Cornerstone University Announces Community Partnership with Mel Trotter Ministries


by Ellie Walburg (B.S. '17)

Cornerstone University's Professional & Graduate Studies (PGS) division has announced a new partnership with Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, Mich.

This partnership provides a tuition discount for both Mel Trotter staff members and program graduates. It also incorporates hosting a degree program on-site at Mel Trotter for staff, graduates and members of the community.

Mike Ward, director of enrollment operations and community development at PGS, coordinated with the president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, Dennis Van Kampen (B.S. '99, M.S. '03), to bring this vision to fruition.

When Ward and Van Kampen initially met for lunch to discuss the vision, they dreamed of a unique kind of partnership.

"We wanted to have a cohort that meets on-site and to tailor the curriculum to be Mel Trotter-friendly, more conscious of poverty and more conscious of family dynamics," Ward said.

Over the consecutive conversations with administrators and those involved, the partnership gained momentum.

While Mel Trotter is in the process of gauging specific interest, Ward anticipates a cohort beginning in fall 2018.

"It's a multifaceted approach," Ward said. "For the staff at Mel Trotter, it's about giving them knowledge so that they can better serve. With the program graduates, it's about eliminating any barrier for them to go back to school and for them to achieve their goals."

For Mel Trotter, this partnership allows for greater possibilities, for both guests and staff members.

"It means the possibility for a guest who has experienced homelessness and as such felt like there was not any way he or she would ever be able to go to college," Van Kampen said. "It's the possibility to see hope—hope for an education, for a different and better life."

PGS enrollment counselors Kacey Spencer and Charles Walker are dedicated to serving and equipping students through this new opportunity.

"I want to be able to tell people that it's never too late," Spencer said. "You're just as capable of graduating as anybody else. No matter what you've been through or what you think about yourself. You really have it within you to do it if you have that desire."

By incorporating both a tuition discount and hosting a program on location at Mel Trotter, PGS hopes to make education even more accessible to all.

"This partnership is a way to help people earn their degree who maybe wouldn't be able to do so otherwise," Spencer said. "It's making it more convenient for the employees there and the people who are going through the program. School is coming to them. And, it's equipping people to go into the world with something that's going to help them sustain themselves, and I think education can do that."

Mel Trotter is also excited to equip both guests and staff with professional training to empower the community.

"It is another tool in our tool belt as we seek to not only demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ to all experiencing homelessness but also help them move forward with their goals even beyond ending their homelessness," Van Kampen said. "We know many of our guests first experienced homelessness as children. If we can help break the cycle, with education as one tool, we might be able to not only impact the person experiencing homelessness now but also make sure that future generations never experience homelessness."

As this newest partnership kicks off and students start or continue their learning, PGS hopes it'll be mutually beneficial. With PGS' availability to serve more students and offer accessible programs, Mel Trotter gains new opportunities as well, in addition to empowering staff and guests.

"It gives Mel Trotter another layer of connection to the community," Ward said.

With a commitment to the community from both Mel Trotter and PGS, students now have greater opportunities to pursue their goals and transform their lives.

Cornerstone University is a Christ-centered university with a passion for global influence through the transforming power of the gospel. As an interdenominational institution located in Grand Rapids, Mich., Cornerstone offers traditional undergraduate programs as well as adult undergraduate and graduate programs through the Professional & Graduate Studies division, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and Asia Biblical Theological Seminary.