Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
The Northside Neighborhood’s central community center is getting interior upgrades and Kalamazoo’s largest philanthropic foundation has found a new leader.
Those are among several developments worth watching during the coming weeks in Southwest Michigan.
KALAMAZOO, MI - Dr. Grace Lubwama has been named president and chief executive officer of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
Lubwama has worked since February of 2014 as CEO of YWCA Kalamazoo and has been credited with the development and expansion of programs such as the first comprehensive human trafficking program in the state of Michigan, and for establishing the state's only comprehensive 24-hour early childhood center.
With more than 20 years of work with nonprofit organizations, Lubwama also founded Cradle Kalamazoo
, a $4.2 million collective impact initiative in Kalamazoo County focused on reducing Black infant mortality. Before joining YWCA Kalamazoo, she worked for nearly five years in Los Angeles as the national director of community advocacy for Word Vision.
In announcing its new leader, the foundation described Lubwama as a strategic thinker and results-driven executive who can “translate racial and gender equity into programmatic goals that are tangible and attainable benchmarks.”
“Dr. Lubwama’s experience and passion for our mission will bring us a new perspective and continue to advance our vision of Kalamazoo County as the most equitable place to live,” said Von Washington Jr., chair of the foundation’s board of directors and executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise, in a prepared statement. “She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that will help us achieve our mission to advance educational success, economic security, and access to basic human needs.”
Washington said he looks forward to Lubwama’s strategic and visionary leadership to help address complex social issues.
Sarah Lee, vice president of marketing and communications for Kalamazoo Community Foundation, says the new leadership is important because that person works to help the foundation realize its vision for Kalamazoo County – to be the most equitable place to live.
In 2022, working with assets of more than $585 million, the foundation invested $6.2 million in Kalamazoo County from their discretionary funds that are guided by KZCF Team. The foundation also distributed grants from other funds such as donor-advised, designated, scholarships, and field-of-interest. The 2022 total overall grants distributed from all funds was $22 million, with a significant portion of the funds distributed to Kalamazoo County. That number includes donor-advised, designated investments in education and learning, health, the environment, housing, economic development, and family and youth development. I
“What that means to people is basically exploring together through community partnerships what it means to belong here in this community and what it means to be inclusive,” Lee says. “That’s because, at the end of the day, we all want to love where we live.”
The foundation is now working to help YWCA Kalamazoo make a smooth transition to new leadership as Lubwama changes roles. The organizations are close community partners that work together on many initiatives and programs that focus on early childhood education and care.
“Dr. Lubwama is working with the YWCA leadership to ensure everyone is set up for success over there during this interim period. And then over here at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, we’re assembling an onboarding team to ensure her success and leadership at the Foundation.”
Lubwama has a doctorate in Policy Planning and Development from the University of Southern California. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Art and Design from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the Boston University School of Public Heath.
“Grace is a stellar leader whom we have been privileged to work with for nearly a decade,” Demarra West, chair of the YWCA Kalamazoo Board of directors, said in a prepared statement. “It is rare indeed to have a leader who balances heart work with head work, and Grace exemplifies this in everything she does.”
West said Lubwama’s commitment to eliminating racism and empowering women has been unshakable. YWCA Kalamazoo's mission is focused on eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity.
Acknowledging her leadership role at YWCA Kalamazoo as one of her greatest accomplishments, Lubwama said, “I am excited to have the full support of YWCA Kalamazoo's Leadership team as I prepare to start my next chapter at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, working alongside their amazing staff. I hope to manifest my vision for broader community impact as the Community Foundation approaches its centennial year in 2025.”
Lubama is expected to assume her leadership post at the foundation in July. The appointment follows a six-month search for new executive leadership following the May 2022 departure of Carrie Pickett-Erway. She announced plans to leave that post after 10 years to spend more time with her family.
The Kalamazoo Community Foundation
annually invests millions of dollars to help Kalamazoo County become the most equitable place to live, “with the mission to mobilize people, resources, and expertise and to advance racial, social, and economic justice.
Editor's Note: Second Wave will return with an in-depth interview with Dr. Grace Lubama after she's been in her new position for a few months and following the start of her new position in July.
Partners with paintbrushes
The Douglass Community Association is getting an interior makeover with the help of Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity, which builds, renovates, and provides repair services to make homeownership affordable in Kalamazoo County, is leading efforts to rehabilitate three essential spaces at the Douglass Community Association.
Habitat's volunteers are working with Douglass' volunteers to repaint the center’s main community room. Carpeting and floor tiles will also be replaced.
Plans are to repaint the center’s Youth Room and add a chalkboard wall. Volunteers will also be installing a room divider and carpet tiles. New paint is also in store for the center’s administrative bathroom. New fixtures, shelves, and new storage space that will enhance useability are also planned. “We Nailed It Construction” and Migala Carpet One Floor & Home are contributing to the renovation efforts.
“For those who are aware of (Habitat), we know their normal way of operating is to do houses,” says Stacey R. Ledbetter, interim executive director of the Douglass Community Association. But she says, “We thought that this was a unique opportunity for us to get their help – an organization that helps everybody in the community – so they were just totally on board, which we truly, truly appreciate."
She says the association's 1000 W. Patterson St. facility gets a lot of traffic and its large community room is used and rented by lots of organizations and area residents for events, exhibits, meetings, and social gatherings. The facility also houses several service organizations, and its youth program attracts young people daily during the school year as well as during the summer.
Ledbetter describes Habitat for Humanity as a blessing "because they have provided (such things as) volunteer personnel time, volunteer labor, discounted supplies. So it was a blessing in terms of us being able to make it happen from a budgetary standpoint. … This did nothing but help us. There’s no other way to look at it and we truly appreciate it.”
Pleased with the collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, she says, “We just want to put forth the best face and service that we can possibly provide and this was just one way to do it.”
Rob Oakleaf, executive director of Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity, said, “I’m really happy that Habitat has been able to lend our skills and volunteers to support this renovation project at the Douglass. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be more present in the communities that we serve with our affordable homeownership programs. We hope that our work not only helps to change lives but acts as a permanent solution – ending the cycle of poverty by building generational wealth, especially for people from historically marginalized groups.”
According to information provided by the organization, Habitat builds four to five single-family homes each year to provide homeownership opportunities for income-qualified families. It also operates a repair service to help low-income homeowners in Kalamazoo and Allegan counties.
Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity is one of more than 1,300 U.S. affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International. This year it will celebrate 40 years of homebuilding in Kalamazoo. More information about the organization and its affordable housing programs at 269-344-2443, via firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting its website
The Douglass Community Association, named in honor of Frederick Douglass, was founded in 1919 to address the social, recreational, and cultural needs of African-American soldiers stationed at Fort Custer and returning to Kalamazoo from World War I.
The Douglass was recognized as a social service agency in 1964, and after operating out of several locations, found a permanent home in 1982 at its current location, 1000 W. Patterson St., continuing as a center for social, recreational, and community development activities. More information about its services and mission is available HERE