Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon Making Connections

West Michigan Center Director Nina Gorak is thinking outside the box when it comes to seeking support for her Center. Over the past few months, she has used connections to get thousands of dollars worth of services donated to West Michigan.

"Wherever I go, whoever I talk to, I just talk about the Learning Center," Nina said. “Whenever someone mentions ‘Gee, maybe I can contribute through this or that’ I make a note, and I follow up on it.”

For the Center’s recent Halloween Dinner and Dance fundraiser, she was able to get pro-bono work from several people and organizations in the community. Looking for help with designing the fundraiser’s print materials, she sent an email to one of her tutors who teaches art. Nina simply asked the tutor if she knew anyone willing to do some artwork for the event, and the tutor connected her to Deidre Wieszciecinski and Jennifer Maine, two recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. The graphic artists agreed to donate their services, creating the flyers, save-the-date cards and programs at no charge. They also recruited members of Kendall's branch of the American Institute of Graphic Artists, a student organization, to create the ballroom decor.

"The students of that club took this on as a project," Nina said. "They created
folded book decorations, including hanging folded book ornaments around a lighted paper chandelier over the ballroom dance floor. We used large folded books as centerpieces. The decorations were perfect to create our Halloween ball atmosphere."

The connections go on. Obtaining a liquor license for the event brought seemingly endless red tape, but Nina was able to enlist the help of a lawyer who serves on the Center’s Board of Governors. The photographer for the event, Heather Dixon, was a high school friend of a West Michigan tutor. The professional photographer offered her time and services for no charge.

West Michigan’s donated services don’t end with the Halloween fundraiser. When she wanted to set up an online donation system for her Center, Nina checked with the vendor who repairs her computers. He put her in touch with Shelly Gies, an insurance company manager who does web design on the side. The designer agreed to create the site without charging for her services. She set up PayPal for online donations and even designed the site’s logo. The total cost for the finished site was $55, which included registering the domain name and purchasing the website template and stock photos of children and tutors. You can check out West Michigan’s website at http://www.dyslexiatutoring.org/.

Perhaps one of the most valuable connections has resulted in production of a promotional video for the Center. Larry Taunt, Chairman and CFO of Regal Financial Group, serves as Nina and her husband’s investment manager. In a conversation with him about her work, Nina learned that Larry’s partner at Regal has dyslexia. Although the business already supports a successful fundraising campaign for cystic fibrosis, he offered to see what he could do to help. The connection led to Regal offering to film and produce a promotional DVD for the Center using the business’s new production studio.

“For someone to rent the facilities and staff would cost $15,000 per hour,” Nina said. “The staff there has put in days of work. I couldn’t even begin to estimate what the cost would have been.”

Connections also came in handy when Nina needed qualified individuals to speak on the DVD. Several board members will be featured, including Board Chair Dr. James Resau, a microbiologist & geneticist at Van Andel Institute, Vice Chair Dr. Steven Pastyrnak, division chief of pediatric psychology at DeVos Children's Hospital, and board member Dr. Wendy Burdo Hartman, a pediatrician whose daughter has dyslexia. Anita Smith and her daughter Jennifer, a West Michigan graduate whose book Dyslexia Wonders was published this year, will also be speaking, along with Nina and former student Jeffrey Drake-Todd.

The video will explain dyslexia, tell what the Center does to help and end with an appeal for donations to support the program. It should be completed by the end of this year.

There’s no secret to seeing results like West Michigan.
“I just asked,” Nina said.


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