In its mission to enhance the lives of residents of Southwest Michigan, The Pokagon Fund’s objectives are to focus its resources on projects that will best serve local communities over the long-term as well as to attract other existing resources to the area. The goal is to ensure that the benefits of The Pokagon Fund continue to help local residents for generations to come.
After an exhaustive review of the strengths, resources and weaknesses of the community, the Fund recently identified the following three areas as being of greatest long-term benefit to local residents:
• Poverty Reduction
• Community Vitality
The Fund has identified specific needs within each of these target areas that it believes will best help achieve these goals.
The Pokagon Fund’s commitment to education is reflected in the award since 2007 of over $2.5 million in grants, including scholarships, to the New Buffalo and River Valley School Systems, representing over 10% of the $23 million that has been awarded by the Fund to date. Consistent with its determination that education is a primary area of greatest need for local residents, the Fund has set as one of its key goals the preparation of our youngest children to have a successful educational experience.
It is well accepted that children exposed to high quality, pre-kindergarten childhood care and education will be better prepared for kindergarten, will achieve at higher levels throughout their K-12 education and will be more likely to earn a high school and college degree. The Pokagon Fund intends to use its resources effectively to prepare our youngest children for their educational experience with the goal of overcoming the limitations caused by poverty and a lack of adequate childhood care.
Third Grade Literacy
Studies have shown that almost 90% of students who failed to graduate high school were struggling readers in the third grade. As is true nationally, poverty and lack of food security are major factors behind the inability of many third grade students to learn to read and achieve in our local school systems. One of The Pokagon Fund’s highest priorities in the future will be to use its resources to assure that at-risk students in its service area will learn to read proficiently.
Improved Instructional Practice
Studies have consistently shown that high performance teachers with strong teaching skills produce students with higher achievement levels when compared with low-performing teachers. The Pokagon Fund will seek opportunities to help teachers better perform their jobs by providing grants to promote teacher learning and instructional methodology. The Fund will collaborate with the local school systems as well as the Berrien RESA to identify key improvement strategies that will meet teacher’s needs.
High School Scholarships
The Pokagon Fund offers college scholarships to graduating seniors from River Valley and New Buffalo Area High Schools who are residents of New Buffalo, Chikaming, or Three Oaks townships, and the cities and villages within those townships. These scholarships are awarded annually and are renewable if the student maintains a 3.0 grade point average. Since 2010, the Fund has awarded scholarships to 32 seniors who have attended both in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities.
Adult Scholarship Program
The Pokagon Fund offers an Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) Scholarship Program which provides financial support to local adult residents who are in a variety of transitional situations and who wish to return to school for any type of continuing education. The Fund believes that the ASIST program positively impacts and enriches the personal life, employment, family and community of the scholarship recipients. Since 2010, the Fund has awarded scholarships to 36 adults.
Statistics reveal that the rates of poverty in Berrien County for both the overall population (17.7%) and for children (26.2%) exceed both national and state levels. Approximately one out of five local families in this area is food insecure. Over 10% of the households in Berrien County have incomes of less than $15,000. The Pokagon Fund has committed to using its resources to provide food to the needy and to help reduce the overall poverty rate by supporting resource and referral services.
Food Security and Nutrition
Since inception, The Pokagon Fund has maintained a steady focus on improving the quality and distribution of food within Harbor Country® to those in need. Funding has been provided for the distribution of fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products and meals to thousands of seniors, disabled low-income adults and poverty level families. The Fund has also underwritten the delivery of hot, nutritious meals to congregate sites throughout the community and private homes.
Resources and Referral
There is a need to assist Harbor Country® residents to identify and connect with resource organizations that provide a variety of health and human services such as child care, emergency shelter, utility assistance and other benefits provided within Berrien County. Such assistance through referrals is a key ingredient in the effort to reduce the community’s overall poverty rate while providing a temporary safety net. The Pokagon Fund is at the forefront of an effort in partnership with others to provide such assistance through locally funded case management services.
Job Training and Entrepreneurship
The Pokagon Fund recognizes that its goal of poverty “reduction” requires a commitment to programs that promote job training, access to livable wage jobs, and the support of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship education and training, in particular, fosters improved decision-making skills, serves as a catalyst for growth of new businesses and accelerates economic growth and development, thereby providing an effective means of jobs creation, new ventures development and, consequently, poverty reduction.
Fostering Community Vitality involves improving the quality of life, lifting the spirits, and increasing the happiness of a community. As The Pokagon Fund implements its new strategic plan, it will continue to contribute to projects, both large and small, that enrich and enhance the lives of Harbor Country® residents. These may range from larger collaborative efforts with our local municipalities to participate in the building of parks and expand conservation areas to smaller projects that enhance the local capacity of the area. The Pokagon Fund has been and will remain a vital element in the enrichment of the lives of those it serves.
Environment, Preservation and Parks
Protecting and preserving the environment is essential to the quality of life in every community, but it is especially important to Harbor Country®, a tourist and second home mecca that lives and breathes biking and hiking trails, beaches, sand dunes and, of course, Lake Michigan. The Pokagon Fund has provided funding for Oselka Park and for the gem of the New Buffalo area, the Galien River County Park and its Canopy Walkway, Marsh Overlook Tower and Marsh Boardwalk. It has funded land preservation through Chikaming Open Lands. It will continue to be a key player in this arena.
With 45% of its total funding dedicated to nine municipal entities totaling well over $10,000,000 since 2008, The Pokagon Fund has enabled these municipalities to improve their services and the quality of life of their constituents. The building of the New Buffalo Township Library, the renovation of the New Buffalo Township Hall and the implementation of the City of New Buffalo’s Business Improvement District Downtown Streetscape Plan are the most obvious examples what grants from the Fund have achieved, but there are hundreds more. That funding will continue.
Health and Human Services
Commencing with a $500,000 grant in 2008 to support the expansion of the emergency room facilities in Dowagiac, The Pokagon Fund has been committed to improving the health and welfare of the residents of Harbor Country and the areas surrounding the Pokagon Tribal Lands. The Fund has been at the forefront of distributing food and providing meals to the needy. It has funded nursing assistance to cancer patients and hospice care, the Vision Program of the New Buffalo Lions Club and the services to seniors provided by the River Valley Senior Center. These and similar programs are necessary for the welfare of local residents.
Arts and Culture
Arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. They are a necessary ingredient for quality of life and community vitality. From support for the outdoor art program of the Harbor Country Public Arts Initiative and the River Valley School District’s purchase of new Marching Band equipment to the funding of the Three Oaks Theater Festival and the Southhold Dance Theater’s production of the Nutcracker Ballet in Harbor Country, The Pokagon Fund is and intends to remain a benefactor to the rich and diverse cultural life of this area.