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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Bill and Jeanne Leaver were both born in Fremont, just days apart. They dated in high school, went their separate ways, then reconnected years later at a reunion. Their careers—Bill’s in hospital administration and Jeanne’s in teaching—took them around the country, but they always planned to come home.

“We knew we would come back here,” said Bill. “Our kids and families were here.”

Their roots in the community grew right along with a belief in the importance of giving back.

“We both grew up in an environment where our parents were very focused on teaching you that you were blessed with many gifts and you have a responsibility to help,” said Bill.

Those early examples have inspired the Leavers to find their own ways to get involved, including volunteering and creating a fund at the Community Foundation.

With their donor advised fund, the Leavers can address a variety of needs—including supporting women in transition and homelessness—that can help strengthen their community.

“We need to be more concerned with what kind of society we have and the world our grandchildren will live in,” said Bill. “It’s not just the responsibility of the government or schools or churches. It’s all of us. What contribution are we making?”

“We all can think about the little things people did for us—little acts of kindness that you remember all your life,” said Jeanne. “Wanting to do for someone else, helping, being kind—that leads you to a place where you want to help with bigger changes.”

After launching in March, Kickstart to Career Newaygo County is officially underway this fall! Kickstart to Career is a children’s savings account program designed to build aspirations, encourage savings, increase financial education, and assist with college or career expenses. In addition to an initial $50 deposit from the Community Foundation, students can earn additional contributions each year and families and friends can make deposits at any time. ChoiceOne Bank will also partner with schools to offer financial education at every grade level.

“Not only will this help with learning about savings and dreaming for the future, but research shows that children with savings accounts also have better math and reading scores and higher rates of enrollment in college,” said Todd Jacobs, vice president and chief philanthropy officer at the Community Foundation.

Kickstart to Career will impact students entering kindergarten from 2018 through 2027. It will serve more than 7,000 students total and include more than $3.4 million in deposits from the Community Foundation over the next 10 years.

In August, Community Foundation and ChoiceOne Bank staff attended school open houses to talk to parents about the program. Parent packets will be distributed this fall with more information and a form to return. Savings accounts will be open and ready for deposits in December.

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.

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.”

“Did you ever think you would make a movie?” asked the Artsplace’s Lindsay Isenhart as she helped a teenager with her latest art project at the pottery wheel. The young woman shook her head and then described the short stop-motion animation film she helped to create over the summer.

“I’m excited about coming here every week,” she said.

The teen is part of an innovative program called Positive Impact Through the Arts—or PITA—that gives young people in the court system a chance to be creative, build skills, and head in a new direction.

Funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation, PITA is a collaboration between the Newaygo County Council for the Arts and Newaygo County Juvenile Services. Participants range from first-time offenders in diversion programs to those in intensive probation. As part of their probation plan, they attend classes at the Artsplace and learn how to work with clay, make glass beads and jewelry, and more.

The classes also feature opportunities to learn about patience and persistence, safety and planning. While they create, students build social skills, self-esteem, and positive relationships with the adults who lead the program.

“Sometimes this is their only opportunity for socialization,” said Brenden Ruser, probation officer. “They get to be themselves without judgment here. They realize they’re good at this.”

“They can feel really positive about what they’re doing,” added Marianne Boerigter, NCCA executive director. She said that some PITA students even begin volunteering at the Artsplace. “The most unlikely kids will come in early to help Lindsay set up. They’re having a positive experience with adults; there’s consistency. They’re becoming part of the community in a positive way.”

At a recent Circles Newaygo County meeting, Shirley spoke up about the challenges of finding housing. A few days later she was surprised to learn that community leaders were already working on ways to address concerns she had raised.

“I always doubted that people would actually help,” admitted Shirley. “To actually know that people care gave me hope—a secure hope.”

Shirley is a Circle Leader—the title given to participants leading their own journeys into self-sufficiency. Circles uses a relationship-based approach that builds networks of support around families as they move out of poverty.

“It’s not a rescue program,” said Michelle Marciniak, Circles coordinator at TrueNorth Community Services. “We show you the resources that are out there, but it’s up to you what you do with those resources.”

Circle Leaders go through an intensive 12-week training and then begin personal development work. They are paired with volunteers called Allies who serve as mentors and encouragers.

“So many people who are struggling are so isolated,” said Paige Greve, Circles coach at TrueNorth. “They don’t have those cheerleaders.”

“Being an Ally is not you changing the person,” added Michelle. “You’re really just being a friend.”

Other volunteers provide childcare and meals for weekly meetings and serve on resource teams. Their support and the hard work of Leaders is already yielding results. Circle Leaders have celebrated milestones like receiving driver’s licenses, reliable cars, and new jobs. All have paid down debt. Many, like Shirley, have been empowered to speak up about their struggles and ideas.

“Small steps at a time are changing things,” said Shirley. “And I know I’m not in it alone.”

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.”

Brian and Diane Karsten may live in Grand Rapids now, but Fremont still holds a special place in their hearts.

The couple moved to the area in 1990 and became active members of the community. They were youth leaders at their church, where Diane was also instrumental in starting a youth mentoring program. Brian, a financial advisor, served on the school board and still works in Fremont for part of the week.

“Fremont has always been very good to us,” he said. “We’ve been blessed beyond our wildest dreams by being there.”

“And we believe you’re blessed to be a blessing,” said Diane.

In addition to their volunteerism, the Karstens decided to give back by starting a fund at the Community Foundation. They created the Karsten Family Fund scholarship through a stock gift, with a focus on supporting students who are deserving but may not be at the top of their class or receiving other awards.

“These are kids who worked just as hard or maybe even harder,” said Diane. “It shows them that somebody cares, even though they may not be in the top 10.”

“And the fund will live forever,” said Brian. “After we’re gone, our kids and grandkids can choose to give to it if they want. It will go on.”

“It was important to us that the money would stay in the community,” he continued. “Fremont supported us and our business. It’s a great community.”