Flint native learned -- and is committed to spreading -- the idea of giving back to the community

FLINT, Michigan -- Like many young athletes, Flint native Kenneth Vaughn always envisioned himself playing college and professional sports as a kid. Vaughn played four years of varsity football at Flint Northern.

When college football wasn’t an option, though, he had to re-evaluate. And his experiences as a student at Michigan State University gave him the ability to constantly seek out and take on new challenges.

Kenneth Vaughn works in development for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.After graduating in 2011 and working for three years at Enterprise Holdings, he had the chance to return to his alma mater -- and he wasn’t intimidated by the nature of the opportunity, even if it was one that was unfamiliar to him.

“I grew up on the northside of Flint, so I’m not someone who comes from a rural area or knows anything about agriculture,” said Vaughn, who accepted a development position with Michigan State’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2015. “I was very intrigued (by the position) because I wanted to learn something different.”

Vaughn learned the role, and also saw how it could connect and help other institutions. He began serving in the National Agricultural  Alumni Development Association (NAADA), a professional organization, and helped start a diversity, equity, and inclusion position on their board. He also helped make connections between larger institutions and smaller ones.

“In agriculture, a lot of historically Black institutions (HBCUs) have agricultural schools,” he said. “And when it comes to my space of major gift fundraising, they have not always been well-versed in private fundraising and major gift philanthropy. I knew that if we got a lot more of our HBCUs and historically Black land grant institutions involved in our program, then they would get a little bit further when it comes to fundraising.”

Vaughn then gained more experience in fundraising, higher education, and agriculture by accepting a development role at Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. 

Now, though, Vaughn has brought his collection of experiences back to his hometown of Flint, where he recently started as a development officer with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. In the role, he’ll be focused on major gift fundraising in programs that support education, mentoring, and other philanthropic initiatives in the city, including the Flint Promise Scholarship.

Part of his excitement stems from being able to find funding for programs for kids who are just like he once was -- Flint students who just need opportunities to find their passions.

“I'm excited to work on this because I would have loved to have been a student who received the Flint Promise Scholarship,” Vaughn said. “My job is to help create opportunities for kids who don’t have those opportunities, so that they can secure the funding and support they deserve.”

Though he’s still early in his career, Vaughn has also provided individual support for future college students. He created a scholarship that kids from Flint and Genesee County who get accepted to Michigan State can apply for. He also has frequently given his time as a mentor and volunteer in the community.

He notes that even if people early in or in the middle of their careers don’t always realize that there are ways they can give back beyond just donating money to causes. Providing mentorship or volunteering or even setting up an internship program with your company are all ways people can get involved in supporting youth.

“The first thing I like to let them (people new to giving) is that philanthropy is your time, your talent, or your treasure,” Vaughn said. “A lot of people think when it comes to philanthropy, it’s just about writing a check. But what a lot of people don’t know is that when you start giving your time or your talents somewhere, that’s actually philanthropy too. You’re volunteering to share your knowledge, and that can impact so many lives.”

Vaughn is also an example of a Flint native who left the city to work and gain knowledge, but felt it was important to bring back what he’s learned in other roles and put down roots in his hometown and stressed the importance of family. He lost his father to COVID-19 last year, and his mom recently moved back to the area, so working in Flint allows him to be closer to family. He’s also engaged and he and fiance Annisha Russell are planning their wedding.

“I love Flint,” Vaughn said. “My hope is that people understand that I chose to come back here, it was purposeful. I think the biggest thing that I hope that anybody could ever pull from me is the fact that it's important for us to leave our city to gain knowledge and come back and implement that knowledge in our community.”

Connect with Vaughn on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.