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.”

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.”

Margaret Cain Branstrom wore dungarees, dug her own worm pile, and regularly took a red rowboat out fishing even though she couldn’t swim.

“She was loving and kind, but you didn’t get in her way,” said James Magee, Margaret’s grandson. “She always had a sparkle in her eye.”

“Total acceptance is what I think of,” said granddaughter Barbara Kemble. “She made everyone—regardless of where they came from—feel welcomed and warm.”

Margaret’s husband, William Branstrom, was well-known in Newaygo County for his philanthropy, civic engagement, and role in founding the Community Foundation. Margaret was not as public a figure, but she was very much his partner in philanthropy and equally passionate about service, education, and nature.

James created the Margaret C. Branstrom Arboretum Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation in memory of his grandmother. Through the fund, he supported a stone patio, bench, and plaque in Margaret’s honor at Arboretum Park in Fremont. James and his siblings remember playing there as children and how pleased their grandparents were to donate and endow the park.

“She was a presence,” said James of his grandmother. “Not nearly as public as my grandfather, but she was there. I wanted her name to be here too.”

Krista Sellers knows that life can veer in unexpected directions. For her, Circles Newaygo County represented the opportunity to get back on track and do something different for her family.

“I didn’t grow up in poverty,” said Krista. “Sometimes I think if just one or two things had gone differently, I wouldn’t be in this position. For a lot of us in Circles, we’re just wanting to be out of the position we’re in.”

Circles—a TrueNorth Community Services program—uses an intensive and personal approach to ending poverty one family at a time. At weekly meetings, Krista and other Circles Leaders learn about budgeting, credit, setting goals, self-care, and more. They are also matched with volunteers called Allies who provide encouragement. In addition to other support, the Community Foundation awarded a $155,000 grant to the program in 2018.

“In the beginning, I didn’t comprehend how Circles would help in all areas of my life,” said Krista. “Opportunities just open up. It’s connections beyond connections.”

Those connections have helped Krista and her husband navigate unexpected challenges while still progressing toward their goals. Krista is working to quit smoking and looks forward to finishing her associate degree. Ultimately, she wants to become an Ally herself.

“Circles makes me feel like I matter in the world,” said Krista. “It reminds me that I can do this—then I can help other people. I can’t wait.”

Susanne Jordan’s family traveled every summer when she was growing up. On Sundays—no matter where they were—they found a church to attend. In one small town, the church they chose was holding a clothing drive. When Susanne’s family left, her father got back in the car in his undershirt, having quietly donated the shirt he was wearing.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he literally just gave the shirt off his back,’” said Susanne. “That impulsive act of generosity really made an impact on me.”

Early experiences watching their parents give deeply influenced both Susanne and Bob Jordan. They continued that mission in their lives together. “We’ve always had a heart for people who needed a helping hand,” said Susanne.

This was even reflected in the career paths they chose: social work for Susanne and philanthropy for Bob. Bob was on staff at the Community Foundation for over 17 years and came back after retirement to serve on the Investment Committee.

“Working with donors is humbling,” said Bob. “There are so many people who live modest lives but give so much. There are a lot of generous people in Newaygo County.”

Though the Jordans moved to Holland after retiring, they are still committed to the community where they lived, worked, and raised their children. They have supported a variety of local causes through their donor advised fund and are the newest members of Our Next 75.

“We have a family history in this community,” said Susanne. “Even though we don’t live here anymore, we want it to be vibrant and successful for years to come.”

For Dave and Lynne Robinson, connection is at the heart of philanthropy. Both grew up in Grant farming families and watched their parents and neighbors serve the community in any way they could.

“My parents didn’t have much but they were always involved,” said Dave. “Philanthropy isn’t just money.”

“It has to be hands-on,” said Lynne. “You have to experience it and participate in it. Then you can pass it on.”

Dave and Lynne have translated their own deep connection to the community into volunteerism, board service, giving through the Community Foundation, and teaching the next generation.

As their children grew up, Dave and Lynne taught them about philanthropy by allowing them to get involved in donation decisions. Each child was encouraged to pick things in the community they were passionate about for the family to support. Later, when Dave and Lynne were leading the Grant library’s capital campaign, they made a point to include lots of small projects that even local students could join in on.

“We did things everyone could be a part of,” said Lynne. “If you expect the people with the most [money] to do all the giving, then you never invest yourself. People need connection. Maybe it’s a kind word, a smile, keeping in touch with someone. Wherever you can be of some help, get involved. Give however you can.”

It would be unimaginable to use the same cell phone you bought in 2002. Yet, because of reductions in 911 telephone surcharges over the years, that was the scenario for Newaygo County Central Dispatch. Dispatchers were using a 17-year-old system to handle an ever-growing emergency call volume: 111,000 calls in 2018 alone.

“You can’t even get spare parts anymore,” said Jason Wolford, Central Dispatch director. “We’ve been fortunate we haven’t had a catastrophic failure.”

This year, Central Dispatch will make much-needed upgrades to the system. The improvements are possible thanks to local voters’ approval of the 911 surcharge reinstatement in November and a program-related investment of $650,000 from the Community Foundation.

“Our antiquated radio system is being replaced by the best technology to serve our community and emergency responders,” said Jason. “We can’t express our thanks enough.”

In addition to being more reliable and secure, a new radio console system will bring Newaygo County in line with the rest of the state, allow for regular upgrades, and ensure that emergency calls are prioritized no matter how busy local networks and towers get.

“We’re improving the experience for callers and dispatchers,” said Jason. “As cliché as it sounds, it’s really about helping people. The people we’re dealing with are having the worst day of their lives. They may never see you, but they will always remember the first person they talked to.”

Tom and Carol Bieberle bought property in Newaygo County when they were expecting their first child. They eventually built a home there. “We have a really nice community,” said Carol.

Getting involved in the community was always a priority. “In high school it dawned on me that one way to express myself was to do things, to give back to the community,” said Tom. “I like to be involved.”

He and Carol have volunteered at mobile food pantries, been active in their church, and even participated in an informal giving circle with friends at Christmas. They created the Bieberle Pathways to Self-Sufficiency Fund at the Community Foundation as another way to give back and empower local individuals and families.

“In my research I saw that the Community Foundation was doing what I want to do–helping people,” said Tom. “We’re not rich by any stretch, but we can help.”

The Bieberles created a field of interest fund at the Community Foundation to target a specific community need–empowering local families and individuals–in a variety of ways.

Dawn Ausema was a stay-at-home mom to three very busy daughters for 13 years. “The whole 13 years I was looking for work from home,” said Dawn. “And I couldn’t find a thing.”

She eventually took a job in Sparta, but the hours and commute made it hard to keep up with the girls. “I wasn’t around,” she said. “My husband works 14-hour days but he had to do all the running with the kids because I wasn’t there.”

Then Dawn saw an ad for Digital Works, a training program based at The Stream in Newaygo that prepares people for customer service jobs they can do remotely. She was hired by a company shortly after finishing and was promoted to team lead a few months later. She now works from home, sets her own schedule, and can be more involved with her family.

“Without this program, I don’t know if I would have ever been able to work from home,” said Dawn. “And that’s all I wanted for years.”

In addition to training people like Dawn for customer service jobs they can do from home, Digital Works also provides help creating resumes, preparing for interviews, and searching for jobs. The Community Foundation awarded a grant of up to $300,400 over two years to support the program.


Tracy Sanchez, director of Quest Educational Programs in Fremont, and her staff help their alternative and adult education students complete high school and plan for what comes next. “We’re working hard to get kids world-ready,” said Tracy.

“We have a lot of unaccompanied students,” she continued. “They don’t have a parent or caregiver to help them. And for some, school’s not really their thing so they don’t see themselves going on to college. We want to let them know there are options.”

With a $9,000 grant from the Community Foundation, Fremont Public Schools hired a career coach based at Quest. Stacy Shriver works with students on financial aid, job searches, and applications for college and trade schools.

“They don’t feel defeated anymore,” said Stacy. “A student can come in with no idea, no plan, and when they’re done they’re excited about going off to school or getting jobs.”

After receiving only one scholarship application from Quest students in the previous two years, the Community Foundation received 11 scholarship applications from Quest students in 2017.

For many families, a major unplanned home repair can throw them into a precarious position and potentially make their home unsafe. That’s why the Center for Nonprofit Housing (CNH) at TrueNorth Community Services helps local people obtain and maintain housing, including foreclosure prevention and housing counseling.

There is also a large need for home repair assistance according to Brad Hinken, who oversees CNH. “When something goes wrong, like the well goes out, it all spirals downhill quickly. We’ve replaced a couple of wells recently for people who didn’t have water for months. People would take water bottles to work to fill up so they would have water.”

With help from multiple funding sources, including the Community Foundation, CNH has put in new wells, furnaces, and septic systems for local families.

“When people haven’t had water for months, they get pretty excited,” said Brad. “People hit a barrier and they don’t know where to go. We help them find options.”

In 2017, the Community Foundation awarded a grant of up to $160,000 to CNH to support emergency home repairs, foreclosure prevention, and other housing assistance programs.

Mike and Carolyn Hummel are both retired educators. “I was blessed with the best job ever,” said Carolyn. Their careers gave them a front-row seat to the impact that grants and scholarships from the Community Foundation can have. When Carolyn joined the Board of Trustees, the idea to create a fund of their own began to grow.

“We want to give back to the area that’s been so good to us,” said Carolyn.

“If we can do things for others, it’s fulfilling. It brings us happiness,” said Mike. “And the Community Foundation was a good avenue for us.”

“We have different passions,” added Carolyn. “This allows us flexibility to give to different things. Where there’s a need, we can help fill in the gaps. It’s our responsibility to the next generation coming up.”

Mike and Carolyn created a donor advised fund using the Community Foundation’s Build-A-Fund program, allowing them to build up to the fund minimum over five years.

Gary Woods loved maps. He began each year in his Hesperia classroom by drawing colorful world maps across the blackboard. Former students who went abroad often wrote to say that, thanks to him, they always knew exactly where they were in the world.

“Many wrote to him from the military,” said Gary’s wife Marcia. “Around the time of the Iranian embassy attack, a former student was sitting off the coast of Iran. He wrote, ‘I know where I am. Most of these guys have no idea.'”

After Gary passed away, Marcia and family created a scholarship in his honor. It will be awarded to Hesperia students studying secondary education and a portion of the fund will support social studies education.

“He meant so much to kids, touched so many lives,” said Marcia. “I don’t think even he realized the impact he had.”

Marcia started the Gary Woods Memorial Scholarship to support Hesperia graduates. It will be awarded for the first time in 2018.

After more than 40 years, Bob and Bonnie Erber are still full of enthusiasm for Fremont, the town that won them over with its safe neighborhoods and friendliness.

“At a restaurant it takes 10 minutes to get to the table because we have to stop and talk to everyone,” said Bonnie.

“Neighbors step in to help,” said Bob. “People are doing it because they care for you. There is a very special place in the world for people who go out of their way to give.”

Moved by gratitude, Bob and Bonnie sought ways to give as well. They are longtime Rotary members, active in their churches, involved in city and school projects, and have volunteered with many organizations through the years.

“I love to volunteer,” said Bonnie. “It’s my number one thing to do.”

“We like teaming up with the community,” added Bob. “We’ve been given a lot, so we want to give back.”

Through the Erber Family Fund at the Community Foundation, the couple has given scholarships to local students for years. They recently decided to direct their fund toward Promise Zone scholarships to help even more Newaygo County graduates build brighter futures.

“We’ve been so blessed,” said Bonnie. “There has always been food on our table and a roof over our heads. We want to give somebody else a chance to have what we’ve had.”

When someone thinks of a donor at a community foundation, the picture that comes to mind is probably not a teenager starting college. But when Julee Tellkamp was packing to move into a dorm last fall, she was also preparing to create the Dan and Jackie Tellkamp Fund at the Community Foundation.

Named for Julee’s parents, the fund will support youth who want to raise animals for the Newaygo County Agricultural Fair, something Julee has loved and been involved in for years.

“Raising an animal is a lot of work,” said Julee. “It teaches you responsibility. It pushes you out of your comfort zone.”

“I always encouraged kids to get involved,” she continued. “But the number one issue is that it’s a lot of expense up front.”

Knowing that the cost of purchasing an animal kept some young people from participating, Julee began thinking about how she could help. She decided to use the Community Foundation’s Build-A-Fund program to create a fund and grow it toward the minimum balance over five years. Her initial gift last summer came from the sale of her market steer.

“I saw it as an opportunity to impact the fair,” said Julee. “I would like to see more kids be able to be involved. I would like to give them the same opportunity I had.”

When Randi Koogler’s job was downsized, instead of focusing on the problem, she recognized a chance for a new start.

“It was the perfect opportunity to go back to school,” said Randi. “So often you think that it’s just not the right time, but this was it.”

Randi applied for and received an adult student scholarship from the Community Foundation, which helped her take the next step. Now she is completing her associate degree at Davenport University and plans to obtain a bachelor’s in finance. She has discovered a passion for training and development and is active in Business Professionals of America. In 2015, Randi was part of the first-place financial analyst team at their national conference.

“When you’re excited and passionate about
 what you’re doing at work it carries over to 
your home life,” said Randi, who has also seen her journey positively impact the way her family views education.

“No one else in my family has a degree,” she said. “This helps them see the value in education. I’ve seen the impact on my oldest daughter, and my second daughter is already talking about where she wants to go to college.”

“People are afraid to go for their dreams because it doesn’t seem practical,” Randi continued. “But if you have the passion, the rest will follow. Keep taking the next step.”

Stan and Joyce Beckman remember Joyce’s parents, Reo and Bessie McMillen, as generous people who lived with integrity and faith. Reo was a quiet man who enjoyed building and woodworking. Bessie was a teacher who loved being surrounded by family. Both knew what it was like to overcome adversity.

“They came up through all the tough stuff,” said daughter Joyce. “They lived through the Depression and World Wars. They knew poverty and hunger.”

Because of the struggles her father faced as a young man, he was deeply concerned with leaving enough behind for his children. “But we told him, ‘Dad, you are our legacy,’” said Joyce.

Joyce and Stan have been hard at work sharing that legacy. They established the Reo and Bessie McMillen Memorial Fund, knowing Joyce’s parents would be delighted at the thought of helping the community.

They are also passing down the values Reo and Bessie held dear through the generations of their family. Grandson Reo Heinzman served as president of the Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee from 2014-2015. Reo not only shares his great-grandfather’s name but also his enthusiasm for helping others.

“He has a great name to live up to,” said Joyce, smiling at Reo. “And he already is.”