Roger and Becky Tuuk have grown to love many things about Newaygo County in their 40 years here—particularly the small town feel and easy access to nature.

“We like the outdoors, hiking, kayaking, and being on the trails,” said Roger, who serves on the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition board. Supporting environmental causes through volunteer service is just one of the ways the Tuuks give back. They also utilize their donor advised fund at the Community Foundation to give to various causes close to their hearts.

Partnering with the Community Foundation is a natural fit for Roger and Becky, in part because of the unique perspective Roger has as a past employee of the organization. In the late 1980s, Roger was hired as the Community Foundation’s first full-time accountant and was one of just four staff members.

“Going from the corporate world to the foundation world, I saw what the Community Foundation can do,” he said. “It’s a great asset to this community and we feel fortunate to be a part of it.”

When COVID-19 hit, the Tuuks partnered again with the Community Foundation to support the Community Response Fund and help those most impacted by the pandemic.

“There can be such a disparity in our county and if there’s any way we can help, that’s what we want to do,” said Becky. “Things are not that important to us. Giving is important because we don’t need it all and other people may need it a lot.”

In less than two years, the West Michigan Research Station went from a field and a dream to a collection of neat green and white buildings and a hum of activity.

“In 20 months, we went from zero dollars in the checking account to where we are now,” said Andy Riley, president of West Central Michigan Horticultural Research Inc. Located on 68 acres in Hart, Michigan, the $1.5 million agricultural research station serves fruit and asparagus growers in Mason, Newaygo, and Oceana counties. It will host a Michigan State University Extension educator and MSU graduate students researching fruit varieties, invasive species, and more.

According to Andy, the microclimate of the three-county region is unique and boasts diverse crops thanks to its proximity to Lake Michigan. But unlike other regions, there was no station to address the needs of local farmers or for large-scale agricultural research.

“We were one of the largest fruit-growing regions without a research station,” he said. “Traverse City has one, Grand Rapids, southeast Michigan—but we didn’t. Now, our counties [can] be on the cutting edge.”

In addition to being a research hub, the station includes meeting and event space. Project leaders also look forward to offering educational opportunities for local students. The Community Foundation was an early supporter of the project, awarding a $50,000 grant in 2020.

“We’re so grateful for the Community Foundation’s support, for the support of Peterson Farms, and the people who donated,” said Andy. “Everything is always changing. Growers have to know how to adapt. This place is a problem-solving unit.”

As the pandemic started to take hold in March 2020, the staff at TrueNorth Community Services was sure of at least one thing: “As soon as schools closed, we knew it would have serious repercussions,” said Mike Voyt, director of hunger prevention programs. “We pride ourselves on being able to respond quickly to emergencies, but even we were surprised by the speed of the increased need.”

Knowing that school closures and layoffs would mean greater food insecurity, TrueNorth quickly tripled weekend food packs for students, reduced the waiting period for food services, and increased mobile pantry distributions. “We turned our multipurpose room into a food warehouse,” said Mike. “We filled the whole agency up with food.”

Just a week after closures began, double the usual number of families were being served at mobile pantries. Numbers increased again in September. By then, TrueNorth had already distributed 120,000 pounds of food—thousands more than in all of 2019.

While TrueNorth adapted to the increased need, they were quickly met with local support, including two grants from the Community Foundation’s Community Response Fund.

“It has been a stressful time, but this is what we do—we come together,” said Mike. “As soon as we got the word out, we started getting calls. I felt extremely proud to live and work here.”

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he added, noting he expects increased demand into 2022. “But we can create a local food system where everyone has access to affordable, quality nutrition. We can recover and come out stronger.”

In the early 1960s, a phone call from Bessie Slautterback—the Community Foundation’s first executive director— with news of a scholarship helped clear the way for Art Sanders to start dental school. It also inspired a deep desire to give back.

“I made the commitment to myself then that if I ever had the chance to help other people, especially in my home community, I would try,” said Art.

He did exactly that through his career traveling the world as a dentist in the military. Now, he’s continuing the commitment by creating funds at the Community Foundation to support White Cloud, the hometown that gave him a strong start.

Through an estate gift, Art will create or contribute to funds for local students, the library, and efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. He feels that growing up in White Cloud gave him access to a quality education and a respect for differences. His years with the military and living abroad built on this foundation, broadening his appreciation for different cultures and views.

“Looking around the world, we all need to understand each other better,” said Art. “We all have a lot of stereotypes and prejudices that we need to look at and then dispense with.”

For Art, giving through the Community Foundation is a way to combine his gratitude for his hometown with the areas he’s most passionate about, like challenging bias and promoting education.

“I guess I’m some kind of idealist,” he said. “I think it’s very important to give back. That’s the way to improve our whole society.”

A trip to the symphony usually doesn’t involve getting to play along or being showered with confetti from the ceiling, but that’s what hundreds of local elementary students have experienced each year for nearly two decades as part of Link Up.

The Link Up program is run locally by the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra in partnership with Carnegie Hall. It provides a beginning music education for third through fifth graders and is supported in part by grants from the Community Foundation. Students learn about instruments, how to read music, and how to play the recorder. In a typical year, members of the orchestra visit classrooms and at the spring symphony concert, students bring their recorders and play along.

According to Karen VanderZanden, orchestra director of education, the decision to cancel last year’s concert because of the pandemic was necessary but painful. “Kids are usually very excited to participate in a concert,” she said. “They can see why live music is so wonderful.” But despite the challenges of going online, Karen and other program leaders found creative ways to keep students engaged. Recorders were temporarily swapped out for bucket drums and other percussive instruments. Lessons, activities, and classroom visits with musicians moved to virtual spaces. The annual spring concert was recorded and posted online for anyone to enjoy.

“There are so many inherent benefits to learning music,” said Karen. “Studies show connections to things like higher GPAs, lower dropout rates, and learning about teamwork. It’s rewarding to see students excited about how music can be a part of their lives. This year has been a challenge, but I’m glad we didn’t give up.”

After 35 years teaching math at a large high school near Chicago and even more years as a tutor in Newaygo County, Dawn Anderson knows that algebra isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. Her goal as a teacher was that her own love of math would be contagious and encourage her students to love it too.

The same idea—that we can be inspired by the passions of others—also played out in Dawn’s childhood as a member of a Grant-area family actively involved in giving and service.

“My parents were great givers,” Dawn said. “They worked hard, they earned everything they got, but they were very fortunate. Seeing people give encourages you to give too.”

Dawn and her sister, Lynne Robinson, have both carried forward their family’s legacy through volunteerism and partnerships with the Community Foundation. Dawn currently serves on the board of the Amazing X Charitable Trust and is a member of the Community Foundation’s Our Next 75 donor group.

By giving of her time and other resources, Dawn hopes to play her part in making the community better.

“It’s important that we have the museum, that we have education, that we feed people here who are hungry,” said Dawn. “It all comes down to wanting to live in a nice place. What you give to others and what others give to help you makes it nicer. It’s a circle of giving and it helps everyone reach a higher level.”

James King was introduced to the power of philanthropy early in life. When he came to live with his grandmother in Fremont as a child, he had a front row seat to what he now realizes was the beginning of Fremont Area Community Foundation. James’s uncle Bob Magee was a son-in-law to William Branstrom and James remembers listening during family dinners as the adults talked.

Philanthropy often came up around the table, especially the importance of money raised locally being invested locally. This belief and the passion of these community leaders—a group that would include Bessie Slautterback and others—grew into what is now the Community Foundation.

While James and his wife Jamie live primarily in Arizona, they still spend time every year in the Emerald Lake cottage that James inherited from his grandmother. The cottage, time with relatives, and friendships in Newaygo County keep them connected to James’s hometown. “The closeness of a small town was beneficial to me growing up,” said James. It also sparked an interest in lakes, plants, and nature. “Growing up here, close to nature—being in a small town gave me that,” he said.

James followed that interest to a PhD in geosciences and a career running museums like the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Throughout his career, James saw the power of philanthropy at work again.

“I know how important the money people gave to my institutions was,” said James. “I have seen what can happen when people help a little. So now I’m trying to help a little.”

James and Jamie are both involved with foundations in their home areas. Here, James has created two funds at the Community Foundation: a scholarship and a fund to support Fremont’s library, a place he loved as a boy.

“I’m not rich, but I’ve seen how modest amounts can grow and make a difference,” said James. “Capital, when properly managed by a foundation, can grow over time. I have seen it in action my whole life and it led me to this.”

Grant Public Schools has the largest after school program in Newaygo County. For 30 years, school staff has sought to provide a safe place to spend time after school while also incorporating a wide range of fun and educational activities.

“Our main goals are to improve enrichment opportunities and have a local impact,” said Stephanie Dood, teacher and co-director of the after school program. “We want to make the biggest impact we can. This is not just a place to go to be watched. We’re a safe haven and a place to build skills.”

Each day, students can get involved in a variety of creative enrichment programs such as meeting with a reading interventionist, trying yoga, or listening to books in Spanish and English during read aloud time. A partnership with MSU Extension also incorporates science and environmental activities.

Another new addition has been theme-based Lego projects. In November, students used Legos to create open hand sculptures featuring the Community Foundation logo as a way to celebrate National Philanthropy Day and express gratitude for the Community Foundation’s support.

“If it weren’t for the Community Foundation, we couldn’t do this,” said Stephanie. “We couldn’t serve over 100 kids or employ over 30 people.”

The program’s impact also extends beyond students and families to local small businesses and organizations. They’re committed to buying food, books, and other materials locally whenever possible and are connecting with organizations like Camp Newaygo to offer workshops and new programming.

“We have so much gratitude for our local partners,” said Stephanie. “We’re connecting with people who know the area, understand the needs, and can be flexible.”

These partnerships and the efforts of the dedicated staff are allowing Grant to meet the diverse needs of students in innovative ways each day after school.

“My passion is figuring out what the need is and how to meet it,” said Stephanie. “It’s about creating exceptional opportunities. Every day we get two hours with a group of kids to do something amazing.”

When Bill and Judy Johnson designed their scholarship, they got creative. Instead of helping a student with just the first semester or year of college, they worked with the Community Foundation to set up a scholarship that follows one student all the way through.

“We thought it would be better if the student could have that help for all four years,” said Bill. “We’re so glad the Community Foundation was willing to do this with us.”

“It was such a joy to us,” added Judy. “And a joy for David as well.”

David Grodus—the scholarship’s first recipient—is a Newaygo graduate now attending Ferris State University. He has stayed in touch with the Johnsons, sending them photos from move-in day and a note when he made the Dean’s List. Bill and Judy have no doubt he’ll be successful in whatever career he chooses.

“We hope he’ll see the value of investing in other students someday too,” said Judy. “I really think he will.”

“We think higher education is transformative,” Bill said. “Judy and I are both from what I would call humble beginnings. Our lives were transformed by a higher education opportunity. It’s important to us to try to help others have the same opportunities we’ve had.”

Creating a climate that encourages entrepreneurship often hinges on one key factor: if a potential entrepreneur can see someone who looks like themselves making money.

“In a rural area, it’s more difficult to connect with others and learn from others who are going through the same thing,” said Julie Burrell, business development coordinator with The Right Place. “There can be a lot of isolation.”

To foster greater connection, The Right Place partnered with the Community Foundation and Northern Initiatives—a nonprofit that provides loans to small businesses in rural areas—to create the Grow North series. Local entrepreneurs and small business owners gathered monthly to network and learn about different topics, from finding a niche to start-up funding. The series culminated with Pitch North, a business idea pitch competition with cash prizes. “We wanted to bring the kind of activity that’s becoming more common in Grand Rapids and Muskegon here to this community,” said Dennis West, retired president of Northern Initiatives.

“It’s exciting to see how the participants are growing and learning from each other,” said Julie. “They’re supporting each other’s businesses, mentoring each other. They have a friendly group to bounce ideas off.”

“As people see other people making progress, it grows,” said Dennis. “You see movement and it becomes infectious.”

Despite chapters in their lives lived in other cities, John and Ailene Pugno always felt the pull of their hometowns. John’s parents both experienced poverty while growing up and wanted something different for their own children. Moving to Fremont brought them opportunities in a small, close-knit community. “My dad coached here and started a business,” said John. “My parents were part of the fabric of the community. I always felt like part of the town. My heart was always here.”

Ailene grew up in Newaygo, close to the Muskegon River and close enough to school and the library that she could walk there. “I’ve moved away a couple times, but I’ve always come back,” she said.

Now living between their two hometowns, John and Ailene are creating two funds through their estate plan to permanently support their community. One fund will be dedicated to environmental causes and is inspired by a love of the Muskegon River. The other will support Newaygo’s library and Love INC.

“If someone has to fight to save these resources someday, they’ll have a place to come for a grant,” said John.

“There are so many people who need help,” said Ailene. “We wanted to do something local and something that would last.”

Until Open Arms Child Advocacy Center opened last year, local children who experienced abuse often had to recount their trauma over and over to police, lawyers, investigators, and others. According to Amy Taylor, Open Arms executive director, the process can be overwhelming and scary for young victims who often worry they did something wrong.

“If we do it right,” she said, “children are only interviewed once.”

At child advocacy centers like Open Arms, children tell their story to a specially-trained interviewer in a child-friendly setting while agencies involved in the investigation watch on monitors in another room. Open Arms then coordinates with partner agencies to provide follow-up services, including counseling referrals and support if a case goes to court.

Open Arms is the first center to serve Newaygo, Lake, Mecosta, and Osceola counties. Community foundations in all four counties and two youth advisory committees provided grants to support start-up costs.

“When we see the family getting help—that there was no further trauma to the child—we feel like we did a good job,” said Amy. “It’s rewarding to see kids going from victims to survivors and knowing that now they’re going to get help.”

Imagine navigating a pandemic and stay-at-home orders when home is a dangerous place. This has been the daily reality for too many in our community who experience domestic and sexual violence.

“With abusers in the home, without them leaving for work or recreation, a victim does not have an opportunity to escape,” said Jane Currie, executive director of Women’s Information Service, Inc (WISE). “Additionally, if the individuals lost pay or his or her job, the stress can cause an already volatile situation to escalate.”

For years, WISE has provided crisis intervention and support services to survivors in Mecosta, Newaygo, and Osceola counties. The organization offers emergency shelter, a 24-hour hotline, advocacy services, and more. COVID-19 has not changed their mission, but it has changed how services can be delivered. The shelter was reconfigured to allow for social distancing, already careful cleaning practices were quadrupled, and group support meetings moved online. Advocates were not able to remain with sexual assault survivors during forensic exams, but they stayed with them on the phone.

While dedication and creativity allowed the work to continue, WISE’s budget wasn’t built to accommodate these unforeseen changes. A pair of grants from the Community Foundation’s Community Response Fund helped fill the gaps.

“This has been a truly bright light during this unprecedented time,” said Jane. “We could not have provided this continued work without the Community Response Fund. It gave us what we needed to continue providing the services to survivors, giving them hope for a new life in the midst of this pandemic.”

Watching 17-year-old Zyra confidently stand center stage and create impromptu dance moves and characters, you would never guess that the Grant teen used to experience intense stage fright. “It was terrible,” she said. “But because of the youth drama program, it’s gotten so much better. I’m not as scared. And I really appreciate that they do that for me.”

Zyra is part of a group of teens, ranging from middle to high school, that comes together two Saturdays a month in White Cloud for Stage Door Players’ youth drama program. Each session features a guest presenter covering a different theater topic and participants can get involved in youth-focused productions during the year. On one snowy Saturday, the morning started with dance, laughter, and a little improv before moving on to a group performance of a Shel Silverstein poem.

The program grew out of a conversation between Bev Guikema, Stage Door’s board president, and members of the Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee who were interested in supporting creative outlets for their peers. A subsequent YAC grant in 2017 helped get it started and two more grants have helped them expand.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Bev. “We are seeing more families at the shows and getting involved. An organization like ours, you’re not going to grow unless you can draw in families and young adults.”

The program also helps participants like Zyra conquer fears and gain self-confidence. Students not only learn about theater and acting, but they learn how to be part of a team. “It’s been rewarding seeing the friendships they’ve formed,” said Bev. “They just enjoy being here.”

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Zyra. “Not just about theater but about myself too.”

In the middle of a blizzard on icy roads, nurses Brandee Chase, Amy Drilling, and Ann LaPres-Hindes drove to Lansing to tour a hospice home. Each had known patients without families to care for them at the end of their lives and had seen how overwhelming that care could be. They made the drive that day looking for a solution.

“The minute we walked in, we knew this was it,” said Ann.

“We all cried on the way home,” added Amy. “This was given to us to do.”

The Newaygo County Compassion Home was born in that blizzard, a dream of a warm home where people could complete their lives in dignity, comfort, and love. Technical support from the Community Foundation and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy helped the organization build a strong foundation and a combination of grants for operating support and matching gifts has provided support for growth.

The community has also embraced them by volunteering and donating supplies, time, and—for one local family—a home. The organization had just purchased a building to renovate in Fremont when the White Cloud home came along as an “unexpected gift,” said Diane Rudholm, executive director. “It gave us the opportunity to start working on our mission.”

The White Cloud home has welcomed 36 guests since it opened. Some have stayed only a few hours, others a few months. They have told their stories around the kitchen table, visited with family in the cozy living room, and rested in their bedrooms with a favorite television show. Guests’ care and comfort is overseen around the clock by trained staff and volunteers who are deeply passionate about their mission.

When renovations are complete at the Fremont location, the second home will allow the organization to serve more guests and will also include a room reserved for respite care. “It represents a lot of growth and opportunities,” said Diane.

“It’s such an honor to have people come into our home,” said Ann. “The end of life is a really difficult subject for people to talk about. It gets glossed over, but it’s so important. Everyone has the right to die with compassion and love.”

Don and Sue Farmer believe in the power of scholarships. Sue, a retired Hesperia Middle School teacher, is grateful they helped her complete her post-secondary education. The Farmers’ two children also utilized scholarships to keep their student debt down, something that Don—a banker—does not take for granted.

“In my work, I see so many people with debt,” Don said. “It’s not uncommon to see people with $60,000 to $100,000 in student loan debt. They can’t even afford to pay it back with the jobs that they have.”

“You don’t want to see kids have to struggle so much,” said Sue. “They should be able to concentrate on important things like their family, not having to juggle three jobs just to get by.”

Wanting to do something to help, the couple created the Don and Sue Farmer Family Fund scholarship. They crafted the scholarship with criteria that reflects the passions of their family. It will be awarded to Fremont and Hesperia graduates with preference to those planning to attend Central Michigan University— Don and Sue’s alma mater—and study business or education. The scholarship also reflects the couple’s gratitude for the ways the Newaygo County community has impacted their lives.

“If it helps someone to go on, to go a little further, that’s where the satisfaction comes from,” said Don. “It takes the support of the community to be successful. We’re giving back to the community that’s given to us.”

Randy and Shari Paulsen and their two sons all attended Fremont High School (FHS). Both boys were involved in athletics and spent hours practicing. “They wouldn’t come home,” Randy said with a laugh.

“They had so much fun and found something they excelled at with sports,” said Shari. “It was an incentive to keep their grades up and it’s such a big factor in socialization in school.”

“We understand what it means for kids,” said Randy.

That’s why he and Shari created a fund at the Community Foundation to support FHS and its athletics programs. They’re especially focused on students who want to get involved but can’t afford to play.

“My vision would be that any kid that wants to play a sport doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for it,” said Randy.

In addition to their fund, the Paulsens have included the Community Foundation in their estate plan and are now members of the Our Next 75 donor group.

“We chose to give through the Community Foundation because you see what the funds can do in the community,” said Shari. “We want to make sure our grandkids have the same opportunities or better than we have had. We want to make this the best community possible for them.”

According to Lola Harmon-Ramsey, her family has “been here forever.” Lola grew up in Fremont and graduated from Fremont High School. After several years in Lansing and Grand Rapids, she and her husband Mark Ramsey—an Oklahoma transplant—decided they wanted their own children to grow up in Newaygo County too.

“We like the safety and sense of community,” said Mark. “People look out for each other.”

In addition to building a family here, Mark and Lola started a small recycling business with a trailer Mark made by hand. Today, Cart-Right Recycling handles hundreds of tons of recyclables each year.

Despite the busy schedules that come with owning a business and raising a family, Mark and Lola are still passionate about being involved in the community. Lola currently serves as a trustee on the Community Foundation’s board.

“My parents taught me to be active and engaged,” said Lola. “Newaygo County keeps investing in us, so that’s what we do in return.”

When she and Mark heard about the Our Next 75 donor group at the Community Foundation, they jumped at the chance to further invest in Newaygo County’s future.

“When I heard about it, I thought ‘We can do that,’” said Lola. “For the first time, I thought maybe I can be a philanthropist. It’s important to me to show my peers that you don’t have to have a lot of money. You just have to show up, you have to care. Your investment doesn’t have to be huge, but it does make a difference.”

At 15, Dawn Williams was the Hair Station’s first receptionist. Today, she is the Fremont salon’s owner.

“I like the customers and the women I work with,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s work.”

In recognition of the community’s support of her business and knowing how difficult it can be to start out as a stylist, Dawn began to think of ways to help graduating cosmetologists from the Newaygo County Career-Tech Center. When she and her daughter Morgan heard about the build-a-fund program at the Community Foundation, it seemed like the perfect fit.

“I was surprised that you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to start a fund,” said Dawn. “The Community Foundation made it easy for us.”

Along with staff and clients, they created the Hair Station Fund and an annual award that will help new cosmetologists pay for expensive state tests and equipment like scissors and clippers that most salons do not provide.

“It’s a huge hurdle when you’re just starting out,” said Morgan. “We’re hoping this can help offset that.”

In addition to creating a fund, Dawn added the Community Foundation to her estate plan and became the very first member of the Our Next 75 donor group.

“I remember times when I needed help and didn’t have anyone to turn to,” said Dawn. “So I’ve always felt strongly about giving back. I think if everyone was a little more giving, the world would be a better place.”

“It’s like a domino effect,” said Morgan. “If you’ve been helped, you want to help someone else.”

The loss of his son Tyler four years ago was awful, said Mike Slaughter, “but then it becomes about what you choose to do with that grief. You have to find a way to redeem it.”

Mike, along with family and friends, created a scholarship at the Community Foundation for adults studying social work. Tyler had gone back to school for his master’s degree as an adult and was working at Newaygo County Mental Health when he passed away in 2015.

The Tyler Patrick Slaughter Memorial Scholarship was awarded for the first time this year to Nicole Klomp, a local social worker.

“I had been thinking about going back to school for a while. I thought it would give me even more opportunities to help my community,” said Nicole. “The scholarship relieves a lot of financial stress, but it’s also a huge motivation. You know there are people who care and desire to see others prosper.”

Mike and Nicole had a chance to meet recently to talk about Tyler and their shared mission to be advocates for people in crisis.

“Knowing I’m able to make a difference in somebody’s life is very rewarding. I hope I represent Tyler well and carry on his passion for helping people,” Nicole told Mike.

“Every time I see your name, it will be like a dream taking visual form. Like the abstract becoming real. This is as much a gift to us as it is to you,” said Mike. “We need more people like you.”