For Immediate Release

September 14, 2015

Ellen Carpenter
United Way, 616.752.8604

Maribeth Groen
616.752.8628 or Cell 616.446.8077


Grand Rapids, Mich. Heart of West Michigan United Way and Adam Bird are honored to present “People Helping People” as part of ArtPrize. This entry is a collection of narrative portraits celebrating a few of the people, volunteers and nonprofit organizations who are united in the common cause of improving our community. They are the unsung heroes among us.
These photographs and stories are meant to remind all of us that there is no one type of person, no age group, no chosen few who control the evolution of our community. We are all different, we can all work together, and when we are united in a philosophy of action, change is instigated. Participants were nominated by local community organizations. They work tirelessly to give the youth, seniors, and underrepresented individuals and groups in the community a voice.

It is well known that West Michigan is a generous, philanthropic community. However, it is not widely-known the daily work that goes into the programming and individuals this generosity supports. This year, United Way and photographer Adam Bird have come together to collaborate on a project that will highlight the work that is being done in the community and the people who have committed their lives to it.

“The people that are featured in this ArtPrize exhibit have found a way to use their talents and skills to make the community a better place. It is our hope that others will be inspired and reach out to United Way to be connected to the needs in the community,” says Maureen Noe, President and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way. “The needs in Kent County are complex, but helping people is not. Supporting your community through financial gifts, speaking out on important issues, and lending your time and talent are simple, yet powerful, ways to help better our community.”

Adam Bird states, “These photographs are of a few of the people who are united in the common cause of improving our community. Each person is different, with their own story, their own reasons for why they do what they do. The photographs and stories are meant to remind all of us that there is no one type of person, no age group, no chosen few who control the evolution of our community; it is the concerted actions of everybody, through their investment of time and money that our community changes. We are all different, we can all work together, and that is what makes us strong.”

ArtPrize attendees can visit the United Way Center at 118 Commerce Ave during ArtPrize to meet these Champions of Change – portraits and narratives will line the front windows along the United Way Center. The community is encouraged to share their “Champion of Change” on United Way’s Facebook page or through twitter using #ChampionsOfChange.

Opening Reception and Media Opportunities 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 11:30 – 1:00 pm

Media opportunities are available with the participants in bold.

Courtney Burrows, Street Outreach Specialist with Arbor Circle’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Services

Courtney is committed to social justice and partners with vulnerable youth and young adults within West Michigan to engage, support, and connect them to resources to affect real change. Courtney says “To be able to meet kids where they are, in their own environment helps to build rapport more quickly and builds more legitimacy to our relationship with youth.”

Nikeidra De Barge, Program Coordinator at Wedgewood Christian Services

Nikeidra provides support for survivors of sex trafficking and frontline advocacy efforts in the community to help end trafficking. “I feel like somebody gave me a chance, so now it’s my job to do the same thing and give back. But, the biggest thing is to recognize that there are little things we can do. It’s the small things, like spreading the word, that can help save a girl or a boy.” states Nikeidra.

Mark Frost, Principal at Grand Rapids Public Schools Innovation Central High

Mr. Frost helped to shepherd implementation of phase one of the GRPS transformation plan at the new Innovation Central High. On day one, Mr. Frost welcomed each and every student at the door, shook every hand, and has continued that practice nearly daily for the past two years. When asked about this practice According to Mark, “Out of 360 days, I’ve missed 6. Shaking hands, looking people in the eye, calling them by name, that‘s what young people need to be doing. I try to lead by example. Students see the effort that I put in, and that goes a long way.”

Sergio Cira Reyes, Lead School Coordinator at Kent Schools Services Network 

Sergio is a tireless advocate for not only students, families, and citizens on the west side, but an advocate and champion for human rights and social justice of all people. Sergio used his experience as school coordinator at Sibley Elementary and will continue to serve the community in his new role as the program director of the Westown Collaborative. Sergio expresses “my experience is my strength. It is an asset to me. It made me more effective in my work, and it really helps me connect with the people that I work with.”

Additional Champions of Change
Adell Walker, Volunteer, Catholic Charities West Michigan God’s Kitchen
Shukri Bana, Junior Board Member, Creative Youth Center
Amy Outwin and Brian Rosenberg, Founders of Bless the Children
Denise Nichols, Volunteer with Kent County Tax Credit Coalition
Dennis Grantz, Teaching Artists, West Michigan Center for Creative Arts and Technology (WMCAT)
Dr. Mattie Hampton, Volunteer, Women’s Resource Center
Jack Keller, Volunteer Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and Commercial Loan Officer at Lake Michigan Credit Union
Steffanie Rosalez, Program Director, Cook Arts Center
Yvonne May, Student Service Manager, WMCAT
Jamie Rykse, GED & Literacy Coordinator, Heartside Ministry
Jennifer Spiller, Healthy Housing Specialist, Healthy Homes Coalition and Volunteer with She Rides Her Way
Karl Williams, Coordinator of Community Engagement, The Other Way Ministries
Leanne Rhoads, Program Director, WMCAT
Maria Sanchez, Volunteer and Community Advocate, La Poderosa – Grand Rapids’ Mexican Radio
Megan Skinner, Volunteer for Schools of Hope and Family Promise
Miranda Krajniak, Executive Director, UICA
Craig Owens, Pastor at Calvary Assembly of God and Director of the Engedi Youth Center in Cedar Springs