Coldwater Township Sunrise Rotary Promise Project


In 2018 the Coldwater Township Sunrise Rotary Club (CTSR) formed the Sunrise Rotary Project Team with a purpose to develop a regional Promise Project. This Promise Project is modeled on 350+ projects across the U.S. and nearly 25 started in Michigan. Each Promise Project is unique, tailored to the distinctive needs of the local region.

The goal of the CTSR Promise Project:

  • Make post-high school education more affordable
  • Increase the number of people seeking post-high school education/training
  • Improve the success rate of program completions
  • Decrease student debt rates in the region

CTSR Club and the Coldwater Township Sunrise Rotary Foundation (CTSRF) board launched the Promise project with the initial funding of $15,000 for three years from the club and $5,000 for five years from the foundation.

Previous to the pandemic, Branch County realized a surge of new & growing business causing a 3.6% unemployment rate. Companies and contractors expressed the need for specific skills to fill their open positions. After significant research of the shortage of skills it was determined that the Promise Scholarship Project would narrow its focus on two critical needs:

  • Health care professionals: Branch County designated as severely underserved for health care professionals (2000:1 per capita coverage), ranked amongst the lowest in the state and nearly twice the state
  • Skilled trades professionals: Construction & industry is vulnerable by lack of trained skilled trades. Branch County rate of working age residents (age 25-65) that have sought post-high school education of any kind is 14%, again one of the lowest counties in the state and compares to the state average of 45%.

CTSR Club approved the focus & the Sunrise Promise Team began working in partnership with Kellogg Community College (KCC) and its Foundation (KCCF) to develop a platform and unique requirements of the project. The partnership was formalized in August, 2019.  KCCF and the Sunrise Promise Team announced and launched the KCCF/Sunrise Rotary Promise Scholarship   Program with $20,000 expected to be awarded in the first year of the launch. The needs-based program covers 14 programs in the Allied Health department, including the recently launched EMT/EMS program and 7 programs in the industrial trade curriculum. For the 2019-20 school year there were 24 applicants of the approximately 70 students registered in these programs.  The   selection team awarded 19 scholarships to Branch County residents and/or graduates of Branch County high schools ranging from $500-2000 and totaling $20,000. The Promise Scholarships were awarded to 15 students enrolled in nursing programs, 2 in other allied health programs and 2 in industrial trade programs.

KCCF partnering with Sunrise Rotary Promise Project has increased interest and assistance for Branch County students to $80,000, approximately a 30% increase from prior years.


Model of Sustainability:

The Promise Team working with KCCF to build on the first-year launch, has developed a three-phase strategy to insure sustainability of the important impact to our region.

  • Phase 1 (years 1-3): CTSR and CTSRF and in partnership with KCCF fund the Sunrise Rotary Promise Scholarship Program with $20,000 for three (in place)
  • Phase 2 (years 4-7): With CTSRF contribution of $5,000 for years 4-5, the Promise Team needs to identify community partners to step into the role to help fund $15,000 in each year. The Promise Team met with the Trustees of the Thomas Bott Donor Advised Fund. The Trustees (members include Presidents of SMB&T & CB&T) approved the donation of $60,000 from the Trust to directly fund the health care scholarships for a four-year period ($15,000/year). A public release of this significant step termed a “Cornerstone Partner” was issued the week of April 13, 2020. This generous gift guarantees that the Promise scholarships will be directly funded six years extending the path to accomplish Phase 3 of the sustainability model. With the $2000 grant from Apex Clean Energy and a $3200 matching grant from District 6330 the Promise Team has closed the gap for the direct funding of scholarships to less than $5000 and continues to identify funding opportunities.
  • Phase 3 (Endowment & Long-Term Funding):

In late 2018 the Promise Endowment Fund was created with the support of private donations. In 2019 the Promise Project Team announced an initiative to widen the Rotary family support for the Promise Project across the five regional Rotary Clubs.

CTSR Club member George Babcoke and his wife Kathie committed $25,000. The match was doubled by the contribution of $25,000 by the Hal and Lillian Creal family (Hal was a founding member of the CTSR Club).  This created a double match challenge open to Rotary members across the county. With support from all five of the Branch County Rotary Clubs the double match challenge raised approximately $35,000 to achieve the year 1 goal of $100,000.

The team’s 2020 objective was to identify four “Keystone” business partners to create:

  • 2020 – 2022: $100,000 public match campaign over the two years to reach $300,000 for the Promise Endowment Fund. The pandemic has significantly affected the fund-raising capability during most of 2020/2021 but to date (Sept 2021) approximately $52,000 of the match has been raised.
  • 2022 – 2026: $500,000 goal for the Promise Endowment Fund

With the addition of Clemens Food Group in April 2021, four significant regional businesses have committed to be “Keystone Partners” for the 2020/2022 public match campaign, each contributing $25,000. Clemens joins ProMedica Coldwater Regional Hospital, Southern Michigan Bank & Trust and Century Bank and Trust as Keystone Partners. The Promise Team is pleased with the strength and breath of the Keystone Partners. Additional corporate partnerships will be recruited in the future.

In the fall of 2020, the Promise Team launched a membership program to promote multi-year giving.  This initiative provides donors the opportunity to join the effort at whatever level they are able to support. Online giving and joining the Membership Program is available at by clicking the Promise tab and Donate Now button.

Current Status (September 2021)

The annual CTSRF update was given as the program at the Sept 16, 2021 CTSR Club meeting. During the annual update it was announced that the Hal and Lillian Creal Fund made an additional $25,000 donation and the George and Kathleen Babcoke Trust agreed to match the donation. This elevates the Creal’s and Babcoke’s gift to the Cornerstone donor level. With these additional donations, the Promise Endowment will pass the $350,000 mark. While this is a significant accomplishment, meeting with potential donors has been challenging during the ongoing pandemic. We need to recruit more Ambassadors to promote the newly established Promise Membership Program to keep up the momentum towards achieving the $500,000 goal for the Promise Endowment and guarantee the sustainability of the Sunrise Promise Scholarship Program. In early 2021 the CTSRF established a Promise Standing Committee to further strengthen the process and procedures related to Coldwater Sunrise Rotary Promise Scholarship Program. This effort established a Promise Ambassador initiative where leaders in the community share information and recruit members in business and public sectors to support the Promise Project.   

A 5-year plan for the direct funding of Promise Scholarships and funding of the Promise Endowment have been created and shared at an April 2021 general meeting with Club members. In Aug, 2021 the Promise Scholarship selection committee completed the selection process for year three and selected 22 awardees for the scholarships for the 2021/2022 academic year. A total of $23,000 was awarded which included some carry-over funds not used by the prior years’ awardees. The list and breakdown of the awardees is now available and, as in past years, represents a diverse group of what we like to call “blue collar” students, many being non-traditional students. KCCF will be working on a media release regarding the awards and the Promise Team will issue (after approved) a release on the Cornerstone donations.

Including this year’s awardees, over 60 Sunrise Promise Scholarships have been awarded totaling over $60,000. The number of applicants this year was 60 students compared to 24 in year one. This is evidence of the progress that the Promise Project partnering with KCCF has made in raising awareness and demonstrating the sustainability of the program, now in the third year.

In a show of continued support for the Promise Scholarship Program, Southern Michigan Bank & Trust recently contributed another $5000 to the Promise Endowment. SMB&T       issued a regional press release regarding the donation.

Currently there is a collaboration of regional leaders to address increasing the interest in the industrial trade programs offered by KCC. KCC is developing a strategy across all campuses to increase program offerings and also strengthen the student outreach especially with the Branch Area Career Center, working with the BISD. 

Anyone needing more information, wanting to get involved, receptive to becoming a     Promise Ambassador or wanting to donate can contact Jon Harpst at (517) 202-7849.

Updated September 22, 2021


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