Participant at Grand Rapids Community Foundation's
Community Listening Kickoff
Our relationships will help us best respond to current pressing issues. Our partners help us to be more of who we have always wanted to be, the community’s foundation.
Facing tragedy, hardships and insurmountable pain during a global pandemic and racial reckoning gave Grand Rapids Community Foundation a rare and precious opportunity to start anew and focus on the future. As we enter a new century of service and impact, our community deserves better than a continuation of what was. During our next century, the Community Foundation will build upon our strengths, intentionally integrate lessons learned from our community history, keep learning from our partners and lean further into our role as stewards of change in our community.
Who we are as a community foundation is still core—we aim to be adaptive and responsive to community needs. Our relationships will help us best respond to current pressing issues. Our partners help us to be more of who we have always wanted to be, the community’s foundation.
Calling for change
The best way we know to create greater impact is through relationships and deep partnerships, especially with those community members closest to the pain points in Kent County. Recently, the Community Foundation embarked on several projects to invite feedback. Some were broad reaching; others focused on specific topics. All the engagement opportunities were born from a desire to acknowledge harm and begin to repair relationships with historically excluded communities.
The Community Foundation knows we must work together to reinvest and reimagine how we move into our collective future, so everyone who calls Kent County home has safety, opportunity, prosperity and a true sense of belonging.
Before reaching out to community and asking for donations or thought partnership in return, some of our committees began to model the trust required for a reciprocal relationship between funders and the broader nonprofit ecosystem. Our Black Legacy and Somos Comunidad Fund awarded grant partnerships to local organizations to build relationships. While $126,000 in grant awards cannot erase a history of disinvestment, the committees felt it was important to demonstrate gratitude and offer something to organizations led by and serving Black and Latinx communities, before engaging in community listening. Then, these committees and Our LGBTQ Fund, another fund with a volunteer-led committee, intentionally engaged with communities they represent through feedback sessions to inform their grantmaking structures and policies moving forward. These engagements are not a single moment in our history, but rather demonstrate the posture of openness and adaptability the committees expect to ingrain into the fabric of the Community Foundation moving forward.
See more information about these funds on our Data and Financials page.
Panelists and Community Partners at the Community Foundation’s Community Listening Kickoff
Listening to partners
Another group of partners who have been walking alongside the Community Foundation and challenging us to think about our future focus is our 100 New Philanthropists. These committed philanthropists have diverse perspectives yet share a common desire to make Kent County a thriving place for everyone. They hold a variety of passions and unique purposes but know that their collective impact can make a difference as we move forward together.
Lucy Dyer Joswick is one of those 100 New Philanthropists. For Lucy, committing to giving today and through a planned gift, volunteering and sharing her story was an easy yes. “I was really taught growing up that it is the social responsibility of all of us to take care of each other,” she said. “That’s how I think of philanthropy, whether it is giving your time or your money (if you have that to give).” Lucy trusts the Community Foundation to help her advance her personal interests, while also allowing her to be part of something bigger than her individual giving.
She is passionate about a balanced approach to philanthropy that meets the needs of smaller, emerging nonprofits and movements, while also supporting anchor organizations. Her vision for our community’s future is to see an equitable shift in resources and leadership. “When our destiny is not defined by our zip code, our race or our gender identity, then we all have similar access to opportunity and to making wealth,” she says. “But there are a lot of blockades that need to be knocked down that are not individual, but systemic.”
Learn more about 100 New Philanthropists on our 100 New Philanthropists page.
"I don’t know if you know any resources on campus, but here is how I found my home away from home."
– Ermelinda Pedro
Learning from young leaders
As a leader, volunteer and activist Ermelinda Pedro uses her resources to connect those around her with the resources they need to thrive. As a junior at Michigan State University pursuing a degree in criminal justice and environmental health, she has pursued opportunities to empower students like her. Ermelinda helps plan an annual conference to bring awareness to Latinx communities, especially Latinas, where they talk abut health, education and community. She also provides welcome to other first generation Challenge Scholars attending MSU. Ermelinda is bringing awareness to new ways to make sure students can succeed.
“I just wish before I came here, I already knew what resources I had,” she says. Ermelinda reaches out to new students to make sure they know about financial resources, but also knows that their sense of belonging and community on campus is important. She is proud of her Guatemalan heritage and wants to make sure that students of color feel connected and welcomed when entering new environments. She lets them know, “I don’t know if you know any resources on campus, but here is how I found my home away from home.” Ermelinda brings her experience as a volunteer on the Challenge Scholars Dream Fund Advisory Committee. She uses her perspective as a member of the first Challenge Scholars cohort and current college student to think about how the grant dollars and strategic approach will impact students.
Ermelinda believes that in the future the Community Foundation and the broader community should continue to focus on supporting students of color, especially in accessing opportunities for higher education. She challenges systems to think about dismantling barriers not just through scholarships but also in ways that support individual circumstances like students who want to support their families while pursuing a degree.
Voices like Ermelinda and Lucy’s encourage the Community Foundation to think about financial resources as well as opportunities to leverage additional resources. These resources include staff expertise, flexibility, community relationships and even vulnerability about the lessons we have learned in our 100-year history.
Casting a community vision
Throughout this centennial year, our community vision casting project has spread a wide net for inviting community feedback into our future. The Community Foundation has been gathering stories and aspirations to understand our community’s collective vision for the future of Kent County. This will inform our work in our next century of service and impact. One with a deeper, more sustainable commitment to racial, social and economic justice. One where everyone in our community has equitable access to opportunity, prosperity and belonging. One that is informed by the people who live, work, play and love here.
This process demonstrates one way we’re inviting more feedback and input directly from community members. The portal for casting vision statements is open through the end of 2022, but the posture of openness and receptivity is a practice we are cementing into our framework. The Community Foundation is humbly looking to the future, knowing that we will not always get it right, but hoping that community will join us and hold us accountable toward our future vision.
"I was really taught growing up that it is the social responsibility of all of us to take care of each other. That’s how I think of philanthropy."
– Lucy Dyer Joswick