Sony Electronics selects local nonprofit for education grant

STEM Greenhouse will use the $100,000 to expand its work with older students.
Sony Electronics has selected STEM Greenhouse, a nonprofit focused on helping underprivileged children in Grand Rapids, for a $100,000 education grant. Courtesy Sony Electronics

STEM Greenhouse, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit helping vulnerable children in underserved communities have equal access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching, has been chosen as one of Sony Electronics’ 10 nationwide winners of its 2022 Create Action grant.

The grant is offered by Sony Electronics’ new $1 million Create Action initiative, which aims to help amplify the efforts of local, community nonprofits serving underrepresented communities.

“We all have the power to make a positive impact on our community. It takes dedication and hard work, and we’re proud to partner with local nonprofits because of their ability to make a significant, immediate impact on the youth within their community,” said Neal Manowitz, president and COO of Sony Electronics Inc. “Our inaugural class of Create Action partners were chosen because they exemplified core Sony values like integrity, diversity and curiosity.”

Create Action is a part of Sony’s $100 million Global Social Justice Fund, founded in 2020 to support social justice and anti-racist initiatives around the world.

As a Create Action grant winner, STEM Greenhouse was awarded $50,000 in cash, $50,000 in Sony Electronics products and was able to create a custom short film to promote its mission and efforts in collaboration with Sony-affiliated creators.

For STEM Greenhouse founder and executive director Keli Christopher, Ph.D., the opportunity to create a video with Sony highlighting the work she does in the Grand Rapids community was monumental.

“They only selected 10 nonprofits in the nation,” Christopher said. “They’re looking for nonprofits like mine that are trying to amplify their (own) voice, but they can’t because they’re smaller. And even though they’re doing great things, sometimes when you’re not a big name, you don’t get the recognition for the things that you’re doing.”

Christopher said she hopes the video made by Sony, which has been uploaded to YouTube where it currently has 265,000 views, will help build awareness for the work she is doing in the Grand Rapids community.

“Everybody loves it,” said Christopher. “One of the things I’m also hoping that it highlights is that the city of Grand Rapids has some really good things happening right here and that’s important. Sometimes I think we don’t appreciate the things in our own backyard, even though a national audience can see the value in it, a national organization can pick it out of all their applications from all over the country. But even in a community like this there’s so many people who don’t know about what I’m doing or they’re not supportive of it because they just don’t see the value the way that others do.”

She said she believes the video work she has been doing for STEM Greenhouse over the past two years helped place the organization on Sony’s radar.

“During COVID-19,” Christopher said, “I started creating YouTube videos to engage my students while we were doing virtual learning. Those videos were not like other STEM videos, I was catering this specifically to children of color, the students that I work with.

“I don’t think there’s any other STEM dance video out there,” she said, noting that her and the organization’s creativity and investment in the learning of STEM Greenhouse students helps it stand out from other nonprofits.

“When you do different things, you have some creativity, I think that just sets you apart,” Christopher said. “We’re just doing things that nobody else is. As much as we hear about STEM, the reality is that the things that we’re doing in STEM, especially with the videos that we produce already, other organizations aren’t doing.”

STEM Greenhouse was part of Create Action’s inaugural grant recipients and was joined by the following organizations:

  • Heart and Soul Design Center, Los Angeles: Provides underserved communities with affordable quality production services and introduces them to the world of innovative digital technology.
  • Josephine Herrick Project, New York City: Works to amplify underrepresented voices through photography education, art exhibition and visual storytelling.
  • New Era Creative Space, Peekskill, New York: Provides hands-on learning experiences that empower young people to think critically, creatively and collaboratively.
  • Pockets Change, Brooklyn, New York: Teaches skills to build intergenerational financial resilience with students, families and educators.
  • Reading Quest, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Provides tailored tutoring services to help improve students’ reading levels and build confidence.
  • The Alliance98, Chicago: Reduces young adult unemployment with career development and helps youth hone their creative skills through activities like photography, graphic design and digital marketing.
  • The Firehouse Dream, Maywood, Illinois: Provides mentoring in film, photography, social media strategy and brand identity, along with workshops in financial wellness, resume and narrative writing, within communities that identify as BIPOC.
  • Totem Star, Seattle: Helps young artists build communication, collaboration, critical thinking and life skills through creative pursuits in music production and performance.
  • Youth Beat, Oakland: Offers extensive digital media training, youth development and employment opportunities for inner-city Oakland public school students.

Christopher said she hopes that STEM Greenhouse will continue to see increased community support for its mission as the video circulates.

“We need these kids,” she said. “So, if we want them to have a quality education, we need to be the ones providing it. Nobody is coming to save these children; we have to save our own kids.

“I’m at schools that don’t have science teachers. The work we’re doing is really critical to getting them (students) prepared for 21st century careers.”

As STEM Greenhouse’s summer program continues to educate community children in science, technology, engineering and math, Christopher is looking forward to the organization’s newest venture, a high school program. The program will be the first of its kind at STEM Greenhouse, which has mainly focused on middle and elementary school students and is planned to start this fall at Innovation Central High School, 421 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids.

“I’m really excited about it,” Christopher said of the program, adding that the work of STEM Greenhouse’s education should not be limited to middle or elementary school programs. She said students need continued education and opportunities through high school and beyond in order to cultivate success.

“Really what this program is going to be is a support program for the high schools’ math and science programming,” Christopher said. “We’re going to offer professional development for teachers. We are going to offer after-school tutoring. We’re going to offer after-school STEM clubs and allow them (students) to have organizations where they can develop their leadership skills. We’re going to have college tours, we’re going to have career speakers come in. It’s just nice to be able to support a school that is already doing so much good like Innovation Central with even more resources so that the kids get a really exceptional experience.”

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