The second-largest distribution of money ever from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund is poised to make a strong impact in West Michigan.
Last month, the fund announced that it had awarded $8.5 million, disbursed via 29 community foundations across Michigan. Of that money, just shy of $2 million landed in West Michigan, earmarked for initiatives that were outlined in each respective foundation’s grant proposal.
These recipients included the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the Allegan County Community Foundation, the Fremont Area Community Foundation and a collaborative effort between the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.
All the funds must be re-granted within the next two years. Some foundations have started, or are preparing, to accept grant proposals from local nonprofit organizations, while others have already found homes for the money.
The largest grant in the state went to the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, which received $2.5 million to mitigate food insecurity through the Health Food Connect Initiative.
In West Michigan, Grand Rapids Community Foundation received $829,500 and recently announced that it would leverage the funds via a number of organizations. The foundation awarded $182,600 to Arbor Circle to provide services to runaway and at-risk youth throughout Kent County.
Also, GRCF granted $750,000 — of which $300,000 came from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund — over two years to the Kent School Services Network, which provides integrated in-school services for students throughout eight districts.
A TRUST IN FOUNDATIONS
While the funds alone are noteworthy, the recent round of grants will task community foundations with the responsibility of actually putting those dollars into action. It’s a responsibility that community foundation leaders do not take lightly.
“I think the thing I find as a real compliment is the form of trust they have in us,” said Theresa Bray, CEO of the Allegan County Community Foundation, which received $139,260 from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.
“Community foundations do know their communities. We are in the trenches with all the nonprofit partners, which have been vetted for things like IRS status and sustainability. To run this whole process through community foundations is a phenomenal way to proceed.”
Bray and her foundation are splitting up the money to cover a gamut of needs throughout the county. Money will be distributed to Renewed Hope Health Center, The Arc, Allegan County Food Pantry Collaborative, Safe Harbor and Wings of Hope Hospice.
These organizations offer programs that tackle a variety of pressing issues like training on forensic interviewing for children who have been physically or sexually abused or providing access to health care for the county’s uninsured and underinsured.
Bray originally had 10 organizations listed in her grant proposal to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, but whittled it down to provide larger dollar amounts and make a stronger impact for the nonprofits.
“A lot of nonprofits tend to find themselves in fundraising mode 100 percent of the time instead of focusing on services, development or being in creative mode,” Bray said. “This provides them with the ability to give them some breathing room and support the critical functions of the organization.”
GAUGING THE NEEDS
While each respective foundation might know the needs of the community in the general sense, foundation leaders turned to hard data to back up the speculation and confirm that the grant dollars would be well spent in the specified areas.
A collaboration between the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area piggybacked on the efforts of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, using the data from its Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) to craft its mission for the money.
“I would say the process that the county goes through is comprehensive,” said Elizabeth Kidd, vice president for community impact at the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.
“They gather data from hospitals and do interviews with medical providers. They do general surveying — some of it targeted to folks that are in need of specific types of services. Frankly, if they hadn’t done all that, we would have needed that process done ourselves. Because they had done it, we didn’t feel the need to.”
According to CHIP, the focus of these grant dollars would best be invested in programs that bolster access to health care, mental health and healthy behaviors.
“Those three things, beyond the data, really ring true in what we see with nonprofits,” Kidd said. “Those three focus areas, while it certainly is necessary to have the data, frankly, it did not surprise either of the foundations. They’re very much consistent with what we see in our own grant making.”
The two foundations are starting to solicit grant proposals from local organizations, which will be reviewed by a board that consists of representatives from both groups.
COLLABORATION IS KEY
Collaboration was a recurring theme when it came to discussing how to maximize the impact of the grant dollars.
In fact, collaboration among organizations is something that the Community Foundation for Muskegon County will be seeking as it looks to re-grant its $315,000 that is devoted to improving access to, and the consumption of, healthy food for children and seniors in Muskegon, Oceana, Mason and Manistee counties.
The money will expand the efforts of the Healthy Eating and Access, Local Teams Helping Youth (HEALTHY) initiative that was funded by a nearly $700,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which coincidentally expired in 2015.
“One of our main leadership goals in the foundation — and it goes beyond this particular program — is that we are looking for collaboration among organizations,” said Janelle Mair, director of grantmaking at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.
“We don’t want to see that they’re working in a bubble, but partnering with others. When we make these grants, the impact in the community is broader when organizations are working together rather than on their own.”
Mair also said that the money would be used to expand efforts countywide, when much of the focus had previously been on Muskegon’s urban core.
The call to action came in 2011, when local leaders and organizations took notice of Muskegon County’s poor health rankings among the state. The county has since instituted a “1 in 21” initiative, which strives to make Muskegon County the healthiest county in the state by 2021.
Grant proposals for the re-granted money in Muskegon County are due March 1 and the recipients will be announced on April 30.