<span class='image-credits'>Charles Bonham</span>

45 years and thriving: Projects driving connectivity from the Midland Area Community Foundation

As the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) celebrates its forty-fifth year of being in the region, we are highlighting a few of their contributions, large and small, to the community. From hallmarks like the Pere Marquette Rail Trail and Tridge to smaller grants for independent nonprofits across the city, the Midland Area Community Foundation has established itself as a ‘people first’ foundation with an impact in many different sectors and walks of life.

Started in October 1973, the foundation started as a mission to “grow out of the belief that everyone can positively impact their community through philanthropic giving.” As they gear up for the next year, their theme could not be more fitting: “Thrive.”

“Midland is such a generous community, and it is really wonderful for us to be part of that sort of thing,” says Sharon Mortensen, CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. “It has been a blessing to watch people come together and work on these amazing projects that enhance our community.”
Sharon Mortensen, CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation
“A number of years ago this was incorporated into part of the vision statement for the city; people said they hoped for Midland to be ‘an exceptional place where everyone thrives,” adds Mortensen. “This is one of the ways in which we are following the community’s lead to support what they say is important.”

According to Mortensen, the foundation has given over $6.2 million to local initiatives in the past year alone. When you tally this alongside their total giving over the course of their history, the figure jumps to over $91 million of charitable giving. Donations from organizations, other Midland foundations and individuals alike make these philanthropic efforts possible.

“We are grateful to be able to be a catalyst in helping pull the entire community, including organizations and individuals together,” says Mortensen. “There are city-wide projects where we aren’t necessarily the largest donor, but rather an important piece of bringing people together.”

GiveLocal Midland raised over $240,000 in 2018.

One such example is the five year long Give Local Midland fundraising campaign that the foundation just recently completed. In just twenty four hours, the campaign raised $240,769 bringing the total to over $1 million in five years and exceeding their annual goal and providing another reason to celebrate.

Mortensen describes the foundation’s vision in the 2018 annual report saying, “Community foundations are built on the concept of everyday people with a vision and a passion for community coming together to leave a legacy for future generations.”

A rendering of the future Poseyville Riverside pedestrian bridge

Bridging connection
One of the recent big name projects this year includes the Poseyville Riverside pedestrian bridge. The MACF recently announced a gift of $1 million to go toward the construction of a footbridge which will run across the Tittabawasee River and into a 37-acre large natural park.

The future site of the new Poseyville Riverside pedestrian bridge.

With Momentum Midland taking the lead and bringing numerous partners together to make the project a reality, MACF joins a larger scale effort including Dow and the City of Midland among others to restore a former industrial site into a place where the community can enjoy the outdoors.

Nicole Wilson, program manager of Momentum Midland

“If I had to sum up our vision for these projects in one word, it would be connection,” says Nicole Wilson, program manager of Momentum Midland at the Michigan Baseball Foundation. “Residents will be able to go from hiking a trail along the river to exploring Downtown Midland. We are hoping to connect people, spaces and experiences.”

This initiative builds on the theme of connecting the core of the city to its surrounding green space. Residents will be able to take the bridge into the nature preserve where they can enjoy fishing, hiking, biking, canoe and kayak launches as well as numerous overlooks, trails and walking paths. The trail will also have a point of connection to the Tridge, allowing users to take a footpath all the way to the Chippewa Nature Center.

When asked about partnering with the Foundation, Wilson says “They are all just really great folks who are genuinely interested in and dedicated to improving the community.”

The Foundation is also behind the beloved Santa House, the holiday favorite that is open every year from the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to two days before Christmas. The Santa House provides the opportunity for children of all demographics to visit with Santa and receive a gift.

Midland's Santa House is popular with all ages.

“It’s a magical place where any child, no matter their background can have a chance to meet Santa and be part of the holiday spirit. It is a project that many in the community support, but MACF orchestrates from start to finish,” says Mortensen of the MACF. “There are unique programs like that, outside the norm of what you think a community foundation might be involved in, which I am grateful we get to participate in.”

When asked about other initiatives which stick out to her over the years, Mortensen jokes that she doesn’t know where to begin. A few that come to mind, however, include the Positive Alternatives to School Suspension (PASS) Program in partnership with The Rock Center for Youth Development and Bike Midland in partnership with the Michigan Baseball Foundation.

The Rock Center for Youth Development’s PASS Program
Through skill building, homework help and mentorship, the PASS program seeks to provide an alternative and enriching structure for youth who are suspended from school.

“Anecdotally, the impact is tremendous,” says Bev Wenzel Executive Director of The ROCK. “We see young people’s lives turning around on a regular basis. They are building skills during what is traditionally lost and counter-productive time. They spend time with adult mentors who help them to process past choices and be intentional about future ones. They are prepared to return to school with a success plan they created.”

The PASS Program provides students with mentors.

The Foundation provided a $40,000 grant to the PASS program which began in January 2017. In just a little over a year, PASS has grown to serve 158 different students across a number of middle schools in the area.

Another widespread community program MACF has supported includes the recent BikeMidland initiative. Launched in June 2017, this bike share program is a partnership between the Michigan Baseball Foundation, community partners and MACF. With 35 bikes at seven stations throughout the city, the program provides a fun, active and alternate means of transportation in and around Downtown Midland for community members of all ages.

BikeMidland has seven stations around Midland and the first two hours are free

“The bikes are stationed throughout the city and the first two hours are free,” adds Mortensen. “It is a great way to get people easily out and about the city in a safe and affordable way.”

In 2017, the Foundation also contributed $50,000 to create a Disaster Relief Fund for families after the Tittabawassee River flooded on Saturday, June 24, 2017. The Foundation partnered with the United Way of Midland County to mobilize volunteers and organize a multi-agency relief effort.

“Every day is exciting at the Midland Area Community Foundation,” says Mortensen. “There are so many things we get to hear about, organizations we get to work with and people we get to know. Whether it is an emergent need like flood relief or a longer term idea that community members are passionate about, I love that we touch so many aspects of people’s lives.”
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