United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Tag: advocate

Principal El: “A dream without a plan is a hallucination.”

by Kellie Cochrane

Yesterday, Principal Salome Thomas – El spoke to some of our supporters at the Gilmore Car Museum.  Principal El has been a powerful advocate for education for over 20 years and is the author of the best-selling book, I Choose to Stay.  He shared his story of working in inner city schools and how he uses chess to give students intellectual confidence.


Principal Salome Thomas – El

Principal El opened with something he shares with his students: “A dream without a plan is a hallucination.”  He spoke about the power of mentors, how we must teach our children to plan for their future, even when they fail along the way.  He congratulated our region on our early grade reading turnaround, going from 5% of students reading at proficiency level to 82%.  One of the things he asks parents at his school in Philadelphia is to simply read with their children, because he knows the change that can bring is astounding.

Principal El also reminded us that: “We have 7 million minutes to help our kids from pre-K to high school, and we can’t afford to waste one.”  He believes we have a responsibility as a community, to see our kids graduate, to help them to be successful, and most importantly, to teach them how to respond to failure.  There will be times they fail, there will be students who come to school every day at a disadvantage, which is why it takes all of us coming together to provide the support every child deserves.

Our United Way supporters were both moved and inspired by Principal El’s message.  He definitely reminded all of us how truly important our work in education is.  We’d like to offer our sincere thanks to him for coming to speak with us and, for his hard work and passion for all children.


A well deserved standing ovation!

Out of the Shadows: ASK and Children’s Mental Health Awareness

by Kellie Cochrane


I had the good fortune to spend some time at Advocacy Services for Kids (ASK) this afternoon.  ASK helps parents navigate the often challenging children’s mental health system and also teaches parents how to best support and advocate for their child in a variety of situations.  We’re honored that ASK will be our May feature story on our website.

May 5-11 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is Out of the Shadows: Exposing Stigma.

“Exposing stigma is a topic that is very near and dear to our hearts here at ASK,” says Youth Involvement Coordinator, Krissy Dristy.  “We’re always working toward eliminating stigma for families and children in regards to receiving help for mental health, we want everyone to be able to be happy and healthy.”

In 2010, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that only 20% of children and adolescents with mental disorders would receive treatment.  Lack of mental health resources often leads to failure in school, criminal activity, and, in come cases, suicide.  Organizations like ASK are working to make sure the necessary resources are available to all families struggling with mental health issues.

At United Way, we also believe all families deserve every opportunity to live their best life.  So I encourage you to check out ASK or the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health to find out more about how you can help eliminate stigma.

Mental Health Awareness

Thank You

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

A community is woven from the threads of stories.

Most people don’t see it.  They see a world spinning upon data, dogma and dispute.  But the truth is, each of us pens our life’s saga, and collectively we author a broader narrative.  That gives us the power to transform our community when we write that story together.

Consider the tale of Aracely.  Her mother, Fanny, describes the preschooler as a candle, Imagefueled by a passion for   learning and new experiences.  Take the fuel away — as was Fanny’s plight in her youth — and the flame would die.  Instead, through the Kalamazoo County Ready 4’s initiative and the Learning Village, Aracely is learning and growing, preparing for kindergarten and for everything else the future offers.

“Her candle will burn long and bright, and that’s all any parent can ask for,” says Fanny.

Then there’s the tale of Charmica.  It’s a story that any of us could experience — job loss, homelessness, isolation.  Into her story stepped the Women’s Co-op of Battle Creek, making it possible to earn her GED, attend college and secure a place to live.  Image

“Today I’m studying for my nursing boars, and I actively participate with the Co-op in helping others,” Charmica says.

Two stories.  Two chronicles that might have ended differently if not for those willing to help rewrite their narratives.

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region is proud to support these efforts — and grateful for the generosity, compassion and involvement of donors, volunteers and partners like you.

With our 2012 Campaign coming to a close, we celebrate not merely numbers, but lives transformed.

Of the changing story of our regional community.

And of you, the authors of a truly epic tale.


Mike Larson, President and CEO and Chris Sargent, Executive Vice President and COO

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.

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

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.

Motivating Monday: Ernest Lanier, A Personal Passion for Community

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Story provided by Kathy Jessup

There were a handful of times during Ernest Lanier’s life when someone he barely knew offered a piece of advice or a modicum of encouragement that propelled him forward.

Now Borgess Health’s chief diversity officer pays those examples forward—mentoring young people, working on projects for a variety of community organizations and spreading the mission of United Way.

One of 14 siblings who spent their childhoods raising and harvesting crops, Lanier said his clothing came from Salvation Army, and a college education was little more than a dream for someone like him.

Now 62, Lanier has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in public administration, both earned after the Kalamazoo man began taking college classes at age 30.

“As I reflect back on my life, I can think of four or five times when someone took the time to help me find my way,” he recalled.  “As a kid growing up, I got some important support from people I didn’t even know.  That’s why I think United Way’s programs are so important today.  You don’t forget where you come from.”

Lanier is considered among the Greater Kalamazoo United Way’s most persuasive advocates.  Three times he’s been “on loan” from Borgess, lobbying new companies to join the community giving program and helping United Way maximize collaboration and diversity.

The Kalamazoo man mixes stories of his own meager beginnings with examples of how United Way has made a critical difference in the lives of local individuals when he visits prospective, new contributors.  Lanier’s stories brought a secretary to tears during a visit to one company and prompted two-thirds of the employees to become first-time donors.

Today, that company’s CEO not only matches his employees’ United Way contributions.  He devotes his own volunteer hours to community projects, all because Lanier’s “giving back” message.

“I consider I’ve been successful when I can help someone else succeed,” Lanier said.  “I’m proof you don’t have to be some high-level, wealthy person who went to private schools to be able to serve the community.  All you need is the passion in your heart.”