Belonging to Thrive

Through the revision of our grantmaking strategy, we looked to highlight our belief that a sense of belonging is critical for students to succeed in school and life, and that access to high-quality enrichment activities varies widely by the student, creating a gap in opportunities and exposure to arts and cultural opportunities for some. Here’s how we use our grant dollars to provide access to high-quality art and cultural experiences that enhance young people’s learning, engagement, and sense of belonging.

Girls Choral Academy

Since 1997, Girls Choral Academy (GCA) has provided a safe, engaging, and constructive environment for young women to grow and develop through music education. Girls develop vocal technique, musical skills, creativity, expressive artistry, and exposure to music from several cultures while building positive relationships through shared experience. In a world where young girls face intense pressures and unrealistic standards, Girls Choral Academy exists to “give girls a voice” – where they can grow into self-assured young women who speak as confidently as they sing.

As GCA enters a new phase of leadership with the retirement of its long-time Executive Artistic Director, we’re excited to partner with the organization, supporting its new staffing structure to amplify the programmatic quality and financial sustainability to ensure girls in our community can benefit from GCA’s programming and build connections for generations to come.

Ebony Road Players

Ebony Road Players (ERP)’ mission is to inspire, educate, and engage the cultures of our community with high-quality theatre productions focused on the Black experience.

The organization fills the need for Black theatre and performers in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, providing outlets for actors, writers, and behind-the-scenes staff to learn and showcase their talents. Its Story2Stage educational programming engages 6th-8th grade youth in collaborative training around theatrical storytelling, character development, and stage presence. Youth work to produce a collaborative performance for family and friends while learning the power of embracing personal histories and sharing stories. The Steelcase Foundation will partner with Ebony Road Players for the next three years as it looks to achieve long-term goals around budgeting and fund development to grow and sustain the organization and its programming for years to come to ensure Grand Rapids has a vibrant and diverse performing arts community that reflects our community and celebrates Black theatre and storytelling.

Opera Grand Rapids

Opera Grand Rapids’ mission is to foster and fulfill the demand for high-quality, live opera in West Michigan through vocal performances, community engagement, and educational programming. Its Children’s Opera provides youth a first glimpse of the opera through drama and music training focused on creative expression. Kindergarten – 5th-grade youth engage together in a free weeklong Children’s Opera Workshop at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center bringing together area youth to hone their skills in singing, acting, and confidence building. The programming seeks to bridge the extracurricular music education gap by offering a no-cost summer experience, as many students may have talent, but are without the resources to further their skills and self-confidence as performers. The Steelcase Foundation will support the Children’s Opera for three years as it moves programming on-site to attract a wider pool of interested performers expanding its impact throughout the city.

Grandville Avenue Arts + Humanities

Grandville Avenue Arts + Humanities (GAAH) celebrates the cultural heritage of Black, Latinx, and indigenous members of the community through arts and humanities that cultivate curiosity, creativity, and trusting relationships and validate students as they forge new pathways. GAAH serves youth living in the Roosevelt Park and Black Hills neighborhoods, as well as students who attend neighborhood schools Cesar E. Chavez Elementary and Southwest Community Campus. Since 2012, the Steelcase Foundation has supported Cook Library After School which provides high-quality academic support and enrichment activities focused on literacy, STEAM, and social-emotional learning. Students gain hands-on experience and exposure to new concepts and connect with peers in a safe and supported environment. Over the next three years, staff will engage in a community listening and evaluation process to identify future goals and success targets around Cook Library After School programming. We’re excited to partner in these efforts over the next three years to ensure Cook Library After School programming reflects the wants and needs of the students and families it serves and provides relevant and engaging opportunities for them to connect and learn together.

Grand Rapids Symphony

The Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) provides distinctive musical experiences, with an emphasis on live orchestral music, for diverse audiences throughout West Michigan. Its mission is to share great music that moves the human soul. The Symphony provides a range of music education experiences for youth, helping to provide exposure and fill gaps, and complement school music education programs. Its Artists in Residence Program engages 35-40 local schools each year, providing events and curriculum for students grades K-6 to see symphony performances, engage with musicians, and try instruments along with their peers. Its Mosaic Scholars program provides deeper engagement for 20 Black and Latinx students in 6th-12th grades, through year-long no-cost private instruction and mentoring from GRS musicians. Students come together for monthly Sketch Sessions where they build peer relationships while composing an original work that is performed at Symphony of Soul and an end-of-year recital. The Foundation has committed to supporting GRS’s education programming for three years as it looks to amplify its impact through more intentional and targeted connections between students and schools. 

Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore

Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore (GSMISTS) builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Girls Scouts programming takes a whole child approach, empowering girls to develop a strong sense of self, display positive values, seek challenges and learn from setbacks, form and maintain healthy relationships, and learn to identify and solve problems in their communities. The organization serves 6,000 girls across the state with 326 troops in Kent County.

While the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore leans into the rich history and programming of Girl Scouts USA, the local chapter recognizes a desire to more intentionally serve all girls, especially those from ALICE households who have historically been underserved. To do so, GSMISTS has engaged in a troop development project, establishing troops in areas currently underserved, and recruiting new girls and troop leaders to become members. Girl Scouts staff will walk alongside new troop leaders as they learn their roles to ensure those troop members are well supported and find value in the experience. We’re partnering with the organization as it kicks off the work to ensure that Girl Scouts’ impactful programming can benefit all interested girls in our community.

Special Olympics Michigan

Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) is an inclusive organization that utilizes sports, health, and educational programs to fight inactivity, injustice, and intolerance of individuals with intellectual differences. Each year, the organization serves over 22,000 participants with the help of nearly 3,000 coaches and 27,000 volunteers. Athletes improve their physical fitness, learn new skills, demonstrate courage, and improve well-being through shared experience.

Unified Champion Schools

Unified Champion Schools (UCS) is a sports-based strategy that breaks down the barriers that traditionally separate students with intellectual differences from the general school population by empowering all students to come together and create a more inclusive school community. It combines Inclusive Student Leadership, Unified Sports opportunities that bring together students together to compete as teammates in inclusive sports, and school-wide engagement around inclusion and anti-bullying to create a culture of belonging for all students. Over the next three years, we have partnered with Special Olympics Michigan to expand its Unified Champions Program throughout Kent County, especially in Grand Rapids Public School and in suburban communities where it is not currently engaged. We’re excited to amplify SOMI’s efforts to provide opportunities for students to come together to create a lifelong culture where everyone belongs.