Yes! Grants making a difference in Mid-Michigan

$1,000. How does that sound? It could be yours. FOX 47 WSYM TV will be offering a $1,000 check and more to a local non-profit every month. It's part of our We Say Yes to Michigan campaign, and our monthly Yes! Grants are an effort to bring our community together in a positive way.

FOX 47's Dustin Bonk spoke with two past Yes! Grant recipients about how $1,000 can make a difference in Mid-Michigan.

Happendance seeks to broaden accessibility to the art of dance.

"We really believe that every person deserves the best opportunity to create their highest quality of life,” says Missy Lilje, CEO of Happendance.

Lilje is a Happendance graduate. The Okemos-based 501(c)(3) has students 18 months to 85-years-old, some for fun, others with career goals. Whether it's classic tap, ballet, or something more modern, Lilje says dancing encourages physical fitness, discipline, and creativity, but not all students are able to afford tuition.

"You know, when I first took on this job, I was really disheartened to see... look at all these amazing benefits and we are only serving the kids whose families can afford to drive them here, who have a car to drive them to this location, who can pay the tuition,” she said.

In 2016, FOX 47 issued a $1,000 Yes! Grant to Happendance. That money was used for two scholarships. Free weekly classes, tutoring, and transportation for a six-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl who otherwise could not afford tuition.

"I almost shudder to think, what if it wasn't for this program, where would she have landed?” Lilje said. “And I feel proud that we were part of enhancing her quality of life. The donations and grants are super important so that everybody can have a chance to have these benefits."

FOX 47 issued six Yes! Grants in 2016. For 2017, the Yes! Grant package includes even more. WSYM is also offering $4,000 worth of TV coverage. That includes a 30 second PSA about what the non-profit needs and how people can help, an in-studio interview on the morning news and the Morning Blend, and a feature piece about the organization to air on our morning and evening news, all in addition to a $1,000 check.

"We can get a whole program off the ground and we can support it for a year with $1,000, “ said David Lamse, Director of the Jackson Community Music School.

Lamse says you can't put a price on creating a sustainable program that reaches thousands in a community. Jackson CMS is a part of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra where he's a violinist. Lamse and his fellow musicians work with Jackson area children, offering tutoring and group classes.

With the orchestra's $1,000 Yes! Grant, the school is creating a drum circle outreach program. Lamse says percussion is a great way to introduce music, teaching rhythm and teamwork to any age or skill level.

"That's what we like most about it,” he said. “You can involve a lot of people and you can have various levels of skill, and everyone can kind of have a communal aspect of making music together."

The drum circle will tour events and schools by fall and reach out to at-risk youth along the way.

"You're looking at things as simple as keeping them off the streets, giving them something to do after school, giving them some focus, teaching them how to apply themselves, to find success, and to really enjoy it as well,” said Lamse.

But without donations and grants, none of this would be possible. Finding money for the school is his biggest challenge.

"Constantly coming up with funding. Constantly working hard to find new sources of funds... Every penny helps. We are grateful for every dollar that is given to us, and we find a way to spend every dollar,” he said.

Eligible 501(c)(3) non-profits within Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, Clinton, and Hillsdale counties can apply for a Yes! Grant on our website.

The first 2017 Yes! Grant will be issued on Thursday April 6th and you can view the check presentation on FOX 47.

Photo and video credits for this story go to Happendance and the Jackson Community Music School.