Organizing Community Infrastructures to Attack Complex Systems Affecting Place

Michigan State University
Neighborhoods Without Borders

Michigan State University is partnering with residents and stakeholders in an open network effort to align, link, and leverage action across multiple grassroots networks aimed at building a prosperous and equitable Flint where all individuals, families and neighborhoods thrive. Current action focuses on improving educational success, job opportunities, affordable and safe housing, neighborhood parks and open space, opportunities for youth, and access to local, healthy food. Additional efforts include creating communities with a zero tolerance for violence, creating a retail renaissance, welcoming home ex-offenders, increasing access to arts and culture, and eliminating blight.


Robert Brown
Associate Director for University-Community Partnerships
Center for Community and Economic Development
(517) 353-8977

Western Michigan University
A Call to Action: Poverty Reduction in Kalamazoo County

Western Michigan University is facilitating community action to reduce poverty through the College of Health and Human Services' University-Community Empowerment Center as well as Extended University Programs and its Academy of Lifelong Learning. Hundreds of multi-generational, community stakeholders have engaged in discourse to examine the negative impact of poverty on education, income security, affordable housing, mental and physical health, legal issues, and criminal justice. The five-week series of panel discussions will be followed with a community call to action that includes: improving university-community dialogue in poverty reduction initiatives in Kalamazoo; building networks of advocates and organizations whose focus is on capacity building, creating opportunities, and eliminating barriers; evaluating outcomes; and creating a model university-community cooperative effort for the future.


Betty Dennis
Associate Dean, Extended University Programs
(269) 387-4202

Shirley Swanson
Advisory Board Chair, Academy of Lifelong Learning
(269) 387-4200

Grand Valley State University
Building a College-Going Culture

How do we increase college attendance in a neighborhood of poverty? Three things are needed: strong academic preparation, financial resources, and college aspirations. With these in mind, Grand Rapids Community Foundation designed its Challenge Scholars program, which has been described as a "promise plus." The promise is to pay last dollar costs of a two or four-year education for students in two targeted GRPS middle schools who sign on as Challenge Scholars in 6th grade and graduate from Union High School. The plus is additional academic support for each of the middle schools. For the third piece of the puzzle, college aspirations, Grand Valley State University and Challenge Scholars are partnering to create a college-going culture in targeted neighborhoods. Employing the methodology of Strategic Doing, five teams—including parents, school personnel, members of the business community, community organizations, and GVSU faculty, staff, and students—are building parent involvement, exploring job and career awareness with middle-school students, hosting parent workshops, empowering student leadership, and designing tools of communication. This grassroots effort, co-led and co-facilitated, achieves concrete outcomes by connecting the assets of participants in new ways.


Ruth Stegeman
Assistant Dean, Director for Community Engagement
(616) 331-9120

Ferris State University
Promesa Summer Success Bridge Program

The purpose of the Promesa Summer Success Bridge Program is to allow eligible students to establish credit and proficiency in mathematics and reading at or beyond the developmental level before starting postsecondary work. Accomplished in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, Promesa seeks to enhance students' knowledge of core subjects to improve their ACT scores for postsecondary admission and financial aid, and improve their admissions credentials so that they may qualify for admission to the postsecondary institution of their choice. Participants complete up to nine college credits during the summer to enhance their academic skills and lower the anxiety of transitioning to higher education, thus enhancing their prospects for postsecondary completion and degree completion while reducing student debt. This program provides financial and academic support to students who are connected to partnering community based organizations. In 2013-2014 the Promesa Scholars program saw all eight students successfully complete the first semester of college and continue college attendance. Two students joined three others in moving into the honors program.


Tony Baker
Director, Center for Latino Studies
Professor, Sociology
(231) 591-2470

Jessica Cruz
Assistant Director, Center for Latino Studies
(231) 591-2470