What do you think of when you hear the word “casino”? Perhaps you think of a place where money is made or lost, a spot to go with friends for an evening out, or a venue for concerts?
Here’s a description that may not be top of mind: grant funding agency.
It’s a description that rings true for the Soaring Eagle Casino. Through the net gaming revenues from the casino’s Class III gaming operations, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has a revenue sharing program – their 2% grants, which provide funding to local units of government and public schools.
“The spirit of the 2% revenue allocation program was to alleviate the footprint of our success, so one of the things that the tribe focuses on the most is infrastructure,” says Frank Cloutier, Director of Public Relations for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. “We're looking at roads, we're looking at bridges, we're looking at safety issues, fire trucks, ambulances - those infrastructure needs because we're making quite an impact on the number of people coming in and going out of our county. So, we feel an obligation to alleviate some of that stress.”
The 2% grant program started in 1993, and since then has shared over half a billion dollars with local units of government and public schools.
“The last five years, in Isabella County alone, we've given over $21 million,” says Cloutier. “If you look at 2016, it was 4,324,000. In 2017 it was 4,307,000. In 2018, it was 4,425,000. In 2019 it was 4,441,000. And then, of course, because of the impact and the closure in 2020, it was 3,575,000 last year.”
A foster grandma works with students at a local school. Photo Courtesy of the Isabella County Commission on Aging.
Over the years, these funds have gone to support a variety of projects in the county. However, there are three main ones that stick out to Cloutier: ongoing grants to the Isabella County Commission on Aging, funding to improve local infrastructure, and a grant for the Protect Yourself program through a partnership between local public schools and the Isabella County Child Advocacy Center.
Through the 2% grant program, the Isabella County Commission on Aging receives around $200,000 every year.
“We believe in supporting our elders because they're the keepers of the wisdom. They're the teachers. They've got life experience to share,” says Cloutier. “In order for us to benefit from that we have to keep them safe and keep them well.”
Jennifer Crawford, Executive Director of the Isabella County Commission on Aging.
Jennifer Crawford, Executive Director of the Isabella County Commission on Aging, says since 1995 the organization has received over $9 million from the tribe in 2% funding. These dollars currently support five main programs at the Commission on Aging – Food with Friends, including congregate meals (which are currently suspended due to the pandemic) and home-delivered meals; the Foster Grandparent & Senior Companion program, which provides a stipend to certain individuals over age 55 in exchange for helping children in schools and providing assistance or company to older adults; in-home services, including personal care, respite care, and homemaking; the Gold Key volunteer program, which during non-pandemic times has about 300 volunteers; and, last but not least, the many activities offered by the Commission on Aging, including fitness programs and holiday functions. Due to the pandemic, activities such as fitness programs have moved online.
“To have the support that we do from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe is just mind blowing. It's hard to even express how appreciative we are to the tribe for their incredible support - not even just financially, but in general of the programs and services that we provide,” says Crawford. “They are a huge advocate to help the elders and respect their elders; and we're just so fortunate to be a benefactor of that support and encouragement that they do have for this program.”
For the people who benefit from the Commission on Aging, Crawford says the programs supported by the tribe are invaluable. They help people stay in their own homes longer, provide socialization for those who are isolated, and open up opportunities for the elderly who are able to get out to do so.
Being part of providing these opportunities for the elderly to be interconnected is incredibly important to the tribe, says Cloutier.
“Too often our elders are left to their own demises, and it's not always healthy and can be quite lonely,” he explains. “So, we'd like to think that every dollar spent with the elders gives them a quality of life.”
"We'd like to think that every dollar spent with the elders gives them a quality of life,” says Frank Cloutier, Director of Public Relations for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. Photo Courtesy of the Isabella County Commission on Aging.
The long-time funding of the Commission on Aging by the tribe has resulted in a unique, unspoken agreement between the two agencies as well, says Crawford. The Commission on Aging serves those over age 60; however, the tribe recognizes elders at 50 years old. So, the Food with Friends program provides meals to those in the tribal community who are in need of meals when they turn 50.
“That is just something that we've been doing throughout the years, which I think is wonderful,” says Crawford.
Many 2% grants have also gone toward supporting various infrastructure projects in the community, as this has been a focus of the program since its inception. Cloutier says millions of dollars of local roadwork has been funded through 2% grants.
“A lot of the road work in Isabella County is done by grants because roads are so expensive per mile to do,” he explains. “What we've found is most beneficial is that when there is a match to these grants. Let's say there's a $200,000 road that needs to be done, but there's a $60,000 match from the community. We're using 2% dollars to make that match so they can get that road done.”
Meg Schubert, Executive Director of the Isabella County Child Advocacy Center.
A third project that has utilized funding from a 2% grant recently is the Protect Yourself program, which received a grant of $150,000 over the course of three years, says Meg Schubert, Executive Director of the Isabella County Child Advocacy Center (ICCAC).
The Protect Yourself program is body safety education that's offered to first grade students all across the county. The program, which educates around 1,200 first grade students per year, was funded as a partnership between local public schools and the ICCAC. It’s a five-week course that focuses on a different aspect of sexual abuse prevention each week; however, Schubert says getting through all of the first grade classrooms takes the entire year since the program is in Shephard Public Schools, Chippewa Hills Schools, Mt. Pleasant Public Schools, Beal City Public Schools, and Renaissance Public School Academy.
Schubert explains that the Protect Yourself program walks students through properly naming body parts, teaching the difference between a secret that would be labeled “bad” and a surprise that would be labeled “okay,” identifying five safe people they could go to if they were concerned, and also eliminating some of the shame that is often felt by child victims of sexual abuse.
“We're not only trying to prevent sexual abuse by helping children become more educated about their bodies but we're also trying to identify and provide resources to possible sexual abuse victims by bringing it to the forefront at a very young age,” she says.
According to data provided by the ICCAC, 75% of the child victims assisted by the organization are under the age of 12, so starting education at a young age is critical.
The Protect Yourself program walks students through properly naming body parts, identifying five safe people they could go to if they were concerned, and also eliminating some of the shame that is often felt by child victims of sexual abuse. Photo Courtesy of the Isabella County Child Advocacy Center.
Additionally, the ICCAC launched Protect Yourself 2.0 this year, a program that focuses on educating children between the ages of 7-9 about cybersecurity, which is also partially funded by the 2% grant.
“We saw that 27% of the victims that we see at the center are between ages 7-9, and of that 13% of the child victims are alleging a technology-facilitated perpetrator,” Schubert explains. “So we're seeing a huge spike in technology in the way that perpetrators are able to access children.”
Reflecting on the impact of the millions of dollars shared through the 2% grant program over the years and looking at what the program could do for the community in the future, Cloutier says it's a program that works.
“There are challenges all the time in the gaming market in and around us to come into our market, share program market,” says Cloutier. “When you look at the benefit the 2% grants have had on the community in the last 20-some years, it's worth the fight to protect our market. It's worth the fight to protect our community.”