MPACF reflects on 30-year anniversary, $9 million impact, and history of bringing people together

Today, the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation (MPACF) is a cornerstone of the community that seems like it’s always been around. After all, where would the community be without the foundation’s support of projects such as the universally accessible Access Adventure Trail at Chipp-A-Waters Park or the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center? Where would local students be without the 106 scholarships worth $120,100 that were awarded by the MPACF in 2020?
Amanda Schafer, Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.
In just 30 years, the MPACF has positioned itself not only as an organization focused on the Mt. Pleasant of today, but on the Mt. Pleasant of tomorrow and has become a beacon of hope for local people and nonprofits to turn to in times of need.

“We've brought people together, convened groups of people that otherwise maybe wouldn't have gotten together to make different decisions to improve quality of life here in our community. And you can drive around, and you can see visibly see with your eyes the things that we do and have played a role in supporting,” says Amanda Schafer, Executive Director of the MPACF.

“When I think of the more than 3,300 different grants and scholarships we've awarded over these last 30 years, sure that equates to more than $9 million, but I think of all the people that also equates to.”

The beginning – Starting a savings account for the community

Incorporated in May 1990, the MPACF was recognized as a public charity in December 1990. The first endowment, now known as the Community Impact Fund, was established in February 1991.

Before it was even a year old, the MPACF made a commitment that has remained a cornerstone of the organization – listening to local youth. In November 1991 the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) was formed.
Bob Wheeler, Board of Trustee for the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.
Robert Wheeler, who is one of the founding trustees of the MPACF and still serves on the board today, says that what prompted the move was that the Council on Michigan Foundations was sponsoring a grant match for the Kellogg Youth Fund.

“They said for every $2 we raised, they would give us $1 to put in this special fund in our foundation,” says Wheeler.

It didn’t take long for the community to see the value in the MPACF. By 1994, the MPACF had reached $1 million in assets. Today, they hold over $20 million.

“The foundation is kind of like a savings account for the community,” says Wheeler. “We take money, we invest it for the long-term growth, and then we only spend the earnings from those investments so that money will stay here forever to benefit our community.”

“We invest this money and we only spend the earnings from it and that encourages other people to join with us to do the same thing, and to create their own funds. So, I think just having a foundation that looks to the future is really helpful for our community.”

Community impact – Bringing people together

Over the years, the MPACF has funded various projects in the community that has impacted thousands upon thousands of people but, perhaps more importantly, they have brought people who may not have thought to come together to the table on those projects so that they could have an even greater impact.

“The community foundation serves as a convener, so we don't hesitate to use our clout in the community to reach out and encourage people to join with us and do special projects that are helpful to the community,” says Wheeler.

Youth Advisory Committee. Photo Courtesy of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.

An example of this can be seen through the YAC. Local youth don’t have to be part of the YAC in order for their voices to be heard. Every three years, the YAC does a survey of their peers, asking what they struggle with and what needs they have. That survey helps guide the YAC as they determine how to spend dollars.

“We've spent a lot more in the last several years on things like mental health care, helping students address bullying - things that are hot topics for youth,” says Schafer. “Last year, they hosted an online conversation about racial inequity and police brutality. These are heavy issues and it's our youth that are having these discussions.”

Another example of this can be seen through the Women’s Initiative Fund, which was founded in 2003 to provide for the needs of women and girls in Isabella County.
2018 Women's Initiative Committee. Photo Courtesy of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.
“Women were saying, 'Wait a minute; we're making a lot of the financial decisions in our families and we want to make sure that we're thinking about how to support other women and girls. How do we do things to support other females?'…Today, it's more than half a million dollars and that's endowed, so it's invested, and they get more money every year that they can then spend out from those investment earnings,” says Schafer.

They have two fundraisers per year to continue building the Women’s Initiative Fund, and a group of women advises the MPACF Board as to what causes to support related to women and girls, such as in-school mentoring programs, support for local pantries so they can purchase women’s hygiene items, funding for the women’s locker room at the ICE Arena, and much more.

A third project that the MPACF brought people together to support was the Access to Recreation Initiative. The creation of the accessible Access Adventure Trail at Chipp-A-Waters Park, which opened to the public in June 2010, is the highlight of this initiative. The trail connects the city’s barrier-free GKB Riverwalk Pathway as it follows the Chippewa River through five major city parks.

Schafer explains that the trail accessible for those in wheelchairs, parents with strollers, and even has an audio tour so those who are visually impaired can enjoy it as well.

She says that the MPACF leveraged funds from the WK Kellogg Foundation were leveraged, as well as funding locally.

“That project was also to create several endowment funds that continue on after the initial project was done. Those funds still exist. They're still earning interest to our investments, and we have a committee that makes decisions about how to spend those dollars on other projects in the community that improves access to recreation,” says Schafer.

The William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center, located at 1114 W. High St. in Mt Pleasant, Michigan. Photo Courtesy of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.

Perhaps one of the biggest ways the MPACF has brought people in the community together is through its funding of the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center. In 2019, the MPACF gave a $1.1 million grant to what is now the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center – the largest single grant the MPACF has given to date.

What the MPACF couldn’t have foreseen – what no one could have foreseen – is just how important that grant would be.

“That is where some of our most impactful nonprofits have their space and are able to meet the needs of the community,” says Schafer. “Their parking lot is now how they're able to give people food, and those personal care items, and clothing - basic human needs we've been able to meet during the pandemic because they've had that location. Let me be clear, they did the hard work. The tenants of that nonprofit center, they're the ones, boots on the ground, making this happen. But the foundation financially supports them and helped them get to a place where they could have a permanent base.”

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the MPACF quickly rallied to support the community in a variety of ways – from sharing timely information to providing immediate grant relief to brainstorming with nonprofits.

The Isabella Drive-Up Mask Giveaway. Photo Courtesy of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.

“I think one of the things that makes us different than most charities is that we're one step removed from direct service…it can be really hard during a tragic event like we've been having to know what to do, but I think we saw our role as supporting other nonprofits in the community,” says Schafer. “We did everything from technical assistance support for nonprofits - helping people work through how they were going to fundraise, how they were going to pivot the services that they provided…and then, we were also able to - without raising any new dollars - immediately give out $100,000 in grants to support folks struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Schafer adds that in 2020 the MPACF gave away more money than it raised.

“This past year has been a great example of what community foundations can do,” says Marcie Otteman, Secretary for the MPACF. “As they raise funds it can be for the unpredictable things that that the world throws at us, but it can also be for the predictable, thought-out things.”

The future – Taking the next step as a community leader

As those affiliated with the MPACF think about the future of the organization, they all agree: their impact has just begun, and they look forward to being an even bigger leader in the community.

Schafer says that in 2018 the MPACF did a countywide needs assessment to learn what people need, what they care about, and their concerns.
Marcie Otteman, Secretary for the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation.
“The assessment told us that people are really worried about jobs that pay enough to live on and people are worried about affordable health care. Those are the top two things,” says Schafer. “The foundation hasn't really done much to address jobs that pay enough to live on right because we're a charity.”

Otteman says she looks forward to seeing how the MPACF plays a role in the community as it continues to grow and find new ways to serve and meet local needs.

“Every bit that we do that makes life better in Isabella County impacts our neighbors, the people we work with, our friends, our families, and it makes it a better place to be,” says Otteman. “It makes it a place where people want to be and I think that's really cool. When you have that kind of opportunity, looking to the future, that's what gets me excited: what's next? What can we do? How big can we dream?”
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Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.