LANSING — When Launch Manistee began its work with Manistee County schools two years ago, many local residents were unaware of what it would bring to the local world of education.
Two years later through the efforts of program coordinator Mary Ann Behm and some strong working partners, Launch Manistee has made great strides forward in helping students gain access to college and to early education programs.
On Tuesday, the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) presented Launch Manistee with its prestigious Flagship Award. The award went to Launch Manistee because of its dedicated service to organizations that support families and students in Manistee County and for its focus on collective impact and network development.
The award was presented at the sixth annual MCAN conference in Lansing during their annual College Access Impact Awards dinner. Launch was one of 22 individuals and organizations from around the state honored.
Launch Manistee was presented the Michigan College Access Network Flagship Award this week in Lansing. Shown (left to right) are Brandy Johnson (MCAN executive director), Stacie Bytwork (Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce executive director), Leah Wachlin (AmeriCorps), Mary Ann Behm (Launch Manistee program coordinator), Denis Mayowski (AdviseMI), Laura Heintzelman (Manistee County Community Foundation), Shelley VanVoorst (CASMAN Academy) and Ed Kolanowski (Manistee Catholic Central).
“Every one of the individuals and organizations recognized from this year’s awards have played a vital role sparking change statewide and in their communities,” said MCAN executive director Brandy Johnson.
Johnson said the stories of all these organizations is inspiring.
“We know one of the most successful drivers for people is to hear personal accounts of perseverance when it comes to higher education,” she said. “This year’s award-winners are a fantastic group of individuals and organizations who are on the ground and working to drive change by increasing the number of Michigan residents with post secondary degrees and certificates in our state.”
Behm said they were thrilled to be presented the Flagship Award.
“I think it is great recognition for Manistee County,” said Behm. “For Launch Manistee to get this award just speaks volumes for what we are doing in Manistee County.”
Behm said it has been a community group effort to get Launch Manistee to where it is today.
“A lot of people have worked on this in the past few years,” she said. “A lot of the initiatives we have done were because of the people and what has also helped is getting the word out.”
Some of those people who have been involved with the success and teamwork of Launch Manistee were at the presentation. Making the trip to Lansing were Stacie Bytwork (Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce executive director), Ed Kolanowski (Manistee Catholic Central), Laura Heintzelman (Manistee County Community Foundation executive director), Leah Wachlin (AmeriCorps), Shelley VanVoorst (CASMAN Academy) and Denis Mayowski (AdviseMI).
“Those people who were there show what a cross section of the community is involved in Launch Manistee,” she said.
Behm said what has made her task easier is the school districts in Manistee County have really bought into the organization’s philosophy.
“The schools are amazing partners, so the relationships that have been built between the schools and Launch Manistee has enabled us to have so much of the success we have enjoyed,” she said. “Superintendents, principals, counselors have all been involved. We are also trying to reach out more to teachers and students, so they are aware of it as well.”
Behm said the collaboration goes beyond the K-12 level.
“Higher Ed has been a great partner too,” she said. “West Shore Community College, Baker College, Northern Michigan College and the business community is what has made it so successful. We have tried to pull in so many different partners as a community to get these things done for our kids.”
The Michigan College Access Network hosted more than 450 college access professionals and leaders during the two day conference. This year’s theme was “College Changes Everything,” and focused on highlighting personal stories and the impact post—secondary education makes in our communities.