United Way Invests $4.6 Million into Local Poverty-Fighting Programs


July 25, 2018

Heart of West Michigan United Way is granting nearly $4.6 million from their Community Investment Fund to 45 local programs that are reducing poverty and social inequities in Kent County. These grants were made possible by the generosity of more than 15,000 people who donated to their Community Investment Fund last year.

Poverty is complex. Nearly 40 percent of people in Kent County are working but still unable to make ends meet. For some issues, there are no immediate solutions or simple answers. United Way's Community Investment Fund takes a multi-pronged approach to provide interventions to help people in crisis and invest in long-term, sustainable results.

The 2018-19 Community Investment Fund grants will address community-wide priorities and fill gaps where there are unmet needs in the areas of housing, food security, mental health, family crisis and violence, workforce development, and middle school education. The Community Investment Fund compliments funds directed to specific nonprofits by supporting both immediate needs and building systemic change and collaboration in the nonprofit sector.

“Our purpose is to maximize the impact of the contributions we receive by investing in the best poverty-fighting organizations and stepping up where we see an unmet need or a gap,” says Michelle Van Dyke, president and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Grant recipients are entering their second year of a three-year funding cycle from United Way and were selected based on criteria including program type, population served, program design, outcomes, and disparities addressed. With an emphasis on accountability, each agency is then vetted in the areas of quality programming, governance, finance, and administration to make sure United Way is investing donations in the most effective and efficient way possible.

“We seek out collaborative programming that can help to reduce the impact of poverty and social inequities in Kent County,” says Shannon Gardner, vice president of Community Impact. “We are funding interventions to help people immediately, but we are also investing in long-term, sustainable solutions.”

United Way is continuing to support innovative collaborations like: 

  • $200,000 to Pathway Home, a collaboration between Family Promise of Grand Rapids and Mel Trotter Ministries that provides increased emergency shelter capacity for families with children who are experiencing homelessness - keeping them together and helping them to find and keep a new home.

  • $350,000 to Health, Access, and Equity in our Local Food Systems (HAELFS), a collaboration between six local organizations and Michigan farmers to increase accessibility to healthy, locally-sourced, and affordable food in key regions of Kent County.

  • $500,000 to Employment Services Collaborative to help eight local workforce development organizations work better together to identify gaps and help people through a flow of services to gain employment skills, vocational certifications, and better-paying jobs.



HOUSING: emergency shelter, homelessness prevention assistance, legal assistance, permanent housing supports, affordable housing solutions, asset development

Grant Recipients: Arbor Circle, Community Rebuilders, Dwelling Place, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Genesis Non-Profit Housing Corporation, Urban League of West Michigan, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), Legal Aid of Western Michigan, Mel Trotter Ministries, Migrant Legal Aid, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, The Salvation Army Social Services of Kent County, Well House, YWCA West Central Michigan

FOOD SECURITY: Congregate meals, meals for homebound seniors, “Pantry Markets” that utilize local food sources, low-cost community food clubs, education

Grant Recipients: Access of West Michigan, Community Food Club with Home Repair Services, Catholic Charities West Michigan, Meals on Wheels Western Michigan, North Kent Connect, Our Kitchen Table, SECOM Resource Center, Senior Neighbors, The Pantry, The Other Way Ministries, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM)

MENTAL & BEHAVIORAL HEALTH: Intervention for youth, low-cost direct services, expanding access

Grant Recipients: Arbor Circle, Cherry Health

FAMILY CRISIS: Medical and legal services for victims, adoptive family support, prevention, intervention, outreach, education, counseling, and advocacy

Grant Recipients: Arbor Circle, Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kent County (CASA), D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, Ingenium Coach, Legal Aid of Western Michigan, Migrant Legal Aid, YWCA West Central Michigan

FINANCIAL SECURITY: Transportation, Tax Prep, Financial Literacy, Soft Skills, Training, Credentialing, GED Testing, and Job-Skills Development

Grant Recipients: Bethany Christian Services, Cherry Health, Disability Advocates of Kent County, Kent County Tax Credit Coalition (KCTCC), Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, Inc, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Hope Network, Jubilee Jobs, Literacy Center of West Michigan, Steepletown Neighborhood Services, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM), West Michigan Asian American Association (WMAAA), West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology (WMCAT), Women’s Resource Center

YOUTH EDUCATION: Middle School STEM Programming, Intervention, and Teacher-Training

Grant Recipients: Camp Blodgett, City of Grand Rapids, Our Community’s Children: Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Network, Hope Network, The Refugee Education Center, Kent Intermediate School District (KISD)