United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Greater Collaboration Provides a Great Start

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Posted on behalf of Denise Hartsough, Director of Community Investment

Visit www.changethestory.org to learn more about the work we are doing in Education.

At United Way, we believe that positive, nurturing early childhood experiences are vital to creating a thriving community, so that our children are able to begin their journey strong and continue to succeed. We know that when we invest in children from the beginning, we can prevent a great deal of hardship later in their lives and make our community stronger. This is why United Way actively engages in the work of the Kalamazoo County Great Start Collaborative.  I am privileged to support the Great Start Collaborative’s efforts around early care and education, and parenting education and support.

The Kalamazoo County Great Start Collaborative aims to “assure a coordinated system of community resources and supports to help all Kalamazoo County families provide a great start for their children from birth to age five” (www.kalamazoogreatstartcollaborative.org). That system includes home visiting for families of children ages 0-3, and high-quality pre-kindergarten for 4-year olds.  I am excited to announce that a new grant will strengthen the system by offering scholarships for high-quality care and education for 3-year olds.  Consumers Energy has awarded $20,000 to help families of 3-year-olds in our community. Children with a scholarship for  high-quality care and education at age 3 will then move to a high-quality preK program when they are 4 years old–Head Start, state-funded preschool, or a Kalamazoo County Ready 4s provider.  Two years in high-quality programs will give participating children a great start as they head into kindergarten!

The Great Start Collaborative is partnering with Child Care Resources for this scholarship program.  Child Care Resources serves as the fiduciary of the grant and will disburse the funds directly to the early care and education providers.  Eligible families who receive the scholarship will choose from providers rated at the four or five star level in the state-wide Great Start to Quality rating system.

I am happy to have been able to help strengthen the early childhood system in our community by writing this grant with staff from the Great Start Collaborative and Child Care Resources. This is yet another example of how well our community collaborates for positive change.

To learn more about United Way, and our work on Education, Income and Health in the region, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @LIVEUNITEDbckr.

DRIVE UNITED: How Local Auto Dealers Partnered to Advance the Common Good

by Kellie Cochrane

Posted on behalf of Rick Chambers, Rick Chambers & Associates 

Car Sponsorship

Sweepstakes winner, Terri Musolff, picking out her new car

The automobile sales industry is one of the most competitive on Earth. With production costs rising and personal income stagnant or declining, every sale matters. As a result, dealers work hard to distinguish their businesses from their peers.

Yet 11 Michigan auto dealers in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo put their rivalries in the back seat during the recent United Way campaign. Those dealerships, along with the Kellogg Community Federal Credit Union, pitched in a total of $30,000 to support a car sweepstakes as an incentive for people to contribute to the campaign.

“I was amazed by this partnership,” said Mike Larson, President and CEO of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region (UWBCKR). “The dealers were enthusiastic supporters. They wanted to do everything they could to enhance the campaign and benefit the community.”

By co-sponsoring the sweepstakes – over and above their normal United Way contributions – the dealers offered a vehicle of choice up to $30,000 to the grand prize winner. Donors who gave to United Way for the first time or who increased their gift by at least $50 over the previous year were automatically entered in the drawing; others used our website to enter.

While incentive sweepstakes have been held before in conjunction with United Way campaigns, this was the first to cover the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek region collectively. Dealers displayed vehicles at 59 different locations, often in conjunction with campaigns at local businesses. Marketing and information materials highlighted the partnership and the dealerships involved. In all, more than 80,000 working adults were exposed to the effort.

The promotion made a difference: 10,987 donors qualified for the drawing, contributing a total exceeding $1.4 million. In December 2012, long-time United Way donor Terri Musolff, an employee at Kazoo Inc./Edwards Garment, won the vehicle of her choice.

Two of the sponsoring dealers said the collaboration was fun and beneficial to their communities.

Added Jeff DeNooyer, President of Metro Toyota in Kalamazoo and a UWBCKR board member, “It’s what United Way and its slogan, LIVE UNITED, is all about. I’m glad that all the participating dealers were able to demonstrate the power of partnership.”

Organizations that supported the sweepstakes were the following:

Maple Hill Auto Group

Kellogg Community Federal Credit Union

Cole Nissan Cadillac GMC Buick

Seelye Wright Automotive Group

Henkel Chrysler Jeep Dodge

Orrin B. Hayes Inc. Jeep/Mercedes-Benz/Mazda

Lakeview Ford

Zeigler Automotive Group

DeNooyer Chevrolet

Metro Toyota

Heritage Chevrolet

Sunshine Toyota


United Way: A Year-round Commitment

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Posted on behalf of Christopher Riker, Director of Marketing &
Communications at the United Way of the Battle Creek & Kalamazoo

There are a lot of responsibilities that only interrupt us once a year: renewing license tags, spring cleaning, and if you’re not an accountant, taxes.  Our responsibility to our community, however, must be an ongoing commitment.  There is no time or season more important than another, and the work is never truly done.  We’re on a mission to constantly improve the quality of life within our region.

That’s the perspective of United Way. Our role goes beyond the outdated image of a once-a-year fundraiser. We partner across all sectors to create opportunities for a better life for all.  People in our community don’t stop caring because the workplace campaign has ended, and we are inspired by the volunteers who are driven by passion rather than a calendar.

There are more than 1,800 independent and autonomous United Way’s around the world, and the very best are having ongoing conversations across all sectors to address real, relevant issues and advancing the common good for all.

Our vision for our community is big: that all students enter school ready to learn and graduate, that families have a stable income, and everyone has access to quality healthcare.  Working together is the only way to realize that vision.

We have an opportunity to do more and the responsibility to do better. Collectively we can do more than anyone can do individually. As we look forward to 2013, let’s unite and work together to build the strongest, healthiest and most vibrant region possible.

Creating Opportunities Through Reading

by Kellie Cochrane

Verona mom and daughter

Nyekah Guest is the mother of 6 year old Nizjaylah Guest, a student enrolled in the Verona Early Grade Reading Pilot Program.

I’ve always been impressed by the great work being done through the Early Grade Reading Pilot Program at Verona Elementary School in Battle Creek.

But it’s much more powerful to actually see the excitement the children had for reading.

Last week Thursday, I joined several families for Verona’s Literacy Night. I saw first-hand that this program has achieved more than just better reading scores; it has brought hope to many families.

The numbers themselves tell a story of progress: Kindergarten students went from 5 percent reading at the proficient level or higher to 71 percent in a single year. Incredibly, more than half of the children were reading at an advanced level – higher than grade level.

That alone is impressive. Beyond that, I was inspired to see all of the families, many of whom had toddlers and other siblings in tow, who had taken time out of their night to come and support the program and their children.

Take six-year-old Nizjaylah Guest. She was never interested in reading before the program.  When her mother, Nyekah, would try an engage her with books, she would refuse.  Nyekah says the most winning component of the program for their family has been Razz Kids.  Razz Kids is the online counterpart to what the children are learning in school. Nyekah says it made reading more than “just a school thing” for Nizajaylah. “It’s in our home and it’s fun for her.”

Sharing in the Literacy Night experience made me realize that this program is about much more than helping children read proficiently; it’s about engaging parents, teachers and community members to set those kids on a path toward success. The children at Verona – and now Coburn, where the program is expanding – are being empowered to take charge of their education, which creates opportunities to change their lives for the better.

United Way: Why Partnering Matters

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Posted on behalf of Christopher Riker, Director of Marketing &
Communications at the United Way of the Battle Creek & Kalamazoo

As the saying goes, “Nothing ever changes until somebody motivates a critical mass of the right people to commit to change.”

It’s a good saying – and it happens to be true.

The need for change is immense. You don’t have to look far to find troubling statistics on school readiness and achievement, children and families in poverty, and individuals and families struggling to gain access to high quality and affordable healthcare.

The first step in summoning real, lasting, community-wide change is acknowledging the reality of the needs. This requires open, honest and inclusive conversations as well as coming together to organize and mobilize efforts and resources in effective, strategic ways. That’s how we collectively create meaningful change.

To take that first step, people must recognize that money alone is not the answer. If it were, we would have “fixed things” by now. We live, work, play and innovate in a region that is home to extraordinarily generous companies, foundations, nonprofits and individuals. That’s a critical part of the mix. Beyond that, transforming the community
requires all of us to have shared goals, awareness and commitment to working together to achieve success.

The good news is, United Way has always partnered across all sectors to identify the greatest needs in the community, define their root causes, and mobilize human and financial resources to accelerate change and advance the common good for all. Even better, we’ve succeeded because so many in our greater community have been willing to partner as well.

That’s the call to action I want to make today. Each person’s willingness to provide the “critical mass” to bring about change is crucial to achieving specific goals in the areas of EDUCATION, INCOME and HEALTH. Our collective success hinges on our ability to continue and grow these partnerships.

We all win when a child realizes his or her full potential.  We all win when individuals and families have enough income to support themselves through retirement. We all win when individuals and families have access to high quality and affordable healthcare.

If you’re already engaged, thank you! If you’re looking for the opportunity to join us, welcome aboard! To LIVE UNITED, you can GIVE, you can ADVOCATE and you can VOLUNTEER. I look forward to showing you how! Please email information@uwbckr.org

Happy Thanksgiving!

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Since the annual holiday season begins with Thanksgiving Day, I want to bring that theme to this letter. Please accept my deepest gratitude and appreciation for your unwavering support of United Way. Without your generosity we would not be able to mobilize the great resources of our community to improve people’s lives in real, meaningful ways.

As most of you know, this has been a year of major change for our United Way. Since the official merger of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo organizations on July 1, we have accomplished a great deal. We have:

  • Aligned the goals of the two United Ways around education, income and health;
  • Merged and restructured the Board of Directors with cross-regional leadership;
  • Reorganized staff and implemented robust communications to build a strong team;
  • Received $125,000 to date from major sponsors and corporations to help with merger costs and near-term regional projects;
  • Conducted two campaigns this year – one in Battle Creek, one in Kalamazoo – while coordinating regionally to ensure consistent messaging, branding and staff support.

The year ahead will bring continued focus on integrating our operations while advancing the work of United Way and our partners across the region. And, as always, we will honor the intent of donors.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the merger and the work of United Way, please feel free to visit our website or call us at (269) 343-2524. I wish you and your loved ones a warm, safe and uplifting holiday season.


Mike Larson

President & CEO United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

United Way; A Catalyst for Change

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Posted on behalf of Christopher Riker, Director of Marketing & Communications at the United Way of the Battle Creek & Kalamazoo Region

If I do my job right, you’ll never again think of United Way as simply a fundraiser.

Of course, that’s how most people view United Way – understandably so, since raising and investing funds in the community is an important part of our work. But if our region is to thrive, United Way must be much more than a fundraiser and funder.

This year we celebrate the 125th anniversary of United Way’s founding by affirming our role as a catalyst for change. With more than 1,800 local and autonomous United Ways throughout the world, we work with partners across all sectors to identify the greatest needs in the community, define their root causes, accelerate change and advance the common good for all.

In our view, we all win when a child realizes his or her full potential.  We all win when individuals and families have enough income to support themselves through retirement. We all win when individuals and families have access to high quality and affordable healthcare.

Money is part of the solution. But if that was the whole answer, the issues that plague our region would have been solved long ago.

Funding is just the start.  United Way works diligently with people and organizations to understand conditions and set goals in the areas of EDUCATION, INCOME and HEALTH, the building blocks of a vibrant community. We mobilize both human and financial resources, report results from our collective efforts, add value whenever/wherever possible, and invite individuals and organizations to engage with us in creating a stronger, safer, healthier region.

That’s way more effective than simply running an annual campaign – because success depends on all of us working together.

That’s where you come in.

You can GIVE by donating your time, talents and yes, some of your financial resources.

You can ADVOCATE by finding your voice and become a champion for United Way and the critical issues we tackle together.

You can VOLUNTEER by lending a hand to our shared efforts.

No great social movement was ever created by one individual or organization working in isolation. In order to create the change necessary in our region, we need individuals and organizations working together. Our collective future depends on our collective actions.

Join us. LIVE UNITED.  

To find out how you can get more engaged, please email information@uwbckr.org


Volunteer Spotlight: WMU Students Lend a Hand

by Kierstin Nall

Students enjoying their time at Goodwill!

Students are an extremely valuable part of the community we live in. Now, I suppose I am a little biased since I am a student. But, as I approach graduation, I’m taking more notice of the active role students play in changing people’s lives for the better. At United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, we understand that students offer a lot. They are innovative, fresh thinking, and passionate about giving back.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to bring together a great group of 24 students from Western Michigan University to participate in a volunteer opportunity at two local agencies, Heritage Senior Living Center and Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan. Students who visited Heritage enjoyed time at the organization’s “Harvest Festival” and got to know the residents through games, snacks and conversation. Goodwill asked students to help repaint areas of their warehouse, a task that allowed staff to stay focused on their mission.

These are just two examples.   There are others as well as great potential to do even more.  We need to make sure students understand the importance of engaging in our community. If we  give them the opportunity, they’ll make this a better place to live and work.

Kiersten Meales is Changing the Story

by Kellie Cochrane

Kiersten Meales seems like an ordinary Western Michigan University freshmen: she’s studying early childhood education, volunteering around campus, and is hoping to become a resident assistant in her future years.  What sets Kiersten apart, and drives her passion for helping others is her deep understanding of struggle.

Kiersten grew up in the foster care system after being removed from an abusive and neglectful home life at the age of six.  Then, her mother died when Kiersten was 11, shattering the young girl’s dream of ever going home. 

She moved in and out of different foster homes and three different residential facilities.  Throughout those tough years, Kiersten says school was her safe haven: “That’s how I got away, was school, I could be with friends and I always loved to learn.”  Kiersten eventually was able to move to Kalamazoo and live independently while finishing up high school.  Despite being completely on her own, she graduated a semester early with a 4.0 grade point average.  Now her dream is to become a teacher, so that she can be a positive light for students who need someone to look up to, as she once did.

Rather than let her difficult background bring her down, Kiersten uses it to fuel her generosity.  She knows how it feels to lack adequate clothing, so she took up knitting to make scarves, hats and other winter accessories for people in need.  Also, she became a first time United Way donor this year, giving $50 to the 2012 campaign.  That’s no small donation for any college student, and Kiersten’s contribution is especially touching given her story.

While she says that she’s proud of all her accomplishments and independence, Kiersten believes all children should have someone to rely on.  She is grateful for the resources and services she did have, such as, Starr Commonwealth, which  helped with her transition into college life, and the John Seita Scholars Program, a special scholarship for foster youth at WMU.

Kiersten says it pains her to think of others in our community struggling with the issues her family went through.  This is what motivates her to make a difference.   We’re so proud to have students like Kiersten in our region, inspiring us all with her commitment to bettering the lives of others.

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!