The Senior Vice President for the Hip Hop Caucus will address environmental justice issues on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Grand Rapids, Michigan – February 21, 2019 – The Wege Foundation (www.wegefoundation.org) will host the 23rd Wege Speaker Series (www.wegespeakerseries.com) on Thursday, April 11 at 4pm at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center.

This year’s speaker is Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus and former leader at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He will present about how to elevate environmental justice issues and strengthen environmental justice policies, programs and initiatives.

“This lecture will focus on a new 21st century paradigm,” said Dr. Ali. “It’s one that embraces community power by honoring the transformative abilities of culture to build bridges, by educating in non-traditional ways and by creating authentic collaborative partnerships that support our most vulnerable communities as they move from surviving to thriving.”

“Ali is one of America’s environmental justice leaders and currently focuses on using the arts in addressing pressing issues such as climate change,” said Mark Van Putten, President of The Wege Foundation.

Dr. Ali has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, VICE, and Democracy NOW, as well as being featured and cited in over 250 news publications including GQ, New Republic, Ebony, The Guardian, The Root, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. He has worked in over 500 communities both domestically and internationally, as well as been a guest lecturer at over 100 colleges and universities including Howard, Harvard, Yale, George Washington, Georgetown and Spelman.

Prior to joining the Hip Hop Caucus, Ali worked 24 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He began working on Social Justice issues at the age of 16 and joined the EPA as a student, becoming a founding member of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ). Currently he is a board member of the National Wildlife Federation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, TREE and Climate Hawks Vote.

Partners for the 23rd Wege Speaker Series event include:

  • All of the Above Hip Hop Academy
  • Aquinas College
  • City of Grand Rapids
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Grand Rapids Urban League
  • Latina Network of West Michigan
  • NAACP Greater Grand Rapids Branch
  • Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
  • West Michigan Environmental Action Council

The Aquinas College Performing Arts Center is located at 1703 Robinson Road S.E. in Grand Rapids. The public is invited and the event is free. Limited seating, please register soon at aquinas.edu/wegespeaker

About Aquinas College
Aquinas College is a Catholic liberal arts college founded in 1886 by the Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids. The wooded, 117-acre campus is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With 1,900 students and more than 60 academic programs, Aquinas College is an inclusive educational community that emphasizes career preparation, leadership, service to others and lifelong learning. Learn more at aquinas.edu

About the Wege Foundation
Founded in 1967 by Peter M. Wege, The Wege Foundation focuses on enhancing the lives of the people and preserving the health of the environment in West Michigan. The Wege Foundation’s Five Pillars, or areas of interest, are: education, environment, arts & culture, health care, and human services. For more information, go to wegefoundation.org

WMCAT Rhymes with ‘WINcat’—For Good Reasons

West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology, an afterschool program for urban high school stdents, opened in 2005 downtown after three Steelcase leaders flew to Pittsburgh to learn about a similar non-profit there. Spearheaded by Jim Welch, the trip convinced Jim Hackett and Peter M. Wege that what Bill Strickland had started in Pittsburgh could be replicated in Grand Rapids.

A gang member growing up in the 1960s, Strickland was headed in the wrong direction until he stumbled on pottery making. Because this creative activity saved him from street life, he started a program called Manchester Bidwell offering after-school educational classes to inner-city teenagers.

Today WMCAT is serving 150 GRPS students who come after school to their building on Fulton where they take classes in the Teen Arts + Tech program. Class size is limited to 12 students and all the art classes are taught by professional teaching artists.

Art students learn ceramics, illustration and fashion design. Students in the technology side learn to make video games, create audio and video productions, and study photography.  In addition, WMCAT has 36 under- or unemployed adults who come four days a week to learn  medical billing, coding, and pharmacy tech so they can find good jobs in the healthcare field.

WMCAT—pronounced WIMcat—also operates a commercial screen-printing business called Ambrose that trains five-ten apprentices  a year. The apprentices graduate from the program with a marketable job skill, knowledge in entrepreneurship,  and the real-world experience of having run a for-profit business.

Last fall WMCAT’s success was recognized nationally. At a November  White House ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama named WMCAT one of the top 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Awards from among 251 nominees. Along with a $10,000 grant, this honor identifies the nation’s best after-school and out-of-school youth programs that use the arts and humanities to improve academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollments.

Pictured Above: From the left, Gen-Dairec  Buchanan and Earl Shepherd, two Ambrose apprentices, Jody Price and Kary Furtado Wege Foundation, Wege family members Patrick Goodwillie, Jenny Wege, and Christopher Carter holding the new bags they made  in Ambrose, the closeup shows the WMCAT logo. Supporter of WMCAT from its beginning, The Wege Foundation provides multi-year grants supporting the Teen Arts-Tech program.

Ambrose apprentice Gen-Dairec Buchanan helps Patrick Goodwillie make his screen print. In the background is Adam Weiler, WMCAT’s Director of Social Enterprise. The Wege Foundation is a lead supporter of WMCAT’s l $8.5 million campaign to double their space by moving to the west side of Grand Rapids.

GRCC Steps In To Right an Academic Unfairness

In 2011 Grand Rapids Community faced a serious problem. While 15% of all students graduated after two years, only 5% of African- American males did. Determined to do something about this inequity, GRCC Counselor Dr. Andre Fields and administrator Eric Williams started a program called Alpha Beta Omega as part of the college’s Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center.

ABO invites African-American male students to sign up for an academic brotherhood that provides each of them a mentor, tutoring, school counseling, and the mutual support of their fellow members. ABO students also have the opportunity to work confidentially with a counselor on personal issues. “And it’s free!” Dr. Fields adds.

ABO’s core values speak to the program’s goals. Fellowship. Scholarship. Ownership. Leadership. Citizenship. Inc

Of the first sixteen students who joined ABO in the fall of 2012, five of them graduated from GRCC and a third will finish this year. Two of the five went on to four-year schools and one graduated from the University of Michigan last winter and another founding ABO student will graduate from Ferris State University this fall.

Over the five years GRCC men have joined ABO, twenty-six have graduated. Four have gone on to earn university degrees and twenty seven have transferred to four-year schools including the University of Michigan, Davenport, GVSU, and Ferris State University, among others.

Last fall the ABO enrollment went into triple figures for the first time. One hundred students enrolled in ABO for the 2016-17 academic year. Kathryn Mullins, Executive Director of the GRCC Foundation, says they wanted to grow ABO slowly but are now ready to expand. “The Wege Foundation’s grant will allow us to sign up 350 students over the next five years.”

Dr. Mullins is looking for new students through referrals from area high schools, letters sent to prospective members, and handouts of ABO literature at school events. She wants to offer more young men what the ABO motto promises. Knowledge is power. We are power. Our fate is blessed. Our destiny is blessed.

*Pictured above: Chris Wege, Mary Nelson, Leslie Young, Sara O’Connor, Christopher Carter, and
Kathryn K. Mullins, Ed.D. Vice President for College Advancement & Executive Director of the GRCC Foundation, meeting with faculty and students in GRCC’s ABO program.

Chris Wege with ABO student Jamarri Key at Grand Rapids Community College.
Sara O’Connor and ABO student Artrell Coker.

Chris Wege, Mary Nelson, Sara O’Connor, and Christopher Carter are all members of the Wege family and Leslie Young is the Wege Foundation’s Program Assistant Director.

The Children’s Assessment Center Beams Light on a Dark, Destructive Secret

Every year an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 children in Kent County are sexually abused. Only 1 in 15 of those cases is ever disclosed. The Children’s Assessment Center was created in 1993 as a safe, caring, place where sexually abused children come—800 of them last year—for investigation, therapy, and healing in a child-centered setting.

This month the CAC kicks off the final portion of a $2.65 million capital campaign allowing them to serve more children whose young lives are traumatized, most often by people they know. The Center will move into a LEED-certified, renovated building at 2855 Michigan NE with 14,000 square feet more than doubling their current space. This larger new facility means children will get treatment as soon as they disclose. Right now forty sexually abused children are on a waiting list for one to two months before they can start counseling—adding to the trauma they’ve already experienced. To date, the CAC has raised $2.25 million.

“The support from the community has been overwhelming,” including The Wege Foundation, said Susan Shannon, the CAC’s Executive Director. She wants to see more public recognition that this dark secret—99% of the abusers are relatives or acquaintances—must enter the light of day to protect innocent children. 53% of the children are under age six. Under six years-old.

Susan Shannon likened it to an “epidemic. And we have to talk about it.”

The CAC is talking about it through KIDZ Have Rights, the Center’s outreach program for children from kindergarten through fourth grade. With age-appropriate language and props, the CAC’s educators make the sensitive topic developmentally appropriate. They help children identify a safe adult to tell if they ever receive “selfish” touches.

The good news is that 21,000 children in Kent County from 18 of 20 school districts participate in the KIDZ program every year. That means five times through their K-4 th grades these students hear what to do if this happens to them.

With the CAC’s new larger building, abused children will no longer have to go on a waiting list before their healing process can begin. And with heightened awareness, more adults will be able to recognize and report when abuse takes place. The CAC is now asking for the community’s help to make this happen.

*Pictured above: CAC Executive Director with Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, Mary Nelson, Leslie Young, Wege Foundation Program Assistant, and Susan Bailey from Steelcase who co-chairs the CAC’s new capital campaign.

Wege family members Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, and Mary Nelson and Sarah Zuidema, Clinical Director, observe Detective Matt Hooker working with Jaycee, the therapy dog at the Children’s Assessment Center. Jaycee and the toys in this CAC room are ways abused children are healed. Detective Hooker deals with the criminal abusers.


Elissa Hillary is thrilled that 900 area businesses are part of Local First, but that’s just the start. The president of Local First is out to recruit every business in eight counties of West Michigan to join the cause of promoting for-profits enterprises that are a “force of good” socially and environmentally.

But now there’s more! Helped by a $200,000 grant from The Wege Foundation, Local First is launching its Good For Grand Rapids campaign aimed not just at more businesses, but also at West Michigan’s consumers. Elissa and her team want to expand LF’s mission promoting good social and environmental stewardship into every single home.

Elissa Hillary with the map of the Local First businesses in the neighborhood of their office on Fuller near Michigan.

In short, the dream means every resident in eight counties would become a Local First Shopper and look for that logo on the door when they enter a business, restaurant, office—any commercial operation. The 900 businesses take pride in that gold Local First sticker because it means they are supporting a business owned by a friend or neighbor. Even better if they have a sticker that says “Good for Grand Rapids!” It means they taken the Quick Impact Assessment evaluating what they’re doing as a “force for good.” The QIA also measures how they compare to other businesses.

Does this business pay a living wage? Do they offer employees the time to volunteer for good causes? Do they encourage sustainable transportation like bikes and buses? Do they recycle? Do they pay health insurance? Elissa encourages all area businesses to spend an hour taking this free assessment on line for their own information—and perhaps as a first move toward joining Local First.

Within the Local First business community are Benefit corporations that excelled on the Quick Impact Assessment. Brewery Vivant, for instance is the first LEED-certified brewery in the United States. They buy all the ingredients they can locally, are certified as Bike Friendly with racks and an air-pumping station, and support organizations that shelter homeless people.

Grateful to The Wege Foundation for its recent grant, Elissa Hillary quoted Peter Wege, the late founder, in explaining why Local First and Good for Grand Rapids are such an ideal fit. “Peter used the word economicology to support practices that are good for the ecology and for the economy.” By being a “force for good,” the Local First businesses are also enhancing their profits. Consumers want to spend their money with companies that promote the public good.

Being a Local First Shopper is also a source of pride!

What’s In A Name?

Disability Advocates of Kent County identifies an organization that gives people with disabilities access to our county’s opportunities. As its mission states, this non-profit helps “people with disabilities live full and exciting lives.” They prepare their consumers for employment, and make sure their homes meet each one’s particular accessibility needs. In short, they help their people with disabilities achieve their own personal goals.

But there is more. It’s great to have a plan to improve life, but what if you can’t get to the places necessary to meeting your goals? Because a critical piece in living “full and exciting lives” is mobility, Disability Advocates also focuses on expanding public transportation. Disability Advocates’ simple and practical mission is to make sure persons with a disability who either can’t drive or can’t afford lift-equipped vans have a way to get where they need to go. Bus service is not a convenience for people with disabilities. It is a necessity. They need rides to their jobs, school, religious services, social events, and family visits.

The low-key philanthropist Peter Wege always had a heart for people dealing with tough challenges. And because Kate Pew Wolters, his good friend and fellow descendent of the Steelcase founders, was a passionate advocate for persons with disabilities, Peter took a special interest in this cause. And it didn’t hurt that public transit is also a major benefit to the environment. In 2000, Peter joined Kate’s active support for better public transportation.

After years of planning and advocacy, in 2000 the Rapid put its first millage request before voters. Faith In Motion, a collaboration of leaders in the religious community, business leaders, Disability Advocates, and supportive citizens campaigned for the millage as Friends of Transit.

According to Dave Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates, “Peter Wege’s $40,000 contribution that year to the Friends of Transit campaign was absolutely indispensable. His leadership and generosity enabled us to get the public’s attention with billboards and flyers and mailings.”

The Rapid millage passed by a wide margin. But more needed to be done and Peter Wege didn’t hesitate to lead once again. In 2001 he pledged $40,000 a year for three years to support the further development of Faith In Motion. In 2003, he once again generously supported the next Friends of Transit campaign which led to another successful millage vote and more bus service.

Peter and The Wege Foundation next provided funding for a transit summit in 2005 that mapped out local action for the coming decade. Finally, Peter provided continued support for Friends of Transit in its campaigns of 2007, 2009, and 2011.

In addition to funding the millage campaigns, Peter continued his substantial support for Disability Advocates’ community organizing work on the transit issue every year until his death in 2014. The Wege Foundation has continued that support and through 2016 the total donations were $695,000; approximately $230,000 of this granted directly to Disability Advocates.

And this long-term support triggered another bonus. Because of The Wege Foundation’s high credibility, The Mott Foundation came on board in 2013 pledging $120,000 over three years to support public transportation in Kent County.

Today, one can see the very tangible results of Peter’s leadership and generous support. The Silver Line is Michigan’s first high-capacity transit line. The Rapid has extended bus routes and added more frequent service throughout greater Grand Rapids. Buses now run weekends and later than 6 p.m. Sixteen years ago that was the last bus of the day.

While Disability Advocates and its community partners still need to extend transit service into Kent County townships and beyond to Jenison and Greenville, they know the community owes an unpayable debt to Peter for his perseverance and commitment to a better future for all. “When you see a bus out at night,” Dave Bulkowski says with a grateful grin, “you can thank Peter Wege.”

Linda Stewart getting off the GoBus!


Disability Advocates at work building a ramp to help one their consumers get in and out the house.
Disability Advocates at work building a ramp to help one their consumers get in and out the house.


Wege Foundation Grant Propels West Michigan-Based Student Design Competition Toward Broader Global Impact

$444,000 grant awarded to Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s Wege Center for Sustainable Design to extend Wege Prize competition for four years

2016 competition concludes May 14 – open to the public

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design has been awarded a $444,000 grant from the Wege Foundation to continue running the Wege Prize student design competition for the next four years. Open to any undergraduate student in the world, the international competition challenges transdisciplinary teams of five to design a product, service, or business model that can function within and facilitate a paradigm shift toward a circular economy, an economic model in which resources and capital are regenerative.

Through the lens of the circular economy, past Wege Prize participants have developed compelling solutions to formidable social and environmental issues such as the rising costs and environmental impact of mass food production, the harmful buildup of low-density polyurethane plastics in nature, and barriers to accessing renewable energy. Such challenges are known as “wicked” problems due to their systemic complexity and resistance to solution.

Wege Foundation CEO Mark Van Putten says Wege Prize offers a unique opportunity for students to integrate their own knowledge and perspective with that of students working in other fields and institutions to produce a meaningful impact on the world.

“Students are conscious of the environmental and economic crises facing their generation,” Van Putten says. “Wege Prize is an experience that empowers learners to collaborate in the pursuit of sustainable global development.”

Wege Prize began in 2014 as a regional competition but grew quickly, expanding to an international scale for the ongoing 2016 competition, which has drawn participation from students in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Costa Rica in addition to the United States. International students from China, Nigeria, and Kenya who are studying abroad in the U.S. are also participating.
KCAD’s Wege Center for Sustainable Design will continue to conduct Wege Prize annually through 2020 with the support of the Wege Foundation. Organizers aim to expand the scope of the competition’s growing impact over the course of the four-year grant, engaging an increasingly diverse group of international participants while continuing to nurture the cogency and viability of teams’ solutions.

“Wege Prize 2015 was our debut as a national competition, and this year it has become a worldwide endeavor,” says KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “With this grant, we will continue to inspire innovation for transformative change in the years to come.”

The Wege Prize 2016 Awards will take place Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 9:30am – 2:30pm inside KCAD’s Woodbridge N. Ferris Building (17 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503), where the five finalist teams in this year’s competition will present their solutions in full to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability. The competition’s top award of $15,000 will be given to the winning team, with awards of $10,000 and $5,000 going to the second and third-place teams, respectively.

The Wege Prize 2016 Awards are free and open to the public. RSVP by visiting wegeprize2016.eventbrite.com.

The event will also be streamed live online at wegeprize.org starting at10 a.m. May 14.

For more information on the Wege Prize 2016 finalist teams, click here.


About Wege Prize:
Wege Prize, a West Michigan-born concept developed by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) with the support of The Wege Foundation, is a collaborative design competition that gives teams of college students the chance to work across disciplines, use design thinking principles, and contend for $30,000 in total cash prizes, all while helping to show the world what the future of problem solving looks like. The challenge is to design a product, service, or business model that can function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a  circular economic model. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org.

About The Wege Foundation:

The Wege Foundation focuses on local good works in the Grand Rapids metropolitan region that enhance the lives of the people and preserve the health of the environment. The five pillars of the Foundation’s mission are, in rank order: Education, Environment, Arts and Culture, Health Care, and Human Services. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.org.

About KCAD:

Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation, and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu.

A Fitting Tribute To a Quietly Amazing Leader


Ellen Satterlee leaves the role she has played for 25 years as CEO of The Wege Foundation and now takes a seat as a Trustee of The Foundation. This in-depth interview with Rachel Hood, Executive Director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, eloquently shares some of what this soft-spoken woman and Peter Wege accomplished as a team doing “all the good” they could just “as often” as they could.


Stepping Up for Next Step

The ongoing news stories on our country’s unemployment numbers identify a serious economic concern. And while there are many reasons people can’t get jobs, those most handicapped are the men and women newly released from jail or alcohol/drug rehabs. The fact that they’ve paid their debt to society in the first group, and, in the second, chosen the tough road of treatment to stay clean and sober matters not to employers. They read “jail” or “alcohol/drug rehab” on a job application and move on to the next candidate.

And for good reason! These are high-risk employees who have either broken the law, succumbed to alcohol/drugs, or, in many cases, done both. But eight years ago successful business owner Scott Jonkhoff decided somebody had to give these men a chance to prove themselves. He bought two houses on Hall and Division and hired three of these ‘newly released’ men to renovate it.

The next year, 2008, Scott’s dream of helping more men reach the “next step” in their lives became a 501-C 3 non-profit he named for that mission. “I started Next Step,” Jonkhoff said, “because men kept coming to me who needed work and an opportunity to prove themselves. There is a tremendous amount of talent, potential, and energy sitting behind bars, and, yes, there is a stigma. Yes, our guys have made some mistakes and screwed up. But so have you and I. If we could put a fraction of the amount of resources into helping, versus the cost of warehousing ex-offenders, I believe those actions would begin to reverse some of our stigmas.”

In 2009 the City of Grand Rapids hired Next Step to do six full remodel projects and Scott hired more jobless men. By 2010, Next Step had ten men on the payroll, a budget of $775,000, and had built a reputation for quality work coming in on time and under budget. By 2012, Next Step had completed over fifty jobs.

Their expanding services—construction/reconstruction, landscape/lawn, demolition, custom woodworking and furniture—now require more space. When asked to support Next Step’s current $1.4 million campaign to buy and restore the vacant Kindel factory on South Division, The Wege Foundation signed on for $150,000. Next Step is now half way to meeting its goal. Next Step’s mission matches The Wege’s Foundation’s, including the environment as the reconstructed Kindel plant will follow the U.S.G.B.A.’s green building standards.

Pictured here is the once proud Kindel Furniture plant that next year will again produce fine hand-crafted furniture when Next Step moves in giving not just jobs, but also hope and self-esteem to those men and women looking for a second chance in life.

The ultimate goal for Next Step employees was summarized in a response from a local business. After proving herself for a year at Next Step, one worker got this response from an employment application. “We checked out your work history and you have a job.”

Click on these links to find out more about Scott Jonkhoff’s vision for helping people who’ve paid big consequences for their destructive choices and now ask only for a fair chance to start new, healthy, and productive lives.