For Stacy Stout, '04 , education director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, a typical week at the office covers a wide range of duties: writing grants, researching best practices in youth and adult education, arranging academic enrichment events for teens, and sitting down one on one and in small groups with Hispanic youth, aged from 13 to 21, who have the potential to be promising and dedicated workers, even entrepreneurs, in the Grand Rapids community.
Many of the youth she works with are teetering on the edge of gang membership and incarceration, or gaining the education needed to be successful and contributing members and leaders of their community. This 'edge' is where Stout's passion is, where she does her best work, and where you'll find some of the reasons she was recognized this past October as one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal's '40 Under 40' young business and community leaders who are making a difference.
Since 2005, Stout has filled multiple roles at the community-based nonprofit Hispanic Center, located in southwest Grand Rapids. Currently, as education director, Stout oversees all adult education and youth services. She is certified as an Intermediate Gang Specialist by the nonprofit National Gang Crime Research Center. Stout uses this knowledge, and her extensive youth development experience, to provide gang awareness, prevention, and intervention trainings for school and community groups.
The trainings also generate revenue for the Hispanic Center's Supporting Our Leaders (SOL) Program, which serves over 150 youth annually, with a third of the youth struggling with gang affiliation when they begin the program. By emphasizing education and parent engagement, she helps youth see that they can get out of gangs, and in fact has helped many to successfully leave them.
For adult education, she coordinates an integrated computer English as a Second Language (ESL) program focusing on occupational training readiness and is working to establish a new General Equivalency Diploma (GED) preparation class for English and Spanish speakers. She sees both programs as key stepping stones for residents to pursue two-year and four-year degrees.
Stout says her Grand Valley experiences were invaluable. "The highlight of my undergrad career was the mentorship," she added.
"I was fortunate and grateful to have influential people who believed in me and mentored me; such as Don Williams, Mike Woods, and Eduardo Rojas-Sanchez." Williams and Woods each led the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) at different times. Rojas-Sanchez recruited Stout to apply to Grand Valley when she attended the Hispanic Youth College Conference in Muskegon near her hometown of Whitehall. His encouragement helped her to gain a scholarship, student employment, and ultimately her first job after graduation as the OMA's Freshman Academy and Special Projects Coordinator. Today Stout is a colleague of Rojas-Sanchez, who is now assistant principal at Burton Middle School in Grand Rapids.
"Having mentors was also very important for me as a first-generation college student because I was going through so many changes as I began to define who I am," said Stout.
According to Stout, Grand Valley's effect on her was profound. "It changed my life. I grew up in a homogeneous community, and Grand Valley made me more aware of the world through my involvement with the Cultural Board working with racial and ethnic student groups. Grand Valley helped me define who I am as a person of color and a woman," Stout said. The university also helped her by providing many student leadership experiences, such as planning on-campus Hispanic Heritage Month events, Cesar E. Chavez Celebrations, and work with Latino Student Union.
Stout still has many connections with Grand Valley. The Hispanic Center hosts Grand Valley interns regularly. Stout speaks to Grand Valley classes and promotes the university at other community events. Current members of the GVSU chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta adopted her youth program as their official philanthropy and they, along with other GVSU student groups, volunteer hundreds of hours annually.
In the coming months, Stout will complete her Master's degree in Public Administration at Grand Valley, focusing on nonprofit leadership. Her goals for that degree include being a role model for her daughter and becoming a better supervisor. "I worked very hard and long hours to get where I am, but I also recognize that I didn't get here on my own. Many of my supervisors challenged me to grow. I have great people working for me now, I want to give them the kinds of chances I had. And so many of those chances began at Grand Valley." Added March, 2011