Developing Leaders

Vicente Becomes a Leader at Parks in Focus

Vicente has been a part of Parks in Focus at TrueNorth Community Services for over four years. From being a participant to becoming a returning leader, Vicente has stepped outside of his comfort zone and become a leader for the other kids.

Parks in Focus is an outdoor youth mentoring program. Kids like Vicente go on outdoor trips to connect to nature through photography while also receiving additional support from TrueNorth staff and volunteers. Vicente has grown as a person and leader through the additional support and experiences from the program.

“It was one of the first times that I stepped out of my boundaries or outside of my comfort zone,” says Vicente about his first experiences at Parks in Focus. Going on the week-long trip for the first time was both exciting and nerve-wracking for Vicente because it was the longest he’d been away from his family. But by the end of the trip, Vicente felt accomplished. 

Throughout his time in the program, Vicente has become more curious and well-spoken. He enjoys learning new photography skills while interacting with kids he may otherwise have never met. Having the support from TrueNorth staff and the other kids in the program enabled Vicente to thrive as he went on many trips over the years.

Vicente flourished through these experiences as he connected with the other kids and became a role model for them. Dawn Dechand, a long-time volunteer for Parks in Focus, has seen Vicente grow over the years he’s been in the program. Now that he’s a returning leader, Dawn has enjoyed working with him as they both support the new kids in the program.

“It’s really nice to see how they grow  into their ability to lead and be role models for other kids, Vicente is a really great example of that,” says Dawn about her experience with Vicente in the program. “He was a really good example of how the returning leaders really developed into being great people, great leaders.”

Vicente’s positive attitude as a returning leader has helped create a community in Parks in Focus. Not only has he helped everyone get involved in the activities, but he also has grown in his own leadership skills that will set him up for success beyond Parks in Focus.

When reflecting on his favorite parts of being a part of Parks in Focus, Vicente says, “I love just walking around, taking pictures and going on hikes, but I also love the small community that we have. I love the way the workers interact with the kids and then I love the way the kids get along.” 

Click here to learn more about Parks in Focus and TrueMentors.

Building Friendships

Landen Builds Friendships at TrueBlue Academy and Parks in Focus

Being involved with both TrueBlue Academy and Parks in Focus at TrueNorth Community Services has had a positive impact on Landen’s life. From starting in both programs to today, Landen has grown out of his shell as he’s made new friends in the programs.

Landen first became involved at TrueNorth in the Parks in Focus program. Seeing new places and experiencing nature with kids like him has helped Landen open up. While at first it took Landen some time to become comfortable around others, once he got to know the other kids better, he began to flourish in the program.

Landen did not have any experience with photography before Parks in Focus. But during his time in the program, he grew in his skills and enjoys photography in and outside of the program. 

Not only has Landen learned applicable skills in Parks in Focus, but he has also grown through his time in TrueBlue Academy. Having more opportunities to connect with other students has helped Landen grow as a person and leader.

“You get to learn more about people,” says Landen. “I got to be a lot more social and made a lot more friends.” Overall, Landen has thrived in both programs as he builds friendships and gets out of his comfort zone.

Click here to learn more about Parks in Focus and TrueBlue Academy.

Danny’s Confidence Grows

Danny Builds Confidence in Herself at Parks in Focus

Being a part of Parks in Focus has helped Danny feel more comfortable around others. Not only has Danny come out of her shell, but she has also formed new friendships with different kids throughout Newaygo County in the program.

Parks in Focus is an outdoor youth mentoring program. Kids like Danny go on outdoor trips to connect to nature through photography while also receiving additional support from TrueNorth staff and volunteers. Having this added support system has helped Danny better connect with those around her.

“The program has helped me get out of my comfort zone,” says Danny about the impact being in Parks in Focus has had on her life. “Before I was in Parks in Focus I used to get really nervous around people, but now that’s kind of calmed down and I’m not really nervous.”

The new experiences Parks in Focus provides helps Danny leave her comfort zone in a safe environment. Many of the other kids have similar experiences as Danny and are able to grow together throughout their time in Parks in Focus.

Dawn Dechand, a long-time volunteer for Parks in Focus, has seen Danny’s growth throughout the time she’s known her. Even in the week-long trip, Dawn saw Danny build confidence and become more comfortable with everyone in that short period of time.

Dawn says, “Danny definitely gained in confidence and being herself…You definitely saw Danny get comfortable and having meaningful conversations with people as the week progressed.” Having time to build relationships while experiencing new things with the other kids has enabled Danny to grow throughout the six months she’s been in the program. 

Click here to learn more about Parks in Focus and TrueMentors.


TrueBlue Academy


Aiden Grows into His Best Self at TrueBlue Academy

For eleven-year-old Aiden, having the extra support from TrueBlue Academy has had a positive impact on his life. “I feel more confident in myself as a person in general. It’s more easy to go out and talk to people,” says Aiden about his time at the program.

Aiden has grown more confident since coming to TrueBlue Academy. Having the break in the school day where he can talk to other kids and trusted adults has given him the safe space he needs to grow. Aiden was shy when he first came to the program, but now after being in the program for over a year, he is excited to talk to and engage with the other kids.

TrueBlue Academy is a part of TrueNorth’s youth mentoring program, TrueMentors. Aiden is a part of the program that operates in partnership with White Cloud Public School where he attends the program once a week during the school day. The program is run by TrueNorth staff with help from the school’s Resource Officer, Kyle Rasch.

Officer Rasch is in his third year of volunteering with TrueBlue Academy. Being able to build relationships with Aiden and the other kids has been his favorite part of the program. “They don’t look at me like a police officer, they look at me as a friend and somebody they can talk to and come to for advice,” says Officer Rasch. “To hear him [Aiden] actually say how it got him to open up to other kids and made him more confident, like that’s the most rewarding part.”

Knowing that he can come to Officer Rasch at TrueBlue Academy and throughout the school day has given Aiden the extra support he needs to succeed. Not only has Officer Rasch been a positive role model for Aiden, but Aiden sees him as a friend and person to go to when he needs help.

Click here to learn more about TrueBlue Academy and TrueMentors.


The Importance of Mentoring

Brooklyn Flourishes Through Her Trust in Nancy

“Everything,” says thirteen-year-old Brooklyn when asked what her favorite part of spending time with her mentor, Nancy, was. “I always enjoy spending time with Nancy.” Whether Brooklyn and Nancy are going to a local event or just taking walks together, they both treasure the time they spend together. 

Brooklyn and Nancy have always been open with each other and have only grown more comfortable together over the years. No matter what they do together, they “never lack for things to talk about.” This is possible because of the mutual trust Brooklyn and Nancy have built.

Not only have Brooklyn and Nancy formed a strong relationship, but Brooklyn has also grown in her confidence and communication skills. Nancy says, “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the growth in her, how much she’s matured and just listening to her stories. She’s just very easy to communicate with and seems to trust me with her thoughts and feelings and things that are going on. We’ve built a really close relationship.”

Having Nancy as a positive influence has impacted Brooklyn in a variety of ways. She knows that she can go to Nancy for help and Nancy will always be there for her. Overall, the positive encouragement and stability Nancy has given Brooklyn has allowed her to flourish.

“It’s impacted me a lot because I feel like I’ve kind of came out of my shell more and like I feel like I finally have those communication skills with the people that I kinda lost a little while ago,” says Brooklyn. “And, I know that Nancy loves hanging out with me.”

Throughout her time spent with Nancy, Brooklyn’s perspective has matured as she learns how to handle sensitive situations in her life. This has only been possible because of the trust Brooklyn has in Nancy. Both Nancy and Brooklyn are excited to continue in their relationships as they continue to support each other. 

Click here to learn more about TrueMentors.

Gerber Gives Back

Gerber Gives Back in Many Ways

Gerber Life is a Life Insurance company based in Fremont. With a little over 500 employees in total, between their main offices in Fremont, an office in White Plains, NY, and remote workers, they service the entire country. As a community-minded organization, they allow each employee individually to serve four hours, and an additional four hours as a group, volunteering for local organizations, on the clock.

The offices in Fremont house their Contact Center, Agency, I.T., and Operations Teams, and a great many of these employees have volunteered for a variety of TrueNorth programs and services, including, the Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantry, Tools for School, and Children’s Christmas Programs. 

“TrueNorth is such an asset to, and serves so many in our community,” said Kari Faltinek, Gerber Life Senior Project Manager. “We at Gerber Life consider ourselves a family, and those values translate perfectly to what TrueNorth does, so we’re happy to be a part of that.”

Since 2006, Gerber Life staff have volunteered over 1,815 hours for TrueNorth. “Gerber Life continues to be a pillar of support for TrueNorth and our communities. Their commitment to creating a better world is evident through their generosity and service. We are proud to have them as partners in achieving our mission,” said Mark Kraus, our Community Liaison and Development Director. 


Tools Success

Tools for School Levels the Playing Field

Tools for School helped level the playing field for over 800 Newaygo County students on Tuesday, August 15th, when they all received brand new backpacks, full of the school supplies they’ll need to start the year off right. 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 vital information and services from several TrueNorth programs, and many local organizations, including – Arbor Circle, Corewell Health, DHHS, Fremont District Library, Girl Scouts Michigan Shore to Shore, Junior Achievement, Michigan Public Service Commission, Molina Healthcare, Newaygo Day Care Corp, Newaygo Promise, Telemon Corporation, and Youth Attention Center.

In addition, students were able to receive dental checkups, and vision exams, from the Child and Adolescent Health Center. Some students even left the event with fresh haircuts, thanks to local hairstylist Raven, from Hair by Raven. Youth also enjoyed outdoor fun including a bounce house, face painting, free book giveaways from the Newaygo County Great Start Collaborative, and even animal visits with pet turtles and a bunny!

“Having enough school supplies is vital to a students’ success in the classroom.” said Mike Voyt, Children’s Services Director. “We want to make sure that all students start the school year off on a level playing field, excited and ready to learn.”

Additional backpacks will be distributed to area schools in the coming weeks, and in the end, we will serve over 1,000 students this year. Tools for School is supported by the Fremont Area Community Foundation, The Gerber Foundation, Choice One Bank, and community contributions and volunteers.

The 2023 Art Contest and Exhibit Encourages Students to Express Themselves

“The Art Contest and Exhibit has improved the quality of my program and the quality of the work my students are producing,” says Jill Kuebler, the high school art teacher at Grant Public Schools. “They have excitement that people are going to see their work

Jill has been an art teacher at Grant Public Schools for 30 years, with her students participating in the art exhibit since she first started teaching art at the middle school. As her program has grown, she has continuously incorporated TrueNorth Community Services’ arts programs into her curriculum.

The Art Contest and Exhibit has been a part of TrueNorth’s Cultural Arts programs since 1972. Middle school and high school students submitted different mediums of art from area schools: Fremont Christian Schools, Fremont Public Schools, Grant Public Schools, Hesperia Community Schools, Newaygo Public Schools and White Cloud Public Schools.

The 2023 Art Contest and Exhibit kicked off with its opening to the public on April 28, wrapping up on May 3. Area students showcased their artwork and even won scholarships to help further their artistic education. Jill says having her students participate in the art exhibit has given her “the ability to promote enthusiasm for what they’re doing. The opportunities that kids have here are way beyond what they would have had because of TrueNorth.” 

Among Jill’s students who took part in the art exhibit, two high school seniors’ pieces were featured for their second year. Seniors Cyanne Schuitema and Taylee Self both had multiple pieces showcased in the exhibit, and Cyanne even received a senior recognition for her oil pastel piece titled “My Dinosaur and Me”.

At the 2022 Art Contest and Exhibit, Cyanne was also recognized for her portfolio. She says, “It was nice knowing that it wasn’t just one piece of art that got an award, it was all of them. It made me feel like I could keep working with other mediums.” This encouragement from last year gave Cyanne the confidence to explore different art styles for her final art exhibit this year.

Not only does the art exhibit provide students with encouragement and recognition for their work, but it also creates an opportunity to see the different art styles their peers are using. Taylee says, “I love just walking around and being able to look at all the different styles and different creativity everyone is using.” Whether or not students received awards or scholarships, all of the submissions showcased the talent and creativity of our local youth. 


30 Days Around the World

With our Engage! Program

For the month of November students in our Engage! Out-of-School Time Program at Hesperia Middle School journeyed across the globe to learn about different countries and cultures. Activities ranged from Bollywood dancing, making sushi, and Turkish art, among many others, and also included guest speakers! Youth sampled food from other countries, practiced different art styles of various cultures, and played games to learn about landmarks around the world.

Students were able to keep track of their travels in their personalized passports, writing what they learned and adding their stamp. In total we covered 19 countries: Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mali, Ireland, United Kingdom (England and Scotland), Turkey, Germany, and Burkina Faso. Ask your student about their favorite country and activity!

Homeless Not Hopeless

Learn About Jerry’s Journey

After a break up that left Jerry homeless, he was referred to TrueNorth for assistance. We were able to temporarily provide housing for him and his daughter in a hotel. While staying there, Jerry struggled to find and secure affordable childcare and almost lost his job. The case manager assigned to him worked with a local landlord and was able to get him into a rental in Oceana County. Once he was housed, he was able to secure childcare, to provide a more stable environment.

Jerry has built a great relationship with his landlord who was willing to move him to a larger unit and has offered him employment as the maintenance person for all of his rentals. Jerry has one more month in the TrueNorth program but is positive he will be able to pay his rent going forward. Jerry and his children are very happy with their new rental and Jerry’s new job, which allows him more time with his children and an optimistic future.