When Rod and Jen Coleman attended the Naval Academy, they never dreamed they would settle in Michigan, let alone Midland.
“I grew up in Farmington Hills. We came home from college to Farmington for Easter. It was one of those cold ‘Michigan Easters.’ We were bundled up in our winter coats. Rod said he would never live in Michigan,” said Jen with a smile.
Rod followed, “We were in the military and were really able to explore the world. After exiting the military, I joined SYM Financial, which is headquartered in north central Indiana. SYM did a tremendous amount of business in Midland. I traveled back and forth. A group of us acquired the company in 2006. That opened the door for us to do what we should have been doing – which was living in the community we serve. Our family moved to Midland, and it was great. We loved it and raised our kids here.”
The Colemans strongly emphasized community involvement, even before their children grew into adults.
“When the kids were young, we would go ring the bell for Salvation Army. We volunteered time. I volunteered as a coach at the soccer club when our kids were playing,” said Rod. “Eventually, I was connected to the Community Foundation’s Investment Committee, where I could give a bit of my time and talent. That expanded into an opportunity to serve the Board more broadly.”
“It was Sharon Mortensen who really introduced us to the Community Foundation. I started the Tri-City Kids Triathalon, ‘Tri-Kids-Try.’ Sharon recommended we connect with the Community Foundation as a way to develop some funds and awareness for the race. Our connection with the Foundation really began there,” said Jen.
The Coleman family’s relationship with the Foundation continued to grow over time. Their oldest son served as an Officer for the Midland Area Youth Action Council, and Rod has continued to serve as Foundation Trustee for almost nine years. Throughout Rod’s tenure, he’s taken part in helping to shape the direction of the Community Foundation, but one specific event has supported the Coleman’s current philanthropic strategy.
“Early in my tenure as a board member, I attended the Council of Michigan Foundations’ Annual Conference. A group of us heard a gentleman named Robert Putnam speak. He spoke about how children raised in the same community can end up with very different outcomes and how the most precious opportunity to make a change is early in one’s life,” said Rod. “We started looking and researching how you can make a difference in someone’s life and actually change the future instead of dealing with the issues as they come out. How can we make a change sufficient enough to make the outcome different? That resonated with me.”
After the conference, the concept of circumstances and their effects on our lives resonated with the Colemans. Rod shared Putnam’s book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” with fellow Community Foundation member Dick Dolinski. One of the Colemans’ children wrote a college entrance essay inspired by their time volunteering at Big Brothers Big Sisters. The theory underpinning the essay was that although they were 99.9% like their “little,” they still had very different opportunities and circumstances.
As conversations about the widening gap in upward mobility took place in the Coleman household, they were also happening at the Community Foundation. With the knowledge that 85% of the human brain’s development has been completed by age five according to data compiled by the Rauch Foundation, the Community Foundation developed the Ready for School Preschool Scholarship program with the goal for every child in Midland County to receive at least one year of high-quality preschool scholarship before kindergarten. The Ready for School Preschool Scholarship makes this possible for those with limited financial resources. The program is a partnership with the Midland County Great Start Collaborative and was developed under the guidance of a small committee, including Rod. It is an endowed fund to underwrite tuition to attend quality preschool for Midland County children whose families would otherwise be unable or find it challenging to afford the experience.
“As this concept developed into a fund, it was something we felt very passionate about,” said Rod. “With the endowment model, we love making a gift that will forever help children get the right start.”
Established with generous support from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, and many passionate individuals, families, and organizations, the endowed fund will grow, supporting some of Midland’s youngest learners in perpetuity.
If you would like to assist in developing talent in Midland County, contact the Community Foundation directly to explore the best way to support this initiative. You can learn more at midlandfoundation.org/initiative/readyforschool.