Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation
The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation has made a mission of providing the tools necessary to help public school students reach the height of academic achievement. Community members have embraced the foundation’s work, putting their private dollars on the table for public education.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective, or remarkable?
Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation Executive Director Susan Heartwell
: Our vision is the day when there are no barriers to Grand Rapids Public Schools students reaching their full potential. It’s pretty clear. We work toward that by ensuring that students have the educational tools and experiences that they need to learn. Tools like a wealth of books – I think the scope of our donors is remarkable. This isn’t a political thing. It doesn’t matter what political party our donors are from. We just focus on the students.
many of those kids don’t have those at home, so our libraries have to be rich. Or musical instruments so that they have a chance to learn to play and use a quality instrument. If they can’t rent or buy one, we will provide it.
I think the scope of our donors is remarkable. This isn’t a political thing. It doesn’t matter what political party our donors are from. We just focus on the students.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
When people are introduced to the needs of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and this program’s mission, they feel a need to participate. I’ll use the example of an event we have every spring called Mindshare. It’s our intent to use that event as a “friendraiser” as much as a fundraiser. This year’s Mindshare event was a perfect place to show what we do. This year we had 112 individuals at the event who were first time donors. They were introduced to us and responded by becoming donors. It was a marvelous example of how willing our community is to join us.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Unless you can bring everyone along with you, have good communication, and people wanting to engage with you, you can’t force it. We learned you need to have willing partners in order to make an impact.
What really differentiates this program?
There aren’t a lot of other organizations that exist to enhance Grand Rapids Public Schools. A lot of other programs around the school focus on individual grants. Our program is district-wide. So for libraries, we restock them. Or we offer We need community involvement to succeed. Unlike most foundations, we don’t have money unless we raise it.
environmental education to every third, sixth, and ninth grader throughout the district. Our scope is to affect every youth at Grand Rapids Public Schools.
What are the keys to success for your program?
We need community involvement to succeed. Unlike most foundations, we don’t have money unless we raise it. We go to the community and we make the case. What they invest in us goes directly to impact the students. The key is really communicating with our community and being good stewards of their money. We make sure what we say does really happen so we can make an impact together.
What the people in your program most inspired by?
I think what we’re inspired by is the impact we can make on the life of every youth in the public schools by providing them what they need to level the playing field. So whatever students in the suburban neighbor districts have access to, so do the students in Grand Rapids. It’s not about curriculum; it’s about providing students with the tools they need.