While philanthropy is working diligently to help remediate the effects of lead poisoning in the Flint water crisis, help to boost Flint’s local economy and more, we're also finding out what senior citizens in Flint are identifying as urgent needs. A new study funded by AARP Michigan and the AARP Foundation highlights the needs and concerns of Flint’s seniors and how the crisis has impacted them. “City of Flint Senior Needs Assessment: How Does the Flint Water Crisis Impact its Older Citizens?” revealed that Flint’s seniors are not satisfied with the current offerings of human services, and feel there are disparities in how older residents are treated when compared to youth.
Seniors communicated that their symptoms and illnesses have been predominantly skin sores and rashes, hair loss, teeth/gum pain, and stomach/digestive problems, though they said that doctors have been slow to attribute their symptoms to the water issues, if at all. They are also concerned about cognitive decline that is known to happen with lead exposure, but worry that any such symptoms will be categorized under dementia and other age-related memory issues, thus ignored. Unique challenges for seniors included not being aware of testing centers, general lack of information (in part due to their limited internet use), lack of transportation to places distributing bottled water, and the inability to carry cases of water if they did receive them.
The top urgent needs seniors identified include:
- Medical assistance with blood testing
- Selection, purchase, and installation of (faucet, shower, and whole-house) filters
- Reimbursement for damaged plumbing equipment and appliances
- Help replacing pipes from the street into homes
- Water distribution/delivery
- Improved medical care access and quality
- Assistance reviewing water bills
One person who participated in the needs assessment said, “They know what to look for in younger and pregnant individuals, but older people they aren’t sure exactly what to look for. There is a lack of knowledge in what to do with the older population.” Seniors said they want to be heard and have their needs addressed, and that current services need to catch up with providing aid to the vulnerable aging population.
Connect with other funders on aging issues in CMF’s Michigan Grantmakers in Aging (MGIA) affinity group.
MI Water as a Commons
Many environmental funders, nonprofits and conservationists are calling for Great Lakes water as a Commons, in hopes others realize how vital our freshwater is and that it requires shared responsibility. The spirit of the commons notion is that our natural resources belong to everyone and all levels of communities should be involved in preserving them for our future and beyond.
Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of The Greening of Detroit, just recently shared her essay "Water as a Commons in Detroit, the Great Lakes, and Beyond" on The Nature of Cities’ website. Salminen wrote that “Michigan and its neighbors in the Great Lakes Basin should return to the idea of Great Lakes water as a Commons, owned by no one and available to all in the region who depend on it for survival.”
The Great Lakes Commons Initiative continues to be an active group with events around the state supporting work to establish the Great Lakes as a living commons—shared waters we all take care of.
Protection and conservation of our water is something many of our members are connected to in their grantmaking and through the Green and Blue Network learning community.
- In 2015, Frey Foundation awarded a grant to the Flow for Water for program support to provide recommendations to a Great Lakes report. The foundation also gave a grant to Freshwater Future for capacity-building programs to leverage Great Lakes Restoration Initiative resources.
- This year Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation gave a $2.9 million grant to the University of Michigan to support the Water Center’s effort to gather experts and develop a science framework for the next phase of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
- The Great Lakes Fishery Trust has given grants to many restoration and conservation projects throughout our state.
Beyond sharing responsibility for our Great Lakes, Salminen details the water issues people in our state have faced in urban areas such as Detroit in 2014 when unpaid bills led to thousands of shut-off notices, and the eye-opening water crisis in Flint. While we know many foundations and organizations have stepped in to remediate the crisis for the children and families of Flint, there’s still a long road ahead.
In Detroit, residents are still dealing with water issues; this time it’s flooding in heavy rains due to an overwhelmed, aging infrastructure system. Nonprofits, including The Greening of Detroit, have tried to make a difference using green infrastructure. According to Salminen, her nonprofit helped to “plant trees, build roadside bioswales (landscape elements), and create vacant lot plantings designed to work like giant sponges, all with the objective of absorbing or diverting storm water before it reaches street-side storm sewers.”
The water quality of our cities and our Great Lakes remain a focus for many philanthropists in Michigan. Interested in joining other environmental funders? Check out the Green and Blue Network.
Study of Responsible Investing
Foundations across Michigan and the U.S. are increasingly considering and employing "responsible investing" practices in their grantmaking and operational decisions.
“Commonfund Study of Responsible Investing,” a study conducted by the Council on Foundations and Commonfund, reveals that a record number of foundations have also implemented or are thinking about including mission-related investing practices in managing their endowed assets. The study provides foundations with insights into how the sector and individual portfolios are being shaped by responsible investing practices, potential hurdles to their adoption, and what the entry points are for those interested in fully engaging these practices in their endowment strategies.
- Of the 186 public and private foundations that participated in the study, 86 percent have written an investment policy statement to help guide them
- Only about a quarter of them specifically refer to one or more of the four responsible investing practices: socially responsible investing, environmental/social/governance, impact investing and divestment of fossil fuel
Researchers note that while foundations are adopting these practices, there’s still a lot of work to be done to engage more foundations.
“We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the presence throughout this study of a large proportion of (foundations)…that, in good faith, stand firmly in the middle of the road on many responsible investing topics,” the study reported.
- Of the four approaches to responsible investing, impact investing/mission-related investing (MRI) was the most widely practiced by the foundations involved in the study.
The study shows there is still some confusion when it comes to the different types of responsible investing. About 31 percent of the foundations polled said their board and/or committee had no understanding of the distinction between environmental/social/governance integration and socially responsible investing practices.
The Council of Michigan Foundations supports members every step of the way towards building an impact investing practice at their organization. If you’d like to know more about CMF’s impact investing work or need assistance in starting the practice, contact Debbie McKeon, senior vice president, member services.
Click here to read the complete study on responsible investing.
Talent Retention Program Manual
Many communities are struggling to retain local college graduates, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). How do you reverse the “brain drain” and draw your college graduates back to work in your community? The Council of Michigan Foundations has added a new resource, the Talent Retention Program Manual, which provides insight on reverse scholarship programs that both the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and Huron County Community Foundation have implemented.
The reverse scholarship program model offers relief from student loan debt for recent college graduates who return to their communities to fill skilled positions.
Randy Maiers, president of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, described what he believes success will look like in the future for this program; “Success will come when these type of back-end scholarships are as widely used and as common as traditional front-end scholarships.”
If you’re not a CMF member you can check out the Talent Retention Manual and recent webinar in our CMF Store.