In 1991 Dick Devos helped shoot down a plan for a multi-purpose sports arena outside of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had learned the lessons from Detroit’s downfall after the Pistons and Lions built arenas. This lead to his creation of Grand Action, a group of business leaders who came together to better the community and build hospitals, parks, and schools.
Since then, Dick and Betsy Devos have not given up on creating better opportunities for people in their community. It has largely taken the shape of charter schools, which are aimed at providing parents with local decision making and choice regarding their childrens’ education without paying tuition, just like public schools.
In fact, the couple have given over $1 billion to various causes in their lifetime. In 2013, Dick and Betsy gave over $90 million to education causes, as well as health services, community services, faith based groups, and arts causes. More recently the couple have started an aviation academy in west Michigan to allow kids to train to be pilots without paying costly tuition.
The Devos family seek to better their family and their community with their giving. For instance, they have helped develop training in teaching, which cut down on the amount of absentee students in those schools who are often minorities in low income areas by 30%. Dick believes that schools are the first places that communities need to change from the inside out.
Other ways they have helped to improve their small town is by getting people basic needs like drivers licenses if they needed to drive to get to work, have access to social programs, and even sometimes just meals and showers. One recipient of their kindness, Mel Trotter, was able to get a job in just over a month and cease being homeless.
The Devos haven’t always been successful in pushing their educational agenda. Their “Kids First!” campaign sought to give more tax credits to parents so they could choose where their children went to school. Ultimately, voters shot down the initiative. But that hasn’t stopped Dick and Betsy Devos from making education a priority.
They continue to use Grand Action as a way to get education to young people and entrepreneurs so that Michigan can continue to transform. The group provides scholarships and other opportunities such as internships to underprivileged kis who get certain grades. Among chairing the FAA and his own company Windquest, Dick Devos stays busy finding ways to better the world around him now and into the future.
Visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/about to learn more.