Community Connection – a Place to Call Home

TrueNorth: a Lifesaver

Carla was homeless in Muskegon, and had spent a good deal of time in shelters there. As she put it, “I was in there so many times, everyone got to know me.” With encouragement from her church family, who didn’t want to see her on the streets or in a homeless shelter any more, she relocated to Oceana County, where she stayed in an attic bedroom of a church member’s house. Eventually,
with the help of one of our Housing Resource Specialists, Amy, she found a studio apartment to call her own, through our Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Program. PSH is a housing program for people who are chronically homeless; people who are sleeping someplace not meant for human habitation, tent, car, outside, shelter, etc., homeless for 12 consecutive months, or 12 months in a 3
year period.

Amy met with Carla a few times to complete applications for apartments. While doing case management, Amy was contacted by a local landlord who had two units open. They talked to Carla and let her pick which one would work best for her, which ended up being a first floor studio apartment. Amy says when they first toured the unit, Carla did a little twirl when they said she could have it. Carla is paying a portion of her rent, and the PSH program covers the rest. Carla is
learning to budget her money and save. Carla has also started volunteering at a nearby LOVE Inc. restore, and has definitely become a member of the local community. She said TrueNorth was a lifesaver and she would “recommend anybody to TrueNorth!”

Jubilee Concert Announced

Bernadine Johnson to Headline Concert for TrueNorth’s 50th

When Bernadine Johnson first moved to Fremont in 1973, she was hoping a music education position would become available. When that didn’t happen,
she started a piano studio offering private lessons and never looked back. A few years after her move to the area, she met Rev. Gene Cotton, TrueNorth’s
first Executive Director. Gene asked her to join the Music Scholarship Committee, a precursor to what would eventually become the Music Enhancement
Committee. Through this committee, she helped organize and run the annual Music Scholarship Contest, and Music Clinics. Bernadine also served
on the Fine Arts Committee, and is known for bringing the Madrigals to Newaygo County.

When Thea Hoekman, another private piano instructor in the area suggested the start of a local piano teacher’s forum, Bernadine was quick to agree, with TrueNorth being the obvious home of the newly formed Newaygo County Piano Teachers Association (NCPTA). Utilizing the 1912 Steinway piano Bessie Slautterback secured all the way back in 1952, the NCPTA ran the First Friday Piano Showcases for local students, annual Piano Clinics, summer Piano Camps, Sonata / Sonatina Festivals, and another of Bernadine’s creative ideas; The
Birthday Concert Series. These annual concerts celebrated the music of famous composers in the year of significant birthdays, and featured many local performers and occasionally students.

In 2004, Bernadine joined other NCPTA and community members in an effort to raise money needed to completely renovate the Steinway, starting with the Save the Steinway concert. In 2017, she organized a 20th Anniversary Birthday
Concert featuring performers and selections from each of the previous year’s concerts. For the 2022 concert, Bernadine has a list of performers she hopes to feature, many of whom have performed at past concerts. Details on who will be performing, themes, and name of the concert are still in the works, but we know the date – Sunday, October 23. At the insistence of an old friend, Bernadine has also committed to perform a solo piece on the piano.

“I’ve been so thrilled by my time here. I’ve made so many friends and have had the opportunity to perform with, and alongside such talented people, many of whom are no longer with us; Ted Havemen, Chuck Witteveen, Roger Marshall, Phyllis Jansma… These things all started, not only as a need to use my musical talents but also as a gift to a community that has been the biggest blessing to me. And this place, NCCS / TrueNorth has been such a blessing to so many people in so many ways. I’ve had the best life here…”

Yes, Soup For You!

The return of Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls is back and better than ever! The signature fundraising event for TrueNorth’s Hunger Prevention Programs will be held on Thursday, October 6th at the TrueNorth Service Center in Fremont and Friday, October 7th at the
Commission on Aging in White Cloud. “After a two-year pivot away from our traditional, in person soup luncheon, we are happy to be able to come
together again,” said Community Liaison and Development Director Mark Kraus.

Thousands of households in and around Newaygo County suffered from food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggle continues
today. TrueNorth’s onsite and mobile food pantry usage has increased sharply in recent months. “We are seeing numbers surpass the levels we saw in 2020. Food prices are up, gasoline is expensive and our neighbors are feeling it,” said Kraus.

Due to the twofold impact of high prices and increased need, the success of Empty Bowls is critical this year. “We hope to raise $20,000 this year, but it may not be enough,” warned Kraus. The community can help fight hunger by attending
and/or sponsoring the event. Attendees can sample a variety of soups and stews provided by local restaurants and caterers. Each person will also take home a hand painted bowl to remind them of all the “empty bowls” in our community.

50 Years Strong

TrueNorth’s geographic growth

Though TrueNorth’s main office is tucked in the middle of a corn field in rural Fremont, people may be surprised to learn our programs and services span far and wide. Our housing programs provide service in Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana Counties; Out-of-School Time Programs serve Lake,
Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana counties; and our largest program geographically, emPower, covers all 83 counties across Michigan.

Even with a widespread service area, TrueNorth stays true to our roots. We’ve been a consistent voice, and rural expert at the table, both regionally and nationally. As Kate Kesteloot-Scarbrough, TrueNorth Board President put it, “What makes TrueNorth unique is our history…we have 50 years of service in the
community, our connection to our local community and [a] willingness and ability to take that and value it and share it. We share that expertise and experience at the state level, at the national level. And that makes a difference for policy makers.”

Kate goes on to share an example, “When we talk about heat and energy assistance, which is a core service that TrueNorth has been involved with, the conversation typically is natural gas and electricity. And TrueNorth is who’s at the table and saying fuel oil. What about fuel oil? We pay for that differently. Those
issues are different. What about pellets? What about this? And have you thought about that? And that, I think, is such an important part of our work and why it’s important that our voice remains heard.”

Over the past 50 years, TrueNorth has leveraged resources in a collaborative and community-based way to ensure the voices of the rural community are being heard, while responding to the needs at hand. We will continue this important work as we strive to reach 100 years!

Supporting the Arts

50 years of robust arts programs

In July we hosted an art celebration which included a permanent art installation by artist Cara O’Brien, as well as the dedication of our outdoor meeting space, called Spark Space, and the reveal of hand painted, one of a kind chairs.

Guests were able to interact with local artists, view the newly added art pieces, but also reflect on the history of our arts programs and the impact these programs have made on individuals, including Cara O’Brien. Cara shared that had she not participated in TrueNorth art programs when she was a student, she likely wouldn’t be a professional artist today. In addition to viewing these items, participants were able to see Newaygo County student artists work as their art is permanently on display at the TrueNorth Service Center.

Backpack Expo Success

Tools for School distributes 700+ backpacks

Last week we helped kick off the 2022-2023 school year for local students by providing over 700 backpacks full of school supplies during our annual Tools for School event.

Area families attended the backpack distribution and expo at the TrueNorth Service Center in Fremont. “We want every student to have a great start to school this fall by providing the resources kids need to achieve success in the classroom.” said Mike Voyt, Children’s Services Director, adding; “Additional backpacks will be distributed to school administrators in the coming weeks to use in emergency situations during the school year. Through all of these efforts, this program will serve between 900 -1,000 students this year.”

This program served youth entering PreK through 12th grade, and depending on each student’s age, backpacks included items such as folders, pencils, pens, markers, crayons, notebooks, pencil boxes, erasers, highlighters, glue, scissors and more. Students and families were able to access information and services from over 20 local organizations in addition to receiving dental checkups, vision exams and vaccinations. Students had a blast participating in other activities such as a bounce house, games of skill, and getting their face painted.

Tools for School is supported by Fremont Area Community FoundationThe Gerber FoundationChoice One Bank, and community contributions and volunteers.

Time to Harvest a Row

Donate produce to our Food Pantry

At the beginning of the growing season, we asked local farmers and gardeners to consider planting an extra row of produce with the express intent of donating the harvest to a Food Pantry like the one here at TrueNorth. We even gave out 600 seed packets to local growers to help start their gardens. Harvest time is upon us and we are reminding everyone to bring their extra produce in to TrueNorth.

Already this season, generous farmers and gardeners have donated 760 lbs of fresh produce including strawberries, beans, corn, lettuce, apples, zucchini, and cucumbers. By season’s end, we hope to have distributed 1,500 lbs of fresh, healthy produce to local residents in need, helping to improve the health and wellbeing of our community, and strengthening our community food system.

Our Hunger Prevention staff are available to receive donations Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, but we ask you to call ahead and schedule larger deliveries of donations, so we can be sure to have enough people on hand to help unload. If you have questions about our Plant a Row for Hunger campaign, or any of our Hunger Prevention efforts, contact Mike Voyt at (231) 924-0641 ext. 119.

Family Self-Sufficiency

Referrals make a HUGE impact

Sometimes, we’re not able to offer direct help to participants due to a myriad of reasons – they may not qualify for a program; a program may not be available in their county; funding for a particular program or service may be used up until the next grant cycle; the list goes on. We do however have staff who are incredibly well versed in what other services are available and have the ability to share their knowledge with the families they are working with.

One of our Family Support Specialists, Cheri recently began working with A.J., a single mother of two. During the initial goal-setting meeting at the beginning of the Family-Self Sufficiency Program, A.J. was speaking about wanting to find a job that would bring her a sense of belonging and pride. Cheri asked her what her dream job would be, and without hesitation, A.J. responded; “Being a dental assistant.” Cheri then referred A.J. to Michigan Works to find out if they have a dental assistant program she could attend through Ross Medical Center. A.J. went to MI Works the next business day, found out the program was available, she qualified for a full scholarship, was immediately signed up for classes, and is now attending a certification program to become a dental assistant. A.J. said the thought of actually achieving her dream was “a nice idea… but I’ll never get there.”

A.J. says without Cheri’s guidance; she wouldn’t have had any idea where to turn for help. She graduates in September and she’s very excited at the prospect of “a better future, for sure. I won’t have to struggle, hoping they’ll call me back for a job, or work seasonal jobs anymore.” She already has a place to do her externship – a dental office right across the street from her apartment building!

Updates to LifeLink

New service provider and program coordinator

Leslie took over as our new LifeLink Coordinator in November of 2021, and has already made a large and positive impact on this almost 40-year old program. One of Leslie’s first tasks was securing a new service provider for this much-needed program.

In addition to securing newer, state-of the-art equipment, she revamped the structure of the program as well. In comparing our service to others Leslie said; “I was looking in a magazine yesterday and there was a fee mentioned, which was comparable to ours, but then there was a hundred dollar startup, and subscription fee.” Conversely, our LifeLink service has no installation or startup fees, and there are no long-term contracts. Subscribers can use it for a long as they wish and may cancel at any time without penalty.

Like our old systems, help is only the push of a button away. While typically thought of for the aged, or medically at risk, LifeLink is really for anyone who might need an extra level of security of confidence to be home alone. As Leslie points out, “If you’re recovering from a surgery of some kind… we’ve had some people who need it just for a few months.” Once the button is pushed a call immediately goes out to an operator, and within moments, their voice is heard on the tabletop receiver unit asking if you are all right. If they don’t hear anything or if you say you need help, they will automatically call the first of four contacts you provide, including 911 if you wish.

Learn more by watching this video.

Honoring Jane Vitek

Camp Newaygo renames building in Jane’s honor

At their recent Alumni Reunion Weekend, the staff and Advisory Board of Camp Newaygo honored long-time Camp Newaygo CEO, Jane Vitek, by renaming the Health and Leadership Lodge (HALL) The Jane Vitek Health and Leadership Lodge. Jane took over as Camp Newaygo’s Executive Director in 2002, after a 25-year career with Fremont Public Schools, and later moved into the role of Camp CEO.

In her tenure at Camp Newaygo, Vitek oversaw and spearheaded major improvements including – the expansion and winterization of the year-round Program Director’s on-campus home in 2004; the renovation and winterization of Lang Lodge, and expansion of year-round community programming in 2009; the purchase of additional lakefront property for Day Camp use and a Director’s residence at Cassidy Point in 2015; the expansion and winterization of the Peggie Stone Center for the Arts in 2016; the addition of the brand new Health and Leadership Lodge, which now bears her name, allowing for expanded nursing care and independent recovery rooms in 2018; construction of Outdoor Adventure Pods for summer campers and adventure-based rental groups in 2022; and the establishment of financial reserve and endowment funds, also in 2022. She has also overseen the largest growth in Camp Newaygo’s use, both as a Girls’ Overnight Camp, and Co-Ed Day Camp, and as a community asset, in its 96-year history.

As Jalisa Danhof, current Camp Newaygo Director said; “The Camp Advisory Board felt, given Jane’s many years of service and significant impact, and the lead role she took in raising the funds and leading the charge for the new HALL construction, naming the building in her honor was very appropriate.” All of us at TrueNorth wholeheartedly agree!