‘We said from the beginning it all goes back to rescue’
by BETH ALTENA
Fourteen fire or police departments have funding for life-saving equipment they needed thanks to the generosity of those who supported the West Michigan Healing Fields (WMHF) memorial to 9/1/1 held last September. The Rockford Area Community Endowment (RACE) met last month to give away the money raised by the sponsorships of the 3,200 flags—each representing one of the people who died 10 years ago in terrorist attacks that changed the U.S. in one horrific day.
According to Rockford City Manager Michael Young, the project was brought to RACE by Susan Bodenner, who heard about the program. It allows communities to honor those lost while raising funds for grants to first responders, many of whom were among those killed. She brought the idea to the RACE board, where it was enthusiastically embraced.
“We said from the beginning it all goes back to rescue,” said Young. “The franchise was $50,000, so RACE could either lose $50,000, break even or make money.”
In addition to covering the initial franchise fee for the WMHF, the project raised nearly $60,000 more given away at the RACE annual meeting held at Rockford City Hall on Tuesday, May 18.
Not all of the 20 grant applications or all of the grant request amounts were approved, but an amazing $57,840 in grants were given for worthy needs of local rescue. The grants included $5,000 each to Cannon and Courtland township fire departments, the City of Rockford Police and Fire, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Division, which is located in Rockford in Plainfield Townshhip. Plainfield Fire Department received $4,900 to purchase thermal imaging unit equipment; Algoma Fire Department received $4,882 for needed equipment; Sparta Fire Department received $4,785; Grand Rapids Police Department received their entire grant request of $4,473; Wyoming Police and Grandville Police departments were given $3,500 of their grant request; Grattan Fire Department received $2,400 of their requested grant; and Grandville Fire Department received a check for $2,200 of their requested grant.
Polly VonEschen, who is an at-large member of the RACE board, said the grants represented the most the board has given since her tenure on the board. The endowment was formed in the early ‘60s as a requirement of the community receiving federal funding for such projects as the North Rockford Middle School pool and the Rogue Towers. It went dormant for 15 or 20 years and was revitalized eight years ago. Now it is a very active organization, providing grants to benefit the member communities of the City of Rockford, Rockford Public Schools, and the townships of Algoma, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield.
RACE is chaired by Young and members include Mayor Steve Jazwiec representing the City of Rockford, Neil Blakeslee and VonEschen as at-large members, Marry Ann Anderson representing Courtland Township, Dr. Michael Shibler representing Rockford Public Schools, Dick Davies representing Cannon Township, and Vic Matthews representing Plainfield Township.
“Managing is a good word to describe what this board does,” said Young.
In addition to being the nonprofit charity for the WMHF event and grants, the RACE board manages the Krause Memorial Library fund and volunteered to be the nonprofit of record for the Dog Park organizers and the Rockford Area Museum fundraising, which was at about $200,000 at the time of last month’s meeting.
“This is a very active board, and one of the projects that really got us going was the West Michigan Healing Fields,” described Young.
Grants to first responders took into consideration the requester’s involvement in the WMHF, which drew hundreds of thousands to the field located at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
Young said it was amazing, in this time of economic uncertainty and budget restriction, to be in a position to give out nearly $60,000 in grants to those charged with protecting the public.