The mission of BCWF is to promote community wellness by pro-actively coordinating, supporting and developing wellness related community resources and activities.
About the Organization
The Byron Community Wellness Foundation (BCWF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a safe, healthy, caring and exciting community.
Byron Community Wellness Foundation began in about 1992 as a Drug Awareness Task Force (DATF), a collaboration of Byron Center Schools and community leaders and churches to address the issues of alcohol, tobacco and drug use in and around the community. Members of the DATF agreed that ATOD issues were only a part a broader need to work with the community on health and wellness. In 1994 a committed group of community leaders, pastors, school administrators formed the Byron Community Coalition. In 1996 The Byron Community Coalition was incorporated and shortly after received non-profit 501(c)(3) status. At the time, the term “coalition” was not helpful for our recognition and the name was changed to Community Wellness Coalition of South Kent, Inc. In our effort to be recognized as a foundation and with our focus on “wellness” our organization became (DBA) the current Byron Community Wellness Foundation.
Projects and Program – The Early Years:
Multi-media Tobacco Prevention Project
In 1994 The Byron Community Coalition collaborated with Byron Center Schools and received a federal ASSIST Tobacco Prevention Grant for $10,000. The grant had potential for renewal for 5 yrs, however after 2nd year, federal monies dried up. This project utilized the talents and at the time advanced technology program of BC High Schools Video production classes to produce several Public Service Announcements and a 30 minute anti-tobacco video that went on to win state awards. In addition we invited a nationally known artist who produced anti-tobacco advertisements and worked with art classes to produce their own tobacco counter advertising. We also invited George Goerlitz, a former Marlboro Man model whose anti-tobacco message was presented to 6 high school and middle school assemblies to an estimated 2000 student at local public and christian schools. Counter Advertising displays were also set up for a week each in 2 of the schools for public viewing.
Drug Awareness Poster Contest
Another successful early project was our Drug Awareness Poster Contest. With funding from Drug Free Schools grants, We collaborated with the local grade and middle schools to produce posters with anti-drug or anti-tobacco themes. Our Coalition judged and awarded prizes in several categories.
As we moved towards a “wellness” theme an focus, this poster contest theme changed to themes of “character traits” and “wellness’ themes. Our finalist posters were then reproduced on placemats and distributed free of charge to local restaurants for public viewing. Eventually federal grant monies were no longer available and project was discontinued.
In addition drug awareness activities in schools, BCWF collaborated with grade schools in developing Character Counts curriculum and awareness activities.
Trunk or Treat
Trunk or Treat was fall project developed by BCWF to provide a family friendly, fun youth activity at Halloween. This project eventually was turned over to the Byron Recreation Department and continues to this date.
The development of a Lacrosse Team has been an interest of the Byron Community Recreation Department . BCWF has donated seed money in 2103 for the development of this community program
Community Center Development
BCWF was involved in the early development of the Byron Community Center and Whistlestop Park Project. Byron Township had land available for recreation development and BCWF wanted and promoted the need for more than baseball and soccer fields. BCWF visited the Sturgis and the Sturgis Coalition and the town of Saranac to discuss their development of community centers and historic train depots. BCWF brought back suggestions and helped with planning of what is today the Byron Township Community Center and Whistlestop Park, a multi-functional and multi- generational park and fitness facility. This program is currently run by the Byron Township Recreation Department .
For the opening of the Byron Township Community Center, BCWF donated an elliptical machine to help start what is now an excellent community fitness and health center for all ages.
Byron Skate Park
The Byron SkatePark was a unique collaboration between BCWF, Byron Township and youth of the community.
In about 2007 BCWF saw the need for a safe place for the many skateboard enthusiasts to skate. We were approached by youth who agreed to help with fundraising and they did!. We raised $30,000 in donations, matched by Byron Township and the skatepark was built and celebrated with youth. One of our lead youth involved in development of the skatepark suffered a stroke and the following summer BCWF sponsored a skate competition fundraiser and donated the money for his medical expenses.
West Michigan Chalk Art Festival
Perhaps one of our largest community events, it started while watching some children chalking on pavement at our Byron Farmers’ Market and what began as an idea for another children’s event has blossomed into the West Michigan Chalk Art Festival (WMCAF). WMCAF may be the largest judged event of its kind in Michigan, however it has some unique features. Most notable is its “Wellness” theme. Artists are encouraged, although not required, to portray some aspect of wellness in their art.
Artists compete for prize money awarded in several categories including adult, youth, best use of wellness theme and people’s choice. Funds are raised from entry fees and generous donations from businesses. The quality of chalk art produced has been exceptional and continues to attract artists and attendees from all over the state.
In 2016, the West Michigan Chalk Festival moved its location from downtown Byron Center to Tanger Outlets in Byron Center. A great relationship was formed between the 2 organizations and that is where the chalk festival continues to be held.
Community Parades are a standard part of celebrating community pride and holiday events in many small towns across America.
Parades are part of the celebration of community and showcase many of the great service organizations, businesses, churches, youth
groups, bands and volunteers that make our
Several years ago, BCWF took on the task of re- invigorating our community parades. Over the past several years the Annual Byron Days Festival Parade has grown to be one of the largest parades in the area, nearly an hour long and featuring entries of all kinds from around the area. This has always been done in collaboration with our Annual Byron Days Festival. Now well established, the summer parade operation has been turned over to the Byron Festival Days Committee
BCWF continues to sponsor and coordinate the Christmas Parade. The parade, while smaller than the summer parade, still attracts large crowds of families to welcome Santa and to start the Christmas season. In addition to the parade, BCWF has collaborated with other sponsors to have tree decorating contests, bring in Reindeer for viewing by families and children and provide visits with Santa. Pathway Church regularly features their Chili luncheon attended by several hundred members of the community.
BCWF has been involved or organized fundraisers for individuals and families who have had significant medical financial need. Fundraisers have benefitted people with cancer, spinal cord injury and childhood disabilities. Fundraisers have been in the form of dinners, golf outings and donations.
Byron Farmers’ Market
The Byron Farmers’ Market was developed in 2006 in close partnership and collaboration with Pathway Church. Pastor Jim Heethuis has been a champion for our Farmers Market and since its beginning, we have held the Market on church property.
BCWF believes that our Farmers’ Market is a different kind of market. Its not just about selling fruits and vegetables. It is a community event, a gathering place for youth and seniors alike and an opportunity to showcase the benefit of healthy eating and nutrition to patrons and youth.
A somewhat unexpected observation at the Market are the number of youth that are involved with their families in working and selling produce.
BCWF has been involved in programs that assist low-income residents to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Programs like Project Fresh (part of the Women’s Infants Nutrition supplemental program), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and accepting Bridge Cards, continue to be part of or our mission to promote wellness and quality nutrition for those in need.
Farmers’ are involved in planning our market and we celebrate their involvement with a dinner in the fall after the market closes.
Charity Hockey Game
The Byron Community Wellness sponsored Charity Hockey Game is our longest running fund raising event and is the longest running Law Enforcement Hockey Game in Michigan. This annual event is played between members of “Kent Area Law Enforcement” and “Gus N’ Hoses”
2016 represented our 20th annual event. Each year a charity is designated. Recipients have included individuals and families in financial need, local foundations, service dog funding, scholarships and youth activities.
It is estimated that BCWF with the generous help of local merchants, members of law enforcement, firemen and first responders has raised over $35,000 with proceeds donated to the designated charities over the 16 year history of the event.
Youth and families have opportunities for prizes and free skate and refreshments are made available. Star Wars Characters have also made an appearance and enjoyed by all ages.
PROOF Mentoring Program
PROOF (People Reaching Others Out of Faith) is a youth mentoring programs for grades 5-8. PROOF was a project sponsored by BCWF and developed by Trish Verbrugge, a BCWF Board member. With the success and expansion of PROOF over the past few years, it has formed its own board of directors and non-profit status and now it is on its own.