Community Funding for Community Work: How $500 Helps a Lansing Charity

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By Ian Wendrow
Listen Up, Lansing

LANSING — Andrew Brewer Jr. didn’t expect his modest barbecue outing with neighbors to be anything more than a fun get together. Starting out with only 20 men hanging out at Hawk Island County Park, Brewer now captains the Men Making A Difference (MMAD) charity, an organization that has existed for about four years now with about 200 active members.

“It started with just a group of us out barbecuing one day when I said, ‘We should do more to give back.’ Everyone else seemed to agree and that’s really how this organization got started,” Brewer said.

MMAD has been busy in its short four years as a legally-recognized charity. Working alongside the local church groups and neighborhood blocs, MMAD has helped paint woodchips, clean up overgrown shrubbery, and plant flowers in some of Lansing’s more run-down areas.

Aside from neighborhood clean-ups and beautification, MMAD also hosts a number of family events throughout the year. Thanksgiving dinners, community cookouts, Cinco de Mayo celebrations and Battlefield Brawl (a fundraising event for cancer research) are just some of the many programs MMAD runs throughout the year.

Most recently, MMAD worked in partnership with the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association as part of a clean up process and to establish a community garden. MMAD conducted a similar project for the J.W. Sexton High School.

J.W. Sexton High School, MMAD took part in cleaning up the building and planting trees in the area this past year.

J.W. Sexton High School, where MMAD took part in cleaning up the building and planting trees in the area this past year.

“Our Averill Woods Neighborhood Association greatly appreciated the work that MMAD youth and adult volunteers did to help us with our neighborhood woods clean-up. The project work they complete and the relationships they build are the kinds of things that make our city and neighborhoods stronger,” said Melissa S. Quon Huber, president of the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association.

For Brewer, the work that MMAD does goes beyond a simple tax write-off.

“It’s about the community coming together. I grew up in this area and owe a lot to those I see as father figures here. As I got older I decided that I wanted to give back, once I started it [MMAD] it began to trickle down.

“People began to pitch in $20 along with the original group of guys I was with and it just grew from there,” he said.

Collaborations such as these are part of an ongoing beautification project the city of Lansing has been indirectly encouraging over the past decade. Part of this encouragement comes in the form of its community funding projects, which award up to $500 to a single charitable organization.

“The city [of Lansing] annually has $6,000 that we can dispense. Over the last two years we have given to Men Making A Difference twice, the March of Dimes, Latino Music Festival, Angel Tree Fellowship, and the NAACP among others,” said Sherrie Boak, office manager for Lansing’s City Council.

The decision to grant community funding for MMAD was passed in a city council meeting earlier this month. Jessica Yorko, a councilman for the fourth ward and chair of the General Services Committee, was the one who brought forth the motion.

As chair of the General Services Committee, one of the responsibilities for Yorko includes handling applications for community funding and deciding if a charity is worthy of receiving the funds.

When Men Making A Difference applied for community funding again, the decision was easy for Yorko.

“We [the General Service Committee] really try to reward groups that help out our area, so accepting the application from Men Making A Difference was a no brainer. They’ve built a good relationship with the city council over the years and we like to reward that,” she said.

Such funds help charity groups organize outings, buy supplies, and acquire whatever licenses are needed to rent out property if required. Men Making A Difference has drawn large crowds for its cookouts in the past.

Last year, Brewer estimated around 500 people came out for their last cookout. This year, he expects even more.

“These kind of events really help showcase the diversity in our community. They’re kinda like family gatherings. With that big of a turnout, any little bit helps,” Brewer said.

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