The Kalamazoo Community Foundation Board and Leadership Team reflect on the past year and share hopes for the future.

How has KZCF's understanding of the Kalamazoo County community changed since you joined the staff or board?

Joanna Dales: When I joined KZCF in 2007, I had only lived in Kalamazoo for four years. I’ve gotten to work with people from every sector and this has given me a more complete picture of the incredible resources we have as well as challenges we face. I have learned how fiercely devoted people are to our community, and the many ways they express that devotion.

Sarah Lee: Within the last four years, I have learned and unlearned a lot about the Kalamazoo County community. Through building relationships with co-workers and community partners, I have learned that our community is made up of many networks of individuals and organizations who are working on similar goals of Kalamazoo County as the most equitable place to live. Every person and organization is addressing the most pressing issues in our community based on the resources and talent they have during a given point in time. It takes everyone in the community to make strides towards a thriving community.

Jen Heymoss: We are really opening up to community. We are focused on healing and building relationships to better move toward our vision.

Jorge Gonzalez: I know much more about the challenges we face but also about the tremendous opportunities that we have to improve the lives of all our community members.

How has KZCF's understanding of the concept of "community" changed over time?

Amy Upjohn: I think the biggest driver here is a deeper understanding of "All". How without an understanding of the most marginalized we can't impact community as a whole.

Frank Sardone: The various groups that make up community are not monolithic. KZCF has recognized that progress can only be achieved through inclusion of all groups and ensuring that policies, processes, and decision making reflect this inclusion.

Carrie Pickett-Erway: Community issues, priorities and strategies are defined by those who have access to the conversations. If you are "at the table" you get to shape the understanding of community. When we talk about community, we must ask ourselves, "who do we mean?" Is it everyone? Or just those who had a chance to share their opinion? Community, in Kalamazoo County, should mean ALL of us.

Erycka Hunter: Understanding inclusion and everyone having what they need to thrive has furthered my concept of community since joining KZCF.

Sydney Parfet: To me, community is us – we, me, you and everyone. That said, everyone's experience is a little different and KZCF is partnering with agencies and community members to make it a place for everyone to live and thrive.

Jim Escamilla: Expansion of the board’s membership in diversity and the discussions revolving around everyone having an equal voice in the distribution of grants.

KZCF 2021 Board of Trustees

What has informed this change in understanding?

Hon. Carolyn Williams: I have received information as part of the grant making and policy advocacy activities of the foundation which has enlarged my understanding of the systemic issues affecting the prospects of children born in this community. The statistics regarding rates of poverty, involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice system, school performance, high school and college graduation rates provide the evidence that work has to be done to overcome the effects of racism.

Von Washington, Jr.: Intercultural Development work has impacted my understanding and made me more aware of the changing dynamics of this community.

Si Johnson: A fair amount of reading and reflection that impacts my thinking at a macro level. Most importantly, it is interactions and discussions with a diverse group of people.

Susan Springgate: Our evolving mission and vision has shifted us from transactional (taking donations, making grants) to a partnership with people. We inspire our donors to contribute to the highest needs in the community, we partner with local nonprofits using trust-based philanthropy and we use our investments to make local impact.

Sandy Barry-Loken: As KZCF has been on a journey toward anti-racism and deepened its understanding of racial equity we've had a reckoning and recognized how our own processes and structures have limited who is able to access KZCF resources and supports. Our Anti-Racism Transformation Team has played a key role in helping us to begin to transform our own institution and has brought accountability as well as support to our staff and board.

Carrie Pickett-Erway: Having access to wise partners, folks who have distinct perspectives, people who have experienced Kalamazoo County in a vastly different way...These people have helped to inform my understanding of community. I've been intentional about (and have been helped along the way) breaking through the echo-chamber, bringing in voices that think differently.

How do you see (or want to see) KZCF's new core values reflected in our work?

Mary Harper: I was very proud of the way we stepped up during the pandemic to increase our grants when needed. We often talk about "rainy day funds" but seldom use them. How great to have and distribute money when it was most needed! I think it brought us closer to the community, and I want that closeness to inform our future. I love our new grant making model that breaks down the wall between grantee partners and KZCF staff. Donors should be happy with these enriched relationships too. And, of course, everyone's work is made more powerful.

Susan Springgate: Our Socially Responsible Investment pool and Impact investments were the first steps in incorporating the values of advancing racial justice in our investments. We will be expanding that by looking at how our full investment portfolio can be used. We have so many opportunities to use those resources.

Carrie Pickett-Erway: Our values shape and inform everything we do. When we are at our best, the values are reflected in every meeting agenda, email message, strategic decision, budget allocation. We live into these values with every decision we make.