by Kayla Sosa | courtesy photos
Imagination, innovation and inspiration are the themes for this year’s 9th annual iBall, a celebration hosted by the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT).
The nonprofit organization provides education and training through creative youth and adult workforce development. The annual iBall is a fundraising event where three honorees will be awarded and attendees will enjoy a plated dinner and live music.
“The play on the iBall name with the letter ‘i’ is that each year we celebration imagination, innovation and inspiration, which are really three tenants of our WMCAT, where we’re working with families to provide pathways to opportunities,” said Amy Knape, director of development at WMCAT.
This year’s honorees include two organizations and one college student.
The WMCAT Imagination Award will go to Urban Core Collective (UCC), a nonprofit combination of six organizations sustaining and advocating for one another to end systemic racism.
“We really love their approach to collaboratively and creatively reducing effects of systemic racism,” Knape said. “We love that they unify and uplift voices in our community.”
Knape highlighted UCC’s Transformational Leaders Program, which helps create a pipeline of “emerging black and latinx leaders” in the community.
The WMCAT Innovation Award will be given to the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is an organization that works with the community for Hispanic economic advancement.
“We’ve been really impressed working in partnership with them, the way that they’re very forward-thinking and their intuitive approach to advancing Hispanic businesses in our community,” Knape said.
The chamber’s two programs are part of what earned them the award: The Transformando program provides tools and resources to Hispanic entrepreneurs and the Bridges to Education program connects Hispanic students to employers.
“We are impressed with those models of working in the community and working with partners,” Knape said.
WMCAT High School alumni Joshua Peoples, who is African American, is being honored with the WMCAT Inspiration Award.
Peoples said he wasn’t doing much outside of school before being introduced to WMCAT when he was a high school senior at University Prep Academy in 2016.
“I wasn’t exposed to these types of things, so I wasn’t looking for them and I didn’t know they existed,” Peoples said.
Now a junior at Ferris State University, Peoples noticed the lack of diversity in STEM programs, especially in his major, computer information systems.
“Even at my school here, if you picked up any random black person and asked them what their major was, they’re more likely going to say criminal justice,” Peoples said. “And I’m like, there’s more than just criminal justice, there’s mathematics, there’s science, all that. But you don’t see those people in those majors.”
Lack of exposure and narrow educational paths is what Peoples said keeps these careers from being more diverse. WMCAT exists in West Michigan to fill this gap in education and opportunity.
“They had all their different cohorts and different things you could explore,” Peoples said, who took the photography and game programming programs.
“My first time there, I did the photography cohort and I wanted to stay in it because I was comfortable with it,” Peoples said. “But they were like, ‘No, you need to choose something else.’ That’s why I ended up joining the game programming cohort. So, I learned how to code and that broadened my horizons.”
Peoples said after college he wants to work in his field for a company, but long-term hopes to leave a lasting impact on his community.
“My ultimate goal is to have my own business, so that I have my own source of income and I can build something for myself and for my community,” Peoples said. “Also I want to commit to a life of philanthropy.”
WMCAT, a nonprofit, is completely funded by outside funding and donations.
“I want to also give that opportunity to the next generation and generations after me, so long as they know to appreciate and understand the value of why people do the things they do for the community and they understand to take advantage of opportunities they’ve been given,” Peoples said.
Knape said Peoples’ work ethic and creative drive is what makes him deserving of the Inspiration Award.
“He’s continuing to lead and make connections,” Knape said. “We’re really excited for his future pathways and the small part WMCAT played in inspiring him to pursue computer information systems as a career.”
People from all over the West Michigan community are invited to celebrate and network at this year’s iBall, which will take place 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5 at 20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Avenue NW. The event will start with a cocktail hour and appetizers, then a sit-down dinner while the WMCAT Awards are presented, and will end with dessert at 8 p.m. and live music from KJ and the Good Time Family Band.
Creative activities and a photo booth will also be available, and those that make a charitable donation will be able to screen print their own t-shirt through WMCAT’s screen printing venture. Tickets start at $125.
Find tickets and more event information at wmcat.org/iball.
What: WMCAT’s 9th Annual iBall
When: March 5, 6 p.m.
Where: 20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Ave NW