The Battle Creek Enquirer
(Originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on June 28, and used with permission. The opinions expressed by the Battle Creek Enquirer, visiting Expert in Resident, or the host organization do not necessarily represent those of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.)
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which created Yes we can!, will award more than $3 million in grants to seven area organizations, including the City of Battle Creek.
When it was formed in 2002, Yes we can! focused on improving the lives of residents in seven specific Battle Creek neighborhoods, but recently it expanded to help low-income residents across the city.
The initiative now is considered a collaboration among city residents and organizations working to achieve the same goals for a greater number of people and low-income areas.
“We are encouraged that organizations in this community have stepped forward to continue to advance the goals of Yes we can! by using the strength and knowledge of Battle Creek’s people,” Jim McHale, the foundation’s assistant vice president in charge of local programming, said in a press release.
“Collaboration – among organizations, community leaders, and residents – is everything.”
Yes we can! always has emphasized the role of residents in shaping Battle Creek’s future, McHale said.
The grants range in size from $30,000 to $1.6 million, which is the amount going to the city of Battle Creek to operate a multiyear, neighborhood-based project.
The $1.6 million grant means the city can begin neighborhood-based initiatives it has been planning for the past several months, said City Manager Wayne Wiley.
Among those initiatives are improving economic development efforts in neighborhoods, improving the quality of service to residents and changing how the police department protects the city.
“Basically, what we’re working on is how we do business in the community as a government,” Wiley said. “We want to focus our services more directly in neighborhoods and give them what they want.”
This will be accomplished through the city’s new neighborhood office, located in the Riverwalk Center between West Michigan Avenue and Jackson Street.
Cherise Brandell, former operations director for Yes we can!, was hired by the city earlier this year to lead the department and should be joined by a neighborhood economic development director and a neighborhood code compliance officer by the end of July, Wiley said.
All three positions are being paid for with the grant money.
Wiley said he knows the city will be under the microscope during the implementation of the new programs, but is confident they will succeed.
“This is the kind of work that takes time to show substantial progress,” Wiley said. “I think people will still see some real progress in our first year.”
Brandell agreed that people may not see tangible results, but the first year will lay the groundwork for future results.
“You’re not going to see crime rates dramatically dropping or new business popping up all over the place or neighborhood planning council membership exploding immediately,” she said. “Trusting relationships is what we really want to build in the first year. It may not look like a whole lot, but it’s the foundation.”
Six other local groups stepping up to the plate to carry out the Yes we can! mission include Neighborhoods Inc., Habitat for Humanity and the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Mechem said her organization’s one-time, $33,000 grant will be used to complete the planning phase of an entrepreneurial enterprise expansion project already in the works.
“This money will be used for planning that will hopefully lead to implementation of expanded entrepreneurial services,” Mechem said. She declined to give further details but said the chamber would request more Yes we can! funding once the planning phase is wrapped up.
The Woman’s Co-op, created less than two years ago, is another grant recipient. It will use the foundation’s grant to help it launch a training and employment program to help women get back on the right career track.
The program will provide training to women hired to perform housekeeping services to senior citizens through Burnham Brook.
Teresa Phillips, the co-op’s director, said the program not only will help the women who need the most help, it eventually will help the co-op become self-sufficient.
Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity is set to receive $205,000 from the foundation, according to Art Pearce, executive director.
It will use the money to renovate its ReStore facility, 551 W. Michigan Ave., which sells donated building materials and household items for “dimes on the dollar.”
Pearce said the money will give Habitat a chance to address areas that might be overlooked otherwise, such as leaks in ReStore’s roof and training for the volunteer staff.
“Almost every cent we get goes back into building houses,” Pearce said. “The grant gives us a chance to think more strategically about how to effectively build our organization.”
The renovation may also serve the Yes we can! mission of strengthening the economic future of Battle Creek.
“We want (the ReStore facility) to be effective for the community,” Pearce said. “Quite often we have low-income families and landowners that buy materials and build up the community.”
Dizzy L. Warren, executive director of Albion’s National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism, said the organization’s $684,000 Yes we can! money will allow it to reach “a whole new level of work.”
Along with supplementing NRCHR’s two-day healing racism workshop, the money will fund a training institute for corporate diversity practitioners. Additionally, the funds will allow NRCHR to expand its focus beyond personal racism by developing programs to address institutional and structural racism.
“The grant is about building the capacity for the community to respond to issues like racism,” Warren said. “Without these funds, many of us wouldn’t be able to do the work we would be doing.”
Staff writers Stacy Hanna, Chris Springsteen, Christine Iwan and Andy Rathbun contributed to this report.
Here are the area organizations receiving money from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the Yes we can! program:
Trinity Lutheran Church
Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce
City of Battle Creek
Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity
National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism