“Not Just a Merger, but a Transformation”

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

CEO Mike Larson and COO Chris Sargent show off the new logo

July 10 marked a huge step for our regional community: the United Way of Greater Battle Creek and the United Way of Greater Kalamazoo merged to form the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region (UWBCKR).

I know, it’s a mouthful!  But beyond the longer name this merger represents much more change to come.  Chris Sargent, COO of the new organization, put it best when he said, “We know hunger doesn’t stop at the county lines.”  We believe that this merger will allow us to more positively impact on a larger scale in the areas of Education, Income and Health.   Both the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo communities have shown they’re generosity and determination at improving the lives of others throughout the years, so we know that this new merger will position all of us to achieve.

So how did we mark the occasion?  The day started in Battle Creek with several community members, United Way volunteers, representatives affiliate agencies and other United Ways from around the State.  Speakers included:  Mike Larson, president & CEO of UWBCKR, Chris Sargent, Executive Vice President & COO of UWBCKR, Susan Balwin, Mayor of Battle Creek, and Tim Kool, UWBCKR Board Chair.

After a few wise words from these folks, we got to work!  Nothing like a volunteer project to start things off on the right foot.  People graciously pitched in to help package hygiene kits for Community HealthCare Connections, which serves as a mobile health clinic in Battle Creek.  Other volunteers worked on labeling books with reading strategy to be distributed to students in vulnerable neighborhoods to promote reading during the summer and with the family.

In Kalamazoo, community members gathered for a similar event.  Larson and Sargent spoke again on the importance of this change and the power of a regional organization.  Jim Stephanak, former Board Chair of the Greater Kalamazoo United Way also spoke and impressed upon listeners that this decision was not made lightly.  Many months, weeks and hours of volunteer input and dialogue between both communities took place before the unanimous decision for the merger was made.  He also commended the hard work of both sides, telling the crowd, “This is not just a merge, but a transformation.”

Those gathered in Kalamazoo, also lent a hand.  People gathered around a table full of children’s shoes to take remove price tags, take out that annoying toe paper and tie together the shoes for Family Health Center’s Back to School Bash.

After all of the excitement, our newly merged staff celebrated at the Kellogg Manor with delicious hor d’oeuvres, and of course what’s a celebration without cake?  All in all, it was a great day and on behalf of the entire organization, thank you to everyone who participated and continue to help make our communities successful.  Make sure to check out our Facebook for pictures and news coverage from the events!