My Camp Newaygo Experience

Athena’s Story
(written by Athena Parkin)

“I started attending Camp Newaygo in 2013 as a shy, little, eleven year old girl. Coming to a new place with new people for the first time, I was very nervous. But as soon as I arrived at Camp Newaygo, I felt instantly welcomed and back then I never realized how much of an effect it would have on my life. Throughout my six years at Camp Newaygo as a camper, I learned many new skills, like how to start a fire, windsurf, canoe, and go on a proper campout.

Something I loved during these six years was being able to see my friends every summer. I feel lucky to have gained such great friends from a young age. After my last summer as a camper, I became an L.I.T, or a leader in training, and spent my summer working alongside counselors and learning how to fulfill Camp Newaygo’s full mission. Once I turned eighteen, I became an overnight camp counselor. Over the summer of 2020 and 2021, I got to lead many campouts, help campers learn all the skills.

I learned as a camper, and show the other counselors how much Camp Newaygo can mean to a camper. During summer 2021 I was asked to become a year round intern for Camp Newaygo and I was overly excited to spend my year at camp and see it in all four seasons. Some of the jobs I have done at Camp Newaygo during this past year have included: setting up and working weddings, leading school groups, better organizing many areas around camp, working with TrueNorth’s Out-of-School Time Program, Engage!, and the Circles program. Camp Newaygo has taught me so much and I am forever grateful for everything I have learned and gained in my nine years here.”

50 Years Strong

TrueNorth; A Community Asset

Fifty years ago, TrueNorth Community Services operated out of a small building on West Oak Street in downtown Fremont with a small staff of 5 full time and 6 part time employees. TrueNorth has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the organization’s history.

By the early 2000s, TrueNorth’s programs and services had expanded, raising the need for more space. In 2002, TrueNorth launched a capital campaign to purchase land and build a new facility, which would meet existing needs and offer space for future growth. Over $2.1 million was raised, thanks to 541 generous
supporters. The new facility, with over triple the square footage of the former building, contained additional offices; more storage; Food Pantry expansion; a large multi use room for indoor concerts, gym activities and art shows; a commercial kitchen and a youth center.

Over the years spaces have been modified to best accommodate the needs of the community and the agency. This has given us the space, where today, we provide over 230,000 service touchpoints to thousands of individuals annually.

In addition to serving the needs of the organization, the facility was developed into a valued asset to our communities. Over the years many groups have utilized space at TrueNorth to deliver their programs and services too – Alcoholic Anonymous, grief support groups, gymnastics classes, congregate meals, and Young Life, just to name a few.

Today, 50 years later, the TrueNorth Service Center continues to be a vibrant community asset.

Helping with Heat

Shane shares his gratitude

Shane, a Self-Sufficiency client with our emPower program, found himself in a panic when he realized his propane gauge dropped from the safe zone, to completely empty. Without propane, Shane was without heat, and lacked power to his refrigerator.

Upon realizing this, he reached out to his TrueNorth Self-Sufficiency Advisor, Megan, to see what help they could provide. They connected Shane to our emPower team, where Courtney and Linda were quickly able to process a propane fill. Within 2 hours a propane truck arrived to get Shane back to working order! Shane later learned, from the propane driver, that his gauge was stuck, which resulted in him being unaware of his dropped level. Shane expressed his gratitude for the assistance by saying, “Happy Days!!! Thank you so much.”

STEAM Challenge a Hit

Students participate in annual event

Every year, students in our Out-of-School Time Programs take part in the S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) Challenge, participating in a series of fun and educational activities.

Students in our REACH program at White Cloud and Engage! program at Hesperia held their S.T.E.A.M. Challenge on Saturday, March 5th at White Cloud Junior Senior High School, which had approximately 80 people in attendance including students, staff and parents. Their theme was “Our Planet Our Future.” Students had three options to choose from; Art, which had to be a 3-dimensional project made out of recyclable materials. The Art piece had to have an environmental message depicting the artists’ ideas; The Main Project was to create something that would help the environment. Students could choose to improve upon an invention that is currently helping the environment or design something new; The Day of Challenge, which was to design a way to protect sea turtle eggs and once hatched, protect them on their journey to the water.

“Site Coordinators designed a whole month around the S.T.E.A.M. Challenge where they could work out what they were designing. Classrooms were filled with recyclable materials with signs telling the janitorial staff not to throw it away!” – Mandi Krbez, Site Manager at White Cloud Jr. High and Event Organizer.

125 Students from all ten of our Project FOCUS sites (in Baldwin, Hart, Holton, Muskegon Heights, Three Oaks and Walkerville) along with staff and a handful of parent visitors attended the Challenge on Saturday, April 23rd at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Muskegon Heights. The theme of their Challenge was “Out of This World.” Challenges included – 3D Solar Systems created by students; Moon Rover, where students were provided a base (small remote control car) to build a moon rover that would be able to deliver supplies from one space station to another. The moon rover needed to be able to hold the supplies in its designated container without losing them while navigating the moon terrain; Alien Art Form, themed art projects, which was open to students’ interpretation of what an alien or other space life would look like; Team Challenge, which saw groups of five students compete in a mystery competition the day of the event. This year, it was building a space suit to survive on another planet out of a collection of random materials.

“This was our 7th annual STEAM Challenge event, and I believe was the best turnout from students and parents that we have had. After having to cancel last year’s in-person STEAM Challenge, I was happy to see the kids work so hard on all of the projects for this year’s competition. This event truly is one that our students look forward to every year.” – Sam Bolles, Site Coordinator at Walkerville and Event Organizer.

Fairy and Gnome Homes

At Camp Newaygo’s Enchanted Forest

Camp Newaygo’s Enchanted Forest has rapidly become a much-anticipated and popular local event. Each spring, local artists create fantastical fairy houses and/or gnome homes, which are “hidden” throughout the beautiful grounds of Camp Newaygo for attendees to find. This year, over 20 artists created almost 40 houses.

Michigan weather in April can be iffy, but on Saturday, April 23rd we were treated to the first really nice, warm sunny day of Spring, and crowds poured into Camp Newaygo. Even though Sunday the 24th was a bit colder and a bit rainy, many people still showed up with raincoats and umbrellas. In all, over 200 community members joined us to explore the winding trails of Camp Newaygo and discover all of the amazing little houses created by local artists specifically for our tiny visitors!

This year, the Enchanted Forest was a part of Camp Newaygo’s 50 Outdoor Moments to celebrate TrueNorth Community Services’ 50th Anniversary. All Fairy and Gnome homes are now for sale at Camp Newaygo, TrueNorth Community Services, Newaygo County Council for the Arts, and Tamarac. All proceeds will benefit Camp Newaygo programs. Contact Camp Newaygo at (231) 652-1184 if you are interested in purchasing a house for local pickup.

Show Your Support:

Become a Member Today

In February, TrueNorth celebrated its 50th Anniversary! On behalf of everyone touched by TrueNorth’s programs and services over the past 50 years, we thank you for your commitment to our mission. Your support gives every member of our communities the chance to enhance their life, whether it is learning, connecting, volunteering or benefiting in another way.

Supporters just like you keep our genuinely vulnerable neighbors safe through homeless prevention and housing services, utility and food assistance, individualized case management, advocacy for rural Michigan, and so much more. I hope you will take your support one-step further and become a member today.

Membership shows your commitment to everything we do in our communities as we focus on meeting essential needs, creating pathways to self-sufficiency, ensuring youth thrive and building vibrant communities.

Your membership gift will also ensure our children have the opportunity to grow into productive adults through after school programing, participating in cultural arts initiatives, enjoying a sense of belonging, and experiencing many other life-enriching programs that benefit our young people.

As an organization deeply embedded in our communities for 50 years,TrueNorth Community Services depends on the trust and support from people like you. Your dedication to help those in need is very much appreciated. Join me and become a member today as we continue Moving Michigan Forward, 50 Years Strong!

Art Contest is Back!

Student Scholarship Contest to be held this May

The Student Art Scholarship Contest and Expo, for middle and high school students, is one of our oldest programs, beginning the same year we were incorporated, in 1972. Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a pause on us hosting this annual event.

We are very excited to, once again, be able to offer this opportunity to reward and showcase local student artists and their work. Students in 7th – 12th grades may enter individual pieces of artwork, and students in 8th – 11th grades may enter a portfolio of several pieces to compete for monetary scholarships. Seniors enter individual pieces for Senior Recognition, and all winning students receive award ribbons.

“This show gives our students the opportunity to showcase all of their creativity and hard work from the year to a larger audience.” – Jill Kuebler, Grant High School Art Teacher and 29-year member of the A.R.T.S. Committee.

This year’s guest adjudicator is Cheryl Buckingham, from Howell, MI. She is a graduate of CMU who majored in art, with graduate art classes from the University of Michigan. She taught for 35 years at the middle and high school levels. Many of Cheryl’s students were winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards over the years, and she had several student portfolios chosen for the Lansing Art Gallery.

“This is a chance for artists to show off their hours of hard work.” – Sam, art student at Grant High School.

Amazing pieces of art will be on public display at the TrueNorth Service Center Sunday, May 1st from 2 – 4 pm, and Monday through Wednesday, May 2nd – 4th from 8:30 am – 8 pm. A public awards presentation will take place on Monday, May 2nd at 7 pm. Join us as we support our local student artists. Click here to see a short video showcasing some of the student artwork.

What Circles Means to Me

Shared by Circle Graduate, Alisha

“Hello, my name is Alisha. I wanted to take a minute to tell you how Circles Newaygo County saved me. I am like a lot of other people. I am a single parent of three kids. I am also a child of generational poverty. I was lost before Circles. I had goals but no idea how to make them a reality, I had debt I wasn’t sure how to do anything about, I knew about budgeting but had no idea how to implement it better in my life, and I was depressed and hopeless. Circles helped me change all of that. Through the Circles program I made friends, I learned to budget, I learned how to reduce my debt and improve my credit score, I learned how to be a better mom, and they taught me to believe in myself like all my new friends believed in me. Circles gave me the confidence to apply to go back to college and I am now working toward a degree. They taught me not to give up on my dreams but rather to make small adjustments when needed to make them a reality. It taught me about self-worth and self-care, things I have never been good at. When I wanted to give up they picked me up and reminded me I had been through worse. The best part is that they didn’t do the work for me. They showed me the way and supported all of my decisions. In doing that they gave me the confidence to work on what I needed to work on. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t joined Circles.”

Circles is all about helping participants, called Circle Leaders, create their legacy. Circle Leaders are paired up with community volunteers, called Allies, who help expand their network and walk alongside them during their time in Circles. Throughout programming Circle Leaders hone in on their goals toward self-reliance while building meaningingful relationships with others.

For more information about Circles, contact Circles Coordinator, Gabie Schmidt at (231) 924-0641 ext. 220 or

Gifts to Circles Newaygo County will be matched $0.50 for every $1.00 and will go directly to helping more people, just like Alisha.

Plant a Row for Hunger

Sharing access to local produce

Access to fresh produce is vital to long term community health and wellbeing, and with 80% of Newaygo County residents consuming less than adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, many families depend on TrueNorth Hunger Prevention Programs for access to these healthy food items.

One aspect of the gardener’s tradition is to share extra produce with those in need. Every year, as part of our Plant a Row for Hunger campaign, we ask local gardeners and farmers to remember their neighbors and donate extra produce. Many local gardeners and farmers even go the extra step of planting extra rows of produce for the express purpose of donating to the Food Pantry.

Mike Voyt, our Hunger Prevention Director says this campaign is a two-pronged approach. “We’d love local gardeners and farmers to plant a row and donate produce come harvest time, and hope giving seeds away will help encourage that. But we also want to encourage folks who might depend on the resources from our Food Programs to also have the opportunity to plant home gardens.” We want to encourage and empower local families to grow their own fresh produce.

To help with this, TrueNorth’s Hunger Prevention Programs will offer a seed packet distribution later this month. This seed distribution, which is open to the public, will allow each household to receive five free seed packets, and bonus flower seeds, courtesy of our CEDAM AmeriCorps member. For new and veteran gardeners a set of detailed instructions and tips on growing produce will also be available.

Homeless to Homeowner

Mark’s Story

Mark had been struggling for a couple of years with addiction and ended up homeless and panhandling on the streets of Grand Rapids. It was a low-point for him, but things were about to turn around, drastically.

After several attempts at detox and rehabilitation facilities, he ended up at Randy’s House in Newaygo. He had found employment in Newaygo and was working second shift, walking to and from work, in all kinds of weather. As part of his recovery and path to self-sufficiency, the staff at Randy’s House suggested he work on repairing his credit rating. That is how he first met Lori Murphy, a HUD-Certified Housing Counselor with our CNH Program. Working with Lori, he slowly but surely improved his credit score with the ultimate goal of owning his own home.

“My number one goal was security… I never wanted to be homeless again. I never wanted to be in that situation where; I have nowhere to go.”

Mark was even able to weather a lay-off because he had taken Lori’s advice to heart and saved money for an emergency. As such, he was able to keep paying off debt without it adversely effecting his improving credit score.

When he was finally able to begin buying his own home, he was overwhelmed by the appraisal and inspection process, but again, Lori was there to walk alongside him and help him navigate that overwhelming process.

“She kept me focused, with my eyes on the goal – to own my own home. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Lori. I look back two years ago and I think, wow… this actually happened. If I can do it… I mean… I was holding my hand out on the streets of Grand Rapids, homeless, two years ago, and to walk into that home and have tears in my eyes… it’s just unbelievable.”  

Watch the full story in this video.