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Power to the people: WestSide Collaborative & Harmony Hall launch fundraiser for neighborhood grants



If you are looking to contribute to a local, grassroots cause this holiday season, it doesn’t get more local and more grassroots than the partnership between Harmony Hall and the WestSide Collaborative. 

For the month of December, Harmony Hall will be selling ornaments to raise funds for the WestSide Collaborative’s resident empowerment grant program, with empowerment being the key word.
 
The WestSide Collaborative is a group of local nonprofits and neighborhood organizations located in, and working on, the west side of Grand Rapids that seeks to address the marginalization of west side residents due to the concentration of power held by entities and individuals other than the residents themselves.

Sergio Cira-Reyes, of the WestSide Collaborative, says the grant program will fund programs designed by residents and for residents of the west side of Grand Rapids. “The goal is to connect residents with other residents to improve the neighborhood and build community,” he says.
 
These efforts come at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explained the tension behind the changes occurring on the city’s west side.

Cira-Reyes says this new program is open to all west side residents living in an area that is roughly west of the Grand River, north of Wealthy Street, south of Richmond, and east of Valley.  Ideas and applications for the  empowerment grants program are submitted on their website and then the neighborhood votes to see which project will be awarded up to $1,000. 

As far the types of projects that can be submitted, Cira-Reyes says it is up to the people living in the neighborhoods.  “If they want to fund a mural, to build pride, and they can get the residents energized to vote, that is fine,” he says.
 
Cira-Reyes encourages anyone submitting ideas to think of proposals that will bring the neighborhood together, whether it is, for example, a repurposing existing spaces for soccer fields or improving local parks. “It’s really about residents addressing the issues in the neighborhoods,” he says. “We want to build a culture so that if there is a problem in the community we can get together and fix it.”

Heather Van Dyke-Titus, co-owner of the west side’s Harmony Hall, says this is exactly the type of program her business believes in supporting. “The WestSide Collaborative are old school organizers,” she says. “They are raising money and working on projects that directly impact the neighborhoods.”

Harmony Hall will kick off the fundraiser with a celebration on Dec. 8. The event will feature the local band The Bootstrap Boys playing holiday music from 6-9 pm, the release of the Gingerbread Brown beer, and festive food specials. Representatives from the WestSide Collaborative will be present to share information about the grant program.

Submissions for ideas close on Dec. 16. The top ideas, as voted by the residents, will be pitched to a panel of judges, which will include people living in the neighborhood, to determine the winner of the grant on Jan. 19. Cira-Reyes says organization has a full-court press to get the word out about the grant, including meetings with students in the local middle school and Union High School. 

To learn more, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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