Lending Hands of Michigan

In April of 2005, a gentleman from our community returned home to care for his aging mother and he was faced with a dilemma. He realized to take care of his mother he needed medical equipment like a walker, commode and shower chair. His name was John Hilliard, and he was a visionary and entrepreneur. John began going to all the Millwood garage sales, buying and refurbishing equipment in his garage. But he took it a step further: he began asking neighbors if they needed equipment and to his surprise his vision turned into reality: Lending Hands was born!

Since 2005, Lending Hands has served over 55,000 residents of a six-county region that includes; Allegan, Cass, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Van Buren. Our loan period is for seven months FREE of charge. Where else can you go today and receive services that will enhance your life and mobility for free?

Since the genesis of Lending Hands, we have been able to measure the impact of our services. In 2005 we served 42 clients. In 2019 we served over 5,000 Kalamazoo County residents at a savings of over $400,000 dollars. In 2021 we served 4,664 clients with a total savings of $270,000, in 2022 we served 4,639 with a savings of $296,000.

We are making a difference!

For more information, visit www.lendinghandsmi.org

Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home Foundation

The Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home Foundation was founded in 2004 to generate funds and provide engaging opportunities for youth enrolled in our County’s juvenile justice programs. Since its inception, our most long-standing and effective program has been music therapy. What began as services for youth in detention has since been expanded to reach young people in all branches of our facility. These include educational programs, where 20% of all science classes are taught with music therapy support, diversion programs where music therapy promotes avenues for youth to build skills and break cycles of recidivism, and family sessions meant to solidify growth-in-treatment and support a youth’s successful transition through groups that include siblings and caregivers. As they move through the various programs, youth create original music and audio recordings that tell their story of challenging the past, championing the present, and crafting a brighter future. More than 400 original recordings are made and submitted to the youth that create them each year. We have seen consistent and positive results from music therapy approaches, and believe that these benefits not only improve the lives of the youth in our care, but also benefit our Kalamazoo community as a whole. In a survey of 86 youth served last year, 93% stated that music therapy helps them learn and achieve life goals. 90% stated that arts programming makes a difference in life outside of our facility. Music therapy supports our mission of enriching the lives of youth and families that we serve.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/kalamazoojuvenilehomefoundation

Irving S. Gilmore School of Music, Western Michigan University

A legacy of generosity leads to naming the WMU School of Music

Celebrating the extraordinary generosity of former philanthropist and arts patron Irving S. Gilmore, Western Michigan University is naming its school dedicated to educating its outstanding musicians the Irving S. Gilmore School of Music.

Daniel G. Guyette, dean of the College of Fine Arts, made the announcement to the campus community during its 50th anniversary celebration on October 14, stating the new name will begin being used officially in January.

A former business leader and concert quality pianist, Gilmore died in 1986, leaving a legacy of charitable giving through the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

On campus, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation has been enormously generous, granting more than $30 million to Western since the mid-1980s. In the College of Fine Arts, past grants from the foundation total more than $17 million.

“In light of this legacy of philanthropy and Mr. Gilmore’s devotion to music and the arts, recent conversations with members of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation trustees have brought about an extraordinary opportunity,” Guyette said at the celebration. “We thank Irving S. Gilmore and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation for their profound leadership and generosity, which supports and enriches the cultural, social and economic life of greater Kalamazoo.”


Western has offered music instruction since 1904. The first music majors and minors were offered in 1942, and the department became a school in 1980. Today, it offers a broad range of programs including 11 undergraduate degree, eight graduate degree and two certificate programs to nearly 440 registered students that prepare them for careers and further study in performance, research, music education, music therapy, composition and multimedia arts technology.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit www.wmich.edu/news

Kalamazoo County Ready 4s

Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Within two weeks of preschools being closed for COVID, it was abundantly clear to our team at KC Ready 4s that the pandemic was going to dramatically affect the lives of our young children as well as the livelihoods of our partner providers. We knew it was essential to bring our network of program directors together to share ideas and resources, to problem solve and, most of all, to listen and help.

After a year of working together in new creative ways and listening to the needs of the early education sector, we knew there was one statistic we could not ignore: Over 75% of our partner teachers had no health benefits. During the pandemic, record numbers of teachers left the field, and we knew this was one way KC Ready 4s could help.

In July of 2021, KC Ready 4s introduced Thriving Teachers Thriving Children, an employee assistance program that provides all of the teachers and staff in 26 of our partner providers access to telemedicine, counseling, a crisis line and wellness resources at no cost. PCCN Preschool Director Laurie Kreg said, “The Thriving Teachers initiative is going to gift our teachers and their families the opportunity to seek necessary health supports that our programs simply cannot afford. It’s another example of how KC Ready 4s continues to not only support young learners in Kalamazoo County but also the programs that are leading the way in high quality early childhood education.”

For more information, visit www.kcready4s.org

Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center

The Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center (KELC), together with our college interns, was challenged to find unique ways to gather and create community placemaking while being safe and addressing COVID protocols. Throughout the year, the event team looked at many ways to host events that authentically addressed the activity’s mission while assuring safety in the event execution. Two important programs emerged through this challenge.

First, challenged with how to keep our food truck entrepreneurs sustainable and help our artists find unique and safe venues to perform, we relied on a very strong partnership with the Kalamazoo Health Department and our local municipalities. Together, we identified the needs of the community slowly emerging from a pandemic and protocols that would support the best mix of blending distanced gathering and an authentic feel of community. Unique outdoor spaces provided a fabulous blend where artists could perform in their “pod” and food trucks could offer the unique experience of street food. The funds helped us to host seven Friday Night Food Truck Rallies and 12 Tuesday night rallies with over 5,000 people attending.

Also in 2021, as the neighborhoods slowly emerged from the pandemic, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department understood at their core that kids needed to get out of their apartments to safely engage with others in the community. Working to identify pockets of communities experiencing this challenge, KELC and the team of interns popped up five carnival events where kids and officers played, competed and enjoyed winning prizes. Trust was built and kids simply had fun.

For more information, visit www.experientiallearningcenter.org

Kalamazoo Literacy Council

Like most educational institutions, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC) is adapting to the changing learning environment brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic. During the first year of the pandemic, the KLC had the largest and most diverse range of virtual options for adult learners in Kalamazoo County thanks to the creation of its Virtual Learning Center and Laptop Loaning Program. The KLC also added an outdoor classroom in the Read and Seed Community Garden and Interpretive Learning Center in partnership with Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan to safely provide multi-generational learning options for adults and their families.

Now, the KLC is building a hybrid learning model to accommodate the needs and preferences of adult learners who choose to learn virtually, in-person or in both settings. Despite the challenges and uncertainty, the KLC has continued to successfully lead the Everyone Needs to Read Adult Literacy Initiative, which has strengthened and expanded instruction for adults with low literacy skills in Kalamazoo County since September 2010. This initiative has aligned services across the adult learning continuum from adult literacy, English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education and post-secondary education to deliver better outcomes for adults who struggle to read.

In total, KLC served 524 adult learners and their families, including immigrants and refugees who have settled in the greater Kalamazoo area in the past year.

For more information, visit www.kalamazooliteracy.org


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.

For more information, visit www.kzoolf.org

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.

For more information, visit www.ministrywithcommunity.org

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.

For more information, visit www.opendoorskalamazoo.org

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.

For more information, visit www.outfrontkzoo.org