Donations put MCC on fast track


A local developer known for his real estate projects in Muskegon and a highly successful entrepreneur have teamed to donate approximately $550,000 to Muskegon Community College’s entrepreneurial studies programming.

The Muskegon Community College board of trustees announced June 3 that local developer Jonathan Rooks has donated the former Masonic Temple building in downtown Muskegon to the college for its entrepreneurial studies program, and, simultaneously, a $200,000 endowment for the Foundation for Muskegon Community College will come from Nick and Ashley Sarnicola through their NextGEn Foundation.

The announcement was made during a special meeting of the MCC board in the Masonic Temple building on West Clay Avenue, which will now be known as the Rooks Sarnicola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Dale Nesbary, MCC president, said the announcement is a keystone of what the college is striving to accomplish, giving students access to physical and fiscal resources as well as new educational resources.

“This is a great day for the college,” said Nesbary. “Muskegon Community College is on the move — and that is not just talking a good game. It is really going back to the vision of the board of trustees over the last six years and moving the college to a point where we could be an institution of first choice for our students in the community.”

The former Masonic Temple, built in 1948, offers 23,790 square feet of space located adjacent to the college’s new Downtown Center in the former Muskegon Chronicle building. The property was recently appraised at roughly $350,000, according to MCC.

Tina Dee, director at the Foundation for MCC, said Rooks and the Sarnicolas are making history at the college with their incredibly generous gifts.

“The total value of $550,000 is larger than any other single past contribution and will have an enduring and positive impact on our students and the greater community we serve,” said Dee. “Their legacies will continue with the other great names in MCC history: Vanderlaan, Frauenthal, Stevenson, Thompson and Meijer.”

The $200,000 endowment will support an annual $10,000 Rooks Sarnicola Entrepreneurial Award for a graduate of MCC’s entrepreneurial studies program to help support his or her business endeavor.

Dave Stradal, chair of the business department at MCC, said the entrepreneurial studies program will be located within both of the MCC-owned facilities in the downtown area. He said the annual fund will help address the challenge of finding funds for budding entrepreneurs.

“It is important to us to be tied with the technology part of the college as manufacturing opportunities continue to grow in the industry, and we want to be a part of that, as well as non-technical industries,” said Stradal.

“The Rooks Sarnicola grant money is just a wonderful way for a student to take an idea, receive that $10,000 head start to launch their business, and that takes a lot of pressure off of a young entrepreneur. We look forward to their participation in the program and helping us take it from goodness to greatness.”

Rooks, associate broker and owner of Parkland Properties of Michigan, said the company is honored to support a program that focuses on opportunities and innovation.

“I had strong advocates early on that helped me become who I am today; they believed in me and supported my early efforts in business. They helped nurture and grow my confidence and skill sets. … Some even helped fund my early projects,” said Rooks. “I know not everyone had this kind of support or perhaps the internal compass for business and entrepreneurism, and that is why I partnered with MCC and Nick and Ashley Sarnicola. I want to provide a place where students and professors and community business leaders can come together.”

Since 2009, Rooks has invested in many business projects in the downtown Muskegon area, including Shoreline Inn, Lakeshore Waterfront Grill, Holiday Inn at Muskegon, Third Street Grill, Terrace Point Marina, Firehouse Professional Building and repurposing the Masonic Temple.

“He is passionate about Muskegon and entrepreneurism, and wants his projects to have an everyday impact on the local community, and contribute to the vitality and resurgence of the great city of Muskegon,” said Nancy Frye, secretary of the MCC board of trustees, regarding the first resolution passed by the board during the meeting.

Through the repurposing of the building as the Rooks Sarnicola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the endowment, Rooks said the hope is students will begin to appreciate the opportunities in Muskegon and invest their future in creating a better, stronger and more vibrant city.

“I want to help bright minds find the support, the structure and the opportunities to create their own success stories. There are so many opportunities in our own backyard that people miss; let’s not miss this one,” said Rooks. “Nick and I hope to inspire, empower and engage young minds to help develop their own style and their own skills, so that one day they, too, will be able to pay it forward.”

Nick Sarnicola, a West Michigan native and co-founder and global ambassador of ViSalus, said he and Ashley are thrilled to be able to give back locally by supporting the new entrepreneurial studies center with the annual scholarship.

“My wife and I made a decision a few years ago to take $1 million personally to create a foundation by the name of NextGEn, which stands for the next generation of entrepreneurs, because it is exactly what I wanted to provide for the void that I had growing up — that system that didn’t exist of educational entrepreneurship,” said Sarnicola. “My hat’s off to the whole school for stepping up and saying they are going to teach people entrepreneurship. To create a curriculum where people can come in and pass that knowledge on is priceless.”

Sarnicola co-founded Troy-based ViSalus, a multi-level marketing company specializing in health and nutritional aids. He and his wife founded NextGEn Foundation to foster entrepreneurship through mentorship, scholarships and seed capital to young entrepreneurs.

Ashley Sarnicola said the most exciting aspect of the donation to MCC is the ripple effect of decades down the road when so many people’s lives will be changed.

“By taking a small action today, we can teach others it is not just about making a ton of money; it is about getting to that place in life where you can give back — and what better community to give back to and what better institution to give back to than Muskegon Community College?”

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