Collaboration and Community-wide Solutions

Taking on the big picture is hard work. While we continue to support basic needs services like food, housing, utility assistance, and transportation, we are also working to identify the root causes of vulnerability, specific to our three critical areas: education, income, and health.

Over the past few years, we have called on all community service agencies for innovative and creative new proposals that would help address some of our community's most pressing needs. True to the collaborative spirit of United Way, the strongest innovative concepts involved several agencies or systems working together to effectively implement the strategies.

These are some of the new collaborative programs that have come from this process:

EDUCATION: Promise Partners Mentoring Program

PARTNERS: Hispanic Center (lead) plus Cook Arts Center, the Cook Library Center, Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University  

CONCEPT: Creating intergenerational, multi-organization mentoring model. Existing neighborhood organizations will partner with schools and universities to connect people, grades K through career, to provide individuals with the personal and academic support they need in order to graduate from high school and college. This model includes program offerings, operations, and an infrastructure that provides mentors and mentees with access to existing programs, new opportunities, and access to other resources in the community to which they might not otherwise be connected. This intergenerational, multi-organization model has many layers. Community professionals will be mentors to college students. College students will be mentors to high school students, and high school students will mentor middle school and elementary school students.


  • Exposure to arts, academic and career & post-secondary support.
  • Increase school attendance
  • Academic performance improvements
  • Understanding of resources available.

Listening to participants: "We have had great feedback at all levels, but most excitement has come from the elementary students. They seem to have bonded quickly with their high school and college mentors. The momentum is growing for the program and it is starting to spread through word of mouth. We are starting to see referrals from participants that have spoken positively about their experience with the program which is encouraging others to sign up. We have been approached by other organizations and institutions that want to learn more about the program and are interested in becoming involved. We hope to keep the momentum and expand our program in year 2. Although our program does not require participants to be Hispanic or Latino we have had a great buy-in from the Latino community. There are not many (if any) mentor programs in the area that cater to the Latino community and our program has received praise from Latino professionals, many saying they wish they had had a program like this when they were in school. That sentiment is what has driven many of our community professionals to volunteer their time as a mentor."

INCOME: Employment Services Collaborative

PARTNERS: Goodwill, Disability Advocates, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Hope Network, Jubilee Jobs, Literacy Center of West Michigan, United Church Outreach Ministry and Women’s Resource Center

CONCEPT: Workforce development collaboration.  Supporting and building up individuals and families, empowering people to achieve their career goals, and improving trust, communication and effective flow of services to eliminate gaps.  

Approximately 1,000 people have been served through this collaboration since July 1, 2015.


  • Employment attainment, retention and/or advancement
  • Household stability
  • Career Coaching

Examples of success: 

  1. A participant was referred to Goodwill's Business Engagement Team (BET) by Shelley (the lead Navigator at Hope Network), because she was not an appropriate fit for any of the manufacturing-focused Hope Network Transitional Work Experiences due to her interest in clerical positions. Shelley and Courtney (the lead Navigator at Goodwill) worked closely to coordinate five different schedules and were able to schedule a meeting with Shelley, Courtney, the participant, and two BET staff. At the meeting the participant and the BET staff discussed her employment history and interests. One of the BET staff suggested the participant apply to Sam's Club, because they are hiring for administrative positions and BET has a connection with their Hiring Department. The participant and Shelley applied for the position the next week. The BET staff then followed up with her contact at Sam's Club and ensured that the participant got an interview. She did very well at the interview and is now waiting to hear back as to whether or not she got the job.
  2. Many of the women who work with the Women’s Resource Center are justice involved.  Others have spotty or non-existent work histories.  Being able to utilize the Goodwill Hope Network Transitional Work Experiences opportunities has strengthened the job readiness of these women and it enables these women to move into meaningful, entry level work. 10 women have been able to be helped by this aspect of the collaborative since its inception!

HEALTH: Building a Culture of Health in the Urban Core

PARTNERS: Grand Rapids Urban League, YMCA, Urban Core Collective, Baxter Community Center, Family Outreach Center, Grand Rapids African-American Health Institute, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and United Methodist Community House

CONCEPT: Creating a culturally relevant marketing campaign, policy work, a referral system, and wellness coaches


  • Decrease % of overweight and obese adults
  • Access to healthy food by insuring residents live no farther than ½ mile from a year round supply of affordable produce.
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable intake, increased physical activities
  • Increased use of area parks.

HEALTH: Coordinated Health Impact Alliance (CHIA)

PARTNERS: Health Net, Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Asthma Network, Arbor Circle, Baxter Community Center, Catholic Charities, Cherry Health, Family Outreach, First Steps, Healthy Homes, The Salvation Army, Senior Neighbors, Thresholds and United Methodist Community House

CONCEPT: Build and expand the centralized screening and referral network (the Health Net “hub”) to bridge the gap between health care systems and services that address the social determinants of health.