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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Before getting involved with Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI), said Luke, “I was starting down a pretty rough path. I couldn’t overstate the impact it’s had on me. It was a complete turnaround.”

MYOI helps current and former foster care youth, like Luke, transition to adulthood. It provides young adults 14-24 years old with a support network, life skills and employment training, financial education, and other resources.

“I’ve learned to invest in my future,” said Luke. “I haven’t been late on one bill. And without the friendships I’ve made, I don’t know if I could have the relationships I do today. I’m more friendly, happier. I’ve learned responsibility. Every aspect of my life I can thank MYOI for.”

But when Luke turned 21, he found himself in danger of losing the support he found with MYOI. Funding restrictions create a gap in resources for older participants. “And you still have a lot of learning to do after you turn 21,” said Tara Johnson, Lake-Newaygo MYOI coordinator.

That’s where June Britt stepped in.

June, a former case worker, has a special place in her heart for youth in foster care. Through the Jerry and June Britt Fund she created at the Community Foundation, June provided funding to help young adults like Luke stay involved with MYOI, now and in the future.

“I thought about how it would be very difficult to be a young person in that position, without help,” June said. “What they’re doing is wonderful. I was happy to find the organization and be able to help.”

“With her gift, I’m able to continue,” said Luke. “We’re all very appreciative. Nothing would be the same without it.”

Mighty Lube Systematic Lubrication is a family business that originated in the early 1980s by Pat and Kim Brown. The business includes three of their four children—daughter Jamie is a nurse—along with dedicated employees, many of whom have been with the company for a decade or longer.

“We’re a big family,” said Kim. “A business isn’t one person. It’s like a puzzle. It takes many pieces and many people to make it up. There is always somebody bringing something forward.”

In 2009, Pat and Kim acquired OPCO Lubrication and created a joint alliance with Mighty Lube. Both businesses have grown internationally, with auto manufacturers and other companies using their products and their Next Generation conveyor monitoring systems. As the business has grown, they’ve added space and employees at their headquarters in Fremont and opened a new sales office in Nashville run by their son, Anthony. Everything is assembled here in Michigan, with many of the parts and materials used coming from West Michigan businesses.

“We’ve been very blessed,” said Kim. “So we wanted to help someone else like us.”

Wanting to give back and encourage others to consider careers in fields like theirs, Pat and Kim created the Mighty Lube/OPCO Scholarship for local graduates going into skilled and vocational trades.

“We need to push those hands-on abilities,” said Pat. “It’s kind of a dying art. But I don’t care how far into the future you go, someone needs to build these things. It’s all important.”

“We hope to see some of the scholarship recipients start their own businesses,” added Kim. “If we can help them get that start, that’s huge. We don’t want kids to give up. So many kids think they’re stuck, and they’re not. If you work hard, you can get ahead. Don’t be afraid to dream.”

When Stuart Stone was in eighth grade, he transferred from a country school to Grant Public Schools in town. He wanted to be in band but found himself behind other students who already had a year or two of experience.

“My eighth-grade band teacher took me under his wing,” said Stuart. “He spent his prep hour first semester teaching me to play so I could join the band.”

The teacher—later a founder of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp—had a profound impact on Stuart. He helped foster a love of the arts that Stuart shares with his wife Kay and their children and grandchildren.

When Stuart and Kay created a scholarship, they decided it should be awarded to Grant graduates who had been involved in the arts in high school. It was a way to celebrate a shared family interest while also helping local students achieve their post-secondary goals.

The Stones chose the Community Foundation for their scholarship because, after years of working and volunteering in Newaygo County, they were familiar with its work and reputation.

“They spend money to the best advantage of the community,” said Stuart. “From the time we knew about it, we never had any doubts that was the best place to do it.”

It was also one more way for them to give back to the community they have called home their whole lives.

“We give because we’ve been given so much,” said Kay. “We’ve been blessed. The community has given so much to us so now we can give back. We can make a difference.”

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.

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.

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.”