Bettering Baraga Cty.

BARAGA – Starting next month, Baraga toddlers and preschoolers will have the chance to run, play and socialize with friends in the new Bay Area Youth in Motion Busytime Playgroup. And they may be too young to realize it, but they’ll have some forward-thinking adults from the Baraga County Community Foundation to thank for it.

The Community Foundation recently awarded Youth in Motion $2,000 to get the play group started, as part of $28,550 in 2014 grants given to a wide variety of community organizations working to help children, the elderly, women in need of shelter, abused animals and more.

In the case of the Busytime group, the money will go towards tumbling mats, play equipment and rental space to give little ones an opportunity to exercise their bodies and social skills throughout the winter, when many children begin to learn sedentary lifestyles, says Youth in Motion’s Kristin Kahler. After a few initial startup months, the gear will be put away for summer and brought out again next fall.

“I think there’s so many health issues right now with young children,” Kahler said. “I think if we start them moving now, out from the house, out from behind the TV and the computer, we can start them with a healthy lifestyle.”

Youth in Motion also received a second grant of just under $3,200, for a summer life skills camp for 10- to 18-year-olds. That twice-a-week camp will explore nutrition, physical fitness and first aid, as well as drug and alcohol awareness, and will be free for at least the first year.

“The foundation has given us a chance to jump right in and get a few programs started … let people see what we’re all about and can do,” Kahler said.

According to Community Foundation Executive Director Gordette Leutz, youth programs have been a major focus for the foundation since its inception in 1994. The foundation currently manages 42 different funds, some of which are still re-investing earnings until the funds grow large enough to make a significant difference.

Of those that are giving out grants, some of the biggest successes have come from youth program startups, Leutz said.

“We had a Boys and Girls Club for elementary girls that don’t have moms, to develop skills that are normally passed down from maternal figureheads,” she said. “They came to the last meeting in beautiful dresses, with great social skills, and brought me flowers and hugged me and we all cried. I’ll remember that as long as I live.”

Another was the Baraga County Gymnastics Club.

“Nobody wanted to invest in a startup for them,” Leutz remembers. “We did, and in a period of three years they went on to national competition.”

The foundation also helps develop leaders through its Youth Advisory Committee, which has been working within schools and the community to promote community service and anti-bullying activities. Several Youth Advisory Committee members will be graduating this year, Leutz noted, and the committee is seeking other youth interested in mentoring and leadership.

Even when the Community Foundation can’t offer a grant, they can offer help grant writing and connecting local organizations with other funding sources, Leutz said.

And of course, not all the money goes to kids. Among other causes, the foundation also this year awarded $7,000 to the Bayside Village nursing home in L’Anse, for new window coverings, and $5,075 to the Baraga County Shelter Home, to cover about half the cost of a new roof.

Last year, the shelter home provided over 1,100 shelter nights for women and their children escaping domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, but without a new roof, the shelter could face closure.

Other fundraisers are under way, but the Community Foundation’s help has been crucial, said shelter home Executive Director Jamie Palmer.

“We’ve already lost our liability insurance and had to go into high risk to be covered,” Palmer said. “As soon as that roof starts leaking, we would have to be shut down.”

To learn more about the Community Foundation, call 353-7898. To find out how to help the shelter home, call 524-5017.