2023 Making Lives Better Awards Winners

“When people join our team, we tell them you are not only cleaning homes for busy people, you are making their lives better,” says Jeannie Henderson, owner of Jeannie Cleaning.

Serving customers and the community is a priority for Jeannie Cleaning. As part of our mission, the Jeannie Cleaning Team was inspired to start the first-ever MAKING LIVES BETTER AWARDS in 2022. The Making Lives Better Awards are designed to shine a light on the life-changing work happening right here in our community. 

We continued this work in 2023 with the 2nd annual Making Lives Better Awards. We collected nominations of local non-profit organizations who give their time, talent and resources and invited the community to vote for their favorite from July 24 – August 6.

We announced our top three winners at the Awards celebration event on August 16. The 1st place winner received a $2,000 donation, 2nd place received a $1,000 donation, and 3rd place received $500.

We are honored to share our 2023 Making Lives Better Awards Winners. Congratulations to our three winners: First Day Shoe Fund, AACORN Community, and Twelve Baskets!


First Day Shoe Fund – 1st Place Winner

If there’s one sound the folks from First Day Shoe Fund want to hear, it’s school hallways filled with the squeaks of new athletic shoes on the kids that need them.

First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) is a local, grassroots initiative whose mission is to provide a unique service to children in the Kalamazoo area by distributing new shoes to students in need. 

FDSF provides new athletic shoes to students in Kalamazoo County public elementary schools at no cost to families. They aim to help these students start the new school year with new shoes that fit well. Any kindergarten through 5th-grade students in need may receive a pair to help them succeed in and out of the classroom. 

In 2022, FDSF fitted over 4,700 pairs of shoes in 47 schools. Since FDSF started in 2006, they have distributed over 50,000 pairs of shoes.

A new pair of shoes helps students participate fully in gym and recess and helps build their confidence in school and out.

It’s been a great experience with a lot of nonprofits people have never heard of. Even though we have been around since 2006, there are still many, many people who haven’t heard of First Day Shoe Fund. So the chance to share our name and to raise awareness about what we do is really helpful.

Improvements for this year, we just started giving out shoes in March. So instead of giving them out once a year, now we give them out twice a year. Because kids keep growing….We see kids coming back around wearing the same pair of shoes a year later, and you know that they don’t fit them.

We are also expanding into providing shoes for kids with additional needs. We are now buying shoes for kids with AFO braces who can’t wear regular shoes. So that all kids can get a pair of shoes they love.

Our biggest budget item every year is to buy shoes. Obviously, that is literally what we do for a living is we buy shoes and give them to children who need them. So $2000, (1st place award amount) is enough to buy shoes at a medium sized elementary school in Kalamazoo County. That’s about hundred and something kids who can go to school comfortable and confident in a new pair of shoes.

Maggie Hesketh, Executive Director

AACORN Community – 2nd Place Winner

AACORN Community (Adult Agricultural Community Options for Residential Need) operates a 40-acre farm, giving adults with any developmental disability the opportunity for hands-on learning and work experiences on an active farm. AACORN also operates an activities building on the farm, which provide skills-building opportunities.

Once students age out of school, very few program options are available. AACORN Community provides meaningful, life-enriching activities, experiences, and social connections for adults with intellectual and developmental differences.

Since 2011, AACORN has helped over 50 individuals throughout Kalamazoo build skills, engage with peers, and find meaningful work and fulfillment on the farm.

Being able to get our name out there a little more, it really boosted our morale as well, someone else is recognizing the work that we do! We know the impact we make, but (AACORN) is not as well known as some of the other organizations. It’s been really fun to remind our supporters “don’t forget to vote!” – Melissa Alexander  (Stafford)

Being a nonprofit we always have ways to use the money. We have a lot of projects that have to do with the animals and making their lives better. When we can make their lives better, it makes it easier to work with the individuals we serve. It’s really helping. It’s really helping everyone do better.

Liz Farmer, Vice President

Twelve Baskets – 3rd Place Winner

Twelve Baskets is a non-profit food pantry serving the community in Portage, Schoolcraft, Vicksburg, Three Rivers and all surrounding communities. Twelve Baskets has served over 1,000 families – approximately 150 families per week receive a cart full of groceries. This food support makes a difference in these families lives, providing critical resources when they are struggling financially.

Twelve Baskets makes food donation runs seven days a week, and operates the Free Store, providing clients with free clothing and household items. It is a 100% self-funded and volunteer-based organization.

With the cost going up of gas, food and the cost of the new building, everything is really beneficial. 

Kathleen, Twelve Baskets Board Vice President 

It means a lot to us to have Jeannie Cleaning wanting to support us and the funds will certainly be used to build hope, dignity and self respect for the families that we serve each week

Romona Czuk, Fundraising Coordinator

Jeannie Henderson