LCCF president uses lifetime's experience to serve Lake County

BOARD: Front row: Shawn Washington, Lori Braginton, Mary Anderson, Sandy Clarke, Vedra Paige and Ellen Kerans. Back row: Jay Barnhart, Stiles Simmons, Sally Murrey, Jane Allison, Paul Bigford and John Drake. Members of the LCCF Board not pictured are Barry Campbell, Quaran Griffin, Mary Nalbach, Robert Tiggleman and Alphonse Williams.
BOARD: Front row: Shawn Washington, Lori Braginton, Mary Anderson, Sandy Clarke, Vedra Paige and Ellen Kerans. Back row: Jay Barnhart, Stiles Simmons, Sally Murrey, Jane Allison, Paul Bigford and John Drake. Members of the LCCF Board not pictured are Barry Campbell, Quaran Griffin, Mary Nalbach, Robert Tiggleman and Alphonse Williams.

BALDWIN – Lake County Community Foundation President Sandy Clarke, of Baldwin, has been driven to serve others since she was a young girl, long before many people begin to view community service as an important endeavor.

"It started when I was in middle school," Clarke said. "I was always involved in programs and activities that would help those who needed assistance."

After a head start in community activism in school, Clarke moved on to teach in the Detroit area for several years before she and her husband decided to retire in Lake County in 2006. This is her second time being elected to LCCF president after serving as vice president last year, and then being asked to fill the position when the former president stepped down.

Much of Clarke's experience with helping the undeserved comes from her teaching career, which inspired her to become more involved in the communities her students came from.

"One of my first teaching experiences was at a vocational school in Detroit," Clarke said. "I taught English. I realized that there were people who were really less fortunate than we were, especially around the holidays, so the students took on reading and tutoring for other students in the school who needed it. After collecting donations we were able to purchase different types of necessities for individuals who were in nursing homes and for our youths who were in foster care."

Clarke said she and her students traveled around the neighborhood singing carols during the holiday season as well. Clarke's drive to serve others and her community involvement carried into work with nonprofit organizations and foundations in the Detroit area as well.

Additionally, Clarke has devoted her time to leading workshops, volunteering to teach senior citizens how to use computers, attending mission trips through local churches and using her grant writing skills to help and advise people who could not afford to hire a grant writer.

Now, as the LCCF president, Clarke sees her work with Lake County nonprofits as an opportunity to give back to the mentors who always helped and inspired her.

"At this point in my life it's just wonderful that I'm able to really give back to those who helped me," Clarke said. "I had wonderful mentors in college who were always there for me."

As a 25-year breast cancer survivor, Clarke also understands the importance of helping those who are sick or suffering. She spends a good deal of time volunteering through Spectrum Health and its greeter program.

Clarke enjoys being able to allocate money from the LCCF to local nonprofits, especially when those nonprofits provide services or entertainment to Lake County residents.

Clarke has several plans for improving the way LCCF works with the surrounding community and Lake County townships. The board has a retreat coming up in September, during which Clarke hopes to discuss the putting together of a long-term plan for the future. She also would like the foundation to get out to visit the townships more often to get a better feel of what their organizations need.

Any nonprofit or organization with  501(c)(3) status in Lake County is welcome to apply for funds from the foundation, Clarke said. Applications, which can be found online at lccfmichigan.org, are reviewed each year in spring and are due in March. This year, the LCCF was able to provide funds for 26 nonprofits in the county, which paid for 32 community projects.

"At the end of the day, it's about when you're able to know that you've helped make a difference, whether it's with a child, it's with a cancer survivor or it's to be the president of this awesome community foundation," Clarke said.