The Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund) granted over $90,000 for a two-year period to the Otsego County United Way (OCUW) to support the START (Services, Tools, Assistance, Resources, Talents) Collaborative. The Health Fund  works to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of healthcare, with a special focus on children and seniors. OCUW also envisions a world where all individuals and families achieve their human potential through education, income stability, and healthy lives. 

Through the efforts of the Health Fund, Otsego Community Foundation (OCF) Tornado Response Fund and Otsego County United Way (OCUW) Disaster Relief Fund the START Collaborative will work towards this shared vision of building a stronger community.

“I am so excited for the possibilities this position will bring to Otsego County. By collaborating with community partners and providing wrap-around services for our friends in the community that are in an emergency situation we can make great strides for the future. I am honored to be a part of this concept.”

Kimberly Akin, Executive Director, Otsego County United Way

 The grant from the Health Fund and regional dollars have supported the hiring of a full time START Navigator and consultant. These individuals will guide Otsego County service agencies towards alliance, building a more effective, equitable service system that improves the health and well-being of all county residents.

“The OCF is grateful for the partnership with the OCUW, as local funders to leverage outside resources from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to create this position. The OCUW vision to create the START Navigator position and willingness to oversee, demonstrates great leadership.”

Dana Bensinger, Executive Director, Otsego Community Foundation

 Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman, Ph.D., was brought on as the consultant. She has over 30 years’ experience doing this type of collaborative facilitation. Foster-Fishman’s research interests primarily emphasize systems change, particularly how organizational, inter-organizational, community, and state systems can improve to better meet the needs of children, youth, and families. 

Melissa McDonnell will serve as the START Navigator and will train with community partners and participants of the Gaylord Long-Term Recovery Group (GLTRG) and the Department of Health and Human Services, Human Services Network. 

“Knowing the negative impression a pandemic and tornado leaves on a community, the START Collaborative, is vital to foster preparedness and resiliency as we move forward. I am hopeful this dynamic initiative will support service agencies and Otsego County residents in meaningful ways. From the experiences I have had with Pennie and Melissa I see their knowledge and compassion being a wonderful gift to Greater Gaylord.”

Erin Mann, Disaster Recovery Coordinator.

McDonnell’s background includes workforce development, mental health support, and early childhood advancement. Most recently she worked for Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium in two different capacities. Including: Business Resource Network Liaison and Business Solutions Professional. While at MI! Works McDonnell helped the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population by removing non-work-related barriers and aided employers with personalized business solutions such as training and retaining talent. “I am eager to begin the work assisting in the development of feasible community solutions to assure that Otsego County is prepared to answer to vulnerable individuals during day-to-day emergencies like food insecurity or larger crises like a natural disaster,” said McDonnell.

 McDonnell will be housed at the OCUW and can be reached at 989.732.8929,