Berrien Community Foundation Announces Winners of Coveted Grants, Awards

With some ‘70s flair, Berrien Community Foundation awarded $230,000 in grants at their 70th Annual Meeting & Celebration September 21 at The Mendel Center’s Grand Upton Hall.

“It was so good to be able to be together again to celebrate BCF’s 70th year and to recognize the work of so many community partners,” said BCF President Lisa Cripps-Downey. “It is such a privilege to be able to be a part of the great work that is done in Berrien County.”

At the event, BCF gave five major awards including one new to 2022 – The Carolyn’s Kids Grant.  

Carolyn’s Kids

The Carolyn’s Kids program awarded its first-ever grants, each for $50,000. One grant went to Well of GRACE Ministries for their program “Raising Kids with Character” and one to the Readiness Center for their literacy and social-emotional support programs.

Thanks to the grant, Well of GRACE Ministries will offer new programming and classes to improve the overall wellbeing of children by building life skills, looking at personal strengths and building financial knowledge.

The Readiness Center sought funds to support improving the social-emotional skills of younger students who may have under-developed social-emotional skills due to the COVID pandemic. With the grant, the Readiness Center will work to provide families with the tools needed to increase their children’s social-emotional capabilities, help widen their sense of community, and help increase their vocabulary and pre-literacy skills.

Alamar Nonprofit Sustainability Grant

The $75,000 Alamar Nonprofit Sustainability Grant supports nonprofits as they seek creative ways to take care of their employees and find organizational sustainability.

The 2022 Alamar Nonprofit Sustainability Grant was awarded to the OutCenter to invest in development planning and community education and to help solidify the organization’s future. The grant is paid out over three years.

The OutCenter provides support services and resources to LGBTQ+ people, their families and allies, and works to create change in Southwest Michigan through initiatives based on education and strong strategic partnerships.

The Stephen E. Upton Love Your Community Grant

The $50,000 Stephen E. Upton Love Your Community Grant was presented to Present Pillars to help build strong fathers who are active and present in their children’s lives.

 The Love Your Community Grant is presented each year to a Berrien County nonprofit organization that addresses a crucial community need and makes a positive impact in the lives of Berrien County residents.

Present Pillars is a newer Benton Harbor nonprofit that focuses on five pillars: health, advocacy, finance, education and fellowship. Present Pillars was founded by James Gunter and John Sams IV.

“We really are humbled to receive this award,” said Gunter. “The work we want to do is to empower our fathers to be everything our children deserve. Receiving this award means everything to us. Thank you.”

Gunter previously said children without fathers in their lives are four times more at risk of poverty, seven times more likely to become a teen parent and two times more likely to drop out of high school. Present Pillars works to prepare, equip and support fathers.

Golden Acorn Volunteer Award

Diane Young is the go-to person to get things done. She’s been a great resource for BCF and an excellent — and constant — volunteer in the community. That’s why she was selected as the recipient of BCF’s Golden Acorn Volunteer Award.

“Diane is a treasure in our community,” said BCF Board of Director and Vice Chair Sarah Jollay. “We are so lucky to call her a friend of the Berrien Community Foundation.”

Young annually volunteers with BCF and offers her time with a dozen local organizations, too. Most recently in her role as president of Sisters From Another Mother, Young was key in bringing their group to the table to partner with the nonprofit Tattoo the World and the Brotherhood of All Nations Church of God in Christ to do several projects that helped promote vaccinations in the black and brown populations in both the Benton Harbor and Niles areas.

Along with the award, Young will receive a $1,000 gift to go to the nonprofit organization of her choice.

Golden Acorn Excellence Award

HOPE Resources in Coloma was selected as the 2022 Golden Acorn Award for Excellence for their creative programming to help lower-income families make nutritious meals through their Crocks Rock! program. Any person who completed the cooking class took home a free Crock Pot, along with a recipe and ingredients to make one of their meals. Along with the recognition, the Award for Excellence recipient receives a $4,000 grant.

An Amazing Year for Berrien Community Foundation

BCF Program Director Susan Matheny announced over $10 million in grants, including $348,000 in scholarships, had been awarded in 2022.

This year Berrien Community Foundation also received its largest estate gift to date from Bonnie Benson, who resided in Harbor Country.

“Every year, agencies will be receiving a check to provide funding thanks to Bonnie Benson,” said BCF President Lisa Cripps-Downey. “We were privileged to present checks to agencies on Bonnie Benson Day that will provide funding every year to promote reading at the New Buffalo Township Library, allow Meals on Wheels to provide pet food for the pets of their clients, support the arts at The Acorn Theater, provide animal care at the Michiana Humane Society and provide significant annual funding to the Cora Lamping Domestic Violence Shelter.”

Berrien Community Foundation applied for — and received — a $60,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to reduce the harm that drug addiction has on people in Berrien County. BCF partnered with Carol’s Hope crisis intervention facility to increase emergency on-call services and to place tablets for virtual peer counseling in local hospitals and at the Berrien County jail.

The Foundation was also awarded $200,000 from the National Network to Innovate for COVID-19 and Adult Vaccine Equity grant to help address covid vaccine hesitancy in minority populations. Through the grant, BCF has been able to partner with local nonprofits to have honest conversations about health care to help people make informed decisions.

“An evening like the Annual Meeting is a great reminder of how we can change lives here in Berrien County when we all work together,” said Matheny. “We have been doing that for 70 years and are now looking forward to 70 more!”

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