Hope College has always been an important part of David and Rhonda Byrne’s story. They met there and both of their sons chose to attend there. David and Rhonda were even married by the school’s chaplain, who offered advice the Byrnes have followed ever since.

“He told us as soon as we got married to start giving and to make it a habit,” said David. “That’s what we’ve tried to do.”

The couple has found plenty of ways to give. Even their careers—David is a lawyer and Rhonda is a social worker—are a way for them to help others.

They have also partnered with the Community Foundation in their giving. They like that it is an easy, locally-focused way to make an impact. “Every day we can see people who have benefitted from others giving and from the Community Foundation,” said Rhonda. “We know it’s well-managed and the Community Foundation makes it easy for us.”

In addition to joining Our Next 75, the Byrnes created a scholarship to help local graduates who want to attend their alma mater.

“I went to a scholarship luncheon while I was a student,” said David. “I remember meeting the people helping me go to college and I thought, ‘Someday I want to help someone else.’ We hope this scholarship encourages somebody to dream.”

The Crandell family has been a fixture in Newaygo County for 120 years. As owners of Crandell Funeral Homes in Fremont and White Cloud, they have helped friends and neighbors through some of the most trying moments of their lives.

“We’ve been caring for families in this community for four generations,” said Curt Crandell who, along with his brother Scott, owns and operates the business.

The Crandells have always made community a priority, through their work, volunteerism and with a scholarship they created for Fremont and White Cloud graduates. The whole family—including Curt, Scott, sister Julie, their spouses, and their children—contributed to the fund honoring their father Richard who passed away in 2018.

“It was a family decision to start the fund when Richard died,” said Phyllis, Richard’s wife. “We believe every bit of education you can get is important.”

Creating the scholarship through the Community Foundation helped the family continue a tradition of giving that is deeply local and long-lasting.

“It was important for it to be local and we like the sustainability of giving through the Community Foundation,” said Scott. “In the future, we hope recipients look back and realize that people cared about them and were interested in them being successful.”

Weary of third shift work, Timothy found a new job with Big Rapids Products. He was doing well and was even able to buy a house. However, unexpected projects strained his finances just as his truck’s tires were giving out. “I was starting to have problems getting to and from work,” Timothy said.

Timothy knew a little about Michigan Works! from his involvement in a program on the east side of the state for returning citizens, but that had been years ago and he wasn’t sure what resources were offered here. He met with a Michigan Works! West Central coach at his workplace and explained his situation. Timothy soon received word that the organization could help him get new tires.

“Now I have told other people to get ahold of them, that there is a lot they can help you with,” Timothy said. “I’ve recommended it to a lot of people.”

Michigan Works! offers services to help people find and keep good jobs and address employment barriers. In 2021, Community Foundation grants supported the program that helped with Timothy’s tires and another that offers work-based learning opportunities for high school students.

“We offer a wide variety of services and programs that can assist both job seekers and employers in our six-county region,” said Shelly Keene, Michigan Works! West Central executive director. “By having the ability to help remove barriers, we hope this has a positive impact on employer retention rates in Newaygo County.”

Every summer since 1949, Bill Alsover’s family relocated from their East Grand Rapids home to a cottage on Pickerel Lake. The old cottage was beautiful “only in our hearts,” said Bill, but all the neighbors had children of similar ages who swam, fished, and explored together.

“It was idyllic,” he said. “It was a humble dwelling, but we loved it here.”

The house is different today but the pull of the lake remains strong. Bill—now a Community Foundation trustee—moved to the area full-time over a decade ago and his children and grandchildren are frequent visitors. However, as Bill spent even more time on the lake, he began to notice changes in it and in neighboring Kimball Lake. There were more weeds and the water seemed less clear. One of the problems, a neighbor told him, was that “people use the lake now, they don’t really love it.”

“I have learned a lot about lakes and how sensitive and fragile they are,” said Bill. “They’re not going to fix themselves.”

In addition to encouraging lake health studies and working with the Pickerel Kimball Lake Improvement Board, Bill decided to create a fund at the Community Foundation to support projects that can improve the lakes and watershed.

“It’s been ideal to work with the Community Foundation. It gave the fund credibility,” he said. “We want people to know the fund is here and it’s another way to contribute to the health of the lakes.”

While the class of 2030’s graduation may seem far off, Kickstart to Career Newaygo County has been planning for it since before those students started kindergarten in 2018. The kids in this inaugural Kickstart class were the first to receive savings accounts at ChoiceOne Bank, seeded with $50 from the Community Foundation.

After graduation, students can use the money they’ve saved and earned for college, career training, and other related expenses. But the impact reaches far beyond just dollars.

“It’s about so much more than the amount in the savings account,” said Jackie Hite, Kickstart to Career assistant at the Community Foundation. “Our main goal is changing mindsets. Students start thinking, ‘I am going to college. I am going to trade school,’ instead of thinking they can’t afford it or it’s not for them. It makes it tangible.”

Along with savings accounts, the Kickstart program provides interactive classroom lessons on financial literacy and how saving today can help students prepare for the future. The Community Foundation also created an endowed fund to support Kickstart’s long-term sustainability.

“These kids are dreaming of a brighter future,” said Jackie. “We want to say to them, ‘Yes, you can and here’s how.’”

Jeanne Leaver and her husband Bill created a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation because they wanted a sustainable way to support the area they were born in and returned to as adults. It was here they learned the importance of giving back through the example of their families and neighbors.

“Bill and I both had times when we needed help and people were there for us,” said Jeanne. “Others in the community set the example and you don’t forget that.”

The Leavers worked to become informed about local needs and thought hard about the kind of impact they wanted to have. After Bill passed away in 2020, their practice of carefully researching opportunities fell to Jeanne. “I’ve had to take the reins on our fund,” she said.

One thing enhancing Jeanne’s new process is the Community Foundation’s catalog of funding opportunities, which gives donors a chance to get involved in grantmaking. During each community grant round, request summaries from the grant applications are shared with donor advised fundholders. Donors like Jeanne can then recommend grants from their funds to help fill the needs of local nonprofit organizations.

“Looking through the funding opportunities is a really enjoyable time for me,” said Jeanne. “I enjoy reading about what’s going on in the county.”

Now, as she travels around the community, Jeanne finds herself noticing the progress of the different projects she read about in the catalog. “I see something every day that those grants are doing,” she said. “So many areas of our lives are touched by the work of the Community Foundation.”

Reliable transportation is a necessity in a rural county where residents can’t hail a cab or take a bus when their car breaks down. In fact, transportation is one of our area’s biggest barriers to employment.

Classis Muskegon’s Fremont Service Committee—a partnership of local churches—helps fill the need by providing cars and repairs to local people trying to get to work.

“Some of us have no idea what it’s like to get up in the morning and not have a car that’s going to start,” said Sheri Byers, who has worked with the program for 19 years. She has seen clients finish work but wait eight hours to go home because their ride is on a different shift. Others can’t schedule medical appointments or look for better jobs because there’s no way to get there.

“For some, it’s been so long since they could just jump in their own car and go to work.”

The program works with local agencies to get client referrals and has a network of mechanics who source and repair vehicles. It’s supported in part by a grant from the Community Foundation.

Mary works in Fremont and recently received a car through the program. “It has made it 100 percent easier to not only get to work, but I could take a job change that led to more money because I can now drive to the office every day,” she said. “I have never been happier!”

A Hesperia-area cottage has been collecting memories for Diane Hazen’s family since it was built by her father and grandfather in 1935. Diane’s parents saved up gas rations during World War II to travel from their home in Wayne County to close up the cottage for the season. Diane took her first steps on the porch.

“I’ve been coming here all my life,” Diane said. “This place has been my refuge.”

She shared that refuge with her husband Charles, who enjoyed visiting as much as Diane did. They often made the trip from Romulus, where Charles worked as an industrial planner and consultant and Diane was a library director.

The Hazens planned to retire to the cottage and were looking forward to becoming more involved in the community. Local friends suggested organizations they could join, and Charles was particularly interested in helping young people in the area.

Sadly, Charles passed away before the couple could begin the retirement they were planning. Diane worked for several more years before relocating here full-time. Through it all, she remembered Charles’s desire to help local students.

“He wanted to do something for young people,” said Diane. “And when he died, that’s what came back to me.”

Diane created the Charles W. Hazen Memorial Scholarship to support Hesperia graduates, particularly those pursuing a business or art degree. These areas reflect Charles’s own interests. “His degree was in business and his love was art,” said Diane, who keeps several pieces Charles created on display around the cottage. “His career and work were fascinating for him too.” She remembers Charles often bringing home colleagues for dinner and conversation. “We made lots of good friends that way,” Diane said. “It was an interesting life we led.”

Over the last two decades, 17 Hesperia graduates have received the scholarship created in Charles’s
memory. Just as Charles always wanted, he and Diane are playing a part in helping local young people
plan for their futures and achieve their goals.

“Charles wanted to help young people here,” said Diane. “Through the scholarship he is.”

Lindsay and Vonda Hager moved to Newaygo County in the late 90s for work, “but we stayed because we loved the community,” said Vonda. Little moments like taking their daughters to the local hardware store on Saturdays for popcorn and stickers made the area feel like home.

Through Lindsay’s work in the nonprofit sector—he is now the Community Foundation’s vice president and chief philanthropy officer—the Hagers saw first-hand all the ways community members give back, from volunteerism to donating funds. They passed along that example to their daughters and live it out themselves.

“I used to think philanthropy was just for the wealthiest, but it’s for all of us,” said Lindsay. “It’s something everyone can do.”

The Hagers recently became two of the newest members of Our Next 75. Giving through the Community Foundation appealed to them, in part, because it is deeply local.

“The Community Foundation originated in Newaygo County by residents of Newaygo County giving back to Newaygo County—you can’t make a bigger impact than that in the community you love,” said Vonda. “So many things in the community are made possible because of the Community Foundation. It sets such a powerful example that these things can’t continue unless those who come after keep building it.”

“We want to see the good work of the Community Foundation continue,” said Lindsay. “We want to make sure it continues to benefit the community for another 75 years and beyond.”

Fresh paint and 3,500 square feet of new drywall are the obvious signs that something big is happening at the former Leighton Hall in White Cloud. But there’s also a sense of excitement and possibility growing in the refurbished space.

The new Center for Hope and Healing is the joint vision of Newaygo County Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (PCA) and Open Arms Child Advocacy Center. It allows PCA to relocate from its pole barn-turned-office and Open Arms from its space in an apartment complex in Big Rapids. Both organizations needed more room for their work with children and families.

“We knew collaboration would be the future of both organizations,” said Tara Nelson, PCA’s executive director and an Open Arms board member. “We have the same goals and want the same outcome.”

Together, the organizations provide an array of services to build stronger families and prevent abuse while also supporting children who have experienced abuse. PCA offers services like infant safe sleep education, teaching children about body safety, and the popular Summer Magic program. Through Open Arms, children who have experienced abuse meet with a specially-trained forensic interviewer to tell their story just once while law enforcement, investigators, and others observe from another room. Follow-up services are offered to help begin the healing process.

“It was difficult for families to know what to do and where to go for help before,” said Tara. “Here we can say, ‘We know exactly what to do and we’ll walk you through the next steps.’ We can see them through the whole process.”

In addition to private, child-friendly spaces for forensic interviews, the center will include areas for art therapy, supervised visitation, events, and more when it opens this spring. It’s a big project that came together rapidly thanks to significant community support, including a matching grant from the Community Foundation. PCA was able to purchase and renovate the building debt-free, giving two organizations a new home and new opportunities.

“We’re looking forward to the growth both organizations can have here,” said Tara. “The new center opens the doors for greater impact.”

The Pere Marquette and Muskegon rivers may get all the glory, but, according to Jake Lemon, eastern angler science coordinator with Trout Unlimited, the White River has plenty to offer too.

The White River is a popular place for fly fishing, camping, and beloved family cottages. Smaller and shallower, the river is home to brown and brook trout, steelhead, and salmon as it runs through Newaygo, Oceana, and Muskegon counties.

“It supports high-quality and varied fisheries,” said Jake. “The watershed is sandwiched between the Pere Marquette and Muskegon rivers and it doesn’t get as much attention, but we can improve water quality, the fishery, and recreational opportunities for these communities along the river.”

Recently, Trout Unlimited began leading efforts focused on restoring and protecting the White River watershed. A gathering hosted by the Community Foundation earlier this year brought together community representatives to share perspectives and develop priorities. Trout Unlimited stepped up to provide leadership moving forward and this spring received a $38,022 grant from the Community Foundation to continue the work.

“We want to build a groundswell of good partners using good science,” said Jake. “None of this would be possible without the Community Foundation. It’s been the catalyst for something that can grow.”

By working with partners from local landowners all the way up to federal agencies, Trout Unlimited is focused on improving watershed health and building stronger connections between communities and the river that runs through them. Culvert remediation, bank stabilization, and exploring economic impact are just a few projects planned or already underway.

“There are great opportunities to significantly improve the watershed,” said Jake. “I would like to have a well-connected community of caretakers working together to find opportunities to restore and protect the watershed. That’s the big picture.”

Lou Deleguardia served in the Navy, studied culinary arts, and even owned a motorcycle shop. But an interest in financial management kept resurfacing and led Lou to a career as a financial advisor.

His interest in the field was inspired in part by the difficult experience of settling his father’s estate. He and his siblings were all young adults when their father passed away without a will or estate plan. “I thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’” said Lou.

Several years later, a job opening in investment and financial management piqued his interest and he took advantage of the opportunity.

“Sometimes there are roadblocks—you don’t see the path, then all of a sudden a door opens up,” Lou remarked. Of his now-career, he said, “I get to help people. It’s been pretty rewarding.”

Through his work, Lou was aware of the Community Foundation as a resource for local giving. He decided to get involved, first by naming the Community Foundation in his own estate plan and then by creating a fund through the Build-A-Fund program. With those two steps, Lou also became one of the newest members of Our Next 75.

Lou’s field of interest fund will support recreation programs in Newaygo County, especially those for youth. His own hometown in New York state had a robust recreation program and a large park that housed sports fields, a teen center, community gardens, and more. Knowing how important those programs were to him and others, Lou wants to help provide similar opportunities for his neighbors here.

“These programs are training for life,” he said, noting that sports and other activities help kids learn about teamwork, find mentors, and cultivate positive habits.

In addition to supporting valuable opportunities for others, Lou sees his fund as a way to thank the community that welcomed him.

“With a fund at the Community Foundation, I can touch a lot more people than I could on my own,” he said. “I’ve been blessed here, and I want to give back.”

Jeff Clark and Lori Tubbergen Clark were born and raised in Newaygo County. Their parents and grandparents spent most of their lives here too. Proximity to family is still one of the couple’s favorite things about the area.

But there’s also a strong sense of community that continues to draw them in.

“I was on the receiving end of giving and kindness from countless people,” said Lori. “I reflect on those times now and am inspired and privileged to be able to pay that kindness forward.”

“We are very blessed,” said Jeff. “For those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We live by that.”

One of the ways they’re giving back is through a fund at the Community Foundation to support the Promise Zone, which Lori was instrumental in creating as former superintendent of Newaygo County Regional Educational Service Agency. A tuition-free path to a credential or degree can be a “game-changer,” said Lori, “for many of our youth and our community.”

Helping to keep that promise for years to come is important to Lori and Jeff and a main motivation for their fund.

“The Community Foundation has a strong reputation among community leaders and donors as the voice of community philanthropy,” said Lori. “It provides a long-term sustainable way to support our commitment to our students and the Newaygo County Promise Zone.”

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.”