For nearly 30 years, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter has been honoring southeastern Michigan’s most dedicated volunteers, philanthropists, and fundraising professionals with its annual awards. For more information about the awards, visit afpnet.org.
Like we did in 2019, we chatted with this year’s honorees and asked about their philanthropic endeavors and the organizations that nominated them. Hour Detroit is pleased to partner with AFP to introduce 2020’s metro Detroit charity champions.
The 2020 Metro Detroit Charity Champs
Mariam Noland // Jim and Patti Anderson // Priya Mann // Pontiac Community Foundation // Beth Ardisana // Henry Grix and Howard Israel // University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy // Hudson-Webber Foundation // Chuck Hammond // Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Philanthropy
Nominated by Detroit Institute of Arts
Raised in the small town of Marietta, Ohio, by a teacher and an engineer devoted to helping their community, Mariam Noland is a born altruist. There was never any question about her path, she says. Shortly after graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Noland became an intern at the Cleveland Foundation, where she learned about formalized giving and eventually became secretary and treasurer.
Noland was rapidly building her resume as a strong leader in the nonprofit sector, working as vice president of the Saint Paul Foundation in Minnesota, when she was contacted by the man who would become founding chair of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Joe Hudson began assembling the organization in 1984, after witnessing the good that community foundations were doing in other regions, while Detroit remained the last major metropolitan area in the country without one.
After traveling to Detroit, Noland was offered the job as CFSEM’s first president. Despite the many risks involved — the new foundation had no assets and the 1980s were uncertain times for Detroit — she was intrigued. “I thought there was a huge opportunity for a community foundation to make a difference,” she says. “And I love taking risks.”
In Noland’s case, high risk does seem to beget high reward. Thirty-five years later, the Grosse Pointe Farms resident is sitting at the head of a foundation that’s grown to distribute more than $1 billion in grants for various causes under her leadership. This includes the $180 million the nonprofit deployed to local small business and entrepreneurial support providers as part of its New Economy Initiative. Another point of pride for Noland is CFSEM’s GreenWays Initiative, which has helped fund more than 100 miles of connected trails across southeast Michigan.
This month, the greater Detroit chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals is recognizing her success by granting her the Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Philanthropy. Sending in her nomination for the honor was none other than the Detroit Institute of Arts, an organization that played a major role in Noland’s legacy.
Noland is often regarded as one of the heroes of Detroit’s Grand Bargain, the landmark deal that saved the DIA and prevented sharp pension cuts for 23,000 retired city workers. Saddled with more than $18 billion in debt and no way to pay its retirees, Detroit had been forced to file for bankruptcy in 2013, and creditors had set their sights on the only real monetizable asset the city had — its art.
It was at a downtown deli that Noland ran into associate Gerald Rosen, the magistrate appointed to head a team of bankruptcy judges tasked with mediating a solution to the conflict between city and creditors. Wounded by the thought of the DIA’s collection being dismantled and sold for parts, Noland took another risk. Passion outweighed practicality, and she asked, “How can we help?”
“I always say that to people,” she says, “and I never stop to think what it means.”
Rosen took her up on the offer. In order to satisfy creditors without sacrificing the pensions or the DIA, he told her, they would have to turn up a large sum of money in a small amount of time. Despite reservations about her ability to make a difference, Noland began calling in favors, attempting to wrangle some of the most well-heeled nonprofits in the country. The result was a collaborative of organizations, including the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, coming together to donate a total of $816 million — enough to bail out Detroit’s pension system and mediate a settlement.
Still, Noland is willing to accept little praise for the feat. “This happened because everybody came together,” she says, pointing out that many of the foundations involved made the largest grants in their histories. “It wasn’t even part of their program. They did it because they knew they could save a city.”
But Noland’s risks clearly have a way of paying off — a phenomenon many attribute to cleverness, charisma, and tenacity, rather than pure luck. Even she can admit that she did something right when she took a chance on Detroit. “It was a bit of a risk, but one that played out to be extraordinarily rewarding, because I got connected to Detroit,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to see the region thrive.” —Ashley Winn
Max M. Fisher Award for Outstanding Philanthropist
Nominated by Wayne State University and Beaumont Health
Jim Anderson isn’t just a man filled with gratitude: He is a man who’s been working for years to change the world out of gratitude.
“When I came to Wayne State University, I was in an old, beat-up car and living in a modest apartment,” Anderson says. “I came to find the American dream — and it worked.”
That dream turned into Urban Science, the automotive retail consulting company he founded in 1977 and where he remains CEO. His experiences have led him and his wife of 38 years, Patti, to pour their time, energy, and millions of dollars into improving the lives of others in the Detroit region, which is why the couple are this year’s recipients of the Max M. Fisher Award for Outstanding Philanthropist from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter.
Anderson is a southeast Michigan native; much of his childhood was spent in Algonac. “We were not a family of means, and if I wanted to go to college, I had to pay the bill,” he says. He spent two years at a community college before continuing his education at Wayne State, where he worked his way through college, graduating in 1966 with a degree in engineering, followed by a master’s degree in 1970.
He went on to become part of the Wayne State faculty, and his talks on the developing field of computer mapping eventually led a new hire at Cadillac to point her boss to Anderson to solve a mapping problem Cadillac didn’t think could be solved with technology. From there, Anderson launched Urban Science and grew it into a $200 million company with 21 offices around the world.
“Detroit was very good to me, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity I got,” Anderson says. It’s why Anderson is passionate about supporting young entrepreneurs who, as he puts it, will invent a better future. The Andersons have given nearly $30 million to Wayne State, including $25 million to launch the James and Patricia Anderson Engineering Ventures Institute, which aims to nurture, educate, and fund aspiring entrepreneurs and their startups.
“Jim doesn’t just make a gift and watch from the sidelines,” says Susan Burns, Wayne State’s vice president for development and alumni affairs. “He makes a gift with a vision, stays involved, measures the progress, and works with us to make changes.” He applies that same steadfastness and commitment to everything he does, she adds.
He also truly believes we live in the land of opportunity. “When I wake up every morning, I feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys on Earth, and that’s because I was born in America,” he says. As an entrepreneur with a global presence, he says, he can see that there’s no other country that provides such opportunity to everyone.
He says he’s well aware that the freedoms and opportunities Americans enjoy don’t come without a cost. “If it wasn’t for America, I wouldn’t have what I have, but if it wasn’t for the brave men and women of the U.S. military, we wouldn’t have America,” Anderson says. That’s why the Andersons have donated to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and why they continue to support veterans and their families, including by making a $1 million gift to Wayne State to fund a scholarship for wounded warriors.
The Andersons have also supported health care initiatives in the region, including a $1 million gift to the spinal cord injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, and a $5 million gift to Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Point this year to fund a new surgical suite and to invest in new technology and training. They’ve also supported education nonprofits in Detroit, including Teach for America, Junior Achievement, and Blessings in a Backpack. Anderson serves on an array of nonprofits, too, including the Wayne State University Foundation and the Grosse Pointe Youth Nautical Education Foundation.
“There’s always something that can be done to make life better for somebody,” Anderson says. The AFP award, he says, is just added motivation for the Andersons to continue striving to make the future world better than the world they were born into. —Morgan Voigt
Neal Shine Award for Media Commitment
Nominated by Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan
In both her career as a journalist and as a volunteer for the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, WDIV Local 4 reporter and anchor Priya Mann has found a calling in mentorship and in using her platform to give back to the community.
Years before she began her journalism career — which included several jobs in Canada before she moved to Detroit in 2013 to join the WDIV Local 4 team — Mann was a first-generation Indian-Canadian growing up in 1990s Toronto, where she avidly absorbed the news, from high-profile court cases to pop culture. At a young age, Mann was both energized by the power of storytelling and also very aware of the lack of representation in media for girls who looked like her. Today, Mann serves as both the media representation and the mentor that she wishes she’d had as a girl.
Mann connected with GSSEM during the summer of 2018 while covering the opening of the organization’s new downtown Detroit headquarters. She was blown away by the new facility’s investment in STEM education, and the Girl Scouts became more than just a news assignment for her; she was soon looking for ways to get involved with the organization.
“When I see these young girls yearning to explore fields in science and tech, I’m all for that,” Mann says. “And I love that Girl Scouts has expanded so much in what they’re teaching young girls, whether it’s self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth, trusting your own gut and intellect. This is an organization that I fully stand behind.”
Mann emceed GSSEM’s first Tough Enough to Be a Girl Scout Breakfast in 2018, an event that honors local women who are making waves through their work and service, and was a mentor at the organization’s first Camp CEO, a weekend overnight camp that brings local middle and high school girls together with female professionals for camp and personal enrichment activities. In a full-circle moment, Mann assisted the Girl Scouts with their story development and pitching for Girls Out Loud, a newsletter produced by Girl Scout interns in grades 8 through 12 who are interested in pursuing careers in journalism.
“I feel like when you have an opportunity to sit and talk with young girls — and that’s why I’m so proud of the work the Girl Scouts is doing — you can maybe change some minds,” Mann says. “And you can at least put in the sense of, ‘You are worthy. Your voice matters. You’re beautiful and smart and powerful the way you are.’ I wish we had more messages like that growing up. But I do feel very, very privileged to be able to, in some small way, have an impact on young people — young girls especially.” —Rachael Thomas
Spirit of Philanthropy Award
Nominated by Pontiac Community Foundation
During these unforeseen times, the Pontiac Community Foundation has been a saving grace for many of the city’s residents.
Dustin McClellan, a lifelong resident of Pontiac, founded the Pontiac Community Foundation in 2018. PCF collaborates with local officials, nonprofits, businesses, and institutions to provide programming and funds to the people and places that make up the city. The foundation’s start is rooted in McClellan’s own experiences in mentorship and nonprofit work throughout his life. He witnessed how food insecurity, a struggling school district, racial disparities, and inadequate leadership and succession planning were hurting Pontiac, and it motivated him to take action. These issues are reflected in PCF’s focus areas: education, leadership, small businesses, and quality of life.
In March, just four days after Michigan’s first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency, PCF launched COVID Response, an online resource database where people can request food supplies, child care, housing, grief and addiction support, and more. The foundation grew from a staff of five overseeing 100 volunteers to a collaborative effort between PCF, more than 70 local organizations, and 1,000 volunteers to safely bring relief efforts to the area.
Since COVID Response began, PCF, alongside its leading partners — Oakland University, Oakland County, and the charitable organization Lighthouse of Michigan — has distributed more than 750,000 meals; provided infant supplies such as formula, diapers, and wipes to hundreds of families; organized virtual tutoring; and created a grief support network with local religious organizations. The foundation plans to run the database through the end of the year and will then transition into a more permanent, broad-ranging program, McClellan says.
In addition to the database, PCF, in partnership with Kirk in the Hills Church, is awarding 10 grants of $1,000 to small businesses in Pontiac that have been affected by the pandemic.
“It’s pretty remarkable that we’re not only able to pivot, but to collaborate in ways that really have never been done,” McClellan says. “We’re hopeful that that spirit of collaboration will continue beyond the pandemic.”
That same spirit of collaboration and a love for an often overshadowed city have allowed the foundation to leverage more than $5 million of impact in the community in just two years of existence.
“In an urban community like Pontiac, we’ve seen a lot of disparities prior to the pandemic; this only exacerbated the needs we already had,” McClellan says. “But people are resilient, and Pontiac’s resilient, and people are resourceful. So, I think that in the end, we’ll come out stronger.” —RT
George W. Romney Award for Lifetime Achievement in Volunteerism
Nominated by Focus: HOPE
For years, Beth Ardisana has been volunteering countless hours of her time to help people move up the ladder of success.
“There are so many capable and smart people out there making $10 an hour, and that’s because they don’t have the background and training to move up,” Ardisana says.
That’s why she has become a driving force for philanthropic efforts in education, workforce development, and civil rights in Michigan. Ardisana is this year’s recipient of the George W. Romney Award for Lifetime Achievement in Volunteerism from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter.
“It’s really a testament to how she operates on any board,” says Portia Roberson, CEO of Focus: HOPE, which nominated Ardisana for the award (Since 2002, Ardisana has served on the board of directors for the nonprofit, which works to eliminate racism, poverty, and injustice through job trainings, youth programs, and other services). “With each of them, she is fully involved and fully embraces her role on the board.”
Ardisana’s involvement in philanthropies is extensive. She serves with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, The Children’s Foundation, and United Way for Southeastern Michigan, to name a few. She is also the CEO of the technical services and communications firm ASG Renaissance — but you won’t catch her bragging about any of it.
She is the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who served in the Air Force and rose to the upper echelons of the National Security Agency, and she is mindful that she received a great public education, had involved parents, and never had to worry about a house or food. “I had the privilege of support,” she says.
She’s always thinking about how nonprofits can work more effectively together and really meet the community’s needs. Michigan needs to do better at that, she says: “We have a long way to go. The good news is there’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot of people working on it.”
And there are encouraging signs. Ardisana points to The Skillman Foundation, Quicken Loans, United Way, and other organizations that have worked to address digital educational disparities during the pandemic. “COVID has really put a laser focus on some things that need to be done,” she says. “Every kid in Detroit should have had access to all the digital tools they need to get a great education.”
But the challenges society faces can’t be solved by philanthropy alone, Ardisana says. Employers also need to step up. She partners with Focus: HOPE to hire people for Performance Driven Workforce, the firm she founded in 2015 that hires workers for jobs such as test driving for the automotive industry.
Despite a lifetime achievement award, Ardisana says she isn’t done yet: “Now I have to go do more.” —MV
Edmund T. Ahee Jewel Award for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser
Nominated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan
When Michigan’s LGBTQ organizations began to emerge in the 1970s, they operated under names intended to obscure their true nature to help prevent social, legal, and even physical backlash.
Now, on the verge of an honor once socially improbable, lifelong activist Howard Israel, an alumnus of one such group — the Motor City Business Forum — reflects on how the intervening years transformed the landscape of LGBTQ philanthropy. The Association of Fundraising Professionals greater Detroit chapter will present Israel and his husband, estate planning and probate attorney Henry Grix, with the Edmund T. Ahee Jewel Award for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser at a virtual ceremony later this month.
The Bloomfield Township couple were nominated for the honor by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, a cause they ardently support through donating, fundraising, and event hosting. They began their partnership with the ACLU more than 30 years ago, at the outset of their own philanthropic endeavors.
The couple say there was never any question of whether to give — just to whom. “Our families practiced charitable giving through their religions, but the causes that mattered most to us involved people who were marginalized, as we were,” Grix says. “It was important for us to seek out different avenues of philanthropy.”
In addition to founding the Spectrum Fund, which finances unpaid internships for University of Michigan Law School students passionate about LGBTQ equality litigation, they support several local and national nonprofits. These include Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center in Ferndale, LGBT Detroit, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. But it’s the ACLU in particular that has earned a special place in their hearts.
At the start of their alliance with the organization, the couple focused their gifts on the Nancy Katz & Margo Dichtelmiller LGBT Project, an HIV/AIDS program. As they learned about the ACLU’s wide-ranging programs, they expanded into other initiatives. “The ACLU of Michigan is the nonprofit we’ve come to feel most strongly about, because it’s defending all manner of people who need defending,” Grix says. In recent years, Grix and Israel have also become passionate in their support of the ACLU’s efforts to advance and preserve voting rights.
Even with similar upbringings in financially secure, two-parent homes, the couple say they grew up in fear in the 1960s and ’70s. “It was a time when America didn’t much like gay men,” Israel says. “So, as adults, we can sympathize with people who aren’t as fortunate as we were. If we’re secure [today] and still have fearful moments, what about LGBTQ people who don’t have the same advantages?”
Thus, Grix and Israel were inspired to partner with Detroit’s Ruth Ellis Center, which has a particular focus on assisting transgender youths of color. In their years of involvement, they say, they’ve been proud to watch the organization succeed and grow to the point of purchasing two buildings of its own. But they’re equally delighted by how the center’s message has inspired significant progress in LGBTQ philanthropy.
“Ruth Ellis fundraising events draw hundreds of people — even the kind of rich, white, suburban men who used to be terrified that making a contribution would lose them their jobs,” Israel says. “They’ve somehow struck a chord with people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. It’s heartwarming.” —AW
Sparky Anderson Award for Youth in Philanthropy
Nominated by Focus: HOPE
Men for others for the greater glory of God. This is the motto the students of University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy strive to live by. The all-boys school for grades 7-12 has remained an educational pillar in the city since its founding in 1877. With a mission rooted in the Jesuit ideology of a commitment to service, justice, diversity, and solidarity, it makes sense that the institution has worked with the social and racial justice nonprofit Focus: HOPE for decades to serve metro Detroit.
For 32 years, U of D Jesuit students have volunteered with Focus: HOPE, an organization that provides job training, food justice programs, and early childhood education and youth development programming. The connection dates back to 1988, when a physics teacher solicited students to deliver food in Focus: HOPE’s Food for Seniors program. What was intended to be a one-time effort between Focus: HOPE and students from U of D Jesuit and the Academy of the Sacred Heart High School turned into an ongoing volunteer program that continues today.
Pre-pandemic, U of D Jesuit students rode by bus to the Focus: HOPE warehouse one Saturday a month, year-round, and packaged and delivered food to seniors at their homes. When COVID-19 hit Michigan, U of D Jesuit and Focus: HOPE coordinated safer methods to continue serving folks who rely on the food delivery.
“Once the pandemic hit, we were concerned about how to continue this? Because the seniors are the most vulnerable populations and kids are easy to spread it. So, we ended up changing,” says Barbara Koster Rigg, U of D Jesuit’s director of service. “We didn’t want to miss it. We’ve continued to serve.”
As an extension of the Saturday food deliveries — and to regain some of the one-on-one connection between the students and senior citizens that had been lost during the pandemic — U of D Jesuit created a new program called the Focus: HOPE Senior Companions. Two U of D Jesuit seniors are assigned to an individual to deliver food and assist in household chores.
Focus: HOPE is also one of the sites where U of D Jesuit seniors volunteer as part of the school’s senior service program. Students must complete 30 hours of volunteer work per semester, during their senior year, to graduate and are placed at sites such as Focus: HOPE, Manna Community Meal soup kitchen, Beaumont Hospital, and Motor City Mitten Mission.
“Being a student at U of D [Jesuit] is much more than academics,” Rigg says. “It’s all about the experience of serving others. It’s about being a man for others. We’re always on the lookout for ways that we can make a difference in the community and partner with organizations who can use our assistance.” —RT
Outstanding Foundation Award
Nominated by Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
Since its founding by the Hudson family — the proprietors of the J.L. Hudson department store — in 1943, the Hudson-Webber Foundation has supported nonprofit organizations that contribute to Detroit’s success and vitality. Over the years, its initiatives have focused on four major areas: community and economic development, arts and culture, safe and just communities, and built environment. Falling into the last category is one of the foundation’s longest-running partnerships.
Since issuing its first grant to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s fiduciary — the Business Leaders for Michigan Foundation — in 1983, Hudson-Webber has been steadfast in its support of the DRC’s efforts to maintain and develop the land along the Detroit River. In appreciation, the Riverfront nominated the foundation for the Association of Fundraising Professionals greater Detroit chapter’s Outstanding Foundation Award.
Hudson-Webber CEO Melanca Clark cites the organizations’ overlapping missions as one of the many reasons she and her colleagues deem the Riverfront an ideal recipient of the foundation’s built environment funding. “We’re most interested in supporting places that bring people together across income, race, ethnicity, age — all of that — and I can’t think of another local space that does that as well as the riverfront,” she says.
While Hudson-Webber intends to maintain its dedication to the DRC, as well as to its many other initiatives and beneficiaries, the foundation is experiencing a period of transformation. In 2017, it launched a strategic new plan to reenvision the work it does in the city. But Clark says the organization’s mission of improving quality of life in Detroit hasn’t changed. “We’ve always thought about our mission in terms of what contributes to the growth of a vibrant city that provides opportunities for all Detroiters. But now, we’re leaning into the people part of that equation.”
This evolution is intended to precipitate what the Hudson-Webber Foundation calls an “inclusive recovery” of Detroit. Efforts toward this goal, many of which are part of the organization’s safe and just communities work, include attempts to address racial inequity, structural barriers to opportunity, and mass incarceration — a phenomenon disproportionately affecting Black Americans, and therefore much of Detroit’s population — on a statewide level.
In early September, the organization established a funders collaborative called the Michigan Justice Fund. Its purpose is to unite organizations from across the state to support alternatives to imprisonment, pathways to prosperity for those with criminal convictions, and data-based criminal justice reform. Launching the fund’s second phase will be atop the Hudson-Webber Foundation’s 2021 agenda. “We thought that work was relevant since the minute we started it,” Clark says. “But clearly, in light of George Floyd and the national conversation now happening around racial inequity in the justice system, it’s more timely than ever.” —AW
Dr. John S. Lore Award for Outstanding Fundraising Executive
Nominated by The Children’s Foundation
When the newly formed Children’s Foundation, previously known until last year as the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, wanted to develop a strategic plan, its board sought out expert assistance.
“We needed somebody who had the experience to work with trustees, volunteers, and board members in an environment that engages them and facilitates open discussion,” says Larry Burns, the CEO of the foundation, which funds community grants and supports medical research to improve the wellness of Michigan kids.
That person was Chuck Hammond, who has worked in the nonprofit space for more than 40 years. Hammond is the recipient of this year’s John S. Lore Award for Outstanding Fundraising Executive from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter.
“When you’re raising money, it’s all in the context of other things happening — it’s the strength of your board, it’s the strength of the case you’re making,” Hammond says. “It’s not simply going and asking someone for a gift. There’s a holistic approach to it.”
Hammond launched his career at the United Foundation, now known as United Way, in the 1970s. Over the next two decades, he worked for a wide range of nonprofits, including the Detroit Zoo and Karmanos Cancer Institute. In 2005, he opened a consulting firm, Hammond and Associates.
Much has changed over the course of his career. When he started, Hammond says, corporate giving played a much greater role in Detroit. “Detroit had more national corporations that were headquartered here,” Hammond explains. Local nonprofits benefited.
Corporate giving is still important, he says, but foundations and individual giving are bigger factors. He points to such organizations as the Skillman Foundation and Kresge Foundation. “Without them, I don’t think Detroit would have rebounded the way that it has in the last five-plus years,” he says. He praises Detroit’s nonprofits for pandemic relief efforts, even as COVID-19 has hurt the finances of many groups whose budgets rely on, say, an annual gala.
“Fundraising is so dependent on people being able to see each other, rub elbows, share stories, and connect with other people, and it’s very hard to do that right now,” Hammond says.
Organizations his firm has worked with include the domestic abuse shelter LACASA in Howell and Forgotten Harvest, which rescues surplus food in Detroit. “At its best,” he says, “you are saving and transforming lives.” —MV
Outstanding Corporation Award
Nominated by Wayne State University
When COVID-19 first swept across the region, one of the first calls Susan Burns of Wayne State University made was to Dan Loepp, the president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Wayne State was seeking support for a free mobile testing program that aimed to reach Detroit’s most vulnerable people. Blue Cross Blue Shield, with a $100,000 donation, became one of the first partner organizations to sign on to the effort.
“They were dealing with a lot of unknowns, but they were willing to pivot quickly to make contributions quickly,” says Burns, Wayne State’s vice president for development and alumni affairs. The program set up its first testing site at a church and expanded across the city.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s role in pandemic aid — including donations of personal protective equipment, partnerships to fund suicide prevention, and efforts to combat child hunger in the wake of school closures — is one of the many reasons the organization is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Corporation Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter.
“It’s not just for what [Blue Cross Blue Shield] did during COVID,” Burns is quick to point out. “They have a steadfast commitment to the community and helping those in need and the most vulnerable.”
The organization, the state’s largest insurer, is the largest private donor to offer free health clinics across Michigan, according to Loepp. Since 2005, Blue Cross Blue Shield has provided more than $15 million to safety net clinics to improve access to health care. The organization is also “staying laser focused” on tackling health disparities, Loepp said via email, noting that African American communities have seen disproportionately higher COVID-19 fatalities.
Its community efforts — including a $5 million pledge to help revitalize the East Warren/Cadieux corridor — go even further. “For people to be healthy, it is important for their community to be healthy and vibrant,” Loepp said. The project has personal significance for Loepp, too: “It means a lot to me because I grew up in Detroit and have lived in this area my entire life.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield has also strived to help children develop healthy lifestyles through the Building Healthy Communities program, which it launched in elementary schools with Wayne State and other partner organizations in 2009. More than 395,000 students in more than 800 schools have participated in the program, which focuses on physical activity and healthy eating, Loepp said.
The program doesn’t just benefit children, though. “We know it affects their families, too,” Burns says, adding that research proving the program’s effectiveness led to its expansion into middle schools as well.
It’s all part of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s work to improve lives in Michigan, Loepp said: “I’m proud of how we consistently demonstrate our commitment to the health and well-being of our residents.” —MV