Last December, a woman stopped into Benzie Area Christian Neighbors (BACN) to donate a Little Tikes toy castle. She knew that BACN works in many ways to provide support to neighbors in need in Benzie County. But she had a message for them. “Don’t give it to anyone just yet,” she said. “I couldn’t find the little people that go with it. I ordered them and am having them shipped right to BACN.”

That, says Kelly Ottinger, director of development at BACN, is the kind of love and care she frequently sees when people interact with BACN. “I’ll never forget how much she cared about the child who was going to receive that toy,” Ottinger says. “She didn’t merely ‘get rid’ of something. She truly sought to bring happiness to a child.”

BACN’s mission is to help financially struggling neighbors stabilize and work toward self-sufficiency by providing healthy food, clothing, education, social support and financial assistance. “BACN’s philosophy is that we are all neighbors, with needs to be met and gifts to give,” Ottinger shares.

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“We’ve been here now for 37 years and we work to infuse a sense of dignity around needing help,” Ottinger says. “We don’t want people to feel like a number at BACN. We take the time to listen.” BACN’s services include a food pantry, clothing center, financial assistance and adult education, and all are available for those who reside in Benzie and the northern half of Manistee counties.

The adult education program is twofold: job readiness training and GED preparation (both are offered in partnership with Northwest Michigan Works). All expenses for a GED, including the certified instructor and exam, are covered by BACN, and at any given time there are approximately 30 students working toward their GED in the program.

Given the need, BACN is building the future. “We will be breaking ground for a new facility on our current property in Benzonia to replace our aging and unsafe building,” Ottinger says. To date, more than half the money for the $3.5 million project has been raised. “BACN has determined the need to increase outreach, and the new facility will be the tool to allow us to do so, while building sustainability for decades to come.”

Find more stories about Northern Michigan nonprofits in the free, digital edition of the 2020 MyNorth GIVE; or get this magazine in print for free when you subscribe to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.