S.T.E.A.M. Challenge 2023

Out-of-School Time: Building Bridges

On Saturday, March 11th, approximately 150 students from our various Out-of-School Time Programs took part in the annual S.T.E.A.M. Challenge. Bringing students from four counties together, this event, themed “Building Bridges,” took place at Hesperia Community Schools, and gave students a chance to participate and compete in a number of challenges utilizing skills and knowledge they’ve learned regarding Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics. 

In addition to the day’s highlighted competitions, the students rotated through activities such as creating boats that float out of only aluminum; creating buildings using jellybeans and toothpicks as their foundations; and making inchworms out of construction paper and then propelling them in races using straws and their own lung power.

For the main challenge, students built bridges out of either popsicle sticks or balsa wood, depending on their age, and entered them into the challenge. Judged on structure, creativity, thought process, and integrity- the winners were those bridges that could hold the most weight! There were LEGO challenges, both 2D and 3D student-created art exhibits, and lots of other fun, hands-on activities. 

“Some students took the theme not only to mean bridges over water, but building bridges amongst students, communities, and friendships – which was really cool!”
– Danielle Siegel, Youth Programs Director 





Plant-a-Row For Hunger

Season kicks off with seed distribution

Fresh produce is a vital component of a healthy diet, yet those experiencing food insecurity rarely have the opportunity to enjoy it. This is why we hold our annual Plant-a-Row for Hunger campaign.  This year we need your support more than ever. During the pandemic we saw a 110% increase in request for food assistance, we are now experiencing an additional 40% increase in assistance.

Anyone who has ever had a garden knows you often end up with much more produce than you and your family could ever consume. We ask local growers to remember the good gardener’s tradition of sharing your bounty with those in need. We also suggest taking it one step further by deliberately planting an extra row for the express purpose of donating the produce come harvest time

Every year, the Plant-a-Row for Hunger campaign brings in over 9,000 lbs. of fresh produce to our Food Pantry. This year our goal is to exceed 12,000 lbs of donated fresh produce. Please help us reach that goal.

The seed distribution, which we started a couple of years ago makes it even easier for local growers to participate. Visit TrueNorth March 20th – 24th between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm to select your free five seed packets. We also encourage anyone who might have need of our Food Pantry services to think about planting their own gardens and empowering themselves to grow their own fresh, healthy produce.


Rita gives back through TrueNorth membership

“To me, giving back looks like recognizing I’ve been blessed. We’ve all been blessed. You don’t have to have tons of money. You need a space in your heart that truly knows the little bit I can do, I can do and I will do,” says former board member and long-time TrueNorth supporter Rita VanBoven.

Rita has been giving back through TrueNorth Community Services since 2005. She then joined the board and became a member in 2007. Although she retired from the board last year, Rita is still supporting TrueNorth through membership. Why? Because, Rita says; “When you hear people say, ‘we have been given so much by TrueNorth and we want to give back,’ that says it all. And I’ve heard that multiple times in the community and it’s good to know that we’re helping those to help themselves.”

From starting the sock drive for the Children’s Christmas Programs to organizing a mud volleyball fundraiser, Rita has a heart for serving those in need. She has been a part of the Fremont community for over 60 years and continues to use her passion for her neighbors to give back through TrueNorth.

During Rita’s time on the board, she saw the problems that faced Newaygo County and Western Michigan. Working together with the rest of the board along with staff and volunteers, steps were taken to help the majority of the community such as those facing hunger or homelessness. These issues and many others still face our community today. However, with the caring support of those at TrueNorth and the community, positive change can be made as Rita saw throughout her time on the board.

Rita has seen the organization grow tremendously in the amount of services offered and people helped over her years spent at TrueNorth. From focusing solely on Newaygo County to now offering services across Michigan, TrueNorth’s reach has expanded to assist more and more people.

Looking to the future, Rita still plans on supporting TrueNorth through her gifts and volunteering. She encourages anyone considering supporting TrueNorth through membership to help as much as they can.  She says, “I’ve been around there for a long time and I would never ask of you anything that I wouldn’t do myself. And I would not think for a minute that you can’t make a difference yourself. So the help is needed there. You can provide help.”

Giving back does not always mean giving a large donation–what matters is caring for and helping our community. Whatever time or gifts you can offer creates a long-lasting impact in the lives of our neighbors. Becoming a member at TrueNorth Community Services solidifies your dedication to the people we serve as Rita and many other members involved at TrueNorth recognize with their continual support.

By supporting TrueNorth through membership, like Rita, you are investing in your community. Together, we can ensure youth thrive, build vibrant communities, create paths to self-sufficiency and meet the essential needs of our neighbors.

“Compassion, caring and people that know how to find a way to make a difference–that to me is TrueNorth,” says Rita. Join Rita and become a member to continue her legacy of compassion, trust and support as we work together to build and maintain a stronger community.

Click here to give back to your community and become a member today.

Not Just Fun & Games

Our Mission to Connect Our Community

Over the last several years, researchers, funders, and nonprofit organizations like TrueNorth have increased their focus on the issues of social isolation and loneliness. Recognizing the vital need for human connection, our Community Connections programs are an effort to combat these issues in Newaygo County.

What is Social Isolation?
There is objective & subjective social isolation. Objective social isolation is living in an area with very low population density. Subjective social isolation is feeling lonely, not supported, and missing meaningful relationships regardless of where you live. The frequency of social isolation is significantly higher in rural, elderly, and low-income populations, though it can affect anyone, anywhere, as we all saw during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are well-documented, dangerous effects of painful loneliness and lack of meaningful connection to others. Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. At TrueNorth, we are committed to reducing social isolation and improving lives in Newaygo County.

It’s Back!

Bowlapalooza Makes Triumphant Return

Bowlapalooza is back! You can make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of Newaygo
County youth simply by participating in Bowlapalooza. Join us on April 20th or 21st at
Fremont Lanes for this fun and active fundraiser for TrueMentors, TrueNorth’s mentoring
program. This event, which is the single largest fundraising event for TrueMentors, supports the
pairing of positive adult role models with youth in Newaygo County. One small act can have a
huge impact!

Join us for two free games of bowling (with shoe rental included) and a cool, new Bowlapalooza
2023 T-shirt, so you can show everyone how you are supporting area youth, when you raise $40
in donations to support the cause! Everyone who raises at least $75 will also get an will also
get an insulated tumbler. The top fundraisers for each session will be acknowledged as such and
crowned “King” or “Queen” of the Bowling Alley, and the top overall fundraiser will win the grand
prize of a $500 Meijer gift card. Grand prize will be awarded to the adult individual (age 21 and
older) with the most donations collected and turned in at the time of bowl.

We are offering a variety of times over these two days for your convenience: April 20, 5:30 – 7:30
p.m.; or April 21, 5 – 7 p.m. or 7:30 – 9:30 p.m., all at Fremont Lanes, 5885 S. Warner Avenue in Fremont.
Visit truenorthservices.org/event/bowl for more information or to register and access the on-line
fundraising options, or contact Melanie Baden at (231) 924-0641, ext. 174 or
mentoring@truenorthservices.org. Read more in the Spring Navigator right here!

All Together!

New Community Connections Program

Our Community Connections programs aim to build and expand social circles and create meaningful shared learning, cultural, and physical or active experiences to improve lives and reduce social isolation in Newaygo County. Recognizing the vital need for human connection, Community Connections is designed for people of all ages to build bridges, explore new activities and places, and be empowered to showcase all they have to offer.

We are launching a new program called All Together! to reduce social isolation and promote service in the community. Nodding to the long history of local knitters making and donating hats, mittens, and scarves to our Children’s Christmas Programs, we kicked things off with Knitting All Together, a knitting & crocheting circle for good on Thursday, February 16. We provided lots of yarn, space to gather, and staff to provide support. Twenty people attended and a good time was had by all!

The knitting & corcheting circle will be meeting every Tuesday from 12 – 3 pm and every Thursday from 9 am – 12 pm. Drop in to TrueNorth (6308 S. Warner, Fremont) and join the fun group! Who knows where we’ll go next: Baking All Together? Raking All Together? Fixing All Together? Let us know what interests you, or ideas you have! Read more in the Spring Navigator right here!

Meet the Mayor

Project FOCUS students meet and greet

On January 23, 2023, students from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School’s Project FOCUS Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) met with the Mayor of Muskegon Heights, Walter Watts, and his council in “Chambers.” The students were given a tour of Muskegon Heights City Hall and were also given a chance to sit in council seats and ask questions. This was a wonderful learning experience which included visiting the police and fire department offices. The students were overjoyed and are looking forward to their next event: Meal with the Mayor.

“Hands-on is the best learning experience. If I can’t create and provide these types of learning experiences for our youth, then I have failed.” – ShawnTina Wyrick, Project FOCUS Site Coordinator

“This was a great trip, it was like seeing my future right in front of me.” – Owen G., YAC President, who wants to be a future judge!

Art-In at Camp Newaygo

Local art students attend workshop

Since 1975, we have been giving local high school art students the opportunity to learn a new or unique artform from a guest artist at a day-long workshop held at Camp Newaygo. Several years later, we added a second day for middle school students. The Art-In is one of several programs facilitated by our A.R.T.S. (Artist Reaching & Teaching Students) committee, which is made up of middle and high school art educators in Newaygo County. 

“It gives kids the opportunity to do a whole day of art. They can be motivated by other students, and they get to do something we can’t normally do in the classroom due to time or cost constraints.” – Kris Vredeveld, Fremont Christian Middle School Art Teacher

This year, students from Fremont, Grant, White Cloud, and Newaygo gathered on February 8th and 9th to learn from artist Dawn Campbell how to create their own version of “Humble Houses,” made from cardboard and recycled materials. Campbell owned and operated a clothing boutique in downtown Newaygo for 14 years before retiring, and now enjoys teaching to groups, like the art students.

“This has given me a chance to do something new, and I get to hang out with all these cool people and have fun!”  Taylee S., Grant High School student.


Experience Mentoring

During National Mentoring Month

Mentorship is a cornerstone of community and a relationship toward brighter futures. Launched in 2002, National Mentoring Month was created to amplify, encourage, and strengthen mentorship for young people. A month-long celebration, the goals of National Mentoring Month are to:

  • Raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms
  • Recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people
  • Promote the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to engage their constituents in mentoring

We are hosting our Experience Mentoring event on Saturday, January 21 from 10 am – 12 pm at the main Service Center in Fremont. Anyone, youth and their families, or adults interested in volunteering, is welcome to attend. Join us for light refreshments, a facilitator-led canvas-painting project, and the experience of being a mentor or mentee. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor to a Newaygo County child, or to RSVP for the Experience Mentoring event, should contact Danielle Siegel, Youth Programs Director, at dsiegel@truenorthservices.org or (231) 924-0641, ext. 109.

Rural Homelessness

In the Blizzard of 2022

What if you had to face a blizzard while you and your family were living in an unheated camper, or worse, a tent down a long two-track on state land? For the homeless in Newaygo and surrounding counties, this scenario became terrifyingly real last month. As our housing staff worked frantically, temporarily housing the most vulnerable, Lisa Reinecke, our Housing Data, Grant Compliance and Training Manager said this, a day before the blizzard hit;

“We have emergency motel money we can utilize in all four counties (Lake, Mason, Newaygo and Oceana), but the biggest obstacle with this money is all the work it entails for grant compliance (about a 1-2-hour process with each person) and the amount we can get reimbursed per night ($85 per night). We only have two motels in Newaygo County that will work with us, one of which is almost at capacity, with only one room left. If we had unrestricted money, we could utilize other hotels in the area.” 

To help prevent this situation from happening again, we have set up a dedicated donation funding stream for Homeless Prevention Services. By simply visiting here and making a secure, online donation, we will have a reserve of unrestricted funds our Homeless Prevention staff can use as needed.