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July 18, 2011

Michels Family Fund: Building Leaders through Education

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” A saying that rings true to Arthur Michels, founder of the Michels Family Fund.

The Michels Family Fund is a fund that provides support to students at the American Indian College and assistance to educational programs in Guatemala.

Michels interest in education stems from his own lack of opportunity. He was not able to attend high school or college as a young man. When he came of age, he entered the military and worked hard to make a good life for himself and his family. He made sure his own kids went to college and valued their education.

It is through these life experiences and his travels throughout the U.S. and various other countries that Michels came to fully understand the important connection between education and leadership. Further, he decided to dedicate much of his time and resources to help make a difference in the lives of others.

It all started with a dream of supporting charity work. Michels’ first donation was to the National Indian College Fund in Boulder, CO. He later learned about a faith-based school in South Dakota for Native American students. The school was supported by donations and operated with a Catholic priest at the helm. The priest’s work inspired Michels to support the school, American Indian College. According to Michels, “I respect their decision to save their heritage. Sometimes folks just need a little extra help so they can become educated, support a family in the future, and compete for top quality jobs in today’s society.”

His travels to Guatemala uncovered a similar, but more desperate need. However, Michels didn’t really intend to support the education system in Guatemala at first. Initially, Michels’ daughter Kathy “adopted” a child in Guatemala to help support financially. Later, he traveled to Guatemala with a small group of Rotarians. An educator he met during his first visit asked to stay in touch with him. Through this letter-writing exchange he learned more about the hardships of these young kids and decided to begin the educational support program that exists today.

Michels notes, “Guatemala is such a poor country with minimal opportunities for young, uneducated people. If we can educate some of these kids – the bright ones who want to learn – they can become leaders. If we can create leaders in Guatemala, perhaps they can better learn to help themselves and improve the lives of those living in their country.”

He continues, “We have got to create leaders who will set good examples and be strong role models for these kids today. And, we need to start now.”

The Michels Family Fund has strict requirements for students and their families to follow to continue to receive their educational grants. Students are screened and identified by a local representative with whom Michels communicates with multiple times each week. The fund supports their education by paying for tuition, school materials and supplies, and sometimes for uniforms, eyeglasses, dental care or other services/items necessary to help the student realize opportunities.

Of the students presently being supported, Michels is happy to report one is a doctor who will be graduating this year and one young boy has expressed interest in becoming a priest.

The long-range plan for the Michels Family Fund is to see the continuation of building Native American leaders in the United States as well as Guatemalan leaders.

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