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From Novice to Advocate: A Young Professional’s Journey to the Heart of Philanthropy 

November 28th, 2023 Back to Browse Stories

When I began my career with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, I was an intern wrapping up my undergraduate degree, eager to make a difference with my work. Little did I know that my time at the Community Foundation would not only shape my career but also transform my understanding of the profound importance of philanthropy.

Discovering the Heart of Philanthropy 

Prior to my internship with the Community Foundation, I considered myself cynical about philanthropy. I believed it to be a wealthy and exclusive group of people who had expendable income they could direct to charity for their own benefit. I applied to be an intern at the Community Foundation because, while wary of philanthropy, it seemed like the organization was doing good work in the community. 

It wasn’t until I immersed myself in the day-to-day operations of the Community Foundation that I discovered the heartbeat of philanthropy: the people behind the nonprofits and donations who were working in partnership to make a difference. I saw how the Community Foundation connects strategic giving with the pressing needs of our community. 

I think everything clicked when I was working on a story about an innovative educational program supported by the Community Foundation.  

As I walked into a bustling Detroit laundromat in the heat of the summer, I found a librarian sitting at a children’s table with books, crayons and alphabet blocks.  

I watched as the librarian read to the children, who would have otherwise been waiting idly with their parents while their laundry tumbled. This innovative “Wash and Learn” program was a creative and effective way to bring the library to children who otherwise might not have had access to its resources.  

It sank in right then and there, and instilled a sense of pride, that the organization I worked for was helping to make that experience possible. Knowing this impact was the result of just one grant out of the thousands made by the Community Foundation every year transformed my mindset. It became clear that I was a part of something that was creating long-term change for the people of southeast Michigan. 

Continuing the Ripple Effect 

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is seeing the ripple effect of our work.

That grant to a youth literacy program wasn’t just about providing the funding; it was about empowering the next generation, creating a ripple that extends far beyond the initial grant. Each initiative, each grant, of the Community Foundation creates waves of positive change that reach every corner of our region.

I also came to understand that these grants and initiatives cannot be successful without the support of individuals who believe in the power of philanthropy to create permanent, positive change. I found that what I thought was an exclusive group of philanthropists with money to be a network for anyone who has a passion for making a difference. This includes myself and my coworkers, who are dedicated to transforming the inspiration of donors and nonprofit leaders into impact that lasts.

In order for the Community Foundation to promote equity and ensure that southeast Michigan is a desirable place to live, work and play for generations to come, we rely on donations to our endowed Now and Forever Fund. Gifts to this fund support our operations, and allow us to carry out our mission both now and in the future.

Supporting this operations fund means supporting the infrastructure that allows us to identify needs, connect donors with causes they are passionate about, and ensure that resources are deployed strategically for maximum impact. It’s about securing the foundation’s ability to adapt, innovate and address evolving community challenges for generations to come.

Today, I approach my fifth year with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and I find myself just as inspired as ever. I’m excited to think of the generations of future young professionals who will come after me and continue the legacy of making an impact through philanthropy, the same way I have been able to do.

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Jack VanAssche is a Communications Associate for the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.