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From Freshman Orientation to Adult Roots; A Mother Campaigns for Kalamazoo

Joanna Donnelly Dales

We are happy to share this blog written by Joanna Donnelly Dales, the Vice President of Donor Relations at Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation in 2007, she spent more than 10 years in the donor relations field in Washington, D.C., and New York State.

I just got back from taking my oldest son to freshman orientation in Ann Arbor. What a wonderful town and a wonderful time. In the spirit of full disclosure, both my husband and I are proud alumni of the University of Michigan, and we loved our time in Ann Arbor. We hope Charlie also has a great time - but not as good as we had!

Every time we travel it makes us reflect on where we live, what we like about it, and what we would change. When we got back from Ann Arbor and looked around Kalamazoo, we realized that so much of what we enjoy about Ann Arbor we have right here. It also made me realize that Charlie will have choices about where he will put down roots four years from now.

I want him to experience the world and grow, but then I want him to come home. I think it will be good for Charlie to explore because when he does he will realize how much Kalamazoo has to offer. So, I've decided to start my four-year campaign to persuade him to travel far and wide before returning home to Kalamazoo.

Let me be clear - I don't want him sleeping on a couch in my basement, but I do want him to consider making Kalamazoo his home, eventually. What would it take, after a few years of exploring the world - through his professors, his fellow students, his courses, and maybe even study abroad - to entice him to move back? What would I say to my twenty-something Charlie when he is looking for a place to settle down?

I would start with the reasons I love where I live.

Kalamazoo is a perfect-sized town. I can see from my work at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation how much influence young people have in this town. And, I bet that will be even more evident four years from now.

As exciting as New York and Chicago are, it's easy to get lost in a place like that and to feel anonymous and powerless. Here, it is easy for people of all ages to get involved and have an impact.

I suppose I will have to appeal to some more basic motives, too. We have great food and great drink in Kalamazoo!

We feast on fresh produce - grapes, berries, apples, peaches, and an amazing diversity of vegetables - all grown in the breadbasket of southwest Michigan. We have humanely raised chickens, eggs, pork, and beef to fill our own 100 Mile Market, putting us on top of a more sustainable food chain.

We don't just have great food; we have unspeakably great beer in town. In a few years Charlie will be 21 so I can tout the fantastic development of micro-brewing that keeps Kalamazoo hoppin . Whether it s Bell's, Arcadia, Gonzo's, Latitude 42, or Boatyard, he'll find a smorgasbord of liquid refreshment and festive, idiosyncratic pubs to explore.

We also have amazing arts to enjoy - from the KIA to the Gilmore to Miller Auditorium - there is always a great and eminently affordable show to see.

And, since Charlie loves sports, he can catch a game at Western, K College, or KVCC no matter the season. During the spring and summer, the Kalamazoo Growlers baseball club features young and ambitious talent at Homer Stryker Field and the chance to see college players angling for a shot at the big leagues.

The name Homer Stryker reminds me that Kalamazoo is also an incredibly generous community. That name is on a brand-new major medical school located downtown on property donated by MPI Research.

The birth of the medical school is another example of Kalamazoo's legendary philanthropy at work. In fact, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Kalamazoo County is the most generous county in all of Michigan.

Right now, Charlie probably takes for granted all the investments people have made to make Kalamazoo what it is today. A few years from now when he looks for a place to start his life, I will have to remind him about how community-minded the people of Kalamazoo are.

Maybe he'll start a life-science venture in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center supported through the gifts and foresight of many in our community. Or maybe he will want to start a family and take advantage of perhaps the most widely-publicized and life-changing gift our community has ever received - the Kalamazoo Promise. A perpetual gift like the Promise takes a lot of philanthropic horsepower, fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars. It is amazing, really, to think that such a modest, unassuming community can give so much.

Of course, not every life-altering gift in Kalamazoo has multiple zeros behind it. Every hour that a volunteer spends building or improving a Habitat house or delivering meals to shut-ins makes this community more caring and stronger for everyone. A few minutes with a kid at the YMCA, where Charlie learned to swim and love sports, can have a lasting impact on a life and the whole community.

It really won t be hard for me to persuade Charlie to consider making Kalamazoo his home when his travels are over because in so many ways, and through the efforts of so many generous people, the place sells itself.

In the meantime, however, it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves how much his hometown has to offer!

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