Human Services

Prevention Works

Since 1995, Prevention Works has been the community’s foremost nonprofit in prevention and health education services. We serve thousands of local youth and families, many of whom come from marginalized communities, economically challenged backgrounds, and/or are struggling to maintain the unification of their family. To make the greatest impact, Prevention Works uses a multistrategy approach with a mission of giving people tools to make healthy decisions. Prevention Works partners with more than 100 local organizations. Our programs are effective, evidence-based, and demonstrate positive outcomes for our community — in particular, demonstrating long term, positive impact on youth development.

Just one of the many programs that show positive outcomes for youth development is Peer POWER, which was developed with the help of outside evaluators. Peer POWER is an afterschool program geared toward youth ages 9 – 13 and designed to increase the likelihood that youth make healthy, positive decisions and resist peer pressure. There are 12 sessions of learning in two different curriculum topics: Substance Abuse Prevention and Violence Prevention. Peer POWER is based on the Health Belief Model, uses a Peer Education approach to program delivery, and is facilitated by high-school-age Peer Educators. Oversight is provided by one adult Outreach Worker at each session. All staff are highly trained in the program curricula, facilitation skills, professionalism, positive behavioral support, cultural sensitivity, trauma-informed practice, and social-emotional learning and development. The program mutually serves the high-school-age Peer Educators by increasing individual social and emotional development and positively impacting school and work readiness.

Peer Educators and Outreach Workers are recruited from the target population and represent marginalized communities. The youth participants have the opportunity to experience a diverse team of educators who serve as positive role models and mentors. Peer Educators not only deliver accurate educational information, but also work to enhance a sense of community and collaboration within the target neighborhoods and among the participants.

For more information, visit

WGVU Public Media/Kalamazoo Lively Arts

WGVU’s Kalamazoo Lively Arts series connects artists with the community through the creation and sharing of stories about the many artists and art forms helping to define Kalamazoo. In 2016, through 13 weekly programs, Kalamazoo Lively Arts shared the stories of more than 50 artists and groups, representing a wide variety of visual art, performance, and many other forms of expression. This series is designed to give the public a deeper look, striking a balance between entertainment and educational value.

To provide multiple viewing opportunities, expand the reach of the series, and give the featured artists and arts groups maximum exposure, WGVU broadcasts each weekly episode several times throughout its 28-county-wide coverage area, home to approximately 2.5 million people. This series is also shared via social media and uploaded to a dedicated WGVU Kalamazoo Lively Arts webpage at:

YWCA/Cradle Kalamazoo

Cradle Kalamazoo, led by YWCA of Kalamazoo, is a multi-agency initiative with a mission to reduce infant mortality among babies of color from 15 to 6 per 1,000 live births by 2020, by promoting safe sleep practices, health equity strategies, reproductive health options, and by supporting families through home visitations.

Partners are working to implement evidence-based strategies that can eliminate racial disparities while reducing infant mortality rates, including coordinating care and services offered by family support programs dedicated to providing services for pregnant/expectant mothers, family members, and infants. These programs connect parents and infants with resources, both inside and outside the home.

According to Terra Bautista, a Cradle Kalamazoo leader, the initiative “has been a catalyst for change by bringing together several sectors of our community to impact progress.” Thanks to Cradle Kalamazoo, “individuals are now developing leadership skills that empower them to spearhead change within their organization and their circle of influence, reaching out into the community and drawing others in.”

To learn more, please visit

Ecumenical Senior Center

In 1982, Arthur and Edna Carlson of Chicago retired and moved to Kalamazoo, where they observed a need for a program to help elderly African American seniors in the community with financial support. In 1983, after sharing their concerns with their priest at St. Augustine Cathedral, the church’s outreach committee created the Ecumenical program. Ecumenical means unity and the uniting of organizations, individuals, and churches, and the program aims to help seniors truly embrace this definition. The initial goal of this program was to enhance the seniors’ self-esteem with dignity and respect, and to deliver services to make their lives better.

In 1992, the Ecumenical Senior Center (ESC) was established by the Carlsons at 702 N. Burdick St. with funding from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the Dorothy U. Dalton Foundation, the Raskob Foundation, and support from St. Augustine’s Cathedral, Mt. Missionary Baptist Church, and St. Thomas More Parish.

Twenty-four years later, the ESC is still operating strong. Over the years, ESC has broadened its focus to include comprehensive resource and referral, health and welfare, and nutritional services, as well as successfully maintaining operations as an activity center. In 2012, ESC leadership implemented a strategic plan that promotes positive giving, enhances an improved quality of life, and increases collaborative
partnerships within the Kalamazoo community.

In the fall of 2013, ESC leadership hired a new executive director, Dr. Denise M. Washington. Dr. Washington’s leadership platform is based on providing the most optimal services for senior clients (55+, handicapped and/or disabled) while maintaining a “home away from home” environment.

For more information, please visit:

Open Roads Bike Program

Open Roads is a youth development program that teaches social skills and bike mechanic skills to youth in order to better prepare them for their future. What began with four kids and two adults in a classroom at Kalamazoo College in 2009 is now located in the newly-revitalized Riverview Launch and has grown into dozens of programs offered around Kalamazoo. Young people in our programs can build and earn a bicycle, learn to make repairs, gain leadership and vocational skills, and so much more. Instead of telling youth what not to do, with Open Roads they are told what is expected; they are taught how positive behavior looks and sounds, and are acknowledged for demonstrating it. We focus on five simple ideas we call our ROADS expectations: R — Respect, O — Own your actions, A — Attitude counts, D — Discipline, S — Safety.

We collaborate with other organizations and schools in order to reach youth most in need of skill-building after-school programming. This year we are excited to join forces with the Kalamazoo Nature Center and Read and Write Kalamazoo for new summer Earn-a-Bike camps. We will also be helping youth at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home, Lakeside Academy, and Comstock High School complete our Earn-a-Bike Program. Finally, we will resume our weekly summer Fixapalooza bike repair clinics with the Vine Neighborhood Association and Peace House.

We are proud of every young person who has earned their own bike and gained new skills through hard work and commitment. It has been a fantastic journey. In the coming year we are focused on creating a community full of safe, active, and healthy young bicyclists with a wide range of social, leadership, and vocational skills.

For more information, please visit:

United Way of the Greater Kalamazoo and Battle Creek Region / Kalamazoo Youth Development Network

“What do we want?”


“When do we want it?”


This was the rallying cry at the first community-wide “Lights On Afterschool” event, coordinated by the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network) and attended by over 200 school-aged youth and 75 youth-development professionals on September 21, 2015. The Lights On Afterschool rally, intended to increase awareness of and support for the out-of-school time (OST) sector in Kalamazoo, provided youth with the opportunity to talk about what after-school and summer programming means to them and to receive a proclamation from the City of Kalamazoo recognizing the importance of OST programming.

The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network serves as an intermediary organization to the OST sector in Kalamazoo County. Our vision is that all Kalamazoo County youth are college, career, and community ready by 21. We achieve this by ensuring all Kalamazoo County youth have access to high quality, youth-driven, diverse, inclusive, and equitable OST programs.

Over the past 18 months, KYD Network has transformed from an information-sharing group to a collective action movement. KYD Network is dedicated to collaboratively building a sustainable OST system so that all youth have the opportunity to identify their interests and assets, explore community resources that align with their passions, and gain the skills necessary to become successful adults.

KYD Network provides training and technical assistance, along with networking opportunities, to the entire OST network in the county (approximately 45 organizations) and works directly with 20 youth-development organizations that engage in the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI), an evidenced-based continuous quality improvement system created and managed by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality. These 20 organizations also participate in our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative, based on the Devereux Center for Resilient Children’s approach to social-emotional learning. The organizations we collaborate with include a number of Irving S. Gilmore Foundation grantees and serve children and youth, ages five to 21.

For more information, please visit:

First Day Shoe Fund


First Day Shoe Fund is a local grassroots initiative founded in 2004 by Valerie Denghel, who was inspired to step up and do something in response to what she witnessed during her volunteer work in Kalamazoo Public Schools. Many low-income families are unable to purchase new shoes because of rising costs and, as a result, numerous children come to school in shoes that are the incorrect size, worn out, and threadbare. And so it began: First there was one pair, and then another, and then yet another, until the basement of Valerie’s home was filled with new shoes for students in need.

The needs of children and families didn’t diminish from year to year, and expansion of the shoe program began in 2006, when First Day Shoe Fund became an official 501(c)(3) and established a board of directors. First Day Shoe Fund provides new athletic shoes to students from Kalamazoo Public Schools and Comstock Public Schools at annual distribution events held in both the summer and the fall. Thanks to a wonderful partnership with Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, assistance from Kalamazoo and Comstock Public Schools’ faculty, staff, and administration, and support from countless community organizations and volunteers, First Day Shoe Fund has grown into a strong local non-profit organization created through grassroots action.

Not only do new athletic shoes foster self esteem in students, thereby improving their school performance, they also allow students to participate in healthy activities both inside and outside of school. First Day Shoe Fund believes that every child should start school on equal footing. Its goal is to support low-income families by ensuring their children have adequate footwear to begin each new school year. First Day Shoe Fund hopes to improve the lives of young students, one pair of shoes at a time.

Kalamazoo Youth Development Network / United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


In 1998, the United Way, the Hispanic American Council, and the City of Kalamazoo partnered with the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation to bring research-based youth development strategies to Kalamazoo. These strategies emphasize developmentally appropriate engagement with adolescents, high-quality adult/youth partnerships, and opportunities for youth leadership.

Operating today under the umbrella of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, the mission of the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network) is to ensure that all Kalamazoo County youth have access to high-quality out-of-school-time programs that are well coordinated and utilize resources efficiently. KYD Network serves as an intermediary organization, open to all Kalamazoo County out-of-school-time programs and their staff. Currently, KYD Network is implementing the Youth Program Quality Intervention (“YPQI”) for 15 organizations. Through the YPQI, these organizations are improving program quality, thereby increasing both the number of youth participants and the frequency of their participation. Through the YPQI, organizations are maximizing the impact of their programs on youth’s social-emotional learning skills and their school performance, including attendance, behavior, and academic proficiency.

Tillers International / Rural Futures


Tillers International (Tillers) is a non-profit organization for international rural development, specializing in farming with oxen. Based in Scotts, Mich., at the Cook’s Mill Learning Center, Tillers offers classes in appropriate technology, farming techniques, draft animal power, blacksmithing and metal work, timber framing, woodworking, cheese making, and many other agricultural and artisanal skills for members of the Kalamazoo community and beyond. Tillers also hosts interns, both international and domestic, and international guests for intensive periods of hands-on training. Whether participants are looking for a new hobby, a new land- or skill-based livelihood, or an opportunity to contribute their knowledge and skills to local or international projects, Tillers welcomes people from all over the globe and offers myriad unique educational opportunities.

In 2014, Tillers embarked on a new initiative, the creation of a roadside Processing and Market Building. This new structure will serve as a place for Tillers’ Young Farmer Incubator Program to wash, sort, and properly store their produce for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers’ markets. It will also serve the local public as a roadside fresh produce market stand. This initiative will be of special interest in the Kalamazoo area in relation to KVCC’s new Health Focused Campus.

Young Adult Diversion Court Program / Kalamazoo County Government


The Young Adult Diversion Court (YADC) is a problem-solving solution for first-time criminal offenders, persons 17 through 20 years of age, who are sentenced to probation on a misdemeanor charge under a diversion statute, and who are at risk of losing that diversion status which then results in a conviction of a criminal charge and a criminal record. This program was launched in 2014.

YADC is radically different from traditional probation or any other specialty programs, in that the 8th District Court is partnering with other Kalamazoo County governmental departments and with community-based agencies to create an integrated and comprehensive court review program that focuses on the issues that have led these young adults into the justice system. YADC represents a paradigm shift from a traditional systemwide punitive format to a positive, self-actualizing model addressing each individual’s needs as a whole person.

YADC encourages and facilitates enrollment in education and counseling; explores healthy life choices; provides the opportunity to find one’s own voice through curricula, instruction and mentorship; and promotes individual exploration of personal growth and esteem, social development, relationship to family and community, as well as community responsibility and job exploration.