$1 million federal support goes to continuing pandemic recovery efforts in Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Seventeen Kalamazoo projects, ranging from after-school programs to mortgage foreclosure assistance, recently learned they have received federal grant money to support their work addressing the continuing impacts on the community of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, in partnership with the city of Kalamazoo, deployed a total of $1 million.

The money will help in many ways.

One program receiving assistance helps entrepreneurs whose businesses were threatened by the pandemic; a second assures after-school care is available for kids adversely affected by COVID. Another works to overcome obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic that have reduced access to needed mental health services for local youth. 

"There is such a variety of programs across the three focus areas of economy, housing, and youth,” says Andrea Meinema-Macklin, Associate Director of Community Impact for United Way. “The true unifying thread is the COVID response."

The money represents a portion of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act Funds allocated to the city from the Federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The funds go to programs that are aligned with eligible expenditure categories and the city of Kalamazoo’s priority categories. 

Grants were awarded for a term of one year beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

A sampling


Can-Do Kitchen received grant money for its Can-Do Camp and Roadmap Navigation, programs that provide access to knowledge and resources needed to start a new business or expand from a home to commercial business. 

In addition, Can-Do Kitchen is the fiduciary sponsor for some other recipient programs that are led and run by other organizations, says Lucy Dilley, executive director of Can-Do Kitchen.

“We offered to act as fiduciary sponsors because the application and reporting requirements for government funds are often barriers for smaller organizations,” Dilley says, “and we wanted to help get funds to these important programs.”

Dilley says that as Can-Do Kitchen transitions into Can-Do Kalamazoo, the area's strategic and collaborative incubator for all types of businesses and entrepreneurs, “these types of partnerships will become more common for us.”

One of the several American Rescue Plan grants aimed at bolstering businesses hard hit by the pandemic went to Sisters in Business (whose fiscal sponsor is the Can-Do Kitchen).

In April 2021, community partners Sisters In Business and Black Wall Street Kalamazoo came together and successfully launched the Black Entrepreneur Training Academy pilot program with a cohort of 10 Black businesses. This program was developed in response to the impacts on Black businesses prior to and during COVID. 

The Black Entrepreneur Training Academy (BETA) offers both virtual and in-person training to equip, support, and resource Black entrepreneurs. 

Dilley says groups work together to identify gaps in services and innovate “to create the startup programs, accelerators, pitch competitions, procurement opportunities, mentor connections, and entrepreneurial meet-ups that are crucial for supporting small businesses at every stage so they can become thriving parts of the local economy.”


KNHS Home Ownership Services is one of the programs that received funding to help homeowners hang on to their properties by providing foreclosure prevention counseling. The program sought funding to increase foreclosure services as households come out of the COVID foreclosure moratorium and individual forbearance agreements; "rescue funds" to help homeowners resolve mortgage delinquency and enter into a sustainable plan with their loan servicer,  and "rescue funds" to help a household resolve property tax delinquency in order to prevent tax foreclosure. 


WMed’s Division of Pediatric Psychology provides comprehensive psychological testing services for low-income youth with Medicaid. 

Roger Apple, PhD, division chief of the pediatric psychology program, said he was very pleased to learn of the program’s one-year award of $75,000. Two part-time psychologists have already been hired to start chipping away at a backlog of several months in providing psychological testing services for area youth.

Quarantines and lockdowns resulted in social isolation for local youth as well as less interaction with education and health care systems that could identify the need for and provide mental health resources, according to application documents. Now as COVID-19 restrictions start to lift and youth are returning to in-person education, there has been an outpouring of concern about the overall state of mental health among area youth, along with an increase of requests for mental health services for area young people.

Apple says it is sometimes hard to fund mental health services with grant money, and the additional staff will be “very, very helpful.”

“It will make a dent in the backlog,” Apple says, “but the referrals keep coming in — we could really use four or five more psychologists.”

More federal money to help kids will also reach them through the Boys & Girls Clubs Pathway Tutoring Program, which addresses the inaccessibility of high-quality tutoring and out-of-school literacy supports for kids in kindergarten through 3rd grade. This program will be implemented by Feb. 1 and will run through the end of August, according to grant application materials. 

The time frame selected will not only support the participants during Kalamazoo Public School’s second and third trimesters but will continue to support them through the summer months to prevent “summer slide,” kids losing the literacy gains they made during the school year.

The consistency of qualified adults to provide literacy development is just one part of the program. In addition, Boys & Girls Clubs units inside Kalamazoo Public Schools’ elementary schools will ensure that transportation to the program is not a barrier. 

Federal guidelines met

The projects funded will provide support to the community across the following federally defined expenditure categories:
• Small Business Economic Assistance
• Household Assistance (Rent, Mortgage and Utility Aid, Eviction Prevention)
• Youth Education Assistance (Academic Services/Social, Emotional and Mental Health Services/Early Learning/Aid to High Poverty Districts)
• Social Determinants of Health (Community Health Workers or Benefits Navigators

“These federal American Rescue Plan Act resources are critical to our community, and ensuring they are quickly and impactfully deployed in the community is a great responsibility and privilege,” says Alyssa Stewart, Vice President of Impact and Engagement for United Way. “We are grateful that the staff expertise and infrastructure that we utilize to grant millions of dollars every year can be leveraged in service of the community in this way.”

Tough choices

The competition for the federal money was stiff. A total of 41 agencies representing 54 programs requested more than $6 million in funding.

A grant review committee of nine included representatives from the United Way, the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and three community members with expertise in the economy, youth, and housing.

They spent more than 250 hours in review and discussion to determine how funds would be deployed.  

“We saw significant need demonstrated in the requests, and also significant effort and work by our nonprofit sector to rise to meet the needs of those who reside in the City of Kalamazoo,” Stewart says.

Applicants were required to have 501c3 (nonprofit) status or a fiscal sponsor and serve residents of the City of Kalamazoo, and additional priority was given to organizations and projects that met one or more of the following criteria:
• Are located in and/or serve Individuals who live in a Qualified Census Tract (QCT) in the City of Kalamazoo.
• Intended primary beneficiaries are those below 60% AMI for Kalamazoo County per the US Dept of Treasury.
• At least 25 percent of intended primary beneficiaries are living below the Federal Poverty Line.

Pandemic relief is the tie that binds

“The pandemic has affected us all, but it has not affected us all equally,” Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema says. “These funds are being invested where they are needed most to help people to recover from the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

“We're grateful for the support of the United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region,” he adds, “and to the grant recipients that will use these funds to keep people in housing, support our youth, and protect our local economy.”

Can-Do Kitchen’s Dilley said the federal grant money will be of great help.

“As you can imagine, many entrepreneurs and startup businesses lack the funds to invest in ‘working on’ their business ideas,” Dilley says. “They often feel pressured to just dive right in but often don't have the support network or access to business resources. This financial barrier is exacerbated for entrepreneurs of color due to the impacts of generations of systemic racism. So for these programs, especially B.E.T.A., it's so important for the leaders to be compensated for the huge amount of time and energy that goes into creating dynamic programs while balancing the need to make the program affordable and accessible for participants.”

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan funds, Can-Do Camp, BETA, and Scale Kalamazoo are incorporating a financial incentive for participants, Dilley says, an award for completing the program or for completing milestones along the way.

For a list of grant awardees and more information about the funding process, visit here.

About United Way

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region www.changethestory.org partners across all sectors year-round to achieve measurable progress towards specific goals in education, income, and health—the building blocks for a good quality life. 


Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.