When floods hit the Kalamazoo area in February and May 2018, the nonprofit community -- including KZCF -- reacted quickly.
Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Aerial Media

Advancing equity throughout Kalamazoo County is how Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, vice president for Community Investment, describes the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s work.

And, in large part, this happens by removing barriers so every person can reach full potential – that’s our mission. Three bodies of work from 2018 stand out in this regard: flood relief, public policy, and senior housing on the Kalamazoo Northside Neighborhood.

Kalamazoo Flood

When floods hit the Kalamazoo area in February and May 2018, directly impacting 500 families, the nonprofit community reacted quickly.

"It was urgent and complex work that required a unified effort of government, nonprofit partners and local funders," reflects Gonzalez-Cortes. Partners in the response included the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and key nonprofit partners.

"As a funder in this collaborative effort, we were proud to assist in the timely expansion of resources," says Gonzalez-Cortes. "We always have a limited amount of unrestricted dollars for emergencies. We have nonprofit requests for emergency funding to address a collapsed roof or structural damage, but flooding on the scale we experienced in 2018 required a much larger collaborative effort."

KZCF also reached out to a variety of donors, who made special gifts toward this effort. One outcome of this crisis was a donor approaching KZCF with a gift to establish an emergency fund, which KZCF accepted and matched. Joanna Donnelly Dales, vice president for Donor Relations, calls this development a "creative and collaborative" response to tragedy. "We’re so grateful for this donor’s leadership and forward-thinking to help the community to be ready for the next crisis."

Public Policy

For a second year, KZCF used public policy to further advance our work throughout the community. Philanthropic dollars cannot sufficiently support all of the changes needed for everyone in our community to reach full potential. Involvement in public policy works hand-in-hand with philanthropy to create positive change.

KZCF follows an approach that includes a continuum of activities from education and building awareness to advocacy for specific legislation. Our efforts are coordinated with local nonprofits to amplify their voices when reaching out to elected officials. Two examples from 2018 illustrate this work.

One win was the Kalamazoo County Senior Millage, which will significantly add to the quality-of-life of all seniors and therefore the entire community. In the final weeks of the campaign, KZCF provided funding to help with last-minute communications about the importance of this millage.

Unfortunately, the state legislature failed to pass a bill to re-establish Michigan’s Community Foundation Tax Credit, which would have provided charitable tax credits for contributions to endowment funds held by community foundations in Michigan. The loss of this credit in 2011 led to a decrease in $200-$400 donations; however, the bill raised the visibility of this issue to the Michigan philanthropic community. KZCF collaborated with the Council of Michigan Foundation and efforts to re-establish this credit continue in 2019.

Senior Housing

KZCF demonstrated its commitment to housing equity by supporting new senior housing units in the Northside Neighborhood of Kalamazoo.

Mattie Jordan-Woods, executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development (NACD), explains that resident input was critical to the development of this work. "It’s one thing to say that residents have a say in the plan, but it’s another thing to give them the tools and resources to implement the plan. This project is about bringing bricks and mortar to resident ideas."

According to Jordan-Woods, "We’re building from within, and when we’re finished, we'll have an inter-generational community within a community."

The grant provides partial funding for NACD to build two duplexes, rehab a three bedroom single family home and purchase the property; Jordan-Woods calls this a game-changer. "Often, marginalized communities do a project like this on rented property, and residents end up paying higher rents since the owners need to make a profit. With NACD owning the land, debt-free, seniors pay less than market or HUD rates."

Sustainability, which can be "a challenge," is another word she uses to describe the project. "We’re balancing keeping rents low, while also generating a reserve for maintenance. In order to accomplish both goals, we are developing retail on the site. We will also provide quality of life amenities such as workshops on financing, nutrition and physical fitness."

Jordan-Woods says she has "high hopes" for the impact of this project and reflects on an unintended consequence of the project. "We knew that people living in the Northside wanted affordable, accessible housing, but we are seeing seniors who can afford more wanting to come back to the neighborhood because of the sense of community that is being developed."

KZCF will continue to remove barriers to help make Kalamazoo County the most equitable place to live.

Click here to read the next 2018 Annual Report article "Connecting Resources"

Note: This article was originally published in the Kalamazoo Community Foundation 2018 Annual Report. To view the complete 2018 Annual Report, click here.