United Way of the Lakeshore Announces $122,000 in ALICE Grants

(MUSKEGON, MI) – The Board of Directors of the United Way of the Lakeshore is pleased to announce $122,000 in grant funding for programs to help ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed and their families. According to United Way data, over 43% of all households within Muskegon are at or below the ALICE threshold.

Board Chairman Mark Meyers said, “These are important programs that complement the nearly $2 million in other programming we currently provide in the areas of health, education, and income stability.” Meyers added, “Those who donate to the United Way annual campaign for human services can see their dollars working across our many communities through programs like the ones we’re funding today.”

During a series of community conversations held Fall 2015—Spring 2016, the United Way of the Lakeshore board learned from the ALICE families that, although barriers existed to their security in target areas of health, education, and income stability, several barriers emerged as trends that posed limits to many working families. Key areas included access to high-quality and affordable childcare, and the lack of adequate transportation. A third barrier was a lack of resources if presented with an unforeseen event like a car repair or sick childcare provider. To address these barriers, the United Way Board of Directors committed $100,000 to new grant-making, which it exceeded.  The new programs funded include:

 Goodwill Wheels to Work Planning Grant: Goodwill will lead a collaborative effort with other entities in our United Way Lakeshore region to develop a plan for a program to provide safe, reliable transportation for area ALICE families. It aims to build on the generosity of vehicle donors and working with local social service providers, auto auctions, educational institutions and local mechanics to help empower ALICE families to maintain or gain self-sufficiency and an improved quality of life.

Love INC – The Empower Project: The Empower Project will give ALICE families the opportunity to receive education in Money Management skills. The 8-week program offers basic budgeting education with information on banking, insurance, investments, credit reports, money saving tips, and the option for individual mentoring at no cost to families. Additional coaching is also available each week beyond the class setting. Childcare is provided on site for families participating in the program at no cost. The program is incentive-based with rewards for attendance and doing assigned homework. Rewards are based on a point system that allows participants to exchange their points for items in the Resource Rooms that are hosted in two area churches. This allows participants to further stretch their incomes.

Read Muskegon – Family Literacy: The program is designed to support low-literacy ALICE families and their 0-5 year old children by offering a menu of literacy support services that include: 1) 1-1 tutoring for low-literacy parents, 2) Weekly small group classes at West Michigan Works!, EXIT, and the Muskegon County Jail aimed at improving functional literacy to build employment and life skills, as well as engage their children in reading, 3) Literacy based play & learn groups for low-literacy parents and their 0-5 year olds, 4) Literacy based ABCs of Cooking, a six unit healthy cooking workshop designed for low-literacy parents and their 0-5 year olds, 5) Monthly family literacy dinners at EXIT for incarcerated fathers participating in the program and their children/family, and 6) Family literacy events that include an annual Holiday Literacy Village. All programs use best practices and evidence-based approaches for working with adult learners. When an individual learns to read, write, and communicate and use computers, they are empowered to increase their income, lower their health care costs, and find sustainable employment – ultimately changing the trajectory of their lives and that of their children.

 Employee Resource Network:  Start-up funds to expand an Employee Resource Network (ERN) in Muskegon.  ERNs are private-public consortia with the purpose to improve workforce retention through employee support and training. The companies involved in the pilot include Port City Group (3 locations); CWC Textron; and the Eagle Group. It is important to note that Wesco and Harbor Hospice were already part of this ERN. From the perspective of the State of Michigan, the current ERN-MI expansion efforts have resulted (to date) in 12 Area Networks and 4 Lead Organizations with 41 Strategic Partners, 81 Employers, and 18 Success Coaches.  Success coaches meet with employees at the workplace and assist them with a variety of concerns from food assistance, transportation issues to budgeting and emergency loans bringing help right to the workplace.

Boys & Girls Club of Muskegon Lakeshore (BGCML) – Project Great Futures:  BGCML positively impacts youth in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights with programming aimed at academic success, character and leadership development and developing healthy lifestyles.  The Club Experience consists of five key elements: a safe, positive environment; fun and a sense of belonging; supportive relationships; opportunities and expectations; and recognition. United Way funding support will assist the Club in growing and improving the quality of its programming through training of staff and volunteers in order to deepen and sustain our long-term impact on the youth, ages 6-18. The Club’s programming will include:  1. After School Enrichment program for youth during the school year from mid-September thru May (9 months per year). This program is offered Monday through Friday from 3pm-7:30pm at our Nelson Site and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy Site.  2. Summer enrichment programs provided from June- August. This program is offered Monday through Friday from 9am-6pm at our Nelson Site and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy Site.

Mission for Area People (MAP): MAP will assist in transportation needs of working ALICE families.   MAP will also be working collaboratively with Goodwill Industries on its Wheels to Work program development plan, and will also provide demographic data, while supporting, but not supplanting existing programs aimed at meeting the transportation needs for this economically strained class of workers. 

El Centro Hispano de Oceana – Emergency Assistance Fund: The Emergency Assistance initiative is designed to provide financial stability to residents of Oceana County who are employed in low-wage positions and who struggle to meet unexpected expenses. Candidates for this program include individuals who are employed full-time, and those employed in the agricultural industry on a seasonal basis. Although the Center primarily serves the Hispanic population, this program will serve all residents who qualify for help. The Center will provide a loan or grant generally under $1,000 to individuals who have exhausted all other funding avenues. The Center will work out a payment plan for the loans.

Lastly, the board authorized a grant to Hope Network West Michigan to pay for AmeriCorps tutors in Hope Network’s Michigan Education Corps (MEC) Reading Corps program.. Building a skilled and educated workforce begins with literacy.  In Muskegon County, 42% of 2107 kids tested were proficient in reading by third grade (M-Step 2016 assessment).  United Way brought the MEC Reading Corps program to our county four years ago and the first pilot preschool program in 2015-16.  The program  aggressively works to improve literacy among the community’s most underprivileged students. This year United Way funded the expansion of the program.  There are currently 19 Americorps service members serving 500 students in PreK – 3rd grade classrooms. Schools are selected to participate in MEC’s Reading Corps based on the need as demonstrated by a) their location, and b) the need expressed by school leaders based on local data.