Foundation grants support placemaking in rural communities

A community mural, town square project and expansion of a trail are among the projects funded by $335,230 recently awarded by the Allegan County Community Foundation.

Along with grants to support basic needs such as access to food, housing and health care, new foundation executive director ​​Stephanie Calhoun believes that grants supporting placemaking are important across the mostly rural county.

“We talked about building community, but placemaking isn’t something we typically fund,” Calhoun says. “In previous years, grants have been based on making sure basic needs are met – you know, housing, food, and clothing, which are all obviously worthy items. These are efforts to build up our community by creating places for people to gather and do activities together. 

“I think they also will draw people who moved away for their education, training and work to come back to the community to raise a family or start a business. That’s how we are going to get healthy communities.” 

The 2022 Legacy Grant process was highly competitive, with the foundation receiving 47 grant applications with grant requests totaling $490,219. It awarded grants for $282,270 to 36 organizations. 

The Legacy Grants are funded through the foundation’s Legacy Fund, ACCFNow Fund, Fox Fund, Phoenix Rose Fund, Saugatuck Douglas Community Fund, Tobacco Settlement Fund, and two donor-advised funds.

The 2022 TAG Grant process was even more competitive. The TAG Team, made up of youths from across Allegan County, received applications from 31 nonprofits requesting a total of $131,516 for programs and services focused on the youth of Allegan County. 

The TAG team awarded grants to 15 organizations for a total of $52,960. TAG Grants are funded through the foundation’s Youth Endowment Fund, which was established in 1994 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation with the support of Perrigo executives Mike Jandernoa and Bill Swaney. 

Building community in the Town Square

Beautify Pullman is using a $10,000 foundation grant to create a sense of place in the rural community. In 2020, residents came together with a mission of improving the Allegan community in Lee Township through beautification and restoration.

In its first year, Beautify Pullman raised funds and invested over $30,000 to complete the Four Corners Beautification Project. More than100 volunteers, 30 businesses and 19 organizations took part in a makeover of the downtown that added landscaping and planters. 

The group also commissioned a 50-foot outdoor mural celebrating the history and diversity of Pullman at its main intersection of 109th Avenue and 56th Street, created by muralist Conrad Kaufman.  

This year’s plans expanded when Beautify Pullman was awarded $100,000 from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to build Pullman Town Square.  But it wouldn’t have qualified for the state funding without $10,000 from the Allegan County Community Foundation for the required matching grant, says Patricia Conway, treasurer of Beautify Pullman.

“Pullman Town Square is a community hub to be built this summer on a one-half acre lot in downtown Pullman that has sat vacant for decades,” Conway says. “The square is being designed as a place for residents to gather, play, create, learn and enjoy their hometown.” 

The Town Square will be fenced and will include green spaces, a patio, park benches, picnic tables, walkways, and a creative play space designed for children who are too young for the school playground. The children’s area will include a train play structure in a nod to the importance of the railway in Pullman’s history, and durable outdoor percussion instruments designed for young children. It will also feature an art installation, a large tile mosaic, with tiles created by Pullman’s youngest residents. 

“We are very excited to be working with Principal Melissa Corona and art teacher Kelsey Overheiser of Pullman Elementary School to create the artwork,” Conway says. “Pullman Town Square will also feature a 40-by-60 foot covered pavilion providing space for outdoor activities and events such as a farmers market, festivals, craft fairs, concerts and a winter skating rink.” 

Involving youth in downtown 

In Wayland, the community is using its $1,250 TAG grant on two downtown projects.

Vicki Gless, the chair of the Wayland DDA Economic Vitality Committee, is working with community leaders to develop Wayland's Junior MS/DDA Board. Students will be offered an opportunity to serve on a board that will utilize and develop their talents, knowledge and familiarity in ways to preserve the downtown area and make it a place students want to be. 

“The goal is for our younger generation to be informed about historic preservation and to allow them to share ideas of what they look to have in a space downtown,” says Robin Beckwith, Wayland Main Street/DDA Chair.
Kelle Tobolic, the Wayland DDA chair of the design committee, is working with a local artist and a downtown business to create a large 'Welcome to Wayland' mural in the center of downtown. This will be a paint-by-number mural, allowing for community involvement and participation in the actual painting. 

“Community residents will find a sense of belonging, having been part of the finished mural,” Beckwith says.

Friends of the Blue Star Trail are working to finish the recreational trail across Allegan County.
Supporting the Blue Star Trail

Another foundation grant is being used to support efforts by Friends of the Blue Star Trail to complete the nearly 20-mile recreational trail, connecting South Haven to Saugatuck. 

The nonprofit has built a section of trail in Saugatuck Township along Blue Star Highway between Old Allegan and North Street. 

In the past year, the group worked with the communities of Saugatuck city, Saugatuck Township and Douglas to reach agreement on a route through the three areas, says Jack Eisinger, treasurer of the Friends of the Blue Star Trail and chair of the nonprofit’s annual Lakeshore Harvest Ride.   

The organization has applied for grants with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help with the funding, but it will still need to match at least $205,000 of the costs of building these sections of trail.

“We have utilized the services of the Allegan County Community Foundation as our fiduciary and holder of our funds since 2013,” Elsinger says. “We have applied for and received Legacy and/or TAG grants from the foundation every year since 2014. This year we applied for a Legacy grant to help cover the cost of our donor management software’s annual cost.  We were awarded a $1,000 Legacy Grant.” 

2022 Legacy grants:

Adventist Community Services Center - $1,000
Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center - $4,500
Allegan County Historical Society - $4,150
Allegan County Legal Assistance Center - $7,500
Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired - $3,000
Beautify Pullman - $10,000
Bridges of Hope, Allegan County - $7,650
Children First Lakeshore - $2,500
Christian Neighbors SE - $12,983
Congregational Kitchen - $15,000
Feeding America West Michigan - $5,000
Fellinlove Farm - $4,650
First Presbyterian Church of Allegan - $8,000
Forever Curious Children’s Museum - $8,000
Friends of the Blue Star Trail - $1,000
Grant Me Hope - $2,500
Hands of Grace - $5,000
Hungry for Christ - $15,417
Mediation Services - $8,500
NewLife Essentials Store - $5,000
Outdoor Discovery Center Network - $15,000
Ox-Bow School of Art & Artists’ Residency - $5,000
People Helping People of Pullman - $10,000
Plainwell First United Methodist Church - $4,821
Project Hope of NE Allegan County - $6,000
Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence - $10,000
Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center - $10,000
Saugatuck Center for the Arts - $6,000
Saugatuck-Douglas History Center - $5,800
St Vincent DePaul Ministry - $4,800
Sylvia’s Place - $15,000
The Arc of Allegan County - $10,000
Wayland Main Street/Downtown Development Authority - $3,500
Wings Home - $15,000
Wings of Hope Hospice - $20,000
Wishbone Pet Rescue - $10,000

2022 TAG grants 
Adventist Community Services Center - $2,500
Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center - $4,500
Braden's Closet - $1,000
Children First Lakeshore - $2,500
Fennville District Library - $5,000
Girls on the Run of Greater Kalamazoo - $4,260
Hungry for Christ - $5,000
Outdoor Discovery Center Network - $5,000
People Helping People of Pullman - $2,500
Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence - $4,000
St Vincent dePaul Ministry - $1,200
Sylvia's Place - $3,500
The Arc of Allegan County - $750
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd - $10,000
Wayland Main Street/Downtown Development Authority - $1,250

The mission of the Allegan County Community Foundation is to positively impact Allegan County through financial stewardship, education and community partnerships. For additional information and ways to support Allegan County, visit or call 269-673-8344.


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.