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!

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.