Skip to content

Individual behavior, not collective liberation: Why DeVos Family foundation funding compliments AmplifyGR

July 17, 2017

During the AmplifyGR-hosted meeting on June 29, Doug DeVos stated that he and his wife have been, “active in many of the non-profit agencies that are here in this neighborhood.”

This statement prompted me to look at the 990 documents from all of the DeVos Family foundations to see how much money they have collectively contributed to non-profits that are based in the neighborhoods that AmplifyGR is operating or those that do work in those neighborhoods.

We found several non-profits that are currently operating in the area that AmplifyGR is targeting with their development plans. I then sent an e-mail to each of the organizations that are working in the designated area and have received DeVos Foundation money to ask them the following two questions.

First, does your organization have a position on the AmplifyGR development proposal for the Boston Square & Cottage Grove areas in the southeast part of Grand Rapids?

Second, your organization is listed as having been a recipient of funds from a DeVos Foundation between 2013 – 2016 (the most recent 990s available). Since your organization relies on DeVos Family funding, is there financial pressure to support the AmplifyGR development proposal? (Note: I looked at the 990 documents from 2013 – 2016 for the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Dan & Pamela DeVos Foundation and the CDV5 Foundation, founded by Cheri DeVos)

What follows is a listing of the organizations I contacted, what their response was, a summary of the kind of work that they do and how much money they received from DeVos Foundations between 2013 – 2016.

Baxter Community Center’s mission “seeks to reveal God’s love by responding to human needs in its community through effective programs and partnerships.” Baxter Community Center provides a variety of social services, educational services and skill building opportunities.

The Executive Director of Baxter Community Center, Melanie Beelen, responded to the questions by saying: “1. Baxter Community Center does not have a position on the Amplify GR proposal. It is our understanding that at this point, they are still collectively getting information from others. 2. We have not received any pressure one way or another from the DV families regarding Amplify GR.” There are two Amway representatives who sit on the Baxter Community Center Board.

Exhalta Health (formerly Health Intervention Services) “was established in 1996 by local physicians, nurses, social workers, pastors, and business people to serve underprivileged women with faith-centered medical care. The acronym HIS was created to represent the Christian motivation for service.” The Executive Assistant Theressa Hoekstra responded to our questions by saying, “We have had no pressure from the AmplifyGR group.”

Restorers Inc. mission “is to show Christ’s love by promoting long-term sustainable change in families and neighborhood. We do this through unified committed relationships between community and church so that greater dignity and quality of life are achieved.” They provide entrepreneur programs for people wanting to start their own business, youth mentoring programs and work closely with Believe 2 Become. Restorers Inc. did not respond to our questions.

SpringGR is an entrepreneurial training program located in Grand Rapids, MI. This program provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities designed for aspiring entrepreneurs from neighborhoods of few entrepreneurial opportunities to develop a thriving business. SpringGR works closely with Start Garden, one of the businesses projects that Rick DeVos runs. SpringGR did not respond to our questions.

Oakdale Neighbors is a Christian community development organization. Its goal is to create a neighborhood of grace and vitality by discovering, developing, and connecting skills and resources. Their response was: “Oakdale Neighbors has not taken a formal position on the development proposal. We try to build productive relationships with many partners and potential partners in the city.” I did speak with Tom Bulten from Oakdale Neighbors on the phone and he informed me that AmplifyGR had contracted with Seeds of Promise and Oakdale Neighbors to go door to door in the area and conduct a survey of residents. Oakdale Neighbors does list the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation and CDV5 Foundation as two of its partners. 

Jubilee Jobs’ mission “is to serve Christ by equipping and empowering the economically underserved toward self-sufficiency, emotional healing, and spiritual renewal.” Jubilee Jobs has a representative of Amway on its Board of Directors and lists Believe 2 Become as a community partner. Jubilee Jobs did not respond to our questions.

The Grand Rapids Urban League provides a variety of social services, like housing, education and employment. The mission of the Grand Rapids Urban League is to provide the means to empower African Americans and other minorities to achieve economic self-reliance, parity and civil rights. The Grand Rapids Urban League did not respond to our questions, but we did find something interesting on their website. You can see from this graphic that the CEO of Rockford Construction, Mike VanGessel, which is part of the AmplifyGR project, was given the Drum Major for Justice award.

Madison Square Church is part of the Christian Reformed Church. They have numerous ministries in the community, including youth and missions projects, particularly in Liberia. Pastor David Beelen responded to the questions by stating: “We do not have a position from our church in support of Amplify. And, although we are listed as getting funds from DeVos we were simply providing a fiduciary oversight function for one of our former pastors, Samuel Reeves, who is now pastoring in Liberia, West Africa and has used those funds to build and support a medical clinic there.  DeVos foundation has not applied pressure for us to support Amplify nor do I perceive pressure from them to support it.  On the contrary, we have used our place in the Madison community to pressure them to hold meetings, be fair to our neighbors and do their work in a manner that is just to our parish.

Linc Up, formerly Lighthouse Communities Inc, is an economic development entity, that also is involved in housing, education and some advocacy work. Linc Up has relied on DeVos Foundation money for most of its existence, until last year when the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation stopped providing funding. A great deal of the DeVos funding over the years was to contract with Linc Up to implement the Believe 2 Become program. Linc Up Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo responded to the questions with these comments: “In terms of Amplify GR I haven’t seen something that I would consider a “development proposal” but have heard them say they want to fill underutilized industrial space with businesses that will hire locally.  They also want to develop a large track of land in Boston square into something that will include affordable housing and more business opportunities.  They are also going to be starting a community engagement process at the end of the month to hear what the best way to do all that is.  LINC supports community driven processes that successfully create local jobs and affordable housing.”

The Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) is a non-profit housing organization that rehabilitates existing housing and builds new housing. Their mission statement says, At ICCF, we believe God desires our community to be a healthy and vibrant place for all people to have opportunity to flourish and have safe and beautiful homes they can afford.” ICCF did not respond to our questions. The organization does utilize as its primary construction partner, Rockford Construction, which is part of the AmplifyGR project.

It is also important to mention Believe 2 Become, a program which not only provides a mechanism for inserting faith-based dynamics in the Grand Rapids Public School system, it provides a means to develop workforce talent, as their most recent report acknowledges. Both Doug DeVos and Mike VanGessel are intimately involved in Believe 2 Become. We include some of their comments about Believe 2 Become here.  It is also important to note that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation has been the largest contributor to Believe 2 Become, which was already mentioned, is a partner with several of the entrepreneurial programs listed above. 

It seems clear that the kinds of organizations that the DeVos Family foundations are funding that are working in or based in the southeast part of the city that is being targeted under the AmplifyGR project are social service agencies, Christian groups and organizations focused on entrepreneurial opportunities. What these organization don’t do is provide any real analysis of systemic oppression or skill building for challenging systems of power. This seems rather obvious when one considers that the DeVos Family and their foundations are rooted in power, thus they would not want to provide funding that in anyway undermines their own power and this is exactly what the AmplifyGR project is all about…….not challenging systems of oppression and systems of power.

%d bloggers like this: