An interview with Carla Roberts

Fremont Area Community Foundation is perhaps most well-known for its grantmaking programs and supporting local nonprofit organizations. Supporting economic development, small business growth, and entrepreneurship has also been a longstanding focus for the organization but often looks different from traditional grantmaking due to a variety of restrictions that all community foundations must navigate.

With all sectors feeling the impact of COVID-19, Carla Roberts, president and CEO, offered some insight into the Community Foundation’s pandemic response and its continuing commitment to local businesses.

How does supporting local businesses fit within the mission of the Community Foundation?

We believe small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. We love our business community, buy local whenever we can, and we encourage our grantees to do the same. This support for small business and entrepreneurs goes back to our earliest days. Several people have told us over the years that they got their start because Bessie Slautterback, the organization’s first executive, gave them a $5,000 loan to start a business.

Of course, we live in different times now, with significant IRS restrictions on how a community foundation can engage with local businesses. We can only award grants to organizations with a charitable status, such as 501c3 nonprofit organizations. That is why we work through intermediaries—such as Northern Initiatives and The Right Place—that have a charitable status and mission to support local business. The Right Place is a service organization and vital partner to support manufacturing, agricultural businesses, tourism, and entrepreneurship in Newaygo County. Northern Initiatives is a community development financial institution (CDFI) with the capability to provide financial services to businesses that do not qualify for conventional loans. In 2015, we established a $250,000 loan pool with Northern Initiatives to ensure that local businesses have the working capital to build and sustain their businesses.

The COVID-19 crisis has obviously had a large impact on our entire region, including local businesses. How did the Community Foundation initially respond to the need and what were the considerations for supporting the business community?

When the crisis hit, we were inundated by the needs from all sectors. We had to quickly deploy our staff in new ways, setting most up to work remotely. Within one week we had created the Community Response Fund and a new quick-response grant application and process to deploy grants from the fund. Of necessity, our first priority was to distribute emergency relief funds for food, shelter, and basic needs as demand quickly escalated alongside job losses.

At the same time, we knew small businesses and entrepreneurs were hurting and began to explore possibilities for supporting them in new ways. We encouraged nonprofits and businesses to take advantage of state and federal programs and we set up a technical assistance team of local experts to provide guidance to navigate those resources. The team included Dan Wheat to work with nonprofits,  Don Farmer to work with businesses of 50 employees or fewer, and Julie Burrell to work with larger businesses. Those resources are still in place for anyone who needs assistance. More information can be found at bit.ly/FACF-business.

We also began to develop a strategy to help small businesses by leveraging Community Foundation assets to support low-interest loans. It took some time to find a partner—as many local banking partners are inundated with processing federal programs—but we are very close to announcing a program to assist local businesses as we enter our county’s intermediate recovery phase.

Why wasn’t the Community Foundation able to award immediate needs grants or use other parts of its endowment to directly support small businesses?

The primary reason is that it is difficult to establish a “charitable class” which is required by the IRS. But even without those restrictions, we would not have had the available dollars in our grantmaking budget. While the Community Foundation and its affiliates award nearly $9 million in grants each year, our trustees only direct about $5 million of that amount. The other grant funds are designated for specific areas or are otherwise restricted in their use. We estimated that the need in the small business community would likely reach $2-3 million. Since we had already deferred significant resources to immediate basic needs such as food assistance, there were simply not sufficient grant funds to address the emerging needs anticipated during the recovery period for both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

Making grants to small businesses from our endowed assets would not only conflict with IRS funding restrictions but would also endanger the long-term power of our endowment. Our trustees have the responsibility to ensure that the endowment remains intact and keeps pace with inflation. To ensure this, we have a spending policy to limit the dollar amounts expended on an annual basis for both grants and operations. Along with stock market fluctuations, tapping into the endowment could impact and reduce our grantmaking abilities for years to come. Our community will need us well beyond the immediate crisis and we need to ensure the Community Foundation is viable for the recovery period and beyond.

Endowment ensures we will be here for the community for good, forever. A great example of the power of endowment is the Harry Williams Fund that was started during the Great Depression. That $5,000 fund has grown to over $9 million in assets and has given out more than $9 million over the life of the fund. Those were troubled times and it would have been easy to spend the funds for immediate needs, but the donor chose to endow them to provide for the present and the future.

What are your next steps for supporting the business community?

We are putting in place some financial programs through intermediaries that will offer low-interest loans on very favorable terms. In essence, we are standing behind the small business community and using the Community Foundation’s assets as a kind of collective bargaining chip to leverage the support we believe local businesses will need—not just for the intermediate recovery period but probably for much longer. We will be announcing details about this program as soon as they are finalized. Stay tuned!

Fremont Area Community Foundation is currently monitoring the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in both the state and our local region. We have taken steps to protect the health of our staff, trustees, and others by closing our office to the public, postponing events, and encouraging staff to work remotely. We also know that many of our nonprofit partners are now experiencing an increased need for services, especially as they work to support the most vulnerable members of our communities. We have worked hard to determine the best ways for our community and philanthropy to respond.

On March 19, we established the Community Response Fund to rapidly deploy resources to nonprofit organizations in Newaygo County as well as the three counties served by our affiliate foundations: Lake, Mecosta, and Osceola. The fund will provide quick help to organizations serving vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19 and will give generous community members an easy way to support them.

Donate now

Give now to support the organizations, programs, and staff on the front lines of response in your community. You can designate your gift to a specific county.
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Apply for a grant

Is your organization supporting children, older adults, and other vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19? Apply for a grant from our Community Response Fund. Grants will be considered that address issues such as childcare, food insecurity, healthcare, transportation, financial assistance, general operating support, and other identified needs. For more information, contact Mark Petz, director of community investment, by email or at 231.519.1464.

To view a list of grants made from the fund so far, visit the grants awarded page of our website and sort by “Community Response Fund.”

Other resources

If you are looking for food, housing, transportation, or financial assistance, please call 211. You can also access a list of resources from their website.

For more information on COVID-19 and local response actions, visit the following websites:

The Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) of Fremont Area Community Foundation recently announced the results of its annual YAC grant round, awarding more than $76,000 to 12 agencies and programs serving local youth.

Grants were awarded to a variety of programs that align with YAC’s funding priorities: supporting youth facing challenges such as poor home life, building and improving recreational and educational activities for local youth, and continuing education and skill development opportunities.

Building on a program they helped to fund last year, YAC awarded support for an expansion of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. mental health awareness and education program in two local school districts. They also joined several other regional partners in supporting a new child advocacy center to serve Lake, Newaygo, Mecosta, and Osceola counties. Programs at two local libraries received funding as well as art and drama workshops, mentoring programs, a leadership workshop for eighth graders, and more.

Grant applications were reviewed by YAC members who come from each Newaygo County public high school and the local homeschool community. Throughout the year,  YAC members also visit local nonprofit organizations, learn about philanthropy and leadership, and engage in community service projects.

YAC grants are awarded each spring to programs impacting local youth. Applications are due March 1. For more information, visit facommunityfoundation.org/YACgrants or call 231.924.5350.

Fremont Area Community Foundation awarded $3.35 million to local organizations and programs in its most recent community grant round.

Grant funding was awarded to a wide variety of organizations and projects addressing critical local needs. The grant round included general community grants along with grants targeting each of the Community Foundation’s three focus areas: community and economic development, education, and poverty to prosperity.

The Newaygo County Regional Educational Service Agency (NC RESA) received a two-year $120,000 grant for its Family Information Service Hub (F.I.S.H.) program. In this program, families work with trusted advisors—individuals who received public assistance themselves—to get help with things like applying for assistance or connecting to housing resources.

In the area of community and economic development, the Community Foundation partnered with the County of Newaygo to support Michigan’s Dragon at Hardy Dam trail with a $500,000 grant. The Dragon is a planned 47.5 mile circular biking and hiking trail around Hardy Pond. Designed and endorsed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the trail is expected to become a premiere regional and national attraction and create new jobs in the area.

Grant Public Schools was awarded a $10,000 grant for its teacher-developed pilot program: Readers Into Leaders. The reading intervention program will pair elementary school readers with proficient middle school readers over the course of three months. In addition to reading support, the pairs will participate in community service projects together.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was awarded a grant to support Vera’s House, a community wellness center. The $14,500 grant will support two programs at Vera’s House. Women in Transition offers support and resources for women who have experienced grief or loss. Project Illuminate is a counseling program that provides access to mental health support and treatment.

Organizations located in or directly serving the people of Newaygo County are eligible to receive Community Foundation grants. Applications for community grants are due on March 1 and September 1.

To learn more about the Community Foundation’s strategic grantmaking, contact a member of the community investment team at 231.924.5350 or visit facommunityfoundation.org/grants.

Our President and CEO Carla Roberts was recently published in The Foundation Review, a peer-reviewed journal for the field of philanthropy. Her article, “From Charitable Giving to Strategic Impact,” details the Community Foundation’s journey toward more strategic grantmaking and increased impact.

In 2011, we launched a community investment strategy focused on education, poverty, and economic development. These strategies were developed with significant community involvement and input into the planning and designed to improve the quality of life for all Newaygo County residents. It took time as well as assistance in the form of backbone services and tools to monitor impact to make the transition to these new ways of thinking. As we’ve moved ahead with our second five-year strategic plan, we are guided by research and learning, community feedback, grantee survey results, and evidence of where the work has contributed to positive outcomes for the people and organizations we serve.

Read the full article HERE.

Fremont Area Community Foundation awarded nearly $1.98 million to local agencies and programs in its most recent community grant round.

Grant funding was awarded to a wide variety of organizations and projects addressing critical local needs. In addition to grants impacting the focus areas of community and economic development and poverty to prosperity, more than $978,000 was awarded to the area of education.

Newaygo Public Schools received a $43,025 grant to help launch a new program, Pride Page Prowlers, to provide additional literacy training for teachers and take-home literacy materials for families. The district will host family literacy nights and will introduce the new “Lions Literacy Den” this school year. Parents will be able to check out reading kits put together by teachers that include a book and a corresponding activity for families to do at home.

Hesperia Community Schools and Fremont Public Schools will partner to bring Kagan Cooperative Learning Strategies to their districts. The program provides teachers with strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom as well as boost student confidence. A $12,950 grant will help support training of over 100 teachers in both Hesperia and Fremont schools.

While many education-related grants are awarded to schools, partnerships with agencies that provide educational programming are also taking place throughout the county. Arbor Circle has provided substance abuse prevention programs in Newaygo County since 2011 and received a $12,000 grant for new curriculum and staff training for their programming in local schools. They offer interactive programming to help students develop essential life skills as well as programs that provide prevention, intervention, and pretreatment services for young people making high-risk choices.

“We’re proud to support so many outstanding programs and organizations working to strengthen and expand educational opportunities in Newaygo County,” said Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO. “We’re grateful to partner with these and other organizations and with the donors who make each grant possible.”

The Community Foundation works closely with agencies that are located in or directly serve the people of Newaygo County. Applications for the next community grant round are due by September 1 and notifications take place in December.

To ask questions or learn more about the Community Foundation’s strategic grantmaking, contact a member of the FACF community investment team at 231.924.5350 or visit facommunityfoundation.org/grants.

Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) member Emma Kartes was recently selected to be the first youth member of Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Distribution Committee.

Kartes was chosen by YAC leadership and will join a group of Community Foundation trustees who review staff grant research and make grant decisions and recommendations to the full Board of Trustees. Last year, the Community Foundation awarded $5.7 million through its two community grant rounds to support more than 100 local programs.

YAC leaders and advisors developed the idea to include a YAC member on the Distribution Committee as a way to provide a greater youth perspective on the Community Foundation’s grantmaking and to increase YAC’s understanding of the Community Foundation’s work.

Currently finishing her sophomore year at Fremont High School, Kartes has been a YAC member for two years. In addition to her experience in reviewing YAC grants and conducting site visits, Kartes has impressed YAC leaders with her responsibility, professionalism, and thoughtful leadership.

“I’m interested in and willing to give back to the community that continues to provide so much for me,” said Kartes, who added that she is honored to be the first YAC member to serve on the Distribution Committee. “I’m excited to be able to start off and set a good example for the YAC members who will serve in the future.”

The Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) of Fremont Area Community Foundation recently announced the results of its annual YAC grant round, awarding more than $72,000 to local agencies and programs serving youth. With this round, YAC has now granted more than $1 million since awarding its first grants in 1995.

This year’s grants were awarded to 11 different organizations to support a wide variety of youth programs. Each aligned with one of YAC’s three funding priorities: supporting youth facing challenges such as poor home life, building and improving recreational and educational activities for local youth, and continuing education and skill development opportunities.

One new program receiving funding was the “be nice.” mental health education initiative. The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan will partner with local schools to bring the program to Newaygo County. Through a variety of lessons and activities, the program encourages schools and communities to embrace good mental health and recognize the power of everyday words and actions.

Other grants awarded will support art and drama classes for teens, recycling, infant safety, mentoring and internship programs, and more.

Grant applications were reviewed by YAC members who come from each Newaygo County public high school and the local homeschool community. YAC members also conducted site visits to share information about the available grant funding and to learn more about local nonprofit organizations.

YAC grants are awarded once a year to programs impacting local youth. Applications are available in February and due on March 1. For more information, visit facommunityfoundation.org/YACgrants or call 231.924.5350.

More than 125 representatives from local nonprofit organizations attended a January 17 Grantee Workshop hosted by Fremont Area Community Foundation. Presenters included staff and trustees from the Community Foundation as well as representatives from The Right Place and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

Attendees were introduced to the Newaygo County Area Dashboard, a new measurement tool that will track the area’s growth and development in several key areas. The Community Foundation worked with The Right Place to develop the tool that will track indicators such as labor force participation rate, third grade reading level, and high school graduation rate.

Other workshop sessions gave an overview of the grantmaking process, online system, new policies, and grant guidelines for each focus area. A new core capacity and financial health assessment tool, developed in partnership with the Johnson Center, was also shared.

With such a great turnout, the workshop was a valuable opportunity for staff and trustees to interact with grantees from around the county.

“We’re so grateful to all of our community partners who attended the workshop,” said Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO. “This was a great opportunity to gather together and talk about the ways we can collaborate for the greatest possible impact.”

Lisa Daniell, director of the Volunteer Resource Center at TrueNorth Community Services, attended the workshop and said attendees came away with a better understanding of the Community Foundation’s goals.

“This transparency is beneficial for local programs to plan and strategize within their own programs to determine how they best align for potential future funding,” said Daniell. “I appreciated all the work that went into making the day a great success.”