United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Healthy Behavior Challenge

by Kellie Cochrane

Our water cooler, covered in messages from our competitors at Big Brothers Big Sisters

One of our focus pillars at United Way is health, and we’re passionate about helping everyone in our community live well.  We’re also passionate about the health of  our staff, which is why our wellness program leaders decided to up the ante a little: with a healthy behavior challenge against Big Brothers Big Sisters staff!

This is an eight week challenge that seems relatively simple: each week we introduce a healthy behavior into our lives,  so over the course of the weeks we continue to build these habits.  This is week 1 and it’s all about water, we’re supposed to be getting in 64 oz a day. Next week, we start incorporating 15 minutes of exercise into our days.   Week 3 we have to include a fruit or veggie at every meal.  Weeks 4 through 8 continue to impact our diets: week 4 we have to start the day off with a healthy breakfast, week 5 we have to pack healthy lunches and week 6 we kiss the drive through goodbye with no fast food.  Week 7 we’ll be bringing our own snacks, because vending machines are out.  The final week, the challenge that got a few groans from our group, is no pop or candy.

The best part about this challenge is that the weeks serve as building blocks, allowing us to stack up the healthy behaviors as we go and make them habits.  Each week we give ourselves points for the days we were able to stick to the challenges.  At the end of the week whichever staff has more points wins, and the other staff has to buy them a healthy catered lunch.  We’re really looking forward to committing to healthy lifestyles . . . and our BBBS catered lunch!  Now, we’re not allowed to tempt each other so there won’t be any doughnut deliveries, however, we did receive a special jug of water.  Last week, we put a photo on our Facebook page joking about how we had run out of water, well BBBS sent us a refill with plenty of inspiring messages.

You can be part of the challenge too!  Try incorporating some of these behaviors into your life for a few weeks, or better yet, make a friendly wager with a friend or family member to help keep you motivated.  The easiest way to begin a healthier lifestyle is through small steps, and all of these challenges will help get you there. We’re happy to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters to keep us in check and we’re definitely fired up to put some points on our wellness board!

Changing the Story: Days of Caring

by Kellie Cochrane

Wolverine Pipeline Employees hard at work on their Day of Caring project!

While we know how important raising the combined $15.3 million is for our regional community, we also know that money alone won’t solve everything.  Which is why we’re thrilled to see so many of our corporate partners step up not just for workplace campaigns, but for volunteering as well.  Days of Caring are United Way supported volunteering events that happen year round in the community, and this past month we’ve had plenty of companies participate!

September Days of Caring projects have shown us a lot of companies that aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty: Pfizer and Wolverine Pipeline employees both helped out with landscaping and grounds cleanup for the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, while Target employees rolled up their sleeves washing vans for Residential Opportunities Inc.  Kellogg Company, including CEO and President John Bryant, helped distribute food at the Upton Avenue Original Church of God.  Post Cereals and Ralston took time to help out at the Food Bank of South Central Michigan and Bronson Battle Creek got involved at the Charitable Union.  W.K. Kellogg Foundation participants got plenty of fresh air and fun with their projects with the Cheff Center and Binder Park Zoo!

We’re so pleased to see so many great companies lending a hand to our community through engaging volunteering experiences.  If you’d like to host a Day of Caring with your company or want to participate in a volunteering project yourself or as a group, or family, contact either HandsOn Battle Creek or Volunteer Kalamazoo.  Together, we can change the story.

From the Campaign Trails: The 2012 Health Bus Tour

by Kellie Cochrane

Our enthusiastic group at our first stop, Senior Services!

In between the fun of our two great Community Campaign Kickoff events, UWBCKR supporters in Kalamazoo had the opportunity to board a charter bus and get a glimpse into the impact they have on the community.  Each year, the bus tour focuses on one of our pillars of Education, Income or Health, visiting three local nonprofits that partner with UWBCKR.  This year the focus was Health, and we were very excited to be able to learn a little more about the great work going on in our region.

Our first stop was Senior Services Center, which has an impressive facility and offers some of the most comprehensive services for the older population, from enrichment activities to Meals on Wheels.  I was shocked to learn that in many other communities if you call to have a relative or neighbor put on a Meals on Wheels program they’re often put on a waiting list for months, or even longer in some cases!  In Kalamazoo, once the call has been made the person in need of food will receive their first meal within 24 hours.  President and CEO of Senior Services, Robert Littke, says that one of the reasons they’re able to serve the community so well is because of their strong partnership with United Way.

Next up, we stopped at the Family Health Center, which has a beautiful brand new facility.  The Family Health Center is the only Federally Qualified Health Center in Kalamazoo County and has been serving the community since 1971.  Their mission is to provide quality, comprehensive primary care to all in a welcoming environment.  On our visit, FHC staff walked us through their intake process and payment setup to show how they help lower income patients get the care they need, from appointments to prescriptions.  It was great to see the level of care that went in to creating a positive environment for healing.  I was impressed to learn that the doctors are divided into teams, so if a patient needs an emergency appointment and the primary doctor isn’t available, someone else on the team can step in, who is equally familiar with that patient’s case and financial situation.

Our third stop was Community Healing Centers, an organization dedicated to providing integrated healing services to the community.   They provide huge support to people struggling with addiction.  They provide services across the spectrum, from helping with the detox process to finding a job once in recovery.  While there, we had the pleasure of hearing Mike’s story.  Mike was a former patient of Community Healing Centers, who, after an arrest, decided he needed help battling his drug addiction.  Mike shared how full his life is now that he is clean, and how much he values the help of the Center, as well as the people in the community who support these services.

Our final stop of the day was to join other UWBCKR supporters at Kalamazoo’s Community Campaign Kickoff event.  It was a great day learning more about the important work going on in our community.   It was even more powerful to realize that the organizations we visited were just a small representation of all of the amazing partners we have in this region.  Thank you to Senior Services, Family Health Center and Community Healing Centers for hosting us for the day and more importantly — for your dedication to our community’s health!

2012 Campaign Kicks Off!

by Kellie Cochrane

Battle Creek guests mingle and check out the cars

American Idol Finalist and Kalamazoo resident, Matt Giraud, performs at the kickoff event in Kalamazoo.

The 2012 United Way community campaigns in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo got off to a great start on Sept. 12 with fantastic weather and equally fantastic support. Attendees were treated to a little food, a lot of music, and a really big parking ticket.

Battle Creek’s campaign kicked off at Willard Beach in the morning.  The event, with more than 100 participants, featured shiny new cars and some inspiring speakers.  President and CEO, Mike Larson talked about the importance of working together to achieve each community’s goals and advance the common good.  Vice President and COO, Chris Sargent, shared his personal passion for United Way’s mission, urging others to embrace it as well. Chris, bleary-eyed after welcoming a new grandchild early that morning, talked about how United Way can help assure that his grandchild, and all of the children of our region, will have the best possible life, and that’s the heart of every United Way initiative.

As Battle Creek co-chairs Victoria Reese and Terance Lunger joined Chris at the podium, the calm morning was shattered by flashing lights and a screeching siren. To everyone’s surprise—well, almost everyone—a Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department cruiser arrived, and a deputy presented the three speakers with a jaw-dropping parking ticket: $5.8 million, which happens to be the community campaign’s goal. It was a unique way to announce the goal and excite the crowd

Later in the afternoon, that excitement shifted to the Arcadia Festival Site in downtown Kalamazoo. United Way supporters heard similar messages encouraging support for the campaign and personal engagement for bettering our communities.  There were more cars to remind everyone about our sweepstakes.  Kalamazoo Campaign Chair, Phil Harbert, recognized our outstanding Pacesetter companies before revealing the Kalamazoo goal, each number of which was hidden under the hood of the car.  As the hoods opened, supporters were able to see the $9.55 million goal.  Capping the announcement of the local goal was a surprise musical guest: Matt Giraud, a Kalamazoo resident and 2009 finalist on the television show “American Idol.”   Matt sang, played the piano and encouraged the crowd to get involved in United Way.

In total, UWBCKR’s goal for the region is $15.3 million.  We’re grateful for everyone who came out to support both of our kickoff events, and we’re even more grateful for the enthusiastic support of United Way and its partners.  We’re ready to get started on this goal!  $15.3 million,  here we come!

Back to School Means Time to Invest in Our Students

by Kellie Cochrane

It seems like everyone is getting in the back-to-school spirit!  As a recent college grad, it feels a little surreal not to be agonizing over the costs of my books and comparing class schedules with friends.   While I’m still adjusting to my new “alumna” status, back-to-school time as a new United Way employee brings its own excitement: a chance to see some of our incredible education initiatives in full swing!

Verona Elementary School in Battle Creek has really been an inspiration to our region.  In 2011, United Way began working with the school to create a program that would help boost third grade reading levels.  Why third grade?  This third year in elementary school marks an important transition for students: the switch between learning to read and reading to learn.  Research shows that students who lack reading proficiency in third grade are more likely to fall behind and fail to graduate.  In 2011, Verona Elementary, the Calhoun Intermediate School District and United Way formed the Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement Pilot Project.

This program provided teachers with professional development training, volunteer reading buddies for the students, support and engagement for at home activities, protection against the “summer slide” and community connections for additional resources.  The payoff has been extraordinary: Kindergarten students went from 5 percent reading at the proficient level or higher at the end of the 2011 school year to 71 percent at proficient or higher at the end of the 2012 school year. Half of the students were reading at an advanced level above their normal grade level.

Results like this truly spark change.  Earlier this month, SNAP Inc. Preschool announced they will be featuring a similar program and are looking for volunteers.  Think of what a difference being a reading buddy can make for these students.  If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer for the Verona Project, contact Kim Lehman   Just 30 minutes of your time spent reading to a child helps create a change our whole community can see.

Changing the Story: John Lewandowski

by Kellie Cochrane

Approved Protection Systems

There are thousands of small businesses across our region, all boasting different services and unique experiences.  As a small business owner, John Lewandowski, stands out in a big way with his passion for our community.  John is the owner of Approved Protection Systems and a volunteer, advocate and donor to United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

John always knew that giving back was going to be an integral part of business for him, so when he first took over Approved Protection Systems he chose a charity each year to donate 10% of the company earnings to.  A friend of his suggested he become involved with United Way, and once he learned about the workplace campaign and the powerful impact United Way was having on the community, he signed up.  That was 10 years ago, and John says it’s a decision he would make all over again.

“I like knowing that the funds are leveraged and that the money I raise is spread throughout the community in a variety of ways,” John explains.  He knew he wanted to give back, but he wanted his gift to impact more than just one charity or group, he wanted to see the impact for his neighbors.

Of course, no workplace campaign can be successful without enthusiasm from employees, and that’s something Approved Protection Systems has plenty of according to John: “We have almost 100% participation with our 30 employees.”  They’ve continued to build each year, three years ago they raised a little over $8,000 and last year they raised close to $30,000.  John wants other small businesses to understand how easy it is to get involved, and how important it is.  He sits on the United Way committee that helped develop and continues to promote LIVE UNITED 365.

Imagine the impact thousands of small businesses could have across our region if they all came together around a common cause and shared a common mission.  John Lewandowski saw the potential and stepped up to make a difference.  Find out how you can be part of the change by visiting uwbckr.org.  If you’re a small business owner and you want to find out more about running a campaign contact David Lee either by email at dlee@uwbckr.org or by calling @69) 343-2524.

All Eyes on Youth: Support YUW’s Blood Drive

by Kellie Cochrane


There are a lot of great parts of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, however, I have to say one of my favorites is our Youth United Way organization.  We have a collection of high school students from around the area who are working toward making their community a better place, while learning the finer points of the grant process and philanthropy in general.

On Monday, August 20th the students will be hosting a blood drive for Michigan Blood in the United Way Boardroom at our Kalamazoo location.  This drive does two awesome things: 1. It helps those in need and saves lives through blood donation.  2.  It raises money for our YUW students that allows them to impact the community in so many ways throughout the year. The blood drive starts at 4pm and we’d love to see you there!

Now, maybe you’re scared of needles, blood or youth (we hope not that last one).  Well, let me tempt you by saying in addition to saving lives and empowering the youth of our community you might also win a prize!  Some of our always generous local businesses have been kind enough to donate some gift cards for our participants.  Not to mention, I’m pretty sure you’re more than entitled to a cookie after donating.  So please, join us and help save lives and support our amazing students of Youth United Way.


Wellness Wednesday: Gold Medal Snacking

by Kellie Cochrane

Photo Credit: Today I Ate a Rainbow

Everyone seems to be coming down with Olympic Fever.  The 2012 Olympics in London have engrossed people around the world, and honestly, who can blame us?  It’s a lot of fun cheering on our favorites and watching the amazing feats of athleticism.

The irony of course, is that we are sitting mesmerized by our tvs for probably longer than we care to admit.  As one of my friends recently told me, “The Olympics are really turning me into a couch potato.”  As we all know, sitting on the couch watching tv for hours usually requires some snacks, which can be a dangerous combination.   Now, I’m not suggesting you stop watching the Olympics, that would be just downright unpatriotic, but there are some great tips out there for healthy eating ideas to help you stay on track while suffering from Olympic Fever.

Mom.me has a ton of great ideas for guilt free snacking.  Such as apples and almond butter, veggies and hummus and tuna crackers.  Almond butter also happens to be a favorite of Kerry Walsh, so remember that if you’re interested in dominating a beach volleyball game with friends.  All of these snacks are delicious and something the whole family can enjoy.

Another idea?  Try using commercial breaks as a chance for a little exercising.  Set a challenge for each break: 15 sit ups, 10 push ups or 10 lunges.   If you’re watching with a crowd, get into the competitive spirit and see who can do the most before the commercials end.  Now this might not be the rigorous training Olympians use, but it gets you up and moving!

So continue to enjoy the 2012 Olympics, with your own health and wellness in mind!

Employee Campaign Managers . . . Start Your Engines!

by Kellie Cochrane

This morning, while most of Kalamazoo was hitting the snooze button to enjoy the sound of rain just a little longer, our 2012 Employee Campaign Managers were meeting for breakfast and training at the Senior Services Center.  We had a great turnout and everyone seemed enthusiastic about beginning their workplace campaigns.  This year’s training had a noticeable theme, from pit stops to turbo charged campaign strategies, there was no way to hide our excitement about our sweepstakes prize: a brand new car!

In addition to the sweepstakes excitement, ECMs were able to get inspired by the outstanding presentations by both Sandra Standish, Executive Director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, and Dr. Robert Littke, President and CEO of Senior Services Inc.  These two both reminded everyone in the room of the value of United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region’s impact in serving the community.   Which is why we’re so fortunate to have such great ECMs and of course, Campaign Chair Phil Harbert, President of 1st Source Bank.  We know everyone is going to do their best to drive their campaigns to victory!

All of our ECMs were able to break away from the larger group to have smaller sessions with UWBCKR staff about ways to achieve throughout campaign.  We were so impressed with everyone’s questions and obvious passion about this year’s effort.  Thank you so much to the Senior Services Center for hosting the event and for their excellent support throughout it.  And a big thank you to all our ECMs for braving the rain to come and learn how they can help their coworkers Live United in 2012!

Wellness Wednesday: Local Produce Makes a Difference for Low Income Families

by Kellie Cochrane

Randi Dale and her daughter, Cheyenne Ruddock, 15, of Battle Creek buy produce using Double Up Food Bucks
Photo Credit: Battle Creek Enquirer

I love a trip to the Farmers Market.  I love fruit, I love veggies and I love an excuse to walk around and enjoy the summer.  And of course, it certainly feels great to support our locally grown products.    Now, the Battle Creek Enquirer has given me yet another reason to love Farmers Markets: increased access to healthy, local food.

Battle Creek has stepped up to participate in the Double Up Food Bucks Program which allows low income families who rely on the assistance of Bridge Cards or other food assistance programs to receive tokens to be used at the Farmers Market.  These tokens literally double their dollars all the way up to a $20 dollar value for Michigan produce.

Participants claim this program has really impacted the way they shop, allowing them to choose foods that are both nutritious and delicious.  Vendors see the difference too, one estimates that the DUFB shoppers are 40% of their revenue.  This program creates amazing change on both sides: families gain access to produce they might not otherwise be able to get and vendors benefit from increased revenue and more shoppers at the market.

The Double Up Food Bucks Program is an initiative allowing for positive change for the health of our community and stimulating economic growth.  Kalamazoo Farmers Market also accepts EBT and WIC benefits and offers a Project Fresh program.  So, brave the heat and plan a trip to your local Farmer’s Market because the products aren’t the only good that is happening there.