National Mentoring Month

Sharing the importance of mentoring

By definition, a mentor is – an experienced and trusted adviser; a friend; and someone to help provide guidance, support and be a positive role model. Which is exactly what the adults in our TrueMentors program are. Adult to child mentoring has been a central part of the TrueNorth mission since 1976.

Beginning with our Connections program, followed by an 18-year partnership with Big Brother Big Sisters, and more recently as TrueMentors. Through these programs we have offered a variety of mentoring experiences, from traditional one-on-one pairings, to group mentoring at TrueBlue Academy, and outdoor adventure and art programs like Parks in Focus.

Mentors make a difference in the lives of youth through their gift of time. This includes everyday activities and experiences like grocery shopping, taking a walk, cooking a meal, or can include more infrequent activities like amusement park visits, sporting events, and movies. Either way, the time spent between mentor and mentee can have a life changing effect.

During January, National Mentoring Month, we acknowledge the importance of mentoring and bring light to the on-going need for additional mentors. We are encouraging everyone interested to become involved.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor to a Newaygo County child, or to RSVP for the event, should contact Lisa Brown, TrueMentors Program Director, at (231) 924-0641, ext. 109, or

Celebrating 50 Years

Moving Michigan Forward, 50 Years Strong

This year we are celebrating 50 years of serving the community! Hitting this hallmark year is quite a feat for a nonprofit organization. In 1972, Newaygo County Community Services was created as an independent private nonprofit organization. This year, we will feature highlights from the last 50 years in each of our newsletters – where we started, where we’ve gone, and where we’re headed in the next 50 years!

In the 50 year history of TrueNorth, remarkably just two people have held the position of President & CEO, Rev. Gene Cotton (1972 – 1989) and Bev Cassidy (1989 – Present).

At the time of its launch, TrueNorth had four staff members and a budget of $300,000. Today, TrueNorth has over 200 staff across the state of Michigan and a budget of over $25 million. Like the organization, the community has grown tremendously over the last 50 years. There are 11,000+ more residents now than in 1972, an increase of 25%. We’ve evolved alongside Newaygo County to meet the ever changing needs.

Throughout our 50 year history, the agency has had a wide variety of programs and services. Some for a short duration, others for a decade or two and some offered for our entire 50 years. It’s no secret that TrueNorth focuses on strengthening communities and empowering individuals. It’s through robust program offerings, relationship building, a supportive community and an agency that’s committed to our Newaygo County roots that has helped us grow over the last 50 years.

It’s an exciting time to reflect on our past, acknowledge lives changed, and look forward to the next 50 years. Join us throughout 2022 as we celebrate together!

Here to Serve: Those in Need

On a daily basis, Tom, a Mason County resident, faced a leaky roof on his old house. That, combined with a tight budget, made for a stressful and unsafe household. With diminished water pressure, Tom often found himself washing dishes in his bathtub, as it is the only faucet that provides enough water pressure. Due to a previous injury compounded by years of hard labor, Tom has limited physical ability and lacked the funds necessary to complete needed home repairs, his well had to be replaced, his roof required serious attention, and he needed to catch up on his utility bills. Just as unfortunate events beyond his control led to extremely difficult circumstances in Tom’s life, connecting with TrueNorth started as a small moment but, instead, led to a positive path forward. Tom was able to set up an affordable payment plan with the emPower program. This assistance has substantially reduced Tom’s stress levels, giving him the time and space to breathe and relax. He no longer has to worry about his looming electricity bill, since this much more manageable expense is now factored into his budget. Due to the payment plan for his utilities, Tom has been able to divert funds to other needs, like fixing his roof, making continuous car repairs on his very old car and tackling some expensive health needs. With help from his caseworker, Tom is awaiting the installation of a new well provided through a combination of support from various community organizations. The new well will be a real game-changer for Tom.

This story was featured in our 2020 Annual Report, view the full report here.

Here to Serve: Our Neighbors

Dion Smith, a single father of two children, was in the later stages of a career as a Youth Detention Officer when, in 2016, a car accident left him with serious and life-changing injuries. A long recovery process left him with limited physical abilities, and an unfortunate end to his career. It also took over two years to get set up on SSI Disability. Many on-going home maintenance issues Dion normally would have been able to do, became impossible and his home steadily became not as safe for his family. So unsafe that Dion actually injured himself again due to a faulty stair railing. After a few years, the needed repairs were also financially out of reach. Dion was enrolled in TrueNorth’s CARE Program which helped with his utility bills. It was through that involvement he first heard about the Healthy Housing Initiative. This initiative aims to create safer, healthier, and more energy-efficient homes in partnership with Consumers Energy. Through this program, Dion had a new furnace and water heater installed, plumbing repairs completed, an exterior door and windowpane replaced, and a new stair railing installed. Dion is extremely grateful for these much-needed repairs and has contacted TrueNorth staff regularly to express his gratitude.   “There were just things I couldn’t do myself… I couldn’t fix the railing, the hot water heater wasn’t working right, and I was worried about that. This program has done so much for us. It got real cold when our furnace went out too. I don’t know what would have happened. For sure, there would have been more falls around the house. You’ve done a whole lot and I’m grateful.” — Dion S.

This story was featured in our 2020 Annual Report, view the full report here.

Here to Serve: Our Community

From camper to counselor, Newaygo native Jackie Charette is excited to take on another role, as a volunteer on Camp Newaygo’s Advisory Board.  Jackie’s connection to Camp started in 2008 when Jackie was awarded a scholarship to attend camp. She loved that first week at camp, met some of her closest friends, and came back for two additional summers. At camp, Jackie could be “authentically myself, loved by the people around me, and was encouraged and celebrated to be Jackie.” Jackie recalls Camp staff coming to Newaygo High School to talk about the benefits of working a summer at camp. Jackie jumped at the opportunity to give other girls the feelings of belonging and female empowerment she experienced. Working at camp was also a great place for her to develop skills to work in residence life at a University–a career goal she already had her sights set on, and has since obtained! Jackie was eager and honored to commit to a board term to give back to a place that has meant so much to her. With her love for Camp Newaygo, Jackie was excited to join a group of influential and legendary Newaygo women and supporters. She is loving the amount of responsibility and opportunities being on the board provides and feels that, “as a young person, I am brought fully into the conversation with a level of mutual respect.” When reflecting on her experiences with Camp, Jackie shared immense gratitude to those unknown supporters who made her first summers possible. She has felt a reciprocal responsibility to give her time, talent, and connections so others can be part of camp. As Jackie begins this new philanthropic role, she’s excited to lean on her Camp experiences and knowledge in order to give back.

This story was featured in our 2020 Annual Report, view the full report here.

Homeless Awareness Month

Homeless Awareness Month

Homelessness may not be as readily visible in rural communities as it is in urban environments, but that doesn’t make it any less real or difficult. During the month of November, as we try to shed light on the subject, we have been sharing stories from a number of different perspectives. Below are three videos, each with a unique view of homelessness. 

In this first video, our Housing & Community Resource Navigator, Julie Vitale sat down with a local business owner and landlord, Jeff Nelson and asked him about the difficulties, real and perceived, landlords may address when faced with the possibility of renting to formally or currently homeless renters.

People rarely become homeless overnight. In our second video, we talk to “Alex” and learn how he came as close as he would care to becoming homeless. He tells us about each step that led him closer and closer to being on the street, and how TrueNorth was able to give him a hand up.

Talking to young children about the issues surrounding homelessness can be a daunting task for parents. Our third video take a “novel” approach to this as Barbara Sims, owner of Storybook Village Bookstore in Pentwater reads the children’s book; “A Place to Stay – a Shelter Story”. The book is written by Erin Gunti, illustrated by Esteli Meza, and published and read with permission by Barefoot Books

Housing Success

Housing Success

Sharon and Scottie share their housing journey

Sharon and Scottie had met once before, in passing, many years ago. Through a strange coincidence, they became reacquainted. Scottie had just moved into a new apartment when there was a knock on her door. She looked though the peephole to see two of her grandchildren. As she hadn’t even given her new address out to anyone yet, she was a bit dumfounded. Her grandchildren were equally dumfounded when she opened the door to greet them, as they expected their other grandmother to open the door. As it turns out, Scottie and Sharon share one grandchild, and Scottie had just moved into Sharon’s old apartment!

The coincidences didn’t stop there. Scottie had been referred to our Center for Nonprofit Housing (CNH) by MSHDA’s Key to Own program, which supports Section 8 housing clients transitioning from renters to homeowners. One of the requirements for that program is to attend nine separate Financial Literacy classes, followed by a Homebuyer Education program from CNH.   

Shortly thereafter, Sharon was also referred to CNH for the same reasons. Both women completed the Financial Literacy and the Homebuyer Education classes. Sharon, in particular set a tight schedule for herself, going through the initial nine classes, in about 12 weeks. There were several other steps along the way, including proving her credit rating, in Sharon’s case, and improving hers, in Scottie’s.

After they both had finished all of that, they ran into each other again, and Scottie told Sharon about the Real Estate Agent she had been working with. Sharon worked with this agent, who was familiar with both Section 8 and the Key to Own program, and after seeing only two houses, Sharon found her dream home in White Cloud, within walking distance of her children and grandchildren.  

Scottie’s search took a little longer, but she ended up finding a perfect house in Holton. Both women site the huge benefits of the knowledge they gained in both the Financial Literacy and Homebuyer Education classes, and how important it was having their CNH Housing Counselor walking alongside them through the entire process. 

Soup’s On!

Soup’s On!
Empty Bowls slated for October 14th

This fall will mark the return of Empty Bowls, TrueNorth’s largest fundraising event for our Hunger Prevention Programs. For over 20 years, this event has been serving up delicious soups in an effort to increase access to healthy, nutritious food for those who might suffer from food insecurity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, TrueNorth programs like the Food Pantry, Weekend PowerPacks and Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantries saw record numbers of our neighbors seeking food. “We heard from so many people who lost a job in a restaurant or factory and suddenly had to provide three meals a day for their kids with no time to plan,” said Mike Voyt, who manages Hunger Prevention programs at TrueNorth. The Empty Bowls event typically supplies $20,000 to help fund these programs.

Just in the same manner in which the Food Pantry is operating, Empty Bowls 2021 will be a drive-thru style event. Attendees will select from a variety of soup offerings, courtesy of Ridge Catering, to be re-heated at their convenience. In addition to heartwarming soup, each attendee will receive bread, a cookie and an empty, hand-painted bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in and around Newaygo County.

If you are unable to attend the event in-person, please consider a much-needed donation to support the event.

Learn more about September happenings.

Sara’s Story: Wrap-Around Services

Sara’s story, sadly, is all too commonplace. She is the mother of four children, and having been a stay-at-home mom for over ten years, she found herself with very limited job options after a divorce. An extremely tight budget didn’t allow for any extras like internet service at her rural residence, and the expense of traveling made it very difficult, if not impossible, to even find work or assistance. A long, cold winter and the accompanying heating and energy bills pushed that tight budget to its breaking point, and she found herself in desperate straits. At one point she was left without propane for five days and was forced to use inefficient, and dangerous, electric space heaters to stave off the biting cold. 

Sara’s case worker at Department of Human Services (DHS) referred her to TrueNorth, and she started out being assisted through our PASS Utility Program, and later through our emPower Heat and Energy Assistance Program. The TrueNorth Case Worker helping her was able to print hard copies of applications that she was unable to access online, and they developed a great relationship. Sara was also able to catch up on overdue property taxes with help from our Center for Nonprofit Housing’s Step Forward program, equip her kids with all the back-to-school supplies they needed through our Tools for School program, and celebrate a traditional Christmas with her children having “presents under the tree” through our Children’s Christmas program—demonstrating TrueNorth’s ability to assist clients with wrap-around services.

Because sometimes, life throws you more than one curve, TrueNorth works to build self-sufficiency across our programs and services. Rather than simply “hand out” support, our focus through education and skilled support is to encourage positive choices and a proactive attitude.

“It’s even impacted my children—they want to donate extra food from our garden to your Food Pantry to sort of give back,” said Sara. “I really appreciate TrueNorth being there to help people like me in my situation… I don’t know what I would have done.” 

You can see Sara tell her story in her own words by viewing the video below.


Alyssa’s Story: More than an iPad

Alyssa is a little girl, and like many little girls, she’s inquisitive, curious, and precocious. She also happens to have Down’s Syndrome and is non-verbal. 

When her mother, Alicia was referred to our Parent Education Program, one of her biggest concerns was that Alyssa is also a bit of an escape artist—prone to sneaking out of the house, unattended, to visit her grandmother who lives a few blocks away. Alyssa had been starting to learn sign language at school, but unfortunately the public school she attends discontinued the program, so Alicia was also struggling to communicate with her daughter. After some discussion with Patti, her Parent Ed Coach, they came up with a novel solution to both of these issues. An iPad Mini, loaded with a “touch to talk” program to help her communicate and a GPS so mom could track her if and when she snuck out of the house again.

The only problem with this plan was that there wasn’t any money in the program budget for an iPad Mini, much less the needed software to go with it—expenses totaling over $550. Fortunately, Patti reached out to her fellow TrueNorth staff members and through their generosity and other caring individuals, was able to collect enough money from donations to purchase the iPad, the touch-to-talk software, and an “Otterbox” to keep it safe in the event Alissa accidentally drops it.

Now, Alyssa simply touches the screen of her iPad, which speaks for her to help communicate with others, and since she always has it with her, Alicia can use the GPS tracking feature to locate her daughter whenever she decides to venture out on her own. This is a great example of how technology and TrueNorth’s Parent Education Program came together to make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of one little girl, her mother, and her family… because we believe that all kids should have the opportunity to grow into their best self.

You can see for yourself the positive impact the iPad has made on Alyssa and her family—made possible through the TrueNorth Parent Education Program—by viewing the video below.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”” title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>