But add it all up and the tally is hefty: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has $29.2 million in active grants in the Grand Rapids area. The funds are tied to programs promoting education, health, family economic security, civic engagement and racial equity.
The grants are aimed at fulfilling Kellogg’s mission “to create the conditions to propel vulnerable children and families to success.”
And the people behind the money say their commitment to the area is longterm.
“Our commitment to Grand Rapids is for generations,” said Sterling K. Speirn, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “Big change requires long-term time horizons. We want to be places where there are great partners to work with and be leveraged.”
The Battle Creek-based foundation, founded in 1930, is currently partnering with 39 organizations, from large foundations such as those run by Spectrum Health and Doug and Maria DeVos to smaller groups like LINC Community Revitalization Inc., which is trying to lift families above the poverty level.
“It’s only through community organizing and civic engagement that communities will drive the change they want to see,” said Speirn, who said their staff has been getting to know people and building relationships for years in the area.
Just last month, the foundation announced a four-year, $5 million grant for the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative to increase access to early learning opportunities so children in low-income neighborhoods are prepared for kindergarten.
In 2006, the foundation made Grand Rapids one of its target areas. Below is a snapshot different partnerships it has in the area:
-Grand Rapids Community Foundation, one-year, $400,000, to enhance job training and summer employment for youth in vulnerable neighborhoods (*receiving more than one grant*).
-Cherry Street Health Services, two-year, $500,000, to strengthen child health services and outcomes.
-Our Kitchen Table, three-year, $360,000, to help Southeast Side neighborhood residents address food disparities, by creating resident-owned healthy food demonstration sites.
Another three-year, $2 million grant was awarded to the Anchor Organization Network to increase the capacity and infrastructure of six community-based organizations to improve service delivery to black, Hispanic and low-income children and families.
The Kellogg Foundation wants to help empower neighborhood groups to advocate for their community and support leadership development.
Kellogg is not a new investor in Kent County but over the last five years has been committed to doing much more. Besides Grand Rapids, the foundation decided in 2006 to focus more of its resources in Detroit and Battle Creek and Mississippi and New Mexico and the city of New Orleans. All the target areas have poverty markers and other red flags related to child well-being measures.
In his State of the City address last weekend, Mayor George Heartwell said the good groups have to work together to improve declining conditions for children. Prior to his speech, he told The Press Kellogg and its increased efforts can help achieve sustainable change in the plight of children.
“Kellogg has been fairly quietly engaging in this community in a really deep, important way around children and their education, health and well-being,” Heartwell said. “I am very encouraged by their long-term commitment and the collaborative approach being taken with our foundations and other organizations.”
Given its size – more than $7 billion in assets – Heartwell said the foundation could have “bowled us over and taken control of the philanthropy in the market” but instead is working side-by-side.
But from the beginning, breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg’s approach was collaborative, to maximize how he could help people help themselves.
“We bring people together to talk about the issues and let them know Kellogg doesn’t have all the answers,” said James McHale, chief of staff of the foundation. “We really believe communities can help address their own situations, but it requires some resources and knowledge of what’s working in other communities.”
McHale said partnerships are rooted in a “whole child” approach.
How do you measure the cost of a baby’s life that would be saved? How do you measure good health in people? How do you measure the ability to get a good start in life that an education affords?
Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the Alliance for Health, raised those questions, saying it’s hard to measure the impact Kellogg is having in the community.
“There’s a huge multiplier effect,” Zwarensteyn said. “Funding in this economy is hard … for programs that don’t have a steady stream of reimbursement. That’s where the volume of dollars become very important. Kellogg is doing fantastic work here and around the world.”
The foundation’s total grant making is $350 million worldwide, including all 50 states. Operated separately from the company, Kellogg is the nation’s fifth largest philanthropy.
Last year, Kellogg announced a partnership with Spectrum Health Foundation, awarding $4.4 million to help solidify the structural response to racial disparities in infant mortality, while also expanding service in Kent County to improve birth outcomes.
“We are very fortunate to have Kellogg in our community,” said Wayman Britt, Kent County’s assistant administrator overseeing the collective impact initiative to bring program efforts in alignment. “The grants that they have made are critical. Kellogg’s investments, coupled with a truly collaborative approach, can make a big difference in the lives of families and children.”
McHale, who resides in Grand Rapids, said it would be easy to flood neighborhoods with resources and see some increases in test scores and outcomes, but things would regress after the funding ended.
“At the same time we are funding programs, we need to be looking at these systems that are in place and (seeing) how can we change those systems and help create conditions that are really going to allow children to be successful in generations to come,” he said.
Nadia Brigham, a program officer for Kellogg living in Grand Rapids, said the foundation is not just focused on communities of color because the issue of racial equity that’s tied to civic engagement is not just a problem for minority communities, but the white community as well.
“That’s where much of the structures and policies that impact impoverished and disadvantaged and disempowered communities stem from, so it’s important that we create this bridge between those communities so that folks across the board can understand the implications of policies that are created and that impact,” Brigham said.
Andrew Brower, associate program officer for Kellogg also based in Grand Rapids, said this is a tale of two cities, one of affluency and quite a bit of poverty and the gap is often around racial lines.
“Everything that we look at is through the lens of racial equity because we realize that it’s through generations and generations that it’s our children of color that are being disproportionately left behind,” McHale said.