Posted by John Ester on Apr 09, 2019
Josh Stoltz, Executive Director of Grow Benzie, gave us an update on his organization's past, present and future.  A native of northern Michigan, Josh became Grow Benzie's first full-time director in 2014 and recently received Rotary Charities' first Changemaker Fellowship.
Josh explained the many ways in which Grow Benzie has made its facility available to existing organizations such as the Beekeepers Guild, formerly a group of five people who met at members' homes. Now based at Grow Benzie, some 80 people participate in its activities.  Grow Benzie similarly became host to an after-school beekeeping program. ("If we build it, they will come.")
Food and education have played a big role at Grow Benzie as it has brought in existing community groups to rent its space, including its green house and incubator kitchen.  Grow Benzie also has a food truck operating locally and provides space for the activities of nonprofits like Days for Girls.
Two years ago Josh and Grow Benzie became involved with health care issues.  A 10-county health network had been created, but there was a need for coordination on the local level.  Similarly, a Michigan College Access Network was created whose goal was to help kids pursue secondary education--another worthy goal with a need for action at the local level.
The foregoing ties into Rotary Charities' decision to take a systems approach with respect to grants--looking at entire systems rather than funding independent programs addressing only parts of a bigger problem.  Josh applied for and was granted Rotary Charities' first Changemaker Fellowship.  He was one of 22 fellowship winners who were trained in the systems approach in London.  This was followed by a trip to Russia, where the group went to small villages to work on building an across-the-country model. 
Back in Benzie County Josh is providing coordination of four community centers and Grow Benzie is the anchor for the local College Access Network.  We are fortunate indeed to have Josh and Grow Benzie in our midst.  Further information about Grow Benzie is available on its website.