Human Services

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan

For more than 100 years nationally and 65 years locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters has created and supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between volunteer mentors (Bigs) and children (Littles).

When kids are paired with a mentor, they’re introduced to places and experiences that open their hearts and minds to a future filled with boundless possibilities. After just one year of being paired with their Big:
• 85% of Littles report improved academic performance
• 87% of Littles report improved emotional regulation
• 94% of Littles report avoiding situations that could limit their future success
On top of all of this, Littles report having stronger relationships with their parent/guardians and peers, decreased depressive symptoms, and improved outlook for their education post-high school. “When I first met [my Big Brother], he got me out of my comfort zone,” shares Damarieon, Little Brother. “He’s like my best friend, actually.”

When people consider the impact of mentoring, they often think about the impact it has on the youth—not the adult. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, the mentoring relationship impacts every participant—adults included! “We get as much, if not more out of it, than we give. It gets us out exploring things that appeal to younger people,” shares Paul, Big Brother.

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Ecumenical Senior Center

The Ecumenical Senior Center has provided services to the senior citizens of Kalamazoo County for nearly 40 years. We were founded on the principle of removing barriers for African American seniors who would otherwise have difficulty obtaining services, as well as having a central place to gather. Nearly 95% of the seniors we serve today are African American, and a majority live at or below poverty level. Many reside in subsidized housing or are housed at Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries. ESC strives to enhance the quality of life of our clients in many aspects, particularly by providing services, activities, and resources that allow them to age with dignity.

We are proud to offer a wide array of support to our clients. All our programming and services are free or minimal cost. This includes breakfast and donation-based lunch programs, transportation to area grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor appointments, and other services, incontinence supplies and other medical equipment, as well as free weekly cosmetology services.

As our clientele has grown over the years, utilizing the 4,000 square foot programming space (largely out of one single room) has become increasingly difficult. We officially kicked off a 4.2 million dollar capital campaign last July in an effort to better serve seniors in the community. This will include a complete remodel of our historic building and a two-story addition that will feature a dedicated health and wellness area, a larger kitchen, and additional programming space and offices. Support from the community has been tremendous, and we look forward to the project’s fruition.

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Can-Do Kalamazoo

Can-Do Kalamazoo (formerly Can-Do Kitchen) began in 2008 with an entrepreneurial spark – building a missing piece of the local food system so that food producers could meet the growing customer demand for local products. In the years since, we have launched, pivoted, and sustained many valuable programs for food business owners. However, due to the nonlinear journeys of entrepreneurs, we became more engaged with other business support partners in our ecosystem. This led to our expanded scope to become a highly collaborative, one-stop incubator and enterprise hub, positioned to guide entrepreneurs through idea, launch, and growth. In coordination with many partners, we will support entrepreneurs along their business development journeys, with a focus on marginalized and under-resourced entrepreneurs.

Can-Do Kalamazoo has recently secured a larger and more centralized location (519 S. Park St.) for our incubation and hub activities. When fully renovated, our new site will offer many new amenities allowing us to host entrepreneurial networking events, startup and accelerator programs, open office hours with business coaches, pop-up events, and more. In 2020, our Opening New Doors Capital Campaign was launched, and despite the disturbances of COVID-19, the $650,000 goal was reached in 2022. Phase 1 of construction is underway! The need to move is urgent, so when the kitchens and a few offices are complete, we will move out of our current Lake Street facility.

In order to fulfill the needs of our expanded scope, we are embarking on phase 2 of our capital goal of $1.4 million. Phase 2 will include conference rooms, coworking spaces, multipurpose event space, classroom, and CDK staff offices. With the successful completion of our phase 2 capital goal, Can-Do Kalamazoo can fully be the “hub” that is so needed by our community’s entrepreneurs. We are optimistic that this can be accomplished by the close of 2023!

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Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes’ (KLF) 38-year service model. Prior to the pandemic, KLF operated a network of 30 pantries throughout Kalamazoo County. Clients were able to shop in-person and had a bank of “points” to spend on their groceries. Overnight, this model changed to curbside pickup at just a few locations and KLF was able to continue operations throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

To provide greater accessibility, KLF launched a home delivery program in March 2020, which has grown to 70 deliveries each day. While both curbside pickup and home delivery were born out of necessity, clients report preferring these service elements over the pre-pandemic model. KLF currently has 21 pantries in its network, including 11 school-based units. Six additional mobile food distributions were added, resulting in 12 distributions throughout Kalamazoo County each month

KLF also increased targeted outreach services to support those with unique food needs, including individuals facing homelessness and refugees seeking safety. New partnerships were formed involving several new agencies who secure food from KLF to provide their clients with congregate meals, emergency packs or pantry items. Since the beginning of the pandemic, KLF has served over 3,000 brand new households. On average, KLF provides food assistance to 27,000 unduplicated individuals each year from just over 10,000 households.

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Ministry with Community

With over four decades of experience serving those in crisis in Kalamazoo, Ministry with Community has adapted to change many times. That’s why when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, we knew exactly what we had to do: open our doors every morning while keeping our members (those we serve) safe.

We acted quickly to provide masks for everyone inside our facility and placed plastic barriers in high traffic areas. We installed special filters in our HVAC system to trap viral particles. When people started testing positive for COVID but had no home to safely isolate in, we set up motel stays so they could recover safely and peacefully.

We’ve had to limit the number of people in our space to allow for physical distancing, and it’s one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. But from the start, members utilized the services they needed and left to allow others in. Since meals could no longer be safely served family style in our dining room, we shifted to take-out containers and modified the back door of the kitchen to act as a walk-up window where anyone can take a meal to go.

We are proud to say that we have remained open 365 days per year, even throughout the pandemic. We continuously offered all our usual services, including laundry, showers, restrooms, two meals each day, hygiene items and, through our Social Work and Peer Support Team, assistance with housing, obtaining a birth certificate or an ID, and more.

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Open Doors Kalamazoo

When COVID-19 caused everything to shut down, Open Doors Kalamazoo was only weeks away from our annual fundraising luncheon, Discover Open Doors. The event typically gathers 500 supporters of our work, “building relationships to overcome homelessness.” Our staff began working from home, the event was cancelled, and our focus turned to keeping our residents and shelter guests safe.

Meanwhile, we placed a pause on taking in new shelter guests. Those who were already guests at the shelter had to remain in their rooms. We provided tablets so that everyone could stay connected with loved ones and continue attending AA/NA meetings, if needed. More than half of our residence community experienced a loss of income. We received emergency funding to pay for their housing, provide essential needs and ensure that families with children were equipped for virtual schooling.

While addressing these immediate needs, we were also keeping a cautious eye on the horizon for the long-term impacts on the economy and housing. When we were asked to serve as one of three local partner organizations in the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, we seized the opportunity.

Through social media, we shared videos of residents and shelter guests telling their stories of strength and hope. In return, our supporters showed us how greatly they care about the people who live in our community. Thanks to their generous support, we have been able to help more than 200 people not just avoid homelessness but overcome it.

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OutFront Kalamazoo

Like many smaller non-profits, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted OutFront Kalamazoo in a myriad of ways. We had to look at ALL of our programming – from Youth Group to Kalamazoo Pride – and make decisions about how to move forward in offering services and structured groups to our area’s LGBTQ+ community. Also, like many others, we had to climb the technical learning curve if we were to bring meaningful services to our community virtually. We shuttered our office in mid-March of 2020, just two-and-one-half months after hiring a new executive director and began the process of moving most of our services to a virtual digital platform.

Our services like Youth Group and TransCend pivoted to virtual with relative ease. A simple email to group members explaining the new paradigm and learning to use a platform like Zoom made things relatively straightforward. But other programming, like Pride and our annual Winter Gala, took much more thought and time to plan and execute. Pride became a month-long virtual celebration with entertainment and educational programming instead of a two-day festival. Our annual Winter Gala morphed into the Always OutFront Awards, presented virtually in the spring.

While we could not boast the same engagement numbers for Pride and the Always OutFront Awards as we did for their in-person, pre-COVID counterparts, we did successfully reach many hundreds of people and let them know – pandemic or not – OutFront Kalamazoo would be #AlwaysOutFront.

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Prevention Works

For 27 years, Prevention Works has helped build a stronger community by providing prevention strategies and health education services to youth and families. Our programs are recognized for enhancing social emotional health, substance use prevention, violence prevention, parenting and family life skills. Prevention Works partners with schools, churches, youth agencies and neighborhood community centers to remove barriers for the participants we serve.

Along with the entire world, Prevention Works underwent a paradigm shift due to the global pandemic, immediately closing all programs and services. There was a service delivery crisis given our limited ability to connect with our community. As a result, Prevention Works had to reimage how to connect to the community with vital services.

Virtual program delivery required us to marry technology with tenacity, exploring new engagement strategies to connect to the ones who need our services the most. Operational priorities required staff to rely on upgraded technology. Prevention Works joined community collaborations to improve accessibility efforts for youth and family participants, alongside the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network and the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Despite the barriers, Prevention Works responded to the “call to action,” opened its doors, and created a Community Learning Hub. The Hub provided a safe and structured learning environment with accessible Wi-Fi, technology, tutoring, mental health services, school supplies, meals and staffing to supervise in person learning for Kalamazoo Public School students. Prevention Works provided wraparound support services, prevention programs and social emotional development for 12 male students and their families. All 12 completed their academic year and advanced to the next grade.

Due to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety experiencing an increase of youth crimes, Prevention Works partnered with Public Safety, the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Court, the Boys & Girls Clubs and Youth Opportunities Unlimited to offer comprehensive wraparound support for 15 of the most vulnerable, justice impacted youth (ages 14-18). Prevention Works was the host site for this summer program and also provided programming to support the youth.

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Sherman Lake YMCA

A lot has changed at Sherman Lake YMCA over the past two years, but our commitment has remained the same – to always be here for our community when they need us most, with open arms and caring hearts. More than a gym, a pool or a camp, the Sherman Lake YMCA is about elevating community for all who live here. In “normal” times, we do that by helping people get healthy, by connecting seniors to in-person social networks and by teaching our campers about Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility (or what we call HCRR). Recently, however, elevating community has meant something much different.

In response to the needs of families with school-aged children in our community, we created the Sherman Lake Scholars program in the fall of 2020 as an adaptation of our summer day-camp program. Half of each child’s day was spent online completing schoolwork and the other half was spent outdoors participating in traditional camp activities. More than 90 children participated in this program between September 2020 and March 2021. While the true cost of Sherman Lake Scholars was cost prohibitive for many families, we were able to implement a tiered pricing model, allowing families to pay what they could afford.

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Rootead Enrichment Center

Rootead’s mission is:​ Reclaiming the village through cultural liberation by holding spaces for internal transformation, healing arts and birthing justice.​ With support from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Youth & Cultural Arts branch of Rootead was able to host programs for youth and activities for families during the pandemic.

Pivoting during these times was very important to Rootead’s mission because people were not able to gather in-person, and we were not able to hold public spaces for Rootead families. In the beginning, it was very difficult to obtain the information needed to assess what the community wanted during the pandemic. Rootead’s staff focused on making the tools that they offer easily accessible, especially for the underserved community who only had access to laptops and Wi-Fi in public spaces like schools, libraries and work.

Rootead partnered with the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network) to help solve families’ needs for hotspots, free meals, homework help and other support services. This helped connect families to Rootead Collective, an online community for Rootead families. We transferred all youth and family programs and activities to virtual programming on the Rootead Collective.

Ultimately, Rootead hosted virtual workshops and programs that have impacted 60 youth. Youth streaming performances have reached over 6,000 views. When the weather was warm, Rootead was able to safely have Community Drum & Dance workshops outside, which impacted over 150 families while following COVID protocols. 

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