In August 2020, MCAN awarded $10,000 grants to ten organizations in the ten days leading up to MCAN’s 10th birthday. These 10th Birthday Grants provided $100,000 in funding to community organizations across Michigan whose services aligned with MCAN’s mission of education equity for low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. As MCAN's 11th birthday approaches, last year's grantees are sharing how the funding has helped them serve their communities, as well as their organizations’ overall successes in the past year.

In this Q&A, Patti Yorks from Genesee County College and Career Access Network (GCCCAN) shares how its 10th Birthday Grant helped fund online college access activities and mobile FAFSA assistance.

What community (or communities) does your organization serve, and how has the 10th Birthday Grant helped you meet the needs of this community?

GCCCAN serves the entirety of Genesee County. We have 21 public high schools, along with several private schools and academies. This grant allowed us to reach out to local high school seniors to encourage and assist with FAFSA completion and college enrollment.

Through college access, MCAN is dedicated to promoting equity in our state. In what ways does MCAN's work align with the mission of your organization?

GCCCAN's goal is to increase post-secondary professional/technical certificate and academic degree participation and completion for the students in Genesee County, with an emphasis on low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. This goal is in direct alignment with MCAN's work.

What has been your organization's greatest success since receiving the 10th Birthday Grant?

Our greatest success has been in the creativity and cooperation we have used to get FAFSA information and assistance out to the students in our county during the pandemic. In the past we held in-person events. Because of the restrictions of the pandemic, we branched out into virtual events and put a greater emphasis on social media. We also used a Mobile Education Lab, in cooperation with the Genesee Intermediate School District, to bring college access resources directly to communities.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced?

One of our biggest challenges has been to meet the needs of the schools in our community who took different approaches to learning this year and last. Perhaps our biggest challenge has been keeping post-secondary planning at the forefront of student thinking and overcoming the apathy that so many students seemed to face during this time. The focus on planning for the future became more difficult as many of our families and students were putting so much time and energy into just surviving and maintaining the status quo of their individual situations.

What will be the lasting impacts of the grant? For instance, what programs and initiatives will continue? Did new partnerships emerge?

While we had already developed partnerships with our local colleges, the events that we hosted helped to deepen those relationships. The focus truly seemed to be about the needs of our students and not just the needs of the institutions. Our local colleges and universities promoted one another and advocated for students to make choices that were the best for them. The advisors in our local high schools formed partnerships with the Genesee Intermediate School District to utilize MEL, a Mobile Education Lab, to take help into the districts and provide support for college applications and FAFSA assistance. We have made plans to not only continue, but to improve, these initiatives moving forward.