Berrien Community Foundation awards more than $175,000 at annual meeting

Published 8:48 am Thursday, October 8, 2020

BENTON HARBOR, – Outside, big screen, cars parked and popcorn in hand, the Berrien Community Foundation’s 68th Annual Meeting and Celebration hosted as a drive-in movie at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center parking lot was a fitting way to commemorate 2020.

“We still wanted to gather and talk about the work that has been done this year to help the community,” said Lisa Cripps-Downey, BCF President. “Like much of the other things we have done this year, we had to find a creative and safe way to make it happen.”

The Berrien Community Foundation provided over $7.3 million in grants during 2019 including over $160,000 in scholarships to local students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Berrien Community Foundation gave a $50,000 grant and partnered with United Way of Southwest Michigan and South Haven Community Foundation to oversee the Southwest Michigan Cares Fund.  Jointly, the Southwest Michigan Cares Fund has raised just over $1 million. To date, grants of almost $600,000 have been made to local organizations for basic needs, utilities, rent and mortgage assistance. Grants continue to be made weekly to support community needs.

The Foundation also partnered with Cornerstone Alliance with a $60,000 grant for the Rent and Mortgage Payment Program to provide interest free loans to local businesses and nonprofit organizations struggling during COVID-19.

The Berrien Community Foundation Arts Challenge partnered with an anonymous donor to challenge the community to raise $75,000 to support 10 local arts organizations. The challenge garnered $216,538 to support the basic operations of the arts organizations that have been unable to operate fully during COVID-19.

BCF also held drive-up backpack and school supply events, providing backpacks to 1,649 families in Coloma, Watervliet and Niles.

“We had to re-think business as usual and we had to dig in,” Cripps-Downey said of the foundation’s COVID-19 response. “We talk about BCF helping resources meet needs – it absolutely had to happen this year, and it did.”


During the celebration, Berrien Community Foundation announced three large grants totaling $175,000 to Berrien County nonprofits.

To kick off the evening, The Alamar Non-Profit Sustainability Grant was awarded to Neighbor by Neighbor, a nonprofit focused on connecting residents of Harbor Country with basic resources and services to address immediate needs while also encouraging them to take steps toward greater self-sufficiency.  In its second year, the Alamar Grant is $75,000 given over three years – $25,000 each year – to support non-profits as they seek creative ways to take care of employees and find organizational sustainability. This grant will allow the organization to focus on staff support, board development and fundraising.

“We are extraordinarily grateful,” said Neighbor by Neighbor Director Linnea Berg. “We had challenges before COVID, but now with this we will have stability.


2020 Partnership Grant

The Berrien Community Foundation and the Frederick S. Upton Foundation partnered to provide a surprise $50,000 grant to The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Michigan. The grant will help create programming to enhance child abuse prevention programs needed during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“We are just so excited and thrilled,” said Jamie Rossow, Executive Director of The Children’s Advocacy Center. “This will allow us to provide prevention and intervention on the road with added technology.”


The Stephen E. Upton Love Your Community Grant

The $50,000 Stephen E. Upton Love Your Community Grant, was presented to YMCA of Greater Michiana. The grant will support a new daycare program for low and middle income families in Niles with a new model to help make daycare more affordable.

The Love Your Community Grant is presented each year to a Berrien County nonprofit organization that addresses a crucial community need and makes a positive impact in the lives of Berrien County residents.

“Thank you for this recognition of the work we are doing,” said Mark Weber, Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater Michiana. “We were called to provide first responders daycare and we brought the solution. Now we will be able to provide quality daycare to low income families.


Golden Acorn Excellence Awards

The 2020 Golden Acorn Excellence Award, including a $4,000 grant, was presented to Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan.

“We have all learned that Covid-19 poses a greater threat to senior citizens,” said BCF Board Member Mabel Mayfield. “Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan was there to help. Staff and volunteers didn’t go home. They dramatically increased the number of seniors they were serving every day. They continue to provide meals to homebound seniors every day and for many, Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan is the only daily touchpoint and wellness check they receive.”

Traci Burton and M’Shannon Rockette, who volunteered to create an award winning Census video and creative Census 2020 events received the 2020 Golden Acorn Award for Volunteerism. Their efforts and dedication helped to increase the number of people filling out the census and secure millions in census-based funding for the next decade.