The 2017 CCL Annual Fundraiser: A Night to Honor the Most Influential Leaders in the Grand Rapids Area

On August 23, 2017, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the Center for Community Leadership Annual Fundraiser at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. At this “Summer Soiree,” CCL alumni and community leaders alike joined together for a night of celebration and connection.

The Center for Community Leadership has been a valued resource of the Chamber since 1985. Its goal is to educate, engage, and challenge current and emerging leaders in the community through various leadership and skill-building programs, such as Leadership Grand Rapids, Emerging Leaders, and Leadership Advantage. Participants in these programs are given a more comprehensive understanding of the community’s opportunities and challenges, allowing them to be better prepared to serve as leaders when they graduate.

The CCL annual fundraiser is critical in helping us raise scholarship funds that enable many to participate in CCL’s various programs. This year, we are happy to share that over 230 people attended and over $30,000 was raised to support CCL’s scholarships. This makes it possible for leaders from across our community to take part in the programs.

PAY IT FORWARD: The Class Competition Fundraiser

To invest in others and carry on your CCL program experiences through scholarship support. Pay it forward and invest in our future community leaders!

This year, Leadership Grand Rapids’ alumni classes were challenged to contribute directly to scholarships by “paying it forward” through a class competition. At the time of publication, the class competition fundraiser raised over $4,025 for scholarships. The winning class will receive the title of “The Best Class Ever” for the next year and a private movie viewing at Celebration! Cinema. The LGR Class of 2017 was strongly in the lead with $2,500 in contributions in memory of their classmate Lynn Locke. Lynn passed away shortly after graduating from the program and was a fierce advocate for people with disabilities and fostering inclusion.

In memory of Lynne Locke


But the giving didn’t stop there!

At the CCL Annual Fundraiser, the Chamber also took the opportunity to recognize some of the community’s most influential leaders with three awards:

1) The Distinguished Community Trustee Award

Recognizes the distinguished accomplishment of an individual in their work as a community trustee

Honoree: Dr. Juan Olivarez, Ph.D., President of Aquinas College

Dr. Olivarez upon accepting his award at the 2017 CCL Annual Fundraiser

Under Dr. Juan Olivarez’s leadership, which began in 2011, Aquinas was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013 and 2014. This national designation is the highest honor a college/university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service‐learning, and civic engagement. The college was also named one of the “Greenest Colleges” by the Sierra Club and has been listed in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

“I am so humbled and honored to be receiving this,” Dr. Olivarez, who was in the LGR graduating class of ‘88, said upon receiving the award, “We continue to send some of our faculty and staff to the programs. I would encourage all organizations to sends folks to them.” Olivarez has served on many national and regional boards and committees, including Innovation Network for Communities, Council of Independent Colleges, Educational Testing Services, High Education Research & Development Institute, and was even appointed to the National Institute for Literacy by President George W. Bush.

2) The Uncommon Greatness Award

Recognizes the work of an organization to help create a community of uncommon greatness

Honoree: Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF)

The ICCF Team at the 2017 CCL Annual Fundraiser

ICCF is Michigan’s oldest non-profit housing developer, providing affordable housing and related services since 1974. For 43 years ICCF has been on the forefront of our community’s efforts to meet the critical need for affordable, high-quality housing. Today, ICCF leverages private contributions with federal, state and local government grants to maximize its multifaceted impact, utilizing a diverse staff of over 40 individuals. “We recognize that an uncommonly great community is one where there is abundant opportunity, affordable housing for people from all walks of life, where neighborhoods are thriving,” said Ryan VerWys, President & CEO of the Inner City Christian Foundation, “A key part of that is relationships. So thank you to CCL for being a catalyst for transformation. It is foundational for making our community great.”

3) The Create GReat Collaboration Award

Recognizes an outstanding project that benefits our community and was accomplished through a group collaboration

Honoree: Plaza Roosevelt Project

(Partners: Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Mercy Health Saint’s Mary’s, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Dwelling Place, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Ferris State University, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, and Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association)

Plaza Roosevelt is a mixed-use development that will feature a new Spanish-English immersion Grand Rapids Public Schools high school, expanded health care facilities, community space, affordable housing, art opportunities and retail space. This 5.5-acre development, set in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood, a predominately Hispanic, traditionally working class Southwest Side community, the project will continue the growth and development of the diverse and engaged neighborhood.

“We hope our project can be a good example of how hopes, dreams, combined with creativity and ingenuity can really create something incredible. We’re working diligently to build a strong and healthy community for ourselves and our families,” Gerol Bailey, member of the Roosevelt Park Resident Committee, said upon accepting the award on behalf of the project team, “True collaboration, instead of competition, is what’s going to drive this development. Thank you, we are humbled and grateful for the recognition by the Chamber and the sponsors. Watch us work!”

The Plaza Roosevelt Team at the 2017 CCL Annual Fundraiser


Leaders, such as those we honored at The CCL Annual Fundraiser, are the heart of Grand Rapids, sparking greatness and growth within the community.  They have made an exceptional impact on West Michigan and have invested their time and energy into pursuing the overall well-being of the community. Without them and the work they do, Grand Rapids would not be the vibrant city it is today.

“As LGR graduates, we’re in this work of community-building together. We must have broad and deep civic engagement to be catalysts for change.”

– George Heartwell (LGR 1992), Former Mayor – City of Grand Rapids


The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Community Leadership programs equip talented professionals with intensive training, active networks, and meaningful resources to shape their careers, innovate within their companies, and engage in community change.

Current and future Chamber members are invited to explore and apply for the many leadership and community programs offered throughout the year. More information available at

Samantha Suarez Administrator

Samantha is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s resident Communications Specialist.

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