Amy Slancik (l) of the Community Foundation recently worked with Kalamazoo Center for Youth and Community's Sam Lealofi (r) to change the lives of not only the students the organization serves, but its staff too.

Kalamazoo Center for Youth and Community (KCYC) helps young people who live in poverty in Kalamazoo’s Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods succeed in school and in life.

"We’re a virtual community center with the success of young people as our principal goal," explains KCYC executive director Sam Lealofi. "We know that when quality youth development happens, students will have improved outcomes at school. They will also develop in social and emotional ways."

KCYC’s programs offer development for students who might otherwise not have such opportunities. The focus on Kalamazoo’s eastern neighborhoods is because that is where the greatest percent of county families live in poverty — 263 percent higher than the county average. From 2000 to 2011, that number grew by 60 percent.

Since 2012, KCYC has received grants totaling $460,000 from the Community Foundation in support of these efforts, which are directly aligned with the Community Foundation’s fundamental priorities of ensuring that every child has an equal chance for success in school and is prepared for life beyond school.

"There are multiple roles we can play and a range of tools we can use to leverage change," says Amy Slancik, a community investment officer at the Community Foundation. "We work behind the scenes, while our grantee partners — high quality organizations like KCYC — are on the front lines, providing direct services to the people who need them."

"We also keep a close eye on emerging community opportunities and challenges so we can help Kalamazoo County nonprofits address them appropriately," she adds. "Our support of KCYC does that."

"We know that when quality youth development happens,
students will have improved outcomes at school."
~ Sam Lealofi

Lealofi says the support KCYC has received from the Community Foundation has dramatically changed the lives of both KCYC students and its staff.

"For our staff, it provides educational and occupational opportunities. For our students, it assures that our programs offer quality youth development," Lealofi says.

KCYC works with some 20 community partner organizations and its programming is built on evidence-based best practices.

Among its core programs, which serve more than 200 neighborhood youth, KCYC supports efforts like the Boys and Girls Club and CHAMPS.

KCYC also provides individual student services to elementary school children through a focus on literacy and school success. Northeastern Elementary School is a key partner. Through this initiative, a dozen elementary children each year receive specialized tutoring through the SLD Learning Center and occupational therapy through Western Michigan University.

This collaboration benefits both the elementary students and the WMU students who work under direct supervision of WMU faculty, who are themselves registered therapists. In this way, local resources are leveraged to achieve greater benefit for all of KCYC’s partners and the community as a whole.

Another program, Teens of Tomorrow, helps students find and express their voices as future leaders. In 2013 the program sent two teens to the Jeter’s Leaders Conference in Chicago, where they met other young leaders from around the country.

Says Slancik, "This is a great example of a partnership that is creating community change."