Legacy of Family
Donor partners bring their experiences, passions and understanding to the causes they care about and invest in. Together, we continue to learn, respond and create lasting impact.
Kent County’s challenges are varied, complex and connected. When philanthropists decide to take action through their time, talent or treasure, they have choices to make and judgements to weigh. The questions are important and the decisions matter.
For years the Betz family has given back, with education as a special focus—knowing it is key to creating opportunity and prosperity for individuals, families and West Michigan. They were among the first supporters of Challenge Scholars, a transformational program that provides wraparound supports and covers the cost of post-secondary education for students on Grand Rapids’ West Side.
“Everywhere you go, education is the key. We live in Kent County, so we're going to help education in Kent County. To get an education elevates those who get it and everyone around them.”
Family approach to philanthropy
Ken Betz and Pat Brewer are newlyweds, navigating their shared and unique passions and interests while continuing a legacy of philanthropy and encouraging the next generation.
Ken’s parents, who started Betz Industries just after the Great Depression, taught him that with success comes responsibility. As a result, his philanthropy has focused on women, children and families who have not had the opportunities he did. “I’ve gone through my life knowing there are people who want to succeed and don’t necessarily have the means to,” Ken said. “If we can be of some kind of aid to those people, that’s what we intend to be.”
Pat is a lifelong educator, most recently at Michigan State University, who believes education is the key to success because it elevates students and all those around them. She also has a passion for art and has shared her time and resources through volunteer work and mentoring.
Ken’s late wife, Judy, was a central partner in establishing the Betz family’s philanthropic priorities. It’s a legacy each family member is carrying on and adding new dimension to with their unique experiences and perspectives.
“I’m lucky to have her as my partner,” Ken says about Pat. “I can continue from what Judy and I did, and Pat has the desire just like I do.”
Giving back as a responsibility is a mindset that extends through generations. Ken’s children live outside of West Michigan but actively participate in the family’s philanthropy. Through their Donor Advised fund, the next generation has the resources, support and flexibility to sustain their own priorities in West Michigan and adopted hometowns.
“Sometimes you just don't know where help is needed the most. But I think once you get that established, Grand Rapids Community Foundation definitely has the resources to help you.”
Equitable education as a focus
As early Challenge Scholars supporters, the Betz family bolstered a philanthropy model that sees the whole person and engages students, education professionals, families and community to improve outcomes. Like each Challenge Scholar who graduates from Union High School, Ken is a Union Redhawk too.
“As an educator, I saw students from every walk of life,” Pat says. “My heart especially was with those first-generation students whose families couldn’t guide them. It was a joy to mentor students and help them explain to their families why they were sacrificing time, energy and finances. They wanted something better and wanted to do something important.”
Ken values Challenge Scholars’ holistic student support. More than a scholarship, the program is an introduction to postsecondary education and works to cultivate a college and career mindset, including highlighting trade professions, in students.
“My education came from four years of college work, but my dad was my biggest educator. Working with the people we employed [at the family foundry] I just knew that education was important. We had a lot of tradesmen learning from the grassroots, using their hands and creative minds. That is a part of education that has to go in hand.”
Learning, then taking action
Ken and Pat lean on the Community Foundation for guidance on community needs and organizations. They’re open to new issues, needs, places, solutions and partners.
Like many donor partners, the Betz family has committed to learning and growing through active, engaged philanthropy. When gathering to manage their Donor Advised Fund, the family meets with the Community Foundation to reflect on previous gifts and highlight key priorities. “The Community Foundation is by far our best community resource to find information on doing some good,” Ken says.
They’ve recently focused their giving more strongly on medical research and healthcare inequities highlighted by COVID-19. They’re learning about human trafficking from community organizations, including World Affairs Council and local nonprofits like Solutions to End Exploitation.
“As the Community Foundation has centered our commitment to realizing racial, social and economic justice, the Betz family has provided valuable feedback,” says Jonse Young, director of philanthropic services. “Decades into this partnership, we know they will come with open minds and hearts to consider our community’s current needs. The reciprocity in our relationship strengthens the impact we can make together.”
Watch the video to hear our partners talk about Informed Impact and what that means for our community.
Watch the video to hear our donor partners talk about Informed Impact and what that means for our community.
Partnering for impact
For nearly 100 years, the Community Foundation’s focus—in education and other priority areas—has evolved as community needs shift. Our first scholarships in Kent County met the problem of nurse shortages during WWII. Donors like the Betz family trust us to stay abreast of the day’s most pressing issues and forge strong partnerships to explore solutions.
Consistent community support has helped the Challenge Scholars program to grow, respond and adapt since it began in 2013. To create a more equitable educational system, we keep learning with and from students and families, who are the experts in the solutions they need. This means recognizing new opportunities and adjusting our approach as the local educational landscape changes. With community and donor partners’ support, we can create the opportunities our children deserve—as they emerge as leaders in our next century.