Becky Foerster, 46, Executive Director of the Hagerman Foundation, mother of four, and former pre-school teacher and daycare owner, never dreamed she’d be dispersing grant money to people in need.
That’s because, she herself, was once in need.
Foerster knows firsthand the meaning of grim and challenging times, not unlike the people seeking grants from the Hagerman Foundation to improve their literacy, family life, technology, education, revitalization opportunities or other causes. About a decade ago, she escaped a toxic and difficult marriage.
“Life threw a curve ball at me,” she says, “I lost my marriage, my home, my income, my business, my livelihood, and I literally had to reinvent myself.”
“Life has a way of coming full circle. I now get to help people improve their situations through the mission of the Hagerman Foundation.”
Not only did Foerster reinvent herself, she recovered emotionally, spiritually, and financially. She even improved physically – a lifelong vision problem which caused her to endure driving restrictions was unexplainably healed. Foerster attributes it to one of the many miracles on her life’s timeline. However, none of it – the healing and reinvention – happened overnight. And none of it happened without help from others. Which, ironically, is what she does for a living now – help others.
It took time, getting more education than her original bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan-Flint, and going through a slew of jobs – from owning her own daycare business to losing it, to working in a school setting, then as a parent educator, to working as a receptionist at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy and then getting promoted to Diplomat’s wellness coordinator, to finally being offered the dream job opportunity with the Hagerman Foundation. But, through all the changes and unknown events, Foerster survived some of what she calls her most difficult and darkest days.
As the executive director of the Hagerman Foundation since January 2015, she now works with deep compassion and understanding to empower, uplift and offer others a ray of hope to change their own lives. “In my role at the Hagerman Foundation, I’m able to collaborate with community partners and non-profits to help families and live out my life’s passion, which is to be an advocate for underserved children and parents and to promote education and educational opportunities,” Foerster says.
The Hagerman Foundation was formed to see the revitalization of Flint and surrounding communities by partnering with organizations, programs and projects that support the growth of individuals and the culture of the world we live in.
Education, paradoxically, is what she believes saved her and propelled her to be able to eventually leave behind her own participation in Food Bank and Bridge card lines. “I promised myself that needing help and assistance was just temporary. When it seemed as though I’d lost everything, I realized I still had my education,” says Foerster. “I left my home with a few pots and pans and a few of the kids’ toys. I faced the fact that I’d have to start over. I was not going to receive any spousal or child support, but I found a tiny comfort in knowing that I could fall back on my education.”
Leaving her toxic marriage took courage. A turning point came to Foerster when she stood by her sister and brother-in-law’s side as they lost their 11-month-old son. “Losing my nephew really made me stop and realize how short life really is,” says Foerster, who believes his untimely death and the whole journey of grief catapulted her into action. “I knew I had to be the best person I could be,” she adds, “for my sake, as well as my kids’ sakes.”
Besides her education, she realized there was another important resource at her fingertips: people. “People came out to help me move,” she shares. “There was such an outpouring of love from my family, church community, and friends. I was at rock bottom, but I had people there to support me and they embraced me with their own version of love.”
Landing her job at the Hagerman Foundation wasn’t by chance, but, she believes, by the way she built relationships earlier in her career as a pre-school and daycare owner. After having children, Foerster wasn’t fond of the idea of putting them in daycare, so she decided to open her own and bring her kids to work with her. “I thought, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’” she laughs.
She returned to school to receive a degree in early childhood development and admits she fell in love with early brain development and everything associated with learning in the formative years. “The birth through five-year-old child is fascinating,” says the child care entrepreneur, who built her own thriving daycare program from eight families to 120 in a short time. “Those early milestones and brain connections are so important,” she continues. “I wanted my daycare to be known in town as the best, and I worked hard to make it a first-rate, quality learning environment.”
However, after the divorce, she lost her much-loved business. She was devastated. Foerster relied on public assistance and her faith – and one particular scripture verse from Jeremiah 29:11 kept her going: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, and plans to give you hope and a future.”
She dusted herself off and found a way to use her early childhood degree by working part-time in Genesee County’s SKIP program (Success Kids=Involved Parents), but could barely make ends meet. She added another job as a receptionist at Diplomat Pharmacy where she soon was promoted to employee wellness coordinator. “I put a portfolio together and gathered every resource I could to prove how I could enhance the work environment for employees at Diplomat,” she says, adding that she implemented a 12-minute yoga break for employees to de-stress. People noticed her efforts and even though times were tough for her personally, her passion for helping others through her work never wavered. It was while operating and teaching at her preschool that she first met Jocelyn and Phil Hagerman, and then a while later, she worked for Phil, Diplomat’s CEO. A friendship developed and years later, when the Hagermans were seeking an executive director for their newly formed Hagerman Foundation, they went straight to Foerster.
“We knew when we created the foundation that Becky was the right fit for us,” Jocelyn Hagerman says. “We had a front-row seat watching her success through years of adversity and knew she would do a wonderful job because of her high integrity, work ethic and determination. She’s very trustworthy and I knew she could do it.”
Her trust in God’s plan to help her prosper came true. “I was completely honored when the Hagermans approached me about joining their board,” says Foerster. “It was as if everything I’d been through was meant to be. I survived. It was definitely one of those life moments when I realized how blessed I am and how the circle of life comes back around in a beautiful way.”
That inspirational verse from Jeremiah, which is very meaningful to Foerster on many levels, hangs on her office wall and serves as a visual reminder of where she came from and how God helped her get to her new office on the fifth floor of the Dryden Building at 601 Saginaw Street.
Her own struggles and triumphs allow her to show exemplary compassion to her clients.
A day doesn’t go by that she doesn’t remember how people made an impact on her during her own tough times. “Life has a way of coming full circle,” she says. “I now get to help people improve their situations through the mission of the Hagerman Foundation.”
Foerster believes in their mission to help provide a positive legacy for the next generation and she does this for those who are disadvantaged or at-risk through working with community organizations, ministries, churches, schools and advocacy groups. “I try to focus on gaps in funding and select projects that make a big impact to give as many people opportunities to improve their lives as possible,” says Foerster. It’s pretty easy for her to spot where there is a need or where she needs to advocate on someone’s behalf, because not too long ago, she needed someone to advocate for her.
“It chokes me up sometimes,” she says. “It’s a gift to be able to work here and give back so much.”
Photography by Eric Dutro