Michigan's College Access Blog

Developing a Sustainable Network

Q&A with Launch Manistee’s Mary Ann Behm 


In March, Michigan College Access Network hosted its second annual College Access Impact Awards. One of the organizations honored was Launch Manistee Local College Access Network. Launch Manistee received the Flagship Award for developing a sustainable network that provides leadership in the creation of effective alliances focused on postsecondary attainment. For this Spotlight, MCAN interviewed Launch Manistee Program Coordinator Mary Ann Behm, to learn more about how the network evolved from an interested group of people, to a driving force for continued education in Manistee County.

Q: How was Launch Manistee established?

A: “At its beginning, Launch Manistee started thanks to the efforts of a diverse group of interested and involved community members who wanted to build and sustain a culture of education in Manistee County. They were convened by the Manistee County Community Foundation, and their efforts were supported by a 2012 planning grant provided by MCAN. The following year, MCAN awarded Launch Manistee an implementation grant. The network expanded its focus to incorporate a ‘cradle-to-career’ philosophy in order to promote life-long learning. I was hired as the network’s full-time program coordinator in June 2014.”   

Q: Can you summarize the general steps that have been taken to develop a sustainable Network?

A:“Launch Manistee adopted a collective impact frameworkat its inception and has worked diligently to incorporate the essential elements. We took the time to make sure that all of our pieces were aligned so we truly had a common vision and goals. A common agenda sets our values and mission, goals, and metrics or shared measurement. We have two goals related to our vision, and all of our objectives and metrics lead to the attainment of those goals. This keeps us focused on using data to inform decision making.  Learn more about the collective impact framework by downloading MCAN’s latest edition of Charting the Course.

The backbone support infrastructure is one of the strengths of Launch Manistee – we have an active and engaged cross-sector leadership team, a core staff dedicated to the work, and a supportive and active anchor entity that is critical to the success of the network. The combination of these elements has been essential for our long-term sustainability.”

Q: What efforts are ongoing to maintain the Network’s sustainability?

A: “Launch Manistee is fortunate to have a leadership team that provides strategic oversight and direction, and sets priorities. We have three action teams that work collaboratively on mutually reinforcing activities; they align our organizations and coordinate our action plans. The action plans always involve commitment and action by several of the action team members.

 We continue to build on our network through use of tools and strategies such as network mapping and network evaluation; and adding to our leadership team and action teams. Launch Manistee is constantly evolving, evaluating, and growing - which boosts our success.”

Q: It seems that Launch Manistee has embraced “continuous communication,” a key term throughout Charting the Course. Can you elaborate on how continuous communication is embedded within the LCAN?  

A: “I do feel that the concept of continuous communication has contributed to Launch Manistee’s success and is an ever-evolving process. Moving through the process of building and sustaining Launch Manistee has helped communication through building trust and a solid shared understanding of the vision and purpose of the Network. I believe that our continuous communication success refers to the strong relationships that have been built and maintained between the various organizations that comprise our leadership team and action teams. This communication takes place among the members but more importantly, reaches out into the community at large. In turn, this brings more participation to the network.”

Q: Tell me a bit about Launch Manistee and how it achieves community buy-in.

A: “We have been extremely fortunate to have great community buy-in and support for Launch Manistee. This is largely due to the three things:

  1. Strong partners that we have on the leadership teams and action teams who consistently share information with others about Launch’s vision and activities;
  2. Action plans and initiatives that have been achieved and have impacted the community; and
  3. Marketing and strong communication strategies around Launch Manistee. Opportunities to speak at community events, present to school boards of education, or participate with business activities are always welcomed and seized upon as another means to ‘spread the word.’

Launch Manistee also has a fantastic relationship with its local newspaper, the Manistee News Advocate. The relationship is one of mutual respect and support. The Manistee News Advocate works really hard to stay current and report out in a timely manner after events. The newspaper is one of Launch Manistee’s biggest cheerleaders.”

Q: What advice can you give to other LCANs that might be starting out and/or seeking to increase their impact and sustainability?

A: "Build Relationships - never underestimate the power of taking the time to build relationships in your network and in your community. Network - find the game changing people in your community. Get them involved and use their expertise! Build a strong foundation - follow the framework that is set through MCAN’s Charting the Course; use the process and get your systems and network together to build a strong foundation. Celebrate – make sure that you stop and take the time to review your outcomes and the positive impact that has been made on students and the community at large.” 

To learn more about Launch Manistee, we encourage you to check out their website at www.LaunchManistee.org or to view their most recent Annual Report.


Author: Ryan Fewins-Bliss, deputy director for community investment
Posted: May 11, 2016

Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part Three

This blog is the third in a series of five installments written or filmed by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer." The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.

College Will be a Game Changer: Why I'm Excited 

By Zachariah Wheaton, Bay City Central High School

My name is Zachariah Wheaton and I will be a first generation college grad. I am the youngest of a family of 7 and my parents have had struggles with money due to their unfortunate luck of not being able to attend college for the full 4 years. My parents taught us that college is very important and that we all need to receive a degree and provide for our families. My 3 older siblings are currently enrolled at a community college then plan on attending a university, although cheaper and quite frankly smarter, I’ve decided to skip that phase and be the first in my family to be enrolled in a university (I’ll be attending Central Michigan in the fall). My mother and father aren’t so fond of the idea of me doing that, knowing that I will be “up to my neck” in student loans for a long time. They are right, but I’ve always been the different one in my family, I’ve always been the type to do something no one else has done before.

I’ve received my letters, I’ve received the posters, I’ve looked at the brochures, and I’ve had my fair share of college visits. I’ve finally decided the one I like the best, the excitement runs through my veins like a kid walking through the tunnel and seeing their first Major League field. I think to myself of all the opportunities and exciting things that could happen. I begin my housing information and start to think: who’s going to be my roommate? Will they be nice? What will they bring? Now I’m getting prepared for orientation, and I’m so excited I finally get to pursue what I’ve been wanting to do since middle school. I begin to wonder: Will my classes be hard? Will they be fun? How big will they be? Will college really be as hard as people say it is? (I had nightmares from that so I stopped thinking about that one). That’s the best part of college though, it’s the wonder, it’s sticking your hand in that box of chocolates and not knowing what you’ll get, all you know is that it’s going to be a sweet chocolaty taste.

There’s nothing that I’m not excited about for college. I’m excited for the classes. My teachers won’t know who I am so they won’t already write me off as a good kid, or a troubled kid. I’m excited to meet new people, I love the friends I have now, but who doesn’t like making more friends? As childish as this may sound, I’m excited for the food. My 8 year old self would try to drop out of high school and enroll into college right now just for that.
And of course: the freedom. Being able to stay up as late as you want and getting to do whatever you want is so exciting to me. I can’t wait to be able to come in late and not have a concerned parent waiting to chew in to me like a Thanksgiving Turkey. Most of all, I’m excited to be around people that don’t know me. In high school people already know who you are even if you haven’t met; it’s like you have a book of your life stamped on your forehead. In college you get a clean slate, you’re no longer the nerd, the jock, the class clown, the prom queen, you get to make your own
reputation, you get to write a new book. That's the most exciting thing about attending college to me.
Posted: May 10, 2016

Fostering Inspiration

When MCAN asked me to write a blog in honor of May being National Foster Care Month, I had the following thoughts:

“ABSOLUTELY! I love telling people about how they can support students from foster care!”

“Oh wait, I wrote about that last year…Yikes, what else can I say??”

As the Director of Outreach and Training with Center for Fostering Success, I have had the amazing privilege of overseeing the Fostering Success Michigan statewide initiative since its inception in 2012. I could not be prouder of Fostering Success Michigan and the progress we have made to increase access and success in the education to career pipeline for students from foster care. But, the BEST part of my job is talking with students about their education goals. Let me rephrase that…the BEST part of my job is watching a student’s face when they talk about their education goals. When I am with a student and they are talking about their education goals, it is the reminder of just how resilient our students from foster care are.

Like many of us who work in the fields of education or child welfare, we know that the young adults we work with are resilient, but do we actually hear what resilience sounds like? Do we see what resilience looks like? Next time you are with a student from foster care, I want you to try something. First, tell them that you can help them reach their education goals. Second, ask them about their plans for the future and their current successes. Third, watch what happens! Listen as excitement builds in their voice, watch as a glow spreads across their face, take in their smile as it reaches to their ears, and feel the joy as a spark grows in their eye. I promise you that the experience will truly be inspiring.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, running a million miles a minute, you don’t get to sit down with students and revel in these moments of inspiration as often as you would like. So, in honor of National Foster Care Month, I contacted some of the brilliant students from foster care I know and asked them to share with you how college has, or will, change their life…Get ready to feel inspired!

“College is going to prove that I’m not just a case number. I am a survivor of foster care, abuse and neglect that is going to make a life for herself. College is going to help me break the cycle of poverty and homelessness that my family and I have been struggling with for many years. Finally, college is going to open up doors of opportunities that I will be able to give myself and my future kids that my parents could not give me.”

 - Brittney B. is graduating high school this June and will be a freshman at Eastern Michigan University in Fall 2016.

“College has given me many opportunities; this includes connecting with community and pursuing my personal and academic interests in an environment that encourages me and fosters a great work ethic in me.”

Justin M. will start his senior year at Michigan State University in Fall 2016.

“College has changed my life before I even got here. The word “college”, coming from the inner city of Pontiac, Michigan to Detroit, Michigan, meant only one thing to me: A way out; a way to new-found peace. It’s like going to college automatically meant: moving away from the troubles in life and preparing for untamed success, if you can get there that is. College is tough at moments because it seems like things will all go wrong at the worst times. Sports played a critical role in my education because they opened the doors for me to college, so balancing the two were a task that I knew I was ready for, but didn’t know how they would play out. Graduation is underway; I played two sports in college and maintained a 3.4 GPA. With God, family and a dedication for excellence, anything is possible when you come from nothing, but work hard for everything.”

Damonta’ M. is graduating from Ferris State University in May and will start the Masters in Student Affairs and Higher Education program at Indiana State University in Fall 2016.

“Unlike many people who know their plan from a very young age, I didn’t think that I was going to college, or better yet even understand what that meant. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to fall into a journey that got me through undergraduate studies and now to be graduate student with only one year left to complete an MSW. My trajectory through education happened in a series of steps which took place at very particular moments in my life. These steps involved educators who encouraged me and “planted the seeds” to get me thinking about what I should do next in my life. Considering these pivotal moments, including all of those whom I’ve met and have influenced my life in some sort of way, I am excited to be able to celebrate such successes as being the first person in my family to graduate from high school, the first person graduate college, the first to attend graduate studies and the first woman in the entire family to be truly self-sufficient and independent.”

- Becky M. is pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Western Michigan University.

I hope you find the words from these students as inspiring as I do. More than that, I hope their words inspire you to think about how you can support the students from foster care in your class, your campus, and your life. Talk with them, ask them to share their education goals with you, let them know that are there to support them and remind them that college really does change everything. You can learn more about Fostering Success Michigan on our website www.FosteringSuccessMichigan.com and follow us on Twitter and Facebook as we celebrate National Foster Care Month every day in May.

Don’t forget to show us your blue ribbons for #NFCM2016! 


Guest Author: Maddy Day, MSW, Director of Outreach and Training, Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University

Posted: May 5, 2016


Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part Two

This blog is the second in a series of five installments written or filmed by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer." The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


How We Hope College Will be a Game Changer

By Hayllie Elliot and Sierra Haynes, Mancelona High School



Posted: May 3, 2016

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