Creating Community for a Lifetime


News Release


Roberta F. King, APR, Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Phone: 616.454.1751
Craig Clark
Phone: 616-550-2736 Email:

Community Foundation Offers $300,000 in Grants for Five Projects Aimed at Engaging Older Adults

GRAND RAPIDS - Grand Rapids Community Foundation President Diana Sieger announced today that five area organizations have received funds totaling $303,792 to begin working on 18-month projects aimed at addressing the social and civic engagement needs of Kent County’s older adults. The grants are the first to be awarded as part of the Foundation’s $1 million pledge to move forward the recommendation identified in the “Creating Community for a Lifetime” roadmap.

“Grand Rapids Community Foundation is very excited to be awarding $303,000 to these worthy organizations,” says Foundation President Diana Sieger. “We’re very hopeful that each project serves as a model for additional programs that have a lasting impact on how older adults are perceived in our community,” Sieger adds, referring to how these projects are the first step in executing tactics that address the needs identified in the 2004 research of volunteer activity among older adults in Kent County. The research findings, which lead to the creation of the “Creating Community” initiative, indicated that less than half of residents age 65 and older were involved in volunteer work.

The organizations receiving grants include:

Advocates for Senior Issues $50,000 for “Civic Engagement through Advocacy” This advocacy education program, which seeks to empower seniors to be advocates for issues affecting older adults, will approach a variety of community organizations to identify leaders who would agree to recruit 10-25 members of various ages interested in advocating for issues of concern to their groups. Participants would not only learn about state and local governments and advocacy strategies, but also gain information on their issues of interest and hands-on experience in advocating for them.

Camp Fire USA Western Michigan Council $60,000 for “Operation SAGE: Seniors, Active, Giving and Enriching” Operation SAGE is an innovative program between Camp Fire and the Greater Grand Rapids YMCA that is designed to encourage 25-40 older adult volunteers to share their time, talents, and life experience with children and youth in neighborhood after-school and summer programs. This initiative hopes to not only engage older adults to be mentors to inner-city youth, but also to establish a larger, more diverse volunteer base who can contribute to future programs.

Gerontology Network $97,800 to start Experience Corps program Gerontology Network is partnering with a national organization called Experience Corps, whose mission is to work to solve literacy problems in urban public schools, to help improve the reading skills for students of Jefferson Elementary and Southeast Academic Center. The program will seek out 20 older adult volunteers to work with small groups of children for the next 18 months.

Grand Rapids Community College Older Learner Center $49,605 for “Project Mature Worker” The Older Learner Center seeks to utilize community resources to counsel and place older adults in job training and placement programs that will lead to successful employment. Specifically, the project hopes to recruit 300 mature persons to participate in job training; hold open houses to counsel 150 older adults about job opportunities and job training programs that address their specific needs; provide financial aid assistance for 80% of participants; provide 50 people with job training that is sensitive to their needs; place 50 people in jobs through GRCC’s career development services; and ensure that at least 30 area employers receive information on the benefits of employing and retaining older workers.

John Ball Zoo Society $46,387 for “The Ball 40” The Ball 40 Project (Ball 40 was original name of park) seeks to create a volunteer park management organization using 40 older adults to facilitate the operation of John Ball Zoological Garden (property containing Zoo and Park). The volunteer group will help develop and maintain educational & recreational programs for children, plan summer concerts, greet park users, run a food concession, and assist with traffic or lost children. By accomplishing these tasks, John Ball Zoological Garden will be able to generate revenue to sustain a volunteer park management group while creating a volunteer organization that encourages older adults to utilize their skills and expertise.

As part of the grant requirement, each organization has 18 months to develop, implement and measure outcomes of their project. Future Foundation funding will be based on the success of each project as well as the project’s impact on improving the quality of life for older adults in West Michigan.

“Each project’s primary objective directly affects the Community Foundation’s goal of ensuring that Kent County is a community that optimizes quality of life, independence and choice for older persons through collaborative planning,” says Grand Rapids Community Foundation Program Director Kate Luckert, who is the project leader for the “Creating Community” initiative. “We believe the funds used from the Lucy E. Barnett Trust for the Elderly will help build a framework for providing quality opportunities for older adults to stay engaged in our community.”

About the Lucy E. Barnett Trust for the Elderly
The funds for the grants are from the Lucy E. Barnett Trust for the Elderly at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The Trust was created with a gift to the Foundation in 1967, when Miss Barnett left the bulk of her $1.8 million estate to the Foundation to meet the needs of the elderly.

About Creating Community for a Lifetime
The Creating Community for a Lifetime initiative is an ambitious, long-term, community-wide initiative launched in early 2004 by the Community Foundation and Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan. The initiative seeks to help build a framework for long-term planning to address the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging community. The initiative is not a non-profit organization but an independent coalition convened to explore ideas about what constitutes an elder-friendly community and to articulate a shared vision for Kent County.

More Info: Complete project and organization fact sheets are available by contacting Craig Clark.

Photos: Photos from today’s news conference are available by contacting Craig Clark.


Grand Rapids Community Foundation Craig Clark: 616-550-2736 or Roberta King: 616-454-1751 or

Advocates for Senior Issues Tolly Stiffler, President 616-949-6468

CampFire USA Karen Amos, Director of Development & Communications 616-949-2500 x30

Gerontology Network Karen Rowlader, Director of Marketing 616-771-9720

Grand Rapids Community College Mike Faber, Director, Older Learner Center 616-234-3483

John Ball Zoo Society Krys Bylund, Director of Marketing 616-336-4374