Saginaw Valley State University students’ commitment to support the community remains as strong as ever. They are inspired to compete — now only against themselves — during a fundraiser next week that will support a nonprofit’s expansion of a developmental educational program already positively impacting Great Lakes Bay Region teens.
SVSU’s “Battle of the Valley” fundraiser from Oct. 6-11 will benefit The ROCK Center for Youth Development, a Midland-based nonprofit that provides after-school programs as well as educational development initiatives at 30 middle and high schools in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties. SVSU students will spend the week collecting funds that will be used to expand the nonprofit’s programs across the region.
From Battle of the Valley's conception in 2003 until last year, the annual event was a fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University students. The two sides raised $652,385 for various nonprofits and organizations over the years. But GVSU students backed out of the event this year. Regardless, SVSU student leaders decided to continue the tradition minus the competition.
The re-imagined effort will maintain many of its hallmarks. The public can continue to contribute to the cause. Off-campus events benefiting the fundraiser are planned at establishments in Kochville and Saginaw townships such as Buffalo Wild Wings all day Monday, Oct. 7; Pierce Road Bar and Grill all day Wednesday, Oct. 9; and Stardust Lanes all day Friday, Oct. 11. For more information about the week’s Battle of the Valley-related events, visit www.svsu.edu/bov.
Madeline Lowry, the chairperson of the fundraiser organized by SVSU’s student government, said she and her peers selected The ROCK Center for Youth Development from 50 applicants because of its offerings to teens — and, by extension, their families — in need of support.
“Their programs are designed to enhance students’ ability to work in the professional world as well as in the college environment after high school,” said Lowry, an exercise science major from Lake Orion.
Kylie Anderson, The ROCK Center for Youth Development’s director of development, said the nonprofit started small in 2001 in Midland, where it offered after-school programs for teens there. Those after-school initiatives still exist — now housed at Jefferson and Northeast middle schools as well as the nonprofit’s headquarters in the Greater Midland Community Center — but the organization has evolved to include other initiatives with the help of eight full-time and 20 part-time staff members.
“The spirit of how we started remains, but we’ve grown and added so much since then,” Anderson said. “We’ve learned a lot about youth development over the years.”
One of its most popular programs is Discover You, a curriculum-based initiative that provides middle and high school students with life skills meant to prepare them better for adulthood. Through partnerships with about 30 organizations and schools in the Great Lakes Bay Region, Discover You involves the nonprofit’s staff hosting weekly hour-long sessions at each client's site including at campuses during school hours, when they work with teens in group settings.
“Discover You deals with a lot of problem-solving and resiliency-building skills that help with self-esteem and self-image,” Anderson said. “We find that kids also build stronger relationships with their classmates as a result of Discover You.”
She said about 5,000 teenagers in the region were impacted by the program last year alone. Among the Discover You clients are Swan Valley middle and high schools. Mat McRae, superintendent of the Swan Valley School District, said the initiative made a positive difference in the lives of his students.
“We now consider this a valuable piece of our multi-tiered systems of support and look forward to its continuation,” McRae said. “This program benefits not only our students and schools, but also our families and the Swan Valley community.”
Anderson said she expects much of the funds collected through the Battle of the Valley initiative will enable the Discover You program to expand across more schools across the region. More schools will necessitate more staff, staff hours and training — all of which will require budget investments, she said.
“We’ve been in Midland since the beginning, but we’re newer in Bay and Saginaw counties, so that financial support will help us become better established there,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest out there, but there’s only so much we can do in terms of our capacity to meet those needs.”
If Battle of the Valley 2019 matches the performance of the fundraiser's previous five years, The ROCK Center for Youth Development could receive somewhere between $25,000 to $35,000. Last year, SVSU raised $36,210 for The Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network.
Lowry said she doesn’t expect the change in the fundraiser’s format will impact the final tally this time around. She said the spirit of giving among SVSU students will endure regardless of the absence of a competing university.
“We’re all broke college students, yet we still manage to come up with $30-something-thousand dollars every year,” Lowry said. “It’s really cool to see all the students come together just to support another organization. It’s just amazing.”