After taking the summer off, the Stronger Together Series is back with an exciting event unpacking what it means to be Hispanic/Latinx in Newaygo County.

Stronger Together Series: Unpacking Hispanic/Latinx Culture
September 30 | Livestreamed | 6-7:30 p.m.

Join us on September 30 to hear from a diverse and multigenerational panel of community members, led by moderator Carlos Sanchez of Ferris State University. The event will feature stories about belonging, misconceptions, and heritage from the lived experiences of our Hispanic/Latinx neighbors.

The September 30 event is free to attend, but registration is required. Register now

The event is part of the broader Stronger Together Series, designed to explore identity, the stories that shape our lives, and the ways our differences enhance the community and ultimately make us stronger.

On April 22, community members gathered virtually with Fremont Area Community Foundation for Stronger Together: Life in the Margins. The event was the third in the Community Foundation’s Stronger Together Series, which began last November and will continue through 2021.

Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO, welcomed attendees and introduced the series and the evening’s topic. “The Stronger Together Series was built on a simple truth: we all have a story,” she said. “In our community, thousands of residents have difficulty meeting basic needs such as housing, food, and healthcare. But what does it actually mean to live in poverty in Newaygo County?”

Roberts then welcomed State Representative Scott VanSingel, who represents the 100th District and serves on the Michigan Poverty Task Force Advisory Council. VanSingel shared data and updates on work at the state level to address poverty.

“Newaygo County is a great place to live,” said VanSingel, highlighting outdoor recreation, lower housing costs, and higher rates of home ownership. “It’s not all negative, but we do have some problems.”

VanSingel shared that Newaygo County’s poverty rate is 15.7 percent while the state average is 13 percent. He mentioned local challenges like internet access, fewer people with health insurance, median income lower than the state average, and a lower rate of educational attainment. He also shared updates on education funding, unemployment, and childcare funding at the state level.

Following VanSingel’s update, Christina Yuhasz moderated a panel discussion with four Newaygo County residents. Yuhasz is a parent liaison with Newaygo County Great Start and a trusted advisor with Family Information Service Hub (FISH). FISH hubs and advisors travel around the county helping connecting families to available local resources.

During the discussion, panelists shared their experiences and talked about misconceptions and stigma they have encountered related to poverty.

Panelist Krista Sellers shared that while most people don’t set out to be unkind, “there is still a stigma there,” she said. “Usually in the checkout lines nobody says anything, but if you pull a food card out to purchase your groceries, that is a big one.”

A major misconception that panelists mentioned repeatedly was the idea that people in poverty are lazy or just aren’t working hard enough. Panelist Laura Hesting said that despite being a household with two working parents, there were times when her family still needed assistance.

“People just wanted to presume that we didn’t work and we were lazy, but we did work. We worked hard,” said Hesting. “People in our community need to realize that just because you’re on assistance, doesn’t mean you’re lazy and doesn’t mean you don’t work. Pre-COVID, I typically worked 60 hours a week. For the past three years I’ve probably never worked less than three jobs and still lived in poverty.”

Panelists also talked about what it’s like to be disregarded or overlooked due to their circumstances and what our community can do to change that experience. They mentioned the importance of sharing opportunities and to opening one’s circle and connections to others. Nicole Coyne shared a personal passion to encourage more assistance to allow all kids to be involved in extracurricular activities, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Eric Puff talked about the lessons he hopes to pass on to his child. “Yes, the class distinction is there,” he said. “But if that’s where your eyes stop, then shame on you. Everybody’s value is inherent, and it has nothing to do with how much money they’re bringing home.”

As the event concluded, moderator Christina Yuhasz encouraged those listening to continue the conversation.

“We need to continue talking about poverty,” Yuhasz said. “I think when tonight ends, we don’t stop talking about poverty and what it’s like to live in poverty. Continuing to have these conversations is what’s going to change Newaygo County and what’s going to change the world.”

Stronger Together is a series of events designed to look at differences, identity, and the stories that shape our lives. The first event in November featured former Newaygo County residents and authors Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott who spoke about race, learning to navigate difficult spaces and conversations, and their new memoir Wounds. A February event addressed ageism and the experiences of younger and older members of the community.

The next event in the Stronger Together Series will take place in August. As future events are announced, information can be found on the Community Foundation’s social media channels (@FremontAreaCF) and on its website, facommunityfoundation.org.

In our community, thousands of residents have difficulty meeting basic needs such as housing, food, and healthcare. These challenges only increased for individuals and families because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what does it actually mean to live in poverty in Newaygo County? To have your finances derailed by an unexpected expense? To work multiple jobs and still struggle to make ends meet? To feel unheard or invisible in your own community? Join us virtually on April 22 to hear honest stories about life in the margins in our community.

Stronger Together Series: Life in the Margins
April 22 | Livestreamed | 6-7:30 p.m.

Through the reflections of our neighbors, we will explore the realities of poverty, grapple with false stereotypes and assumptions, and discuss ways we can learn from and support one another to build a stronger community.

The April 22 event is free to attend, but registration is required. Register now

On February 25, community members gathered virtually with Fremont Area Community Foundation for Stronger Together: A Community for All Ages. The event was the second in the Community Foundation’s Stronger Together Series and was funded in part by the Bridging Generations Fund.

Abby Reeg, executive director of the Newaygo County Community Collaborative, moderated a panel discussion that featured community members of different ages talking about how age can impact our experiences and sense of belonging in a community.

Some panelists shared their experiences of being passed over for jobs or promotions due to a perception of lack of experience. “Why does age have to mean maturity?” remarked Christian Burns, a student from Newaygo. “Why can’t we prove it?”

Other panelists noted the prevalence of comments often intended as jokes but centered on age-based stereotypes like forgetfulness and “having a senior moment.” “It’s even hard to find a funny birthday card that isn’t poking fun at age,” said Christie Pollock.

For all four panelists, increased intergenerational programming and opportunities is the key to creating a more age-inclusive community. Dawn Anderson mentioned programming at the Newaygo County Museum and Heritage Center that brought together older adult and visiting students to tell stories and share their perspectives.

“It seems like there’s so much hope that can be given to people if you include them in activities like that,” said Anderson. “People have so much to share—let them.”

Despite the prevalence of ageism, panelists also shared many examples of what gives them hope, like multi-generational teams in the workplace sharing their unique perspectives to help each other learn.

“I think that one thing you can always do is maintain an open mindset,” said panelist Sarah Dieterman. “Just being humble and being willing to ask for help from other people. I think that humility is a big thing to maintain at all times and knowing that the people around you can always teach you something.”

Stronger Together is a series of events designed to look at differences, identity, and the stories that shape our lives. The first event in November featured former Newaygo County residents and authors Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott who spoke about race, learning to navigate difficult spaces and conversations, and their new memoir Wounds.

“We want to create a space where we can build relationships with our neighbors, learn from each other, and honor each other’s stories and lived experiences,” said Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO. “When we are open to new perspectives, we can start to grow.”

A recording of the February 25 event can be watched here.

The next event in the Stronger Together Series will take place in April. As future events are announced, information can be found on the Community Foundation’s social media channels (@FremontAreaCF) and on its website, facommunityfoundation.org.

Has your age ever affected how you relate to the community around you? Have you been told you were too young to do a job or too old to manage an activity? We instinctively know that a healthy community is a place where all voices are heard, but what do we do when factors such as age keep people from feeling like they belong? On February 25, join us for an intergenerational conversation about the challenges both young and older people face in our community.

Stronger Together Series: A Community For All Ages
February 25 | Livestreamed | 6-7:30 p.m.

We will hear stories from our neighbors about their own experiences, consider what an age-friendly society might look like, and discuss what it means to build meaningful connections across generations. The panel discussion will include a time for audience questions.

The February 25 event is free but registration is required. Register now

This event is funded in part by the Bridging Generations Fund, a supporting organization of Fremont Area Community Foundation.

On November 5, the Community Foundation kicked off the Stronger Together Series with a virtual event titled “Beautifully Different” that featured former Newaygo County residents and authors Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott.

“Stronger Together is a series of community events about difference, identity, and the stories the shape our lives,” said Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO. “We believe that everyone in our community has a story. For some, that story is one of belonging. For others, it’s more complicated. Diversity has always been a part of the fabric of our community—we just have to see it. The goal of this series is to amplify the voices of our neighbors and to explore the ways differences enhance our community and ultimately make us stronger.”

More than 120 people attended the launch of the series to hear from Jones and Abbott. The two men are brothers-in-law and authors of the recently released book Wounds. In this collaborative memoir, Jones, who is Black, and Abbott, who is white, reflect on their experiences growing up in Newaygo County and learning to navigate difficult spaces and hard conversations. Through stories that intersect and sometimes overlap, they explore what it looks like to understand and appreciate difference.

“Our goal with the book is to get conversations started,” said Abbott. “The beautiful thing about stories is it gives humans the ability to relate.”

Along with reading excerpts from the book, the event featured a candid discussion on personal experiences with racism, the importance of embracing differences, and the concept of cultural navigation. Jones described cultural navigation as “the ability to go into a room full of people different than you and successfully navigate those differences.” It was a skill Jones said he learned growing up as one of few Black children in a predominantly white community.

“You develop that skillset,” said Jones. “It is an amazing and necessary skill to navigate those differences. It’s a growth experience to bust out of your bubble. Are you willing to experience being other?”

During a question and answer time after the presentation, Jones and Abbott shared their thoughts on addressing racism and positive steps people can take in their communities.

“You have to use your you to influence your where,” said Jones. “We each have skills, knowledge, strengths. Ask, ‘What do I have and how can I contribute?’ What can you do to help level the playing field?”

Added Abbott, “One of the biggest problems is we don’t think the problem exists. On a human level, we need to stand up. It takes acknowledgement. It takes action. What is your ability to influence?”

According to Carla Roberts, it’s impossible to address systems and institutions that perpetuate inequities in our community without first addressing our own hearts.

“Change happens at the speed of trust,” she said. “It’s only by getting to know someone that you can start to understand them. We want to create a space where we can build relationships with our neighbors, learn from each other, and honor each other’s stories and lived experiences. When we are open to new perspectives, we can start to grow.”

Additional events in the Stronger Together Series will continue in 2021.

Fremont Area Community Foundation is excited to present Stronger Together, a series of community events about identity, difference, and the stories that shape our lives. The series kicks off on November 5 with Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott, authors of the upcoming book Wounds.

Stronger Together Series: Beautifully Different
November 5 | Livestreamed | 6-7:30 p.m.
Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott

Razel was raised in White Cloud and Daniel attended high school in Newaygo County. The men are brothers-in-law and authors of the upcoming book Wounds. In this collaborative memoir, Daniel, who is white, and Razel, who is Black, reflect on their experiences growing up and learning to navigate difficult spaces and have hard conversations. Through stories that intersect and sometimes overlap, they explore what it looks like to understand and appreciate differences. In the event on November 5, Razel and Daniel will talk about their experiences in this community, read excerpts from Wounds, and host a Q&A with attendees. All attendees will receive a free copy of Wounds after the event.

The November 5 virtual event is free but registration is required. Register now

This project is funded in part by Michigan Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.