Karen Builds Community

One Connection at a Time

“We get lonely,” says Community Connections participant Karen Cross. “When you’re by yourself, even though you have big families, they’re very very busy with other things in their lives. You can feel very lonely if you don’t have anybody around.”

After Karen’s husband passed away, Karen struggled with loneliness and social isolation, but because of newfound relationships and purpose through her time at TrueNorth Community Services, Karen’s overall well-being has improved.

Karen first became involved at TrueNorth by donating to its Hunger Prevention Programs. It wasn’t until later she started coming to Joker’s Wild, TrueNorth’s card playing group.

Karen continues to come to Joker’s Wild, and has also participated in the Senior Thanksgiving Luncheon and Coffee Connections. She has even invited others from her apartment complex to come to TrueNorth programs. Karen has a heart for service and connecting with others, wanting to reach out to those in the same way others have previously done for her.

Because her apartment complex does not have a gathering place, Karen and a few of her friends there have been working to get more residents involved with TrueNorth programs, particularly Coffee Connections. Karen has opened up her home to bring people together, letting TrueNorth staff use her lawn and garage for Coffee Connections to create their own gathering place.

Karen says, “I’m grateful TrueNorth has made it possible for us to include new people in our little community who we haven’t been able to reach.” Karen continues to be a light in her community as she reaches out to those who feel alone-creating lasting connections that have strengthened both her and her neighbors.


Homeless Awareness Month

Joe’s Path to a Secure and Healthy Future

“If it hadn’t been for [my caseworker] I wouldn’t be here. I’d still be on the street, point blank, I’d still be homeless,” says TrueNorth Community Services’ housing participant Joe.

November is Homeless Awareness Month – putting a spotlight on what it means for people who are homeless and how the community can help. Homelessness takes a number of different forms. From sleeping on city benches to living in tents in national forests, many of our neighbors like Joe need a hand up.

For Joe, having the support and guidance of TrueNorth made all the difference in his journey. Joe had lost his home and spent time in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation facilities for health reasons. He became connected to TrueNorth after he was found living in his storage unit with nowhere else to go.

Having step-by-step guidance from TrueNorth was critical to Joe getting housed, especially with his health conditions. Joe is legally blind and has mobility issues, needing a walker to get around safely. His caseworker helped with all of his housing applications and anything else needed. Fourteen applications later, Joe had applied for housing in as many places as he could to find his new home.

With TrueNorth’s help, Joe was able to stay in a motel for an extended period due to his vulnerable situation while he waited to hear about an apartment. Joe’s caseworker provided him with resources for long-term shelter, but Joe chose not to use them. Joe was able to pay for another three weeks in the motel on his own when he hadn’t heard back from any apartment complex. 

Unfortunately, after weeks in the motel, Joe still did not have a place to go. The motel manager helped Joe bring his belongings to his storage unit. From there, Joe went back to the hospital due to poor health. Homelessness continued to take its toll on Joe.

He was discharged that night and walked to his estranged sister’s apartment but could only stay there one night. The next night, Joe was found in the park by a kid from a local church. Thankfully, the church paid for Joe to live in a campground nearby for a month.

Joe’s caseworker continued to check in with him at the campground, making sure they were doing everything possible to get Joe safely housed. “No matter where I landed, even when I was in the streets, she found a way,” says Joe about working with his caseworker. “She came out to the campground, letting me know what was going on.”

Joe did not have anyone else in his life to help him or offer any kind of support and encouragement. But, TrueNorth made sure he didn’t feel alone. Besides working to get him housed, Joe’s caseworker spent hours in conversation with him, encouraging him not to give up. 

After months of waiting, Joe finally found housing in a local apartment that was accessible and in a safe area, giving him an added sense of security.

Besides guiding Joe through his entire housing process, TrueNorth connected him to other resources so he could live self-sufficiently. Joe now is set up to have people help clean his apartment, with his medications and read his mail to him. He also was connected with a place to get furniture for his apartment. With these resources, Joe is on his way to a healthier, more sustainable life.

Joe says, “I’m just looking forward to being able to live like a human being once more.” 

Many members of our community face similar challenges as Joe. To meet our neighbors’ needs, TrueNorth works personally with each individual–meeting them where they are and guiding them to a safer, brighter future.

TrueNorth’s top priority is to first find housing, reducing the physical and emotional effects of homelessness, and then develop a long-term plan to end homelessness for each person experiencing it.

You can get involved at TrueNorth Community Services to help our neighbors. With the weather turning colder, many people who are homeless will be living in unsafe conditions. Whether you donate, volunteer, advocate or help in any way you can, you can be confident you are offering a hand up to our neighbors in need. 

Click here to get involved and keep everyone in our community healthy and secure this month and beyond. 

Ruth’s Story

CNH Helps Ruth With Back Taxes Through MiHAF

Ruth and her significant other are both on disability and unable to work due to serious medical issues. They are the definition of a household on a fixed income. When cost of living increases got too high, they ended up in danger of losing their home due to back taxes. That’s when Lori from our CNH Division stepped in. To see a short video and hear the whole story, click here.

Schools Fight Hunger

Through Empty Bowls Initiative

This year our annual Empty Bowls fundraiser moved to include area schools. While we still had the soup luncheon at the TrueNorth Service Center, over 80 school staff joined the fight against hunger with a delivered soup lunch.

A Newaygo County educator says, “Kudos to TrueNorth for reaching out to the local schools to participate in this event…Definitely looking forward to next year to do it again and that we can help in some small way!”

School staff received a lunch of soup and bread along with a hand-painted bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in our community just like those at the in-person luncheon. This event hit home for school staff because they see the effects of food insecurity first-hand in many of their students.

To add to the school staff, an additional 125 community members came to the luncheon held at TrueNorth’s Service Center, totalling 250 supporters for the entire event. Making additional donations of over $3,300, attendees “stuffed” 22 shopping carts full of fruits, vegetables, peanut butter and other items for our on-site, self-select food pantry. In total, $16,676 was raised through donations, ticket sales, Stuff the Cart and sponsorships.

With a goal of $25,000 to support our Hunger Prevention programs, there is still a great need for support with $8,324 remaining to meet our goal. With the growing need in our community, many bowls are still empty. Our neighbors need your help to live healthy, sustainable lives. 

Mike Voyt, TrueNorth’s Hunger Prevention and Children’s Services Director, says, “During the past four years, we have experienced a 200% increase in requests for food assistance through our in-house food pantry and a 275% increase in Mobile Pantry use. Thankfully our community has been with us every step of the way as we work to meet this urgent need.”

You can help fill the remaining empty bowls in our community by making a gift today.

Coats for Kids

Keeping Families Warm This Winter & Beyond

As the weather turns colder, many children and adults in our community will not have the protection they need to stay safe and warm. Warm coats, hats and gloves are critical to the health of our families during the cold Michigan winters.

To help our neighbors, TrueNorth held its annual Coats for Kids (& Adults) coat and winter gear distribution. Compassionate supporters like you have already been giving generously to meet our community’s needs. Last week, we distributed 629 coats at the event, an increase of 130 over last year’s distribution, and will work with area schools and other organizations to distribute another 300 coats to keep our families secure this winter.

But our neighbors still need your help.

We do not receive many kid’s coats donations due to the wear and tear they usually incur. Because of this, we purchase many of these coats to continue to provide protection to the kids in our community. Cash donations are needed to fill this gap.

When you give to Coats for Kids (& Adults) today, we will use your gift to purchase coats after the winter season, when coats are on sale to make the most out of your gift. You can keep our children and adults healthy and warm this year and beyond.

We are asking you to make a caring gift to Coats for Kids (& Adults). Through your support, you will be personally offering a hand up to our neighbors in need. Give today and be confident you are ensuring the health and security of our community.

Parks in Focus

The Great Outdoors + Photography = Big Fun!

Since 2007, TrueNorth has been partnering with the Udall Foundation to offer Parks in Focus, an outdoor-based small group mentoring program that connects youth to the outdoors through technology!

Each summer, a new group of youth go on a series of day trips to local parks, learning the basics of photography, and the program culminates in a eight day immersion trip to Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. This August 12 adventurous youth camped, hiked, canoed, and explored, all while connecting with one another and capturing gorgeous shots of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Seney National Wildlife Refuge and Tahquamenon Falls.

On September 13, at 6 pm they shared some of their favorite photos via a slideshow and photo exhibit that wass open to the public at the TrueNorth Service Center. Funding for this program is made possible thanks to a grant from the Youth Advisory Committee of Fremont Area Community Foundation

Empty Bowls

Join the Fight Against Hunger

For Ethel Sluiter, having the resources from TrueNorth Community Services’ food pantry has helped her and her husband make ends meet. Both have retired and are unable to work, and because of this, they are living on a fixed income making it challenging to get by with the rising cost of living.

Ethel has come to TrueNorth’s food pantry every two weeks for the past five years. Having a reliable place to get food and other necessities like laundry soap and personal care items has helped Ethel and her husband live off of their fixed income.

With rising costs, many seniors like Ethel have struggled to get by. In just the past year, there has been an increase of seniors who have utilized TrueNorth’s Hunger Prevention services. Ethel says these services are a, “Tremendous support for people, especially the senior citizens…for senior citizens, they can’t work. This is a tremendous support for them.”

Living on a fixed income makes unexpected costs difficult to manage. Ethel says that being able to come to TrueNorth’s food pantry gives her peace of mind that if these unexpected costs come, she has access to food and essential items and won’t have to sacrifice her family’s essential needs to get by.

“I’m just thankful for the help that we do get,” says Ethel. With the resources from TrueNorth, Ethel and her husband are able to live healthy, secure lives knowing they have what they need to live and thrive.

You can help individuals and families like Ethel by giving to our Hunger Prevention programs. Your gift will provide those in need with nutritious, healthy food that will give them the sustenance necessary to lead productive lives. Without your compassionate support, many in our community would go hungry.

You can also join the fight against hunger by attending Empty Bowls. Supporters come to Empty Bowls for a simple lunch of soup and bread and take home a hand-decorated bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in our community. 

If you can’t attend Empty Bowls, you can still help meet our neighbors needs by making a generous gift.

Make your commitment to decreasing food insecurity in our community by giving today and attending Empty Bowls. Click below to make your caring gift and register for Empty Bowls.

Make a caring gift to Hunger Prevention

Register for Empty Bowls

Housing Journey

Duane Gives Back

After being chronically homeless for three years, Duane is happy to be living his new life safely housed. It wasn’t an easy journey to get to this point, however. Through Duane’s hard work and support from TrueNorth Community Services, Duane was able to change his situation for the better and now even gives back by helping those who are in the same situation he used to be in.

When Duane was homeless, he would utilize the tent city during the summer and the local shelter in the winter. He would stay with a family member or a friend temporarily from time to time but that was never the best situation for him. Duane worked two jobs to help get him on his feet, but even while doing everything he could, he didn’t believe he deserved to have a place to call home. Duane says, “And I think I didn’t deserve it, and that was wrong… I was working two jobs trying to get myself [on] my feet so I can get somewhere in life.”

Through encouragement from his caseworker at TrueNorth and seeing his hard work pay off, Duane began to have more hope for a healthier future. Duane’s determination paid off when he moved into his new apartment the day before his birthday. When reflecting on how he felt when he first walked into his new home, Duane says, “I wanted to jump up and down and make all kinds of noise and throw a big old party. I worked hard to get this, you know. Ya, I was pretty excited.”

After being housed, Duane’s personal life improved as he had fewer worries and was reconnecting with his family. “I don’t have many worries. It’s great having a place to live,” says Duane. “I have some stress but not too bad, it’s a lot easier now that I have a place.” Having a place to call home enables Duane to focus on his relationships and his future. Now, Duane has a stronger relationship with his siblings because they have less worries about his well-being now that he lives in a safer, healthier place.

Giving back to the community has also been important to Duane even when he was homeless. Duane had started volunteering at HELP Ministries before he found housing. After volunteering for a while, he was offered a job and continues to work there today. Duane has also spent time volunteering at the homeless shelter he used to stay at. He doesn’t want anyone else to be in his previous situation, which is why he continues to volunteer at the shelter to help others get back on their feet.

Today, Duane has been living in his new home for over 2 years. He continues to work and volunteer and is still grateful for the support he has received to get where he is today. Duane says, “I don’t want to live the homeless life again so I’ll do what I can do to keep my apartment and find resources. I don’t want to see anybody else homeless either. No going backwards, it’s always forward.”

Youth Programming

An Exciting New Name Change

TrueNorth’s Newaygo County Out-of-School Time programs, Engage! at Patricia St. Clair Elementary and David C. Outwin Middle School, and R.E.A.C.H. at White Cloud Elementary and White Cloud Jr. High, are now part of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Project FOCUS (For Our Children’s Ultimate Success) programs. Their new official name is Project FOCUS Rural Grit.

Michigan’s Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding is through a competitive grant application with the Michigan Department of Education and is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In partnership with White Cloud Public Schools and Hesperia Community Schools, TrueNorth applied for the grant in March and received notification in June that the grant proposal was awarded. The grant will provide $245,000 for each district’s afterschool program for just over $2.5 million for five years. 

The purpose of the 21st CCLC program is to provide federal funds to support the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during out-of-school hours. The program helps students meet state and local academic standards in core subjects and offers a broad array of enrichment activities that complement their regular educational programs. The program’s success lies in strong partnerships with the school districts, as all work together to provide a caring, safe, and supportive environment for children after school. The funding also allows for a six-week summer program in both districts.  

“The 21st CCLC funding will be a huge asset for our rural communities. Providing structured out-of-school time programming for students will give them the much-needed homework help and enrichment experiences they may not get otherwise. It can definitely be a game-changer in the trajectory of the lives of these students,” said Hesperia school board member Mark Kraus, who is also part of the Project FOCUS Rural Grit Collaborative Advisory Committee. 

For more information or to apply for Project FOCUS Rural Grit at Hesperia or White Cloud, please reach out to Danielle Siegel, Youth Programs Director, at dsiegel@truenorthservices.org or call (231) 942-0641, ext. 109.

Being Neighborly

Being Neighborly with Coffee Connections

Coffee Connections, a new initiative of Community Connections, has been taking being neighborly to the next level. For many seniors in our community, it can be challenging to find opportunities to interact with others and spend time outside of their homes. To help those experiencing social isolation, Coffee Connections was created to be a welcoming place for individuals to gather and enjoy time together, right from their homes.

TrueNorth has visited three locations, multiple times, bringing coffee and other beverages, chairs, and a welcoming atmosphere. Having been run since June, dozens of seniors have begun to form and strengthen new friendships.

Coming right to individuals’ apartment buildings decreases a lot of barriers for seniors. Many have difficulties getting out on their own, and without activities and other social events happening in their building, there would be no avenue for them to get to know their neighbors.

Renee, who comes to Coffee Connections and other TrueNorth programs, says, “Before the pandemic we used to do all kinds of things, but now, we’ve all gotten used to being alone.”  Now, they can come out to their building’s front lawn for welcoming conversations and interactions.

Just having the groups get together has helped spark a more friendly, inviting atmosphere at these buildings. People walking by get curious when they see the groups meeting and are invited to join. Regulars hand out extra flyers to other residents and encourage them to come. 

The conversations vary greatly, but one aspect remains the same; each person is welcomed and encouraged to be involved. From just talking about life and learning about community events and resources, to showing the group their latest sewing project, there is space for everyone to feel more connected.

Both Coffee Connections groups continue to grow and are excited to welcome more and more people. To learn more about Coffee Connections and other Community Connections’ initiatives, email Jackie Knight at jknight@truenorthservices.org.