Saginaw Valley State University students continued their tradition of improving their surrounding community by raising $32,115 in the annual “Battle of the Valleys” fundraising competition. The funds will help the Mustard Seed Shelter double the occupancy of its Saginaw facility that moves women and children from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
The rich bonds of friendship forged during the campaign, however, could not be measured in dollars, the nonprofit's director said.
"Our world is in good hands with the leadership of these students," said Amy Bartels Roe, the Mustard Seed Shelter's director since 2014. "I'm overwhelmed and truly thankful for the care and concern of these students for the homeless, and their ability to have fun while raising money for an important cause."
The $32,115 was raised during the annual fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University. Each year, each institution selects a nonprofit partner, then spends one week collecting donations for those respective organizations.
This year's Battle of the Valleys week began Sunday, Sept. 24 at SVSU with a kickoff celebration - featuring food and games - attended by some of the women and children housed at The Mustard Seed Shelter.
"I was touched by how the students welcomed our guests," Bartels Roe said. "This was about so much more than the check."
Caitlin Coulter, the SVSU student who serves as philanthropy chairperson for the SVSU Student Association, felt that same immediate connection between her peers and the Mustard Seed Shelter guests.
"It was very heartwarming to see them come out and have fun," said Coulter, a pre-medicine major from Clio. "Their children were playing on a Slip 'N Slide and having such a blast with us."
That interaction continued throughout the week between SVSU students and The Mustard Seed Shelter during fundraising outings at Buffalo Wild Wings and Stardust Lanes in Saginaw Township.
The competition concluded Saturday, Sept. 30 when the final tallies were announced during halftime of the football game between SVSU and GVSU at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale. SVSU students won the contest for the tenth consecutive year.
"It was great to see the sheer excitement of the students when it was announced," Bartels Roe said.
The funds will support a 3,500-square-foot expansion to the Mustard Seed Shelter facility in Saginaw. The growth will double the existing structure's 12-person capacity, Bartels Roe said. She expects to break ground on the addition in the spring.
Coulter said Battle of the Valleys exceeded her expectations. She and fellow student leaders began organizing the week-long initiative four months ago, with the goal of exceeding the $26,000 raised during the 2016 Battle of the Valleys campaign benefiting Hidden Harvest, which helps the hungry in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
"I'm very proud of everyone who helped this year," Coulter said. "It's bittersweet that the week is done."
GVSU students collected $17,017 for their charity partner, Laker Children's Fund, which contributes to organizations that promote health and wellness for children.
Between SVSU and GVSU, the universities have raised a combined total of $601,282 since the competition started in 2003. SVSU has contributed $389,444 of that total.
The university raising the largest sum of money during each Battle of the Valleys competition claims ownership of a 3-foot-tall trophy known as "Victoria" until at least the next year's rematch. Victoria has remained at SVSU since 2008. Of the 15 Battle of the Valleys competitions, SVSU students outraised GVSU during 12 of those years.