Originally published Jan. 30, 2013

Mercantile Bank of Michigan donated $50,000 each to Grand Valley State University’s and Grand Rapids Community College’s Upward Bound programs during Saturday’s State of the City address.

Arnie Smith-Alexander, director of GVSU’s Upward Bound, said the program has previously received contributions from local corporations, but not in amounts as large as $50,000. The federally funded program can use the financial assistance, though.

Smith-Alexander said GVSU’s Upward Bound has received “flat funding” from the U.S. Department of Education for the last five years and is in need of greater funds. The program has been required to increase the number of students it serves, but has not received a comparable increase in funding.

“We really do need money,” Smith-Alexander said. “We’ve cut back. We don’t have a transportation piece in our budget (anymore).”

She said the program might also face an 8 percent cut depending on the federal legislature’s accomplishments this term.

Nevertheless, she said she does not wish to use the bank’s donation to supplement the annual budget, but rather to provide students services that benefit them long-term.

At this point, Smith-Alexander knows of no provisions on the donation, but she will soon meet people from the bank to discuss their expectations.

However, she already knows what she would do with the money if it was left up to her.

“I would like to set up a scholarship fund,” she said. “My preference is that the students get all the money. Because the students who are in our program come from families with few resources in terms of money, it would be really great if we could supplement their education.”

Another option would be to increase the number of students served.

“(We want) to have more kids getting opportunities to not only go to college but graduate college,” said Michelle Shangraw, retail banking director at Mercantile Bank. “Hopefully they stay here locally and we can hire them.”

Shangraw said the donation will ultimately benefit the Grand Rapids community at large if the Upward Bound students remain local and “provide a work-base for companies in town.”

Smith-Alexander said she is not opposed to serving more students instead of distributing scholarships, but added that she does not want the money to go toward a “one-time improvement.”

“We are confident that it will be put to good use,” Shangraw said. “The program provides needed support and leadership opportunities for the young students so they can grow and see what they’re capable of and achieve their own goals.”

Shangraw said the donation was provided to benefit the community that has supported the bank. “We wouldn’t be as successful as we are without the support of the community,” she said.

Community leaders such as Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell recommended the Upward Bound program to receive the donation.

“We were very impressed with the results that we were seeing out of the Upward Bound programs,” Shangraw said. “(That) made it a pretty easy decision to make the contribution.”

Mercantile Bank has not previously donated to GVSU’s Upward Bound, but it has contributed to the university in other ways. The bank’s employees have volunteered at university events, hosted students to discuss application of classroom material and financially contributed to the new Seidman building.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2013/01/bank-donation-launches-program-upward-bound