Economic conditions should never deny a child the chance to succeed – at least that’s what Susan Heartwell of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation believes. And when she shares the good work of the foundation in getting public school children instruments, calculators or library books, people want to help.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation Executive Director Susan Heartwell
: I think being a leader means you are centered on your own. It means you fit in your community as a citizen, you have a passion, and by being a leader I think you live that passion. You put yourself in a position where you can make a difference. It also means bringing the community with you – it’s not a lone ranger thing. It’s a position that guides the community.
I think being a leader means you are centered on your own. It means you fit in your community as a citizen, you have a passion, and by being a leader I think you live that passion.
What is your dream for your kids?
My dream would be that those barriers to their success would be cleared. That their dreams wouldn’t be hindered just because of their economic status. That they would have the same opportunities of any child that lives anywhere in our state. It’s doable, and it’s part of our responsibility as citizens.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the social work sector in Michigan?
I think Michigan could use more collaboration and more focus on collective impact. It needs to be easier for social outreaches [nonprofits and programs] to network, to share information, and just to make an overall impact on the population of people that we serve.
How do you know you’re making progress?
Well, the goal is to remove barriers facing Grand Rapids schools -- things that are often caused by economic circumstances. We’re satisfied when we remove those barriers and provide tools and experiences for the youth, such as well stocked libraries, musical instruments, access to environmental education, graphing calculators, and things like that. I mean it’s hard to know because progress in this field is really sort of a subjective thing. But we are enriching these students, and we can track test scores. We’re really impacting literacy and other types of skills that these kids should have.
...the goal is to remove barriers facing Grand Rapids schools -- things that are often caused by economic circumstances. What are you most proud of?
I think it’s the way we’ve been able to engage the community in investing in these different tools and experiences for the youth of Grand Rapids Public Schools. If you look at he demographics of our youth currently attending Grand Rapids Public Schools, over 85 percent of those students qualify for free and reduced lunch due to the economic status of their families. We have an office of homeless youth, which most districts do not have. And our community, through the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, has really risen to want to make a difference and help provide for those kids.
What do you think creates the most significant barriers in engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
I think, to tell you the truth, we’re so inundated with so much activity and information and our world perhaps has become smaller. I think what we have discovered at Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation is: as people hear the reality and hear what the barriers for these children are, they’re like “sign me up!” Our biggest barrier is getting their attention, because once people hear, they want to help.