Heart of West Michigan United Way provides safety net for our community

Recognizing that life’s challenges never end, Heart of West Michigan United Way has recently allocated $3.1 million from its Community Investment Fund to 39 local agencies and 65 programs that help provide services for basic needs in the area of education, income, and health. These local programs provide emergency food assistance, after-school care, home-delivered meals to seniors, parenting-skills classes, housing assistance, violence prevention and so much more.

“We believe a great community takes care of its friends and neighbors and we value our partnerships with these essential local agencies. By investing in basic needs, we are working together to help the people who need it most,” says Maureen Noe, President and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way. “If people have their basic needs met, such as food, shelter, and a safe home, they are able to focus on the future and take the next steps to improving their lives.“

Poverty is a serious reality for 2 in 5 households in West Michigan. In Kent County, 39% of households are struggling to meet their basic needs. According the ALICE Report published by the Michigan Association of United Ways, the bare minimum budget to cover basic cost-of-living expenses for a family of four in Kent County requires an hourly wage of $27.20. The study brings to light the many families and individuals in our community who work hard to provide for themselves and their families but still struggle to make ends meet. “We all know that emergencies arise and that people may need a little bit of extra help. These services prevent families from falling further into financial crises,” explains Noe. 

Once a family falls over the financial cliff, it is much more expensive to help them get back on their feet. For example, it is less expensive to help prevent a family from becoming evicted than to provide them with emergency shelter and get them into new housing. If a family can get utility assistance or access to affordable childcare, it may allow them to catch up on payments and pay their bills in the preceding months.

Funding Process

Heart of West Michigan United Way relies on their Evaluation and Accountability team and grant review panels comprised of community volunteers. Workgroups reviewed proposals and performance reports, identified issues that needed additional information, prepared questions that were submitted to the agencies for response, prepared funding recommendations, and identified issues to monitor.  All the agencies’ audits and 990s were reviewed by the United Way finance team. Funding decisions were reviewed and approved by the Heart of West Michigan United Way Board of Directors. Grants were awarded on July 1, 2015.

“Thanks to the generosity of our community and the hard work of our volunteers, we are able to provide vital funding for these programs,” said Rick Pappas, Heart of West Michigan United Way Board of Directors Chair.  “The Board appreciates the time and efforts the volunteers put into reviewing these proposals. We know it is not an easy task. Also, we would not be able to provide these services if it were not for the tens of thousands of people across our county who generously make donations to United Way's Community Investment Fund.”

Strategy proposal funding from United Way’s Community Investment Fund will be announced in the fall.


Thirty-nine agencies were granted funds to support sixty-five programs that provide the following services:

EDUCATION (E): Social and emotional development
INCOME (I): Addressing basic needs in housing, food & transportation
HEALTH (H): Preventing and addressing abuse, neglect and family violence


2015-16 Grant Recipients:

American Red Cross(I)
Arbor Circle Corporation (E,I,H)
Baxter Community Center (E)
Boy Scouts (Gerald R. Ford Council) (E)
Camp Blodgett (E)
Camp Fire USA 4C West Michigan (E)
Catholic Charities West Michigan (E, I)
Cherry Street Health Services (E, I)
Children’s Assessment Center (H)
Community Rebuilders (I)
Conductive Learning Center (E)
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kent County (CASA) (I)
D.A. Blodgett/St. John’s(E, H)
Dwelling Place (I)
Family Futures (E, H)
Family Outreach Center (E, H)
Family Promise (I)
Genesis Non-profit Housing Corporation (I)
Girl Scouts (E)
Grand Rapids Urban League (I)
Hispanic Center of Western Michigan (E, I)
Home Repair Service (I)
Hope Network
Kent Intermediate School District (KSSN) (E)
Legal Aid of West Michigan (H, I)
Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance (I)
North Kent Community Services (I)
Salvation Army – Booth Services (I)
School-to-Career Progressions (E)
Senior Meals (I)
Senior Neighbors (I)
South End Community Outreach Ministries (SECOM) (I)
Steepletown Neighborhood Services (E)
The Salvation Army Booth Center
United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM)(I)
United Methodist Community House (UMCH) (E, I)
Wellspring Lutheran Services (H)
West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (E)