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“Digital Access for All” Partnership to Provide Internet to 1,000 KPS Households

A new partnership in Kalamazoo will provide Wi-Fi routers with unlimited Internet service to 1,000 households of Kalamazoo Public School students that do not have Internet access at no cost. The partnership, known as Digital Access for All (DAFA), includes Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise), the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF), and the City of Kalamazoo (The City) with funding provided by the Foundation for Excellence (FFE).

“The executive order that closed public schools exacerbated the educational inequities that are present in our community,” noted Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for the Kalamazoo Promise. “Many of our students don’t have access to wi-fi at home, which makes online schooling nearly impossible for some families. It was imperative that The Promise and community partners collaborate to address unequal access to wi-fi, both now and into the future. For Kalamazoo to truly be an education community, our actions must stop the deepening of inequities already present in our society. We are responsible for reducing barriers that have long stifled the educational outcomes of marginalized communities.”  

Along with KPS’s supplying of laptops to all students, the DAFA partnership eliminates a major hurdle to distance learning that faces many students in Kalamazoo. The goal of this partnership is to create a more level playing field for Internet access and to enhance access for online education services so all students can learn. This initiative relies on the collaboration, resources, and shared accountability of its partners. KPS and The Promise will each provide $ 50,000 toward the anticipated program cost of $ 200,000 in year one, and the City, with FFE support, will cover remaining expenses and provide sustainability long-term.

“The Digital Access for All initiative demonstrates that advancing equitable access to resources can happen both quickly and with a grand vision of sustainability, when done in partnership with organizations that are passionate about the work,” said Kalamazoo’s Mayor David Anderson.

The Kalamazoo Public Library will manage and lend the devices. For donations to support the program, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has created a dedicated fund specific to DAFA.

“Recognizing the digital divide that exists within our community and taking action to address that divide is critical. Leveraging many talents and assets to close the gap speaks to the strength of collaboration and commitment to remove barriers to education that every student deserves.” – Carrie Pickett-Erway, President/CEO of KZCF.

The partnership began on April 2, 2020, when the implications of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order became clear, resulting in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instructional and support services are being provided by teachers and staff through online communication to students to the greatest extent possible, but not all students have Internet access.

“Access to the Internet has already become more of a necessity than a luxury, even without a pandemic,” stated Ryan Wieber, Director of Kalamazoo Public Library. “It is essential for learning, research, banking, collaborating, and a critical part of an education in itself.”

In order to provide Internet access to students who do not have it, hotspots and services are being purchased for KPS students to borrow from the KPL as a part of the already established OneCard Program, which allows students to borrow books, movies, and other items through the library. The Project will start in June 2020 with the City of Kalamazoo (through the Foundation for Excellence) following City Commission approval on June 15, 2020 and subject to any necessary approval by all other Partners and conclude on August 31, 2021 (Year One). Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, the need for all students to have access to the Internet will remain, and the partnership has stated its intention to continue in future years with this solution, or by working toward even better solutions for universal Internet in Kalamazoo.

“This is a big step towards eliminating the digital divide and making sure that all students have opportunities to advance,” said Superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri.

Eligible participants must be KPS students participating in the OneCard Program. Families that have identified themselves as having “No access” will be offered priority registration. Only one device per street address and residence will be permitted.

Further information will be provided to families by KPS in the coming weeks.

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Statement from the Foundation for Excellence Board of Directors

The Foundation for Excellence (FFE) board of directors has issued the following statement related to our current national reckoning with historic and contemporary racism and police violence toward Black Americans:

“Part of the mission of the Foundation for Excellence is to empower us all as Kalamazoo residents to achieve the lives that we want for ourselves and our families. This mission requires that the historic and systemic racism, injustice, inequity, and poverty that Black Americans have experienced for generations be eliminated unconditionally. The need for urgent and meaningful action cannot be ignored or delayed, and FFE will continue to invest in programs and community partnerships that contribute to achieving this goal as a community. FFE strongly supports the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests that have resulted from the killings of Black Americans, most recently George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.” 

100 Kalamazoo Businesses Get Vital Relief Through Micro-Enterprise Grant Program

A grant program unveiled last month will bring $500,000 in relief to 100 Kalamazoo microbusinesses dealing with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

pdf Kalamazoo Micro Enterprise Grants Report, June 2020 (1.25 MB)

Each of the businesses will receive $5,000 through the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants (KMEG) program, a partnership between the City of Kalamazoo and United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

“These grants will make a powerful difference for businesses that were hit especially hard by the pandemic. We’re truly grateful for this unique and special partnership with the City of Kalamazoo,” said Natalie Saucedo, Director of Individual Giving & Innovation at United Way (UWBCKR).

KMEG funding comes from a $200,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation and an additional $300,000 from the City of Kalamazoo’s Foundation For Excellence. The City and United Way also collaborated on the Kalamazoo Small Business Loan Fund, a relief effort that has issued more than $1.34 million in loans to 75 local businesses so far.

Micro-enterprises, also known as microbusinesses, are very small businesses—typically 10 or fewer employees—that generate low revenue yet bring unique skills and services to the community. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, micro-enterprises make up 74.8% of private sector employers. Many micro-enterprises are BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color)-owned and/or women-owned. They are vital to income and wealth generation in underserved communities.

The grants aim to support community members living below the ALICE threshold, with a focus on providing support to BIPOC-owned and women- owned microbusinesses, which have experienced disproportionate effects from the pandemic. A review committee of diverse representatives from business, financial and community groups from across Kalamazoo reviewed applications and made grant decisions. Recipients must use their grant funds within six months and report back to United Way on how the funds were used.

“We know that accessing capital is more difficult for very small businesses, though they still face all of the same challenges as any business during COVID-19,” said Antonio Mitchell, Community Investment Manager for the City of Kalamazoo. “We are grateful to have partners in our community who made the KMEG program possible, and join us in investing in these entrepreneurs and their staff.”  

Entrepreneurs Make Use of Grants

Owners of microbusinesses said they would use grant monies for vital needs, including operational costs (such as rent, mortgage, utilities and other ordinary business expenses), payroll and benefit costs for employees, costs for supporting public health as business reopens, and tackling other costs from the pandemic.

“This is absolutely amazing news!” Rebecca Macleery said after learning her business, Loose Parts Studio, received a $5,000 grant.

Loose Parts Studio is an emerging creative space hosting a retail shop specializing in high-quality salvaged and "found" items intended for creative reuse, along with a community art studio and a garden cafe. Macleery was wrapping up renovations and was poised to open when COVID-19 hit.

“This grant provides critical funding to get back on track to opening so that my dream can be realized and so the community has a space in which people can create, exchange ideas, take refuge and inspire one another,” Macleery said.

 Ciji Gamble, owner and licensed professional counselor at Maternal Counseling Services, PLLC, struggled to provide services when the pandemic struck. MCS offers women’s mental health services, postpartum mental wellness, and couples counseling.

“The shelter-in-place order and COVID-19 required me to relocate all of my services online,” said Gamble. “With being a mother, in addition to a business owner, it affected my business's direct gross income as I had to pivot to care for my family while supporting my clients. It also eliminated contractor income received, as they were no longer able to use the MCS office. This created a great economic shortfall for the business.”

“I applied to numerous grants to no avail,” she added. “Being a solo private practice owner, it felt as if ‘the little guys’ were being overlooked. I am so happy that United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region saw my business as one they were willing to support.”

Daarina Perry, owner of Reen’s Bling n Things, said the KMEG grant she received will be put to vital use.

“With this $5,000, I’ll be able to cover rent, utilities, buy more inventory, get a personal website for my inventory on hand, and better marketing,” Perry said. Founded in 2018, the business sells nickel- and lead-free affordable jewelry and accessories to women, men and little girls.

COVID-19 cost woman-owned landscape architects O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock & Associates several 2020 projects due to client uncertainty, but the toughest impact was to their personal approach to landscape planning, which involves in-person design sessions. A KMEG grant allowed OCBA to purchase technology to support virtual meetings and stay connected with clients.

“I have had two occasions this week in which having a computer from which I could draw in a virtual meeting would have increased our efficiency and ability to communicate with a client effectively,” said Sandy Bliesener, President of OCBA. “It is exciting to think that very soon I and my team members will have three machines that will accommodate this need.

“This grant will allow us to continue to collaborate with our clients as we work virtually during these challenging times,” she added. “I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to those that reviewed the applications and deemed our request worthy of funding.”

For a full list of grant recipients, go to changethestory.org/micro-enterprise-grants.

About UWBCKR

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region envisions a vibrant community where all people realize their full potential. UWBCKR drives impact by leading shared efforts that engage diverse people, ideas and resources. We partner across all sectors year-round to achieve measurable progress towards specific goals in education, income and health—the building blocks for a good quality life. On the web: www.changethestory.org. Also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

City of Kalamazoo

Home to the Kalamazoo Promise, three institutions of higher education, two nationally recognized healthcare systems, cutting-edge medical research, world-class brewing and dining, outstanding parks, and an extensive variety of music, art, theatre, and cultural attractions.

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