Area Can Count Its Blessings

June 19, 2002
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The annual Heart of West Michigan United Way campaign is driving to the finish line for $16.6 million for local non-profit organizations, groups that surely will need the funding as more bleak economic reports are issued across the country. Business leaders in the metropolitan area are tight-lipped about money, but never tight-fisted. Such is a measure of regional strength.

Grand Rapids Business Journal this week expounds upon the generosity of the community in the Focus Section, and includes a roster of generally little known foundations pouring profits into efforts to maintain the quality of life underpinning continued community growth. Some say it is a reflection of religious values, some say it reflects the commitment of locally owned businesses appreciative of their local customers, some say it’s just good business to reinvest in the community.

Whatever the reason, the number and sometimes amounts of the “gifts” are extraordinary by most community standards. It is mirrored by generosity of residents who also give hundreds of hours of time and talent to non-profit endeavors and by corporate newcomers who dare not show up empty handed. Huntington Bank is noted in a report of its organization of a charity night at RiverTown Crossings Mall, which will benefit more than 70 big and little non-profit groups.

Incredibly, it also is mirrored by the agencies themselves. United Way President Michael Brennan said the annual campaign halted for 10 days, just after it kicked off its crucial mission, to aid the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. West Michigan United Way did what needed to be done, even as Brennan acknowledges it likely has cost the conducting agency, though the campaign was extended by 10 days this year. The worst year in the recorded history of area office furniture manufacturers — like that of auto suppliers — and the ripple effect of layoffs already was certain to have curbed donations this year. Brennan said 80 percent of campaign contributions come from the workplace. Catholic Human Development Outreach cancelled this year’s “Soup’s On For All” — which raises $100,000 — in light of the terrorist attacks and providing related relief efforts.

In past times of a downturn business has provided “in-kind” contributions and assisted community-based programs by organizing willing volunteers from their ranks. Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Newby has said the school mentoring program would not have been successful, for instance, without the help of Steelcase employees.

Even as the United Way concludes the annual campaign, it is important to note that it does not signal the close of giving in this community. And for that, the metro area can count its blessings.

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