With grants that total close to $1,000,000 in support of local programs that promote job training and entrepreneurship skills and that provide opportunities for Harbor Country® residents to pursue their own goals and gain self-sufficiency, The Pokagon Fund has acted affirmatively to help those in need move out of poverty and to strengthen the local economy. 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.
At the forefront of these efforts has been the Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) Scholarship Program that was established to provide a non-discriminatory scholarship program for the benefit of adult non-traditional students going back to school for individual classes, professional certification, a degree or an advanced degree. Scholarship awards have been based on merit, financial need, and a clearly articulated path for career advancement in a timely manner. Since the ASIST program began in 2012, the Fund has awarded over $275,000 to 38 adult students.
In addition to the scholarships given to individuals under the ASIST program, the Fund has awarded grants totaling over $100,000 to programs in its service areas that provide adult education and training in GED preparation, financial literacy, job readiness, English fluency classes for non-English speaking adults, neighborhood leadership and entrepreneurship. Moreover, recognizing the importance of youthful understanding of entrepreneurship, grants totaling $68,500 have been awarded to Junior Achievement of Michiana to provide real-world learning experience to students and to foster an understanding of free enterprise. (See www.jani.org) Through these programs, students learn entrepreneurial skills, financial basics, money management and how to succeed in a rapidly changing, highly competitive and increasingly global marketplace.
Significant awards to three organizations that facilitate entrepreneurship, job training and employment opportunities deserve special mention.
In 2012, the Fund provided a $20,000 grant to support the completion by the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce of an Economic Development Plan that has provided Harbor Country® with the tools and resources to nurture the growth of existing economic entities, attract new businesses, create jobs and promote long term regional economic stability. The finalization of this plan was a necessary and fundamental step in the development of information and strategies from which to build the local economy. The Fund enhanced this support with a second grant of $189,000 for the renovation of the Chamber’s office in Chikaming Township and the creation of a Business Resource Center in that office dedicated to nurturing business growth, job creation and economic vitality in Harbor Country®. The role of the Business Resource Center in the local economy was further enhanced when the Chamber and Cornerstone Alliance partnered in the creation of a Women’s Business Center, also located within the Chamber.
Cornerstone Alliance is a non-profit, investor-governed economic development organization primarily focused on increasing employment opportunities, private sector capital investments and specialized business services in economically distressed areas of Southwest Michigan. (See: cstonealliance.org) With funds awarded to Cornerstone Alliance, the Women’s Business Center satellite office was outfitted with computers and related equipment. This equipment has enabled Cornerstone and the Chamber to hold on-site classes, seminars and counseling sessions to entrepreneurs and small businesses in Harbor Country®. The focus of these offerings has been to activate innovative ideas through relevant training and resources for new entrepreneurs seeking to open a new business. In addition, existing small business owners have used this resource to hone current skills as well as learn new skills and get the tools they need to succeed.
In its efforts to alleviate poverty, The Pokagon Fund has also branched out beyond Harbor Country® to support poverty reduction in the communities surrounding Pokagon band trust land consolidation sites. In one of its earliest grants, the Fund provided $180,000 to the St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative. That grant gave St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization located in South Bend, Indiana, its core funding and the financial stability to build its program. (See www.sjcbridges.org/) Today, St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty is active in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties, Indiana and in Michigan’s Van Buren and Cass Counties. It has emerged as a credible thought leader and trailblazer for highlighting new approaches toward transitioning under-resourced communities out of generational and situational poverty and into economic viability.