Meetings aim to take pulse of public opinion

Survey data, discussion feedback to help direct future community foundation efforts

FREMONT — A community foundation is built on donations from community members, and local foundations

want to hear what area residents think about how foundation dollars and efforts are spent.

“We’ve never really taken an assessment of what the community thinks we should be involved in and what they think we should be doing,” said Maria Gonzalez, foundation manager for the Mecosta, Osceola and Lake County Community Foundations.

All three local foundations operate under the umbrella of the Fremont Area Community Foundation based in Newaygo County.

To begin the conversation with area residents, the Fremont foundation partnered with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and the Aspen Institute for demographic and financial data and to create a survey for residents in each county. The survey was open from May 5 to June 3, for anyone to answer. Overall, 1,030 surveys were returned in the four counties, with 249 from Mecosta County. Surveys were completed on paper and via the foundations’ websites.Based on the results of the research Fremont commissioned and the survey responses, the foundations are now ready to begin a series of Community Convenings, Gonzalez said.

“The goal of these discussions is to talk through the community conversation reports and get to know what people think of the data that was pulled and what others said through the surveys,” she said. “We’ll take that information, once we have it, and look at how it affects each community foundation’s leadership and grant-making roles.

“If there’s a need in the community we haven’t heard a lot about or don’t typically receive grant requests to address, we’ll lay out our priorities based on the conversations in the Community Convening and see what we can do to address that need.”

For example, if hunger was an issue that arose through the discussion sessions and people felt it wasn’t adequately being addressed, the foundation could look at what it could do from a leadership perspective — such as bringing together representatives from different food pantries — as well as looking at the focus of the grants it awards each cycle, Gonzalez said.

“If there’s something the community feels is important and we see data showing that it’s an issue as well, we’ll look at our ability to convene people to assist with the issue or in our grant making to promote the cause,” she said.

Anyone is welcome to attend the Community Convening sessions, she said. If someone doesn’t live in a particular county but works there, for example, they’re welcome to join the discussion and share their thoughts.

Community Convenings will take place in each county over the next week. Scheduled sessions include:

  • 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Grant Area District Library for the Fremont Area Community Foundation.
  • 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Stone Lodge in Fremont for the Fremont Area Community Foundation.
  • 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Reed City Depot for the Osceola County Community Foundation.
  • 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Kettunen Center in Tustin for the Osceola County Community Foundation.