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About Us

Our History

The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation (SAF) was founded in 1993. At the time, the Gus Macker Tournaments approached the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) about donating event proceeds to help students with athletics participation costs.  The Foundation was created as a vehicle through which those funds could support GRPS athletics.  Throughout the 1990s, SAF continued to evolve as the arm through which private community members could support student academic enrichment opportunities in Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Where the Wild Things Are resized

Our former executive director Susan Heartwell and founding director Joan Secchia pictured with characters from Where The Wild Things Are.

In 2001, GRPS superintendent Bert Bleke gathered together a team of committed community members – led by SAF board chair Joan Secchia – to look strategically at the complex funding needs of West Michigan’s largest school district. Mr. Bleke and his team recognized an opportunity for creative and strategic partnerships to support student needs. As a result, SAF reorganized in 2003 with a new mission, bylaws and strategic focus areas. Leading these groundbreaking efforts, the foundation hired Susan Heartwell as the first formal executive director, who would serve in this role for 10 critical years.

During its initial four years of reorganization, SAF focused on literacy as its first area of impact. GRPS leadership and the SAF board agreed that a key to providing the highest caliber academic opportunities for students started with the best and most up-to-date reading materials in school libraries. SAF’s first major campaign supported these efforts by restocking all 47 GRPS school libraries with new books. This very successful campaign raised $1.6 million dollars all from local foundations, corporations and individuals.

Since then, SAF has expanded its impact areas to five broad categories to help students become well-rounded and productive members of the community. Those main priority funding areas are literacy, arts education, physical wellness, environmental education, and math, science and technology. (Learn more about these impact areas HERE.) In addition, SAF supports other priority areas as identified by the school district and serves as a community liaison and fiduciary on programs that benefit the students and the district.

Since 2003, SAF has made more than $20 million in grants to support programs and initiatives of GRPS.


Our Founding Scholars

The Student Advancement Foundation reorganized with the support of a team of committed individuals, who supported the belief in a strong educational system for all children in Grand Rapids Public Schools.   Together, these individuals rallied the community around a strong and sustainable foundation to meet the needs of the students and the school district.  These individuals are our Founding Scholars:

Peter Cook
Doug and Maria DeVos
Rich and Helen DeVos
Fred and Linn Keller
David and Linda Mehney

*Fred and Lena Meijer
*Charles and Stella Royce
Peter and Joan Secchia
*Peter Wege
John Wheeler