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Meet the Board: In conversation with Arlene DeYoung

Arlene DeYoung is on Great Lakes Urban’s board of directors. She brings 20 years of experience in the corporate arena at Amway and Meijer where she has gained valuable leadership, task-oriented, and relationship skills.

In her day job, Arlene is the executive director of Urban Family Ministries—an organization that strengthens families and changes lives by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ within the urban core of Grand Rapids and through relational, spiritual, and economic empowerment. We sat down with Arlene to hear more about her story and what brought her to GLU.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have lived in Michigan for the past 25 years. My husband and I have three kids and, even though we are rooted in Michigan, we like to travel to different states and countries so that our kids are exposed to different places and cultures. Community is important to our family. We volunteer with schools, churches, and community organizations. We also love to go on hikes and hangout at parks.

What’s your favorite thing about living in West Michigan?

Lake Michigan. Being out on the water almost feels like you’re in California or someplace else. I went to college at Hope in Holland and it’s fun to see how much downtown Holland has evolved. It’s great to walk around the shops and restaurants.

Tell us about your career and how you got involved at Great Lakes Urban.

I’ve been on the board at Great Lakes Urban for about a year and a half now and my role is focused on marketing support. I am also an executive director at a nonprofit in Grand Rapids called Urban Family Ministries. Formerly, I was in the corporate world, working for organizations like Meijer and Amway. That was a majority of my career and now I’ve switched gears into the ministry and nonprofit world. It has been an amazing learning experience.

Can you talk more about your role at Great Lakes Urban?

My main role is focused on the marketing and strategic thinking, and I attend board meetings once a month. From those meetings, there are specific needs and tasks that I step in and get involved with. Recently, we had a fundraiser, and I was on the committee to help coordinate the logistics and review some of the marketing materials for that. Another thing I’ve been working on is building a partnership with a local church. Those are just some examples of my role. As a board member, I am really looking to support Eric and GLU in the best way possible.

Since I’m new, I’ve also been spending some time doing trainings and getting to know everyone involved. I did an ABCD (asset-based community development) training this year and I’ve also been attending some of the Lunch and Learns to learn who all of the wonderful people are that are committed to community connecting.

How did you get involved in this work and with GLU?

Prior to getting this job, I was searching for a new career, and I was really stepping back and thinking about what I wanted to be doing. This opened me up into the nonprofit world and I found the opening at Great Lakes Urban and was inspired by the work that they do and how they empower the community to make change in simple ways. From there, I got connected to Ken and became a board member.

What is something you admire about GLU’s efforts?

I love to hear the stories of the community and how, every time there’s a need or an event, everyone wants to be engaged. We facilitate and help create events, but it’s great to see how successful that they are because of the community.

I was also impressed by the success of one of our recent fundraisers. We had an initial goal of $8,000 and we ended up raising more than $20,000! That really came from people hearing and connecting with the story of Great Lakes Urban and realizing its impact. It’s awesome to see people inspired to donate and support the cause because they believe in it.

Why should people support Great Lakes Urban?

I would say that people should donate to Great Lakes Urban because you’re helping make a change in the community. These donations help empower and build on the work of the connectors and support the people that want to make change but are lacking resources. These people are doing a lot of hard work and it’s a part-time job that they should be paid for. And they really are trying to do big things with little resources. But those $10, $20, $30 donations per month can go a long way.

What is something that every neighborhood could benefit from having?

Well, I think it’s one thing that Great Lakes Urban offers, which is a voice. Having a community spokesperson and hearing them out, supporting them, and taking action is what GLU supports. We have seen the power of connecting people, sharing stories, and representing the voices of the community. And it’s important to have those voices represented accurately by people who live in the community and are in regular connection with their neighbors.

What do you hope to see in Great Lakes Urban’s future?

I hope to see us gain a strong momentum and see growth in communities in West Michigan and then duplicate this success is communities across the nation. Great Lakes Urban’s plan is to be national, and I’d love to see that happen.

It would also be great if we could connect to the younger generations and the people that are living in the communities that aren’t yet apart of this work. Building more awareness is important, because I feel that once people know about us, they’d definitely be willing to get involved.

What would you like people to know about this work?

That anybody can do it. Everyone can play a role: there’s hands-on work, hands-off work, prayer, literally getting “in the weeds” of a community garden, or whatever it may be. It’s also vital to provide feedback and share what your needs and wants in the community are so that you can find the support to make those changes happen. Great Lakes Urban is all about providing that support and giving you the tools and resources needed to start having an impact.

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