In November 2008, Western Michigan University participated in the state’s poverty summit held in Detroit, Michigan. This event attracted over 5,000 people from throughout the state who participated as individuals and representatives from the public, private, non-profit and education (pre K-12, colleges and university) sectors.

Following the summit, the state launched the Voices for Action poverty reduction initiative. Recognizing that poverty is a significant and growing problem in Michigan, the state sought to organize a statewide approach to effectively identify ways to help individuals advance from poverty. Thus, Voices for Action leaders set out to re-engage policy makers and service providers in terms of how they think about poverty assistance. Through the Voices for Action network, with generous support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, leaders and service providers worked together to shift back to an approach that focused on poverty reduction—not just managing the effects.

In December 2010, Voices for Action and WMU (College of Health and Human Services and the Lewis Walker Institute) came together to implement certain community-based poverty reduction activities. Through the University-Community Collaborative, pilot models were created in Kalamazoo that provided an array of service delivery programs and interventions that were designed to advance from a think tank context to actual implementation in a community.

WMU students, community partners, and University professors were involved in developing the community-based models. The collaborative also sponsored several community forums and conferences that involved discussions about best approaches to assisting and empowering low-income consumers and spotlighted best practice poverty reduction models from various parts of the state. Also, in 2012, the University-Community Collaborative completed a statewide evaluation assessment and report for the Voices for Action.

This entire process evolved into the University-Community Empowerment Center, which the WMU Board of Trustees approved as a University center on Sept. 18, 2013. The center operates from the College of Health and Human Services and Teresa A. Bingman, Esq. serves as its Associate Director. Advisory Team members include: Dr. Earlie Washington, Barbara Young, Dr. Lloyd Bingman, Dr. Linwood Cousins, Dr. Carla Adkison-Johnson and Dr. Phillip Johnson.