The grant aligns with the Community Foundation’s increased focus on education and learning and authentic community engagement.

ISAAC is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization supported by foundations, membership dues, grass-roots fundraisers and individual contributors. ISAAC is a faith-based community organizing group made up of congregations and organizations that united in order to accomplish what cannot be done as individuals or single congregations. Together, they focus collective people-power on the most pressing issues of injustice in Kalamazoo County.

Even Master Gardeners and black-thumbed plant destroyers agree: Thanks to Kalamazoo in Bloom, May is a bloomin' great time in Kalamazoo County. Each year in Portage, on the third Friday of May, the community dresses the city in its flowery best for the summer. In Kalamazoo, Bronson Park and other public places get dressed up in flowers and plants on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

With a nod to Kalamazoo's heritage and current status as one of the world's leaders in the bedding plant industry, Kalamazoo In Bloom coordinates this feat. Nearly 90,000 individual plants are used annually at a cost of about $35,000.

Monika Trahe is executive director of KIB. "We get help from a lot of volunteers, gardeners and people who 'adopt' a bed," she says. "Recently, we've had more young people helping us with annual planting. This year, with help from a Kalamazoo Community Foundation Good Neighbor Grant, we were able to turn it into a true learning experience."

According to Trahe, 260 students participated this past May, coming from Saint Augustine Cathedral School; the Gagie School; and Kalamazoo Central, Loy Norrix and Portage Central High Schools. "Volunteers and KIB board members went into classrooms and gave the students hands-on learning activities," she explains. "They brought examples of the flowers the students were going to be working with, then taught them how to break open the roots and property plant them."

The list of Kalamazoo and Portage community partners who support KIB's annual planting frenzy is long. In addition to the Community Foundation, the list includes Kalamazoo Valley Plant Growers Cooperative, WMU Landscape Services, the MSU Extension/Master Gardener Volunteer Program, the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo County, Napps Greenhouses, Tuesley's Greenhouses and Burger King.

"Having the students involved with this when they're young is so important," Trahe states. "It helps them have pride in the work they're doing and the community they live in. It also teaches them how to serve others and be part of something bigger than themselves. And they can see that their work lasts for more than one day –– that the flowers they planted continue to thrive over time.

"Of course," she continues, "it's important for us to recruit young people to help because most of our KIB gardeners and volunteers have been with us for many years. It's time for them to teach and advise the next generation so we can continue our mission. But what really matters is that when kids get involved in something like this, it might just continue throughout their lives."

The LGBT Equality Fund was established at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation in 2000 with just $5,000 and now –– following many sizeable gifts –– stands at almost $800,000.

More than $410,000 through a total of 70 grants has been awarded to area nonprofits that promote equality and celebrate appreciation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community members who live, work, and raise their families in Kalamazoo County.

“The work this fund supports is emblematic of who we are and what we see as an important part of the community,” says Jessica Aguilera, Community Investment Manager for Initiatives at the Community Foundation.

Building on this success, the Community Foundation and a committee of community volunteers began working with Kalamazoo-based Badlands Strategies earlier this year on a six-month project to find ways to increase donors to the fund and the number of grant seekers.

The findings were completed in October and confirmed that the size of the fund is inadequate to meet the needs of the community.

Jon Hoadley, president of Badlands Strategies, says that “potential donors and recipient organizations would benefit from more clearly defining the goals and priority populations the fund serves.”

The process, which involved community input, included an assessment of internal and national data, a SWOT analysis of the fund, and a community needs assessment. “This process has demonstrated the depth, richness, and dedication of the LGBT and allied community in Kalamazoo,” says Hoadley. “There is a clear mandate to revitalize the fund.”

Recommendations scheduled for implementation in 2013 include:

  • Increase the number of grant seekers by re-launching the fund by partnering with grantees in communicating the Fund’s purpose and capacity.
  • Increase the number of donors by demonstrating the low threshold to becoming a donor with a stated minimum gift and increasing the fund’s presence at major LGBT events.
  • Increase the fund’s visibility so the impact and availability are widely known throughout the community, including outreach efforts.
  • Revitalize the fund’s supporting committee.
  • Communicate the revised vision, mission and goals as recommended by the committee.

According to Aguilera, the committee “wanted to transition the Fund from promoting education and respect for LGBT issues to a more active advocacy and appreciation role.” Committee members felt that the Kalamazoo area was beyond “just tolerance” and wants to see the fund “engage projects that move others to full acceptance.”

Sometimes you find a friend where you least expect to. For the past 10 years, general education and special education students have been making friends with one another through the 12th Street Elementary/WoodsEdge Buddy Program.

In this program, fifth-graders from 12th Street Elementary School in Portage travel to WoodsEdge Learning Center to work and play with students with severe disabilities who are in Dave Melotti's classroom. At WoodsEdge –– a county-wide special education school –– a few of the activities they are involved with include physical education, help in the reading corner, games, scavenger hunts, art projects, learning American Sign Language, and making music together. Teachers, administrators and support staff at both schools plan and manage the program.

Bill Klinesteker, a fifth-grade teacher at 12th Street Elementary is the program director. "In our society, there is little contact between general education students and students with severe disabilities," he explains. "This results in a lack of understanding and tolerance for differences. This program addresses that need."

Eighty-two students from 12th Street Elementary are participating in the Buddy Program this year. Usually, 15 students go to WoodsEdge in a single trip; each student has the chance to go three times during the academic year. A grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is helping with the Buddy Program's transportation costs.

On each trip, 12th Street students buddy up with a different WoodsEdge student, so all of the students from both schools have an opportunity to make more than one friend.

"Over the last 10 years we've seen many lives changed," Klinesteker says. "Once the 12th Street Elementary students get past the obvious differences they see and hear with the WoodsEdge students, they are no longer afraid and any misunderstandings just disappear. They see their WoodsEdge buddies as just other kids."

According to Dave Melotti, the Buddy Program gives WoodsEdge students access to positive interactions with other students they might not have in their daily lives. "Our WoodsEdge students benefit from being exposed to other children," he notes. "They learn appropriate social skills and how to work in an environment that is different from their normal routine."

Klinesteker notes the adults involved really don't have to do much. "With these kids," he says, "there's no teaching involved. You give them some basic instructions, you let them go and play, and then listen to them afterward. All we do is bring them together and they do the rest. They create their own opportunities for learning and making friends."

Last fall some unusual teams gathered on Western Michigan University's campus to build bicycles –– and then give them away. It was the trial run of a service learning project called Building Bikes, Building Community.

According to Shawn Tenney, Western's University Coordinator of Service Learning, eight WMU faculty/staff participated, along with 16 Lakeside Academy students and eight elementary students from the Edison Environmental Science Academy. Each adult teamed up with two teens from Lakeside and each team built a bicycle. Then the Lakeside students presented the completed bicycles, along with new helmets, to the elementary students.

"This project serves many purposes," says Tenney. "For faculty, it helps to build their skills in incorporating service learning into their curricula, giving them first-hand knowledge of what it is like for their students when they are placed in the community to serve in various capacities.

"For the Lakeside students, they have a chance to practice leadership and teamwork skills, and build trust and empathy. Many Lakeside students said they have never created something and then given it away, and several said they'd never had someone look up to them before.

"For the elementary students, a bike was a luxury they may not have enjoyed, but this wasn't 'charity.' They were selected by their teachers because they made a difference in their schools. The bikes were a reward recognizing their contributions to their community."

Says Tenney, "Everyone enjoyed participating. Depending on funding, we would like to do this twice a year, but at least annually."

The helmets for Building Bikes, Building Community were donated by Safe Kids Kalamazoo County. Meijer donated funds toward purchasing the bikes. A Kalamazoo Community Foundation grant was used to purchase bikes and the tools needed to put them together.

Blend a summer day –– in this case Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 –– with nearly 4,000 people and 71 community agencies at Spring Valley park. Stir in great entertainment and food with opportunities to make connections, and you have the 2011 Ultimate Family Reunion sponsored by the Kalamazoo organization Mothers of Hope.

According to its board chair Gwen Lanier, Mothers of Hope was founded to empower women recovering from substance abuse, restore families and enhance their lives. Mothers of Hope is best known for its grassroots activities and the positive connections it has established throughout the community.

Mothers of Hope holds it Ultimate Family Reunion on the first Saturday in August. Now in its fifth year, the annual event offers free food, live entertainment and a lot of information about the services and resources provided by area agencies and organizations. It is an opportunity for community agencies to collaborate, reach out and inform people –– all in a fun, family reunion type of atmosphere.

This year's theme was education and health. "Our primary goal each year is to provide an event where the public can connect with resources in the community that will enhance their lives and help build strong community ties," says Lanier. "This year we emphasized health and literacy/education."

She continues, "At Mothers of Hope we want to get children 'Promise ready,' Many minority students are signing up for The Kalamazoo Promise, but they don't stay on board because they haven't been correctly prepared for the experience. This year's Ultimate Family Reunion was just one way to expose children and their families to resources that will help them become fully Promise-ready."A grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was used to purchase food and supplies for the 2011 Ultimate Family Reunion. You can see more photos of the event on our Facebook page.