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Transformando West Michigan helps Latinx restaurants achieve more than a delicious menu

Grand Rapids’ authentic Mexican restaurants serve some of the most delicious cuisine in the area. Traditional recipes, authentic ingredients, and highly seasoned culinary skills are evident in every bite. However, it takes more than good food to make a restaurant a profitable endeavor. Business savvy, marketing know-how, and financial management expertise are important ingredients, as well.

The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is stepping in to provide those skills — in Spanish. Thanks to up to $94,628 in support from the City of Grand Rapids’ Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “Transformando West Michigan Phase I: Feeding Minds, Mouths and Pockets” is currently working with 21 representatives from 11 existing food businesses to provide essential skills for a successful business owner.

“Our support of this program aligns with the City’s commitment to collaborate with entrepreneurial support organizations to serve entrepreneurs at the neighborhood level, create new businesses, and increase the diversity of business types downtown,” says Kara Wood, the City’s managing director of economic development services.

Food businesses participating in the program include El Desayuno Loco, El Globo Restaurant, El Granjero Mexican Grill, El Jalapeño Food Truck, El Toro Bravo, La Casa del Pollo Loco, Lindo Mexico, Mi Casa Restaurante, Tacos El Cuñado Bridge St., Tamales Mary, and Taquería El Rincón Mexicano.

As part of the first phase, Culinary Cultivations will teach ServSafe food safety certification.

“It’s not just business owners but cooks, managers, those who wanted to be a part of this first food safety certification,” says Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber. “These programs focus on established businesses that have been struggling for years with no access to capital, no processes, and no systems in place.”

Cisneros shares that of the 11 restaurants currently enrolled, 80 percent don’t even have a financial strategy.

“They are excellent at cooking. Their food is amazing. But, they don’t know how to grow their businesses. The beauty of this program is that all of the knowledge we are bringing is in Spanish. Ninety percent of the participants in these programs feel more comfortable in Spanish. Sometimes these concepts are hard to understand even in your own language. If we want them to grow and implement processes, they need to fully understand.”

In subsequent phases of the Transformando program, consultants and volunteers will share information about accounting, human resources, marketing, and technology. Having these skills and strategies will also enable the businesses to find financing for building improvements and expansion.

“In order for them to get a loan, they first need to put their systems in place and be organized internally. There's no way for them to get loans because they don’t have a financial statement,” Cisneros says. “It’s is not a racism thing. The businesses are not prepared.”

Cisneros has great gratitude for the partnerships that make the program possible. Funds from the Wege Foundation allowed the Hispanic Chamber to hire a bilingual and bicultural program manager, Ana Jose, to coach all of the program participants. Brewery Vivant, Martha’s Vineyard, MeXo, Restaurant Partners, Inc., and Terra GR are providing volunteer mentors for program participants. Principal Financial is flying Spanish-speaking teachers in from Phoenix, Arizona at no charge. Gordon Food Services and Varnum Law are providing financial support and in-kind services. In addition, the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is sending a professor and business students to help participants write business plans.

“We are bringing incredible partners,” Cisneros says. “The next cohort will include human resources and customer service. Gradually, we will be bringing all of the knowledge and surround all of the businesses with experts. The mentors are volunteers but some consultants are paid. Also, the participants pay a fee in order to be a part of the cohort. It’s not free. There is commitment from these restaurants, as well.”

Launched in May 2018, the Transformando program is a first in the history of the Hispanic Chamber. Its long-standing “Talleres Empresariales,” a monthly business workshop, addresses different topics for all types of businesses on the fourth Thursday of each month. Conducted in Spanish, the workshop includes a free breakfast and one-hour presentation.

“We firmly believe that for the economy of the entire region to prosper, we need each community working at the same pace. If we have a strong Latino business community, we will see the benefits in the economy of the entire region. These businesses will contribute more taxes and hire more people — all will benefit,” Cisneros says. “That’s the main goal, that we can have everyone on the same playing field.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor.

Photos courtesy West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Unexpected duo demolishes stereotypes with their handy-work

As West Michigan’s housing market continues its frenzy of home sales, sellers are anxious to make repairs and improvements that ensure they get top dollar. Handywoman, Kate Kaminski, and handyman, Darius Williams, are two locals doing the work.

Kaminski grew up with tools in her hands — her father and grandfather were both builders, so she found plenty of tools around. While other fathers might object to their daughters playing with saws, hammers, nuts, and bolts, Kaminski’s dad encouraged her inclinations.

“My dad taught me everything. He never told me ‘No,’ that I couldn’t do something,” she says. “I remember as a kid, I’d go in quietly, take the tools, some nails, and go out and build forts and stuff. Dad would be at the window, watching what I was doing, making sure I was okay, but never stopped me.”

After finishing a bachelor of fine arts that focused on sculpture, Kaminski operated a Boyne City gallery shop that featured her own jewelry as well as work by local and international artists. As a next step, she moved to New Hampshire. When her parents disclosed that her father was in the last stages of cancer, she offered to come back to the Grand Rapids area to help. Her mother suggested she move into her grandmother’s empty house and fix it up so they could put it on the market.

“When the Realtor that my mom chose saw what I could do, she told me, ‘I can keep you really busy.’ I thought about it a little bit, decided I could use some work, and it kind of took off from there,” Kaminski says. “We do all that little handy stuff, pound a nail here, put up a door there.”

Work took off so well that Kaminski brought another person on board to help. Darius Williams rounds out Kaminski’s skill-set quite nicely. As a team, they can tackle a very wide range of home fix-it and remodel projects. They are staying so busy that Kaminski has plans to hire a third team member in the spring.

“We do painting, sanding, trim work, laying floors, and tile. We just did some concrete work in a basement,” Kaminski says. “Darius has the same kind of experience that I do. He can do a little plumbing and electrical — he’s a little more knowledgeable than I am with those.”

The duo refers any major or complex electrical and plumbing chores to technicians licensed in those trades.

When Kaminski and Williams knock on a door, some customers are surprised to be face-to-face with a white woman and African-American man. However, once they see their level of expertise, the surprise turns to gratitude and stereotypes dissolve.

“The clients I have been working with have been pretty cool. Most of them are surprised when I come in through the door. On one job, it was so funny watching peoples’ expressions. We kind of surprise them. Once we start doing the work, we get compliments,” Kaminski says. “I’m sure I probably don’t look like the typical handyperson, which kind of goes along with Darius, too.”

Don’t try to find Kaminski online or via social media. She’s too busy working — and finds plenty of work by word-of-mouth.

“I like that every day is different, that I am not in an office building. If I had to sit in front of a computer all day, I’d be drooling on the keyboard,” she says. “I love the different challenges to fix something, improve something. I love seeing the outcome. It’s almost instant gratification.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Kaminski or WIlliams, email the RGM development news editor, Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy Kate Kaminski.


Grant dollars increase local LGBT older adults' access to care and resources

The Grand Rapids Pride Center and the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) are taking action for older LGBT adults thanks to a Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant. SAGE Metro Detroit, in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan, is leveraging the $400,000 to launch a statewide LGBT and Aging Initiative.

In Grand Rapids, the Initiative will support developing a directory of gay and supportive businesses, healthcare providers, and resources that specifically targets older lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender adults. In addition, the Grand Rapids Pride Center will offer trainings at area businesses and healthcare facilities so more LGBT-friendly resources will become available. Trainings have already been held at Arbor Circle, Meijer, Kent County Friend of the Court, and Farmers’ Insurance. The Grand Rapids Pride Center has provided a LGBTQ Resource Directory for all ages since 1988.

“With this program, there is very specific information for older adults,” says Larry DeShane Jr., center administrator of Grand Rapids Pride Center .

In addition, the grant is funding a campaign, “Today is THE DAY,” that encourages older LGBT adults to pick up the phone and call Grand Rapids Pride Center for help connecting with the services they need.

“This initiative really fits inside of our mission of ‘Empowering our LGBTQ community through supportive services and awareness,’” DeShane says. “Sometimes you need directed services. I’ll be 46 years-old this year. I’ll need this — very soon.”

DeShane shares that older LGBT folks face phenomenal hurdles here in Grand Rapids. For one, the State of Michigan offers limited legal protections from discriminatory treatment. While the Michigan Department of Civil Rights recently expanded protections through the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, as soon as it was defined for enforcement, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a formal opinion stating that its protections do not extend to LGBTQ persons.

With many living isolated lives, Michigan’s aging LGBT population often lacks access to appropriate medical and mental health care and other needed resources. Older LGBT folks lived through harsher times. Marriage was not an option. So, many lack the support that a family or partner bring other aging populations.

“They could never hold a partner’s hand in public. Marriage was never even a thought. Thanks to them, I have more,” DeShane says. “Eighty percent of care for older adults, in general, is done by family members … Many LGBT people from this older generation do not have children. If they do, they are four times more likely not to be involved with those children’s lives.”

Because they reasonably fear discrimination, LGBT people often hide their sexuality from their doctors. Therefore, the elderly among them may not get the health screenings that they need.

“We find that many LGBT older adults do not feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and reach out for support only when they are enduring a health crisis,” says Jackie O’Connor, AAAWM executive director. “Not feeling accepted by your local community or personal healthcare provider increases the isolation experienced in LGBT seniors, leaving them at risk for serious health concerns.”

“Also, you’re less likely to tell your doctor the truth,” adds DeShane. “I have a gay doctor because I don’t have to educate him on my needs as a gay man.”

While Pilgrim Manor has recently been reaching out to the LGBTQ demographic, DeShane points out that most local assistive living and long-term healthcare facilities have religious affiliations — and no track record of working with the LGBTQ population. The costs of residential care are often too steep considering that most LGBTQ people are economically disadvantaged, as well.

“If you’re going in, you’re going into the closet,” he says. “I’ve heard accounts of nurses still double gloving and double masking when working with patients with HIV. I heard another account of a [gay man’s] roommate who got violent, screaming that he ‘didn’t want to share the room with a fag.’”

Homebound elderly LGBT people fear repercussions, as well. Many fear for their safety when home healthcare or home repair workers come into their homes. As Grand Rapids has a rising number of housing violations stemming from landlords refusing to rent to LGBTQ tenants, another fear is homelessness.

“A lot of time, they go back in the closet. They have to de-gay their homes,” DeShane says. “It’s quite rancid — to only live openly out for a third of your life and be safe. [Going back in the closet] leads to depression, suicide, suicidal ideation, riskier sexual behaviors, the potential of not protecting yourself, and higher risks for HIV.”

DeShane concludes that the entire Grand Rapids area community benefits when everyone, including its LGBTQ residents, has access to needed resources and care.

“One, you have happier, healthier, more well-adjusted older adults. Two, by reducing barriers to care, including mental health, you reduce stress on the infrastructure. Every time you make people healthier, you reduce costs for everybody. End of life is so much harder for marginalized communities. Why not work towards making it easier? That’s just the right thing to do.”

Those needing services can call Grand Rapids Pride Center, 616-458-3511, or Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, 616-456-5664.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor


Museum School high school on exhibit

On the morning of August 15th, students, teachers, administrators, local officials, and community members celebrated the opening of the Grand Rapids Public Museum School high school in the old Public Museum building, 54 Jefferson Ave. SE.

After the ribbon cutting, highlighted by remarks from 9th graders Jourdin Merrill and Haley Miller, tours and a street party continued the celebration. Those old enough to remember visits to the building when it functioned as a museum appreciated a renovation that has not altered the character of the building.

“The purpose of all the spaces is to be dynamic and used in different ways for different purposes,” says Chris Hanks, Museum School principal.

The main hall remains intact, its display cases updated for exhibits made by the school’s students. North of the main hall, the front half of the first floor is a multi-purpose space for theatre, music, and videography. A large common area and glass-walled rehearsal spaces have all the tech needed to support student projects. Retractable glass doors opening on the main hall open up both spaces for large group activities. The back half provides instructional space and labs for studying existing museum artifacts, processing new artifacts for the collection, and designing exhibits. In addition, the building connects to the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s archives building.

“The students will have a close relationship with (the Public Museum’s) curatorial staff,” Hanks says. “They will bring artifacts here. They will do research on artifacts and learn about protecting and preserving artifacts.”

South of the main hall, a small cafeteria offers limited seating as students and teachers will be encouraged to eat lunch together in collaborative spaces throughout the school. To the front, the design lab brings shop class into the 21st century.

“Design lab is an arts space, a maker space. I think of it like shop class for creative professionals,” Hanks says. “Students will do a lot of computer-based design. We have a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, all sorts of printing, a miter saw, and other tools. A separate clean lab maintains air quality for the 3D printers and laser cutters. We hope our students will start businesses using that equipment, serving small businesses downtown.”

Upstairs, the north wing, dedicated to English, language arts, science, and social studies, has classrooms on either side with a large, casual common space in between. The curriculum is organized for three or four teachers to co-teach 80 to 90 students in different configurations. The south wing is set up for teaching design, tech, and mathematics. Throughout the school, video displays, mics, and speakers give every student front-row access to instruction. Built-in benches along both long upstairs hallways provide further space for students to study or collaborate in small groups.

“It is a different model in the sense that we are trying to break down barriers between teachers and students,” Hanks says. “We encourage them to have lunch together, work together, and collaborate.”

The ribbon-cutting event not only celebrated the Museum School’s expansion but also applauded its status as one of ten XQ Super Schools in the U.S. The XQ: The Super School Project launched in September 2015 as an open call to rethink and design the American high school.

When the public museum was first founded, the Grand Rapids School Board oversaw it; artifacts were displayed at Central High School. When Grand Rapids architect, Roger Allen, designed the 54 Jefferson building in the late 1930s, he created a space that met visitors at street level, symbolizing accessibility and free dissemination of knowledge to all. The GRPS Museum School “utilizes design thinking techniques, an immersive environment, and real-life experiences that inspire passionate curiosity, nurture creative problem solving, cultivate critical thinking, and instigate innovation.”

Reconnecting the historic Grand Rapids Public Museum building with Grand Rapids Public School students both honors its past and continues its original mission into the future.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor


HireReach: Hiring strategy that reduces biases unexpectedly increased diversity

Michigan Works! and Talent 2025 have joined forces to launch HireReach, an initiative based on Mercy Health’s recent successes in revolutionizing its hiring practices. Mercy Health fills 3,200 positions per year, including 2,100 external hires. When the healthcare system developed an Evidence Based Selection Process (EBSP), the goal was to reduce turnover and improve job performance. After its launch in 2010, the EBSP strategy successfully accomplished those goals, in part, by eliminating biases that traditionally hamper the hiring process. With these biases out of the way, Mercy Health also reached another of its hiring goal by surprise: increased diversity. According to HireReach project manager Rachel Cleveland, Mercy Health hired nearly twice as many people of color as it had in years past.

“When Mercy Health first launched EBSP, they were looking to increase the quality of new hires and reduce turnover by finding the right person for the job. That was the focus and reason behind it,” Cleveland says. “However, we started tracking diversity to make sure there were no adverse impacts. What we found was quite the opposite.”

Cleveland agrees that the data shows that lessening personal biases helped to diminish the impact that racism played in the hiring process. Other data reflecting decreased turnover, improved customer satisfaction, and improved employee morale could be interpreted as showing racial discrimination is simply not good for business.

Mercy Health developed the EBSP to “complement the skills and experience of talented recruiters and hiring managers with data-driven methods and analysis.” EBSP evaluates candidates’ skills, knowledge, and abilities while eliminating unconscious bias by removing markers like names and appearance from most of the selection process.

“With EBSP, one of the things that really is valuable is its compensatory approach,” says Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works. “It uses assessments, two interviews, and a reference check and takes the results of all of those to come up with one score. EBSP looks at the candidate holistically instead of cutting them out because of one arbitrary score.”

By organizing open positions into job families with specific competencies, the process screens candidates’ cognitive and character features before they interview. This reduces reliance on personal impressions, which often reflect unconscious bias.

While providing employers the benefits of a more diverse workforce, reduced turnover, improved performance, boosted employee morale, and increased customer satisfaction, EBSP also benefits job seekers and new hires because they are happier doing a job that fits their skill-set and personality traits.

“EBSP ensures they are a good fit. That’s where we see the dual benefit,” Maas says. “It’s all about the job seeker being a good fit so they can grow and be successful in that organization.”

To introduce West Michigan employers to the EBSP initiative, HireReach is hosting four Employer Awareness Workshops: August 22 at Herman Miller in Zeeland; September 12 in Spring Lake; October 3 at ADAC Automotive in Muskegon; and October 31 at Mercy Health St. Mary’s in Grand Rapids. The free, three-hour workshops will provide an EBSP overview, an introduction to HireReach, a panel discussion with Mercy Health, and structured table discussions to help participants plan next steps. For information, email Rachel Cleveland or Whitney White at info@hirereach.org.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos Courtesy Talent 2025, West Michigan Works!


SpringGR launching local entrepreneurs who have ideas and little else

In 2015, Stephanie Dolly and her children flew from Atlanta to Grand Rapids to live closer to family. She did not have a job waiting for her — all she had was an idea and $40 to invest. SpringGR empowered her to take her idea for a custom cake and sweet treats bakery, Dolly’s Delights, from dream to reality. According to Arlene Campbell, the grassroots nonprofit’s chief creator of opportunities, Dolly is now known as the “Willy Wonka of Grand Rapids.” In April 2018, Start Garden chose Dolly as one of its 100 finalists in its “100 Ideas” competition, earning her $1,000 to invest in her business.

 

“She basically had everything against her, no money, nothing,” Campbell says. “She is a great story of drive and tenacity. She didn’t allow obstacles to hold her back.”

 

Dolly is also a great story of SpringGR’s approach to launching Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs into successful small businesses. Its 12-week business training experience teaches people with ideas, like Dolly, who want to start and succeed in their own businesses. The coursework relies on the CO-STARTERS curriculum developed by a similar entrepreneurial training program based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to meeting one evening each week, each participant meets one-on-one weekly with a business coach who helps them dial in on the specifics of their own business idea.

 

“We’re a grassroots business training program,” Campbell says. “We teach the foundations of business, finance, and marketing, and we pair each student with a business coach.”

 

In the five years since SpringGR was founded, 313 area entrepreneurs have graduated the course to establish 206 businesses and create 257 jobs.

 

“We work with people who are at the beginning level. Generally, programs help a more mature entrepreneur — you need a business plan, numbers, a prototype,” says Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment. “At SpringGR, the only requirement is to have a business idea. If you’ve got an idea, come to us. We will help you move it forward.”

 

Obande notes that a third of the past year’s Start Garden’s 5x5 Night winners were SpringGR graduates, as well as 14 of its 100 "Big Idea" finalists.

 

SpringGR offers continuing support to program graduates through a five-week alumni course and promotion of graduate businesses on its website. In addition, alumni form strong relationships that provide an enduring connection for support and networking. For example, a group of eight SpringGR graduates came together to host a successful, minority-focused wedding expo, “Tying The Knot,” at the Richard App Gallery in October 2017.

 

“It’s really fun to watch them support one another, network. It’s grassroots for sure. It just kind of happens,” Campbell says. “They come in not knowing each other and leave as friends. They learn that ‘I really need to surround myself with other like-minded entrepreneurs so I can have the support I need to move my business forward.’ It’s exciting.”

 

SpringGR is still accepting applications for its two, 12-week fall business training courses. On Monday evenings, the course will take place at The Goei Center and Wednesday evenings as part of the Restorers, Inc. programming at Madison Square Church. The course costs $100. Dinner and childcare are provided.

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
 

Photos courtesy SpringGR

 


From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center finds new home in old neighborhood

One of Grand Rapids’ most venerated studios, From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center has found a new home among the treetops on the City’s northeast side at 776 Leonard St. NE. Rick Powell taught the first class—advanced tai chi—in the new second-floor space on July 16. He and his wife, Behnje Masson, have been teaching under the name From the Heart since the mid ‘90s when they met at the Dominican Center on Marywood Campus, where both were teaching classes for its holistic health ministry.

“Marywood provided a great way to introduce yoga to the community and for me to begin teaching in a sacred space,” Masson says. “So many people came through that location that were interested in yoga.”

In 2000, they moved From the Heart into its first brick-and-mortar location on East Fulton street. “We were one of the first storefront yoga studios in the city,” she says.

In 2010, From the Heart moved to 714 Wealthy St. SE with hopes of becoming partner-owners in the building. When, for various reasons, that didn’t work out as planned, they began looking for another location. After three years of searching, Powell noticed the Leonard building and its seemingly vacant second floor as he drove by one day. He did some digging to find the building’s owner, Tommy Schichtel, and messaged him to inquire if the space above his Goon Lagoon Recording Studio might be available.

“He said, ‘Funny you should ask. My wife and I were just thinking about it.’ We met three hours later, went to look at the space, and made a connection,” Powell says. “He needed to have quiet from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. We teach 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then, evenings. It’s a perfect fit.”

Powell and Masson love the old building’s earthy feel, hardwood floors, high ceilings, abundant natural light, and welcoming layout.

“It’s up in the trees, which is a different perspective. The stairway leads to the greeting area, a large studio, a room for talks, a deck, and bathroom. The space flows really nice. It’s gorgeous,” Powell says. “The whole space feels gracious. It’s kind of a homecoming because both Behnje and I were born on the Northeast side.”

Both Powell and Masson have certifications as E-RYT 500 Hatha yoga instructors. Powell began studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi with Master Yen Hoa Lee in 1984. He continues to study with Sifu Lee, whom he considers a father figure, and also assists at classes Lee teaches. “When I was younger, I was quite frequently sick with allergies, circulation issues, and asthma-like symptoms,” Powell says. “Tai chi changed my health. I got extremely strong and healthy. There are also deeper benefits, the feeling like your connected to a flow [of] something larger.”

Powell teaches Tai Chi Jeung, a style that originated in northern China’s Daoist temples. All Tai Chi methods combine the breath, meditation, and movement to find the middle, the center—balance. Finding physical balance helps Tai Chi students feel more centered, grounded, and stable mentally and spiritually as well.

“You flow with things better,” Powell says. “The more rooted you are, the less things knock you over.”

Tai Chi can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression; increase aerobic capacity, stamina, and energy; improve flexibility, strength, balance, and agility; relieve sleep issues and joint pain; and reduce blood pressure and risk of falls.

Masson took her first yoga class 30 years ago. She had been a dancer and wanted to find another way to express herself. While many yoga classes today focus on physical fitness, she sees yoga as a way of life.

“It’s not a trend. It’s a lifestyle. We honor and pass on the traditional arts and honor the countries and cultures that they came from,” Masson says. “We really want to keep the focus on the whole person and how it cultivates you as a human being. That’s why we chose the word ‘center’ not ‘studio.’ It’s about living a well-rounded life and staying connected to something bigger—nature, consciousness, the divine.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center


By Juliette: A stitch in time saves precious memories

A lifelong passion for needle and thread has led local entrepreneur Juliette Cowall in a new direction. Past endeavors have included 20 years as an editor, publishing Grand Gardens magazine in the 2000s, and certifications as a master composter and cannabis specialist. She continues to work as a marketing professional through her own firm, Guided Communications. Today, when not ensuring a client’s website places first in a Google search, her start-up, By Juliette, breathes new life into heirloom garments and textiles.

“My tag-line is ‘Stitching generations together.’ What I do, I take garments that have sentimental value, like wedding dresses or military uniforms, and create something new from them,” Cowall says. “I get them out of the closet and back into people’s lives.”

For example, three siblings had their grandfather’s century-old, Soo Woolen Mills’ red-plaid wool hunting clothes in storage. Last fall, they commissioned Cowall to transform the jacket and three pairs of pants into a messenger bag, knitting tote, two pillows, two Christmas stockings, a lap robe, and a cell phone tote to share among them.

Another customer brought Cowall her late grandmother’s chenille bedspread. As a child, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s home and took naps on the bedspread with her. Cowall turned it into a cozy bathrobe.

“It was sitting in a closet and she didn’t want to let it go. Now, she gets to have her grandma wrap her arms around her every day,” Cowall says. “Sometimes, the family knows what they want and sometimes, I get to be creative.”

As one of nine children, Cowall learned from a mother who spent a great deal of time mending and repurposing garments for the family. Cowall began sewing her own clothes as a teenager—and estimates that 60 percent of her current wardrobe is homemade. She sets Mondays aside for mending, guaranteeing customers that, no matter when they get a mending job to her during the week, she’ll have it back to them on Tuesday. Since launching By Juliette, she has sewn wedding dresses into satchels and ring-bearer cushions, t-shirts into quilts, and men’s shirts into bib aprons.

“The aprons are great for a family who has lost a grandfather or father. Most men have a collection of button front shirts. I cut the sleeves and back off and add ties. Everyone in the family can now have an apron,” she says. “Those same shirts, I use the sleeves for little totes.”

Cowall starts every new project off with a conversation about the garment. What is it? How old is it? What is the customer’s idea for its repurpose?

“Most of the time they have their own ideas,” Cowall says. “You just never know what people are going to hang onto—and what we can do with them.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Juliette Cowall


Biodigesting beer wastes brings City closer to renewable energy goals

The City of Grand Rapids has been recognized as a green city and a beer city. Now that Founders Brewing Co. is sending brewing wastes to the City’s new biodigester, those designations are converging to literally energize the city. Each day, the two-mile-long, 10-inch waste transmission pipeline under Market Avenue SW will deliver approximately 140,000 gallons of water discharge carrying highly concentrated brewing wastes from Founders to the City’s Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) at 1300 Market Ave. SW.

“Most people know how beer is made. You put hops and water in a tank with yeast,” says Mike Lunn, City of Grand Rapids utilities director. “The biodigester heats the wastes from the process to 98 degrees for 15 to 18 days. Bacteria and microorganisms break down the waste and make biogas and you end up with less solids [to dispose of].”

After treating the biogas—gaseous fuel, especially methane, produced by the fermentation of organic matter—the recovered methane will fuel a generator to produce electricity. Lunn calculates that the biodigester will produce 15- to 16-million kilowatts of energy a year, “a good chunk” of the 23-million kilowatts a year used to operate the WRRF facility. As the City adds more biodigester customers, Lunn expects it to provide 100 percent of the WRRF facility’s electricity by 2023, including the energy required to heat the biodigester tanks. This is two years ahead of the City’s goal to provide all energy for City facilities from renewable sources by 2025. The City expects the biodigester project to reduce operating costs mainly by lowering solids volumes by 20 percent and producing electricity savings of $600,000. This Youtube video demonstrates how a biodigester works.

“We’ll also have ability to bring in liquid industrial byproduct that will help,” Lunn says. “The biodigester project is addressing growth in the region. We have a much larger plan. We’d like to start out first year with ten trucks a day and work up to maybe forty or fifty trucks—10,000 gallons each of waste.”

While Founders is the biodigester’s first customer, SET Environmental, also located on Market Avenue, is in line to be the next. The City plans on receiving wastes from additional business customers located along the pipeline.

“It’s been great working with the City of Grand Rapids on the biodigester project,” says Brad Stevenson, Founders' chief production officer. “This coming together of the public and private sectors in the name of sustainability will have a positive impact on the future of our brewery and our city.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development news Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Former Red Lion site to offer attainable housing

Hot diggety dog! Thanks to investment dollars from Michigan Community Capital and a $330,000 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) grant award to the City of Grand Rapids’ Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the former Red Lion restaurant site at 449 - 499 Bridge St. NW will become a red-hot housing destination for people earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.

 

When Ann Arbor-based real estate development firm, 3 Mission Partners, first considered the site, the plan was to do what the company usually does: historic preservation. On closer inspection, 3 Mission partners Liz Marek, Rob Eisman, Jon Carlson, and Greg Lobdell found that restoring the old building would be impossible.

 

“When we got in there, we realized the building was sitting on unstable soil. Its back corner had sunk 15 inches. So, there was not the opportunity to do a historic preservation,” he says. “Another thing happening—a zoning transition allowed us to build a taller building. When we looked at the neighborhood, with the new Meijer store and the New Holland Brewery apartments, it clearly appeared that the best use of the site was to do an infill project with retail on the ground floor and residential above.”

 

The MDEQ grant will help cover the demolition, transportation, and disposal of the contaminated soils. 3 Mission Partners plans on breaking ground for construction in July 2018. In addition to developing real estate, the company owns restaurants and breweries throughout the state.

 

“We have 1,100 employees throughout the state that work for our restaurants,” Lobdell says. “It’s impossible for our people that work at the restaurants to find housing. We understand that firsthand.”
 

In Michigan, the average salary for a server is $8.52 per hour, which is 13 percent below the national average. Line cooks come in at the national average at $11.67. Chefs average $13.23, 16 percent below the national average. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates the living wage in Michigan at $10.87 per hour for one adult. For a single parent raising two children, that amount jumps to $27.77.

Tenants in 55 percent of the new building’s 44 apartments will pay an “attainable” rent of $930 to $965 a month for studio and one-bedroom apartments.

 

“That number is amazing when you consider the costs. We had to acquire the property, then we had to do a lot of ground work and get a construction company to build it. We had to work really hard to get that 55 percent number.”

 

Designed by Grand Rapids' Concept Design - Grand Rapids Architecture & Interior Design, the five-story structure will feature a black brick façade for the MASH bar/lounge’s ground-floor retail space. Large windows will look out on a completely renovated streetscape that will include sidewalk seating area and new street trees. Upper floors sheathed in metal panels will sport balconies projecting from the building.

 

“The apartment interiors will have a very warm industrial-modern feel—wood floors, wood shelving, tile, stainless appliances,” Lobdell says. “There will be a small, shared green space for residents at the rear of the building.”

 

Michigan Community Capital, a nonprofit organization, lends and invests “in income diverse, race diverse, and occupationally diverse communities to counter gentrification and create upward mobility and wealth building opportunities for underserved individuals and families in Michigan.” The project is expected to create 20 full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs with wages ranging from $15 to $30 per hour as well as 40 to 50 temporary construction jobs. An estimated $11.4 million in private investment will also fund the development.

 

Though based in Ann Arbor, Lobdell is excited about being involved in a Grand Rapids project that will result in attainable housing. “We spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids—we like Grand Rapids a lot,” Lobdell concludes. “We’re really excited about this growth of the West Side. It’s an up-and-coming, nice neighborhood. We met with neighborhood groups, got good comments and feedback. The city of Grand Rapids has been great to work with, very encouraging.”

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Design and rendering courtesy of Ghafari // Concept Design


AMS renovation supports collaboration, reflects its culture, and lets the sunshine in

Mechanical contracting firm, Allied Mechanical Services (AMS) recently completed a 4,673 square-foot renovation that included nine private offices and two workstations at its Grand Rapids site, 3860 Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Drive SE. Custer Inc., a provider of workplace design, office furniture, integrated technology, and interior remodels, oversaw the project. To better support its upbeat, collaborative culture, AMS asked for a design that would open up space, bring natural light to every workstation, and integrate technologies that allowed them to livestream meetings with its Kalamazoo office. Custer interior designer, Heather Harrington, says that the AMS remodel reflects a trend among West Michigan industries that are finding creative ways to utilize a limited footprint.

“Creative solutions in the industrial sector are becoming increasingly evident as company real estate shrinks along with multiple generations trying to work together,” Harrington says. “This means allowing people the choice to work in a space that encourages focus/heads-down work with little distraction or open collaborative work with access to quick conversation and feedback.”

Factors impacting those design decisions include budget, available real estate, potential for growth, the company’s generational make-up, and building codes.

“The spaces in which people work, along with furniture and technology, should work in harmony to empower people to do their best work,” she says. “Based on a company’s goals for growth and success, there is a need to specifically design space to help influence productive behaviors.”

Constructed with glass walls and no ceilings, AMS’ private offices face each other so that staff find it easy to catch a fellow team member’s attention. A central, open area provides collaborative space. Before the remodel, some AMS offices had no windows. The redesign brings sunshine to every office in the building.

“Access to sunlight can make a large impact on productivity. The sun influences our circadian rhythms, which ties into our mood and behavior,” Harrington says. “Access to daylight is a great way to provide employees with stimulation and helps reduce stress levels. You can see how this would translate to employee health with the potential for decrease in illness and overall happier workers.”

Another important facet of the project, integrating technology into the redesign, not only considered how content would be shared within meeting spaces, but also incorporated sound-masking to reduce noise levels throughout the office.

“When integrating technology into an office or workspace, it’s important to consider how the space is going to be utilized and what the user is trying to accomplish,” Harrington says. “Is it a formal or informal meeting space, is content being shared, is audio important? Does the space need to encourage a more active meeting? In that case, we would want to influence brainstorming and potentially the means to save that type of behavior digitally.”

While Custer handled the renovation, Harrington notes that AMS staff played an active role in the project. AMS directed Custer to use pipes, like those used in the mechanical systems they sell, as elements in custom cupboards and shelving. In addition, AMS built its own custom metal conference table.

“Allied Mechanical is on the leading edge when it comes to construction technology and we wanted our office to reflect our commitment to innovation. The Custer team did an excellent job incorporating design elements that reflect our company’s values,” says Steve Huizinga, president of AMS. “We are proud of our company culture, so it was also important for us to design a work environment that supports collaboration and employee engagement.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Tara West, Custer Inc.

 


Fulton Street Farmers Market "Summer Night Series" headlines market upgrades and improvements

The Fulton Street Farmers’ Market kicks off its 2018 summer season with additional parking, nine new bike racks, upgrades to bathrooms, and improved wayfinding signage. Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters is also taking over coffee service with new brewers and grinders, as well as eco-friendly cups. And, from June 13 through August 22, through a collaboration with GR Loves Food Trucks and the Midtown Neighborhood Association, the market will host a Summer Night Series from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“We’ll have six food trucks, farms, and artisans sprinkled throughout, [with] games and live music,” says Rori Weston, executive director and market manager for the market. “It will be a nice, fun night market series, a little more interactive and fun for the whole family.”

The market has also signed on more than 15 new vendors—farmers, artisans, and cottage foods vendors selling items like baked goods, jams, and preserved relishes.

“We’re welcoming new vendors, that was not done openly in the past,” Weston says. “We’re expanding into the market’s head house to accommodate more vendors.”

One of those new vendors, Jennifer Machiele, launched her baking business, Jen’s Cookie Jar, at the market this spring. A former pastry chef for Charlie’s Crab and Louis Benton Steakhouse, Machiele grew up in Muskegon where her grandmother ran Tyler’s Home Bakery in the 60s and 70s.

“By the time all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren came along, she no longer had her bakery but she had a home business in her breezeway,” Machiele recalls. “I always loved playing bakery.”

Machiele bakes the cookies and scones she vends at the Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen. Though the chocolate chip always sell out first, she considers her pecan hora her signature cookie.

“It is a recipe that my grandma passed down," she says. "I love that cookie! Grandma baked them for us for every year at Christmas. Every time I bake them, my daughters say, 'It smells like Christmas in here.'"

Other market perks include a rolling book-cart—a portable lending library of cookbooks and gardening books—and Friday cooking demos with the YMCA. The market accepts all food assistance programs, participates in Double Up Food Bucks, and employs a student navigator to assist those shopping with SNAP/Bridge Card benefits.

The Fulton Street Farmers Market's regular hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Come for the cookies but stay for the fresh produce, meats, dairy products, baked goods, flowers, and plants. (A full list of vendors is available on the market's website.) On Sundays through September 30, the Artisan Market features local artists and crafters from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Fulton Street Farmers Market and Grand Rapids Downtown Market


Grand Rapids seeks WHO age-friendly community designation

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about older adults. Its age-friendly community designation initiative is one way the international body is addressing that concern. The City of Grand Rapids plans on earning that designation. In early May, the City Commission unanimously approved the first step by creating an Age-Friendly Advisory Council. Their goal will be to develop a community action plan that makes Grand Rapids a great place for older adults.

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly brought the idea back to the commission in 2015, after hearing about the initiative during the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Livable Communities National Conference.

“Ruth Kelly said, ‘We’re already doing this in Grand Rapids so we should talk about it more,’” says Ginnie Smith, Age-Friendly Communities coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids. “Last fall, our local AARP chapter, the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, and various city, nonprofit, and neighborhood leaders put together 23 listening events involving 300 older adults.”

The events garnered more than 2,000 responses from intentionally diverse demographics concerning four of the eight domains that the WHO initiative addresses: housing, transportation, communication and information, and outdoor spaces and buildings. Survey methodology included engaging participants in a specially designed board game, GrandyLand.

Mayor Rosalyn Bliss showed her support of the initiative by naming Where We Live – Communities for All Ages as her 2018 Mayor’s Book of the Year.

“This is an exciting next step in our journey to becoming an age-friendly community,” she says. “We need to make sure our seniors are living healthy, productive lives and that they have a voice in how we do that.”

According to WHO, “An age-friendly world enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age.” From this perspective, American society does not gain high marks. While other societies confer special status on elders because of their wisdom and experience, here “seniors” are routinely stereotyped as cute, comic, cantankerous, helpless, or obsolete—especially in popular media. The WHO’s age-friendly initiative not only addresses ageism but also serves as a platform for cultural change.

The other four areas that WHO addresses transcend the built environment to include social participation; respect and social inclusion; community and health services; and civic participation and employment. Concerning the latter, older adults who want or need employment find that ageism is hard to beat. Despite research confirming that older adults offer more experience, confidence, dependability, and loyalty, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics has documented age-discrimination in hiring, especially for women and those older than age 64.

“Not all (elders) are wanting to retire but they don’t want to work 70 hours a week, either. They are looking for part time, flex-time, or to work seasonally,” Smith says. “We’re seeing a lot of overlap between what older adults want and what millennials want—in services, access to transportation, and having community connections.”

Because millennials are in queue a few decades behind the baby boomers, joining in to make Grand Rapids an age-friendly city is equally as important for them as for their parents and grandparents. A community where everyone can grow up and grow old with expectations of equity and respect, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age, is a community that’s healthier and happier for all.

Written By Estelle Slootmaker, Development Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Artist, designer debuts Kindel Furniture collection at High Point

Throughout a career spanning more than three decades, Jeffery Roberts has expressed himself through fine art, interior design, fashion design, and furniture design. In April, Kindel Grand Rapids debuted its Jeffery Roberts Collection at the High Point Market, the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. While Roberts has long included furniture design in his repertoire, this occasion marked its first availability to the marketplace at large.

“High Point was awesome. The collection was well received. We got great input and we even got some orders,” he says. “It’s been a real positive experience to be able to work with a manufacturer that understands luxury and high-end manufacturing—it’s American-made, it’s local. For me, those are all strong attributes of what I want my furniture to be about.”

Roberts’ residential and commercial commissions have earned him a loyal international clientele. As co-founder and principal designer of Robave, a Chicago-based lifestyle business, he provided designs to more than 200 boutique and specialty shops nationally. Roberts’ work has been featured in The New York Times Style Magazine, American Craft Magazine, and many other publications.

Roberts approaches furniture design like he approaches any other medium, from an artist’s viewpoint, i.e., creativity expressing a message through execution.

“In various ways, in furniture it shows up with the execution of finishes, the style, and design of the pieces, from, for example, an architectural point of view, a reclaimed point of view, or scale and exaggerated size of some of the components to express a feeling,” he says. “I think for me, (furniture design) is another very logical avenue of expressing my art and what I see as a continuation of my design career.”

Kindel Grand Rapids’ Jeffery Roberts Collection includes soft goods like sofas and chairs, end tables, side tables, cocktail tables, an antique-inspired library table, and a long, hall console with architectural origins. Roberts’ reverence for history and nature is inherent in his designs.

“I’ve started a collection that’s very much about emphasizing lifestyle versus pieces or individual components. It’s about expressing the Jeffery Roberts lifestyle,” Roberts says. “You can mix and match pieces or use them individually. Definitely, there’s an eclecticism that allows you to have an eccentric mix of finishes and styles that keep it from looking like you bought a ‘set’ of furniture.”

While his furniture collection is not yet available in any Grand Rapids retail locations, the High Point Market has introduced it nationally. Those who would like to purchase it locally can contact Roberts directly.

“I’m my own dealer,” he says.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos and video courtesy Jeffery Roberts Design.


Corridor Improvement Authority takes on South Division, Burton, Hall, and Grandville Avenue business

Those old enough to remember South Division Avenue between Hall and 28th Street in the ‘50s and ‘60s recall a vibrant business destination. People from Grand Rapids and Wyoming went to movies at the Four Star Theatre, shopped the Woolworths five-and-dime, or had lunch at Kewpee’s Restaurant. The area’s current business and property owners are working to make it a destination once again through the establishment of the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority.

In 2005, the Michigan Legislature established Public Act 280 “Corridor Improvement Authority Act” to prevent deterioration in business districts, encourage historic preservation, and promote economic growth in districts with roadways designated as corridors. The City of Grand Rapids has five areas that meet the requirements for establishment as Corridor Improvement Districts (CID). On the north side, one CID includes Creston, Chesire, and a portion of North Monroe neighborhoods. The West Side CID includes Stockbridge, West Fulton, Bridge, and Seward areas. East Michigan Street comprises a third CID while the Uptown, East Fulton, Wealthy, and Eastown neighborhoods form a fourth. Being designated as a CID allows a business district to organize and receive City funds for improvements that provide economic opportunities.

“These districts have been a big success. They have a formal organizing authority, so they now have the ability to realize revenue from the City. The City makes that contribution annually,” says Kara L. Wood, managing director, Economic Development Services for the City of Grand Rapids. “Some of the successes have been in marketing and promotion of the district. Others have been in building public infrastructure like bike racks and trash receptacles. These dollars have also funded events for the businesses to generate traffic.”

Earlier this month, the city commission established the fifth—and Grand Rapids’ last—area designated as a CID. The South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority encompasses an area between Hall and 28th streets and the Grandville Avenue business corridor between Wealthy Street and Clyde Park Avenue, with both corridors connected by Hall and Burton streets.     

Prior to establishing the new CID, the City formed a small leadership team that included business and property owners from the district. Through a year-long process that included a series of visioning sessions and three public input meetings, they built a framework for work on an area specific plan that describes how they want their district to look and feel. These stakeholders believe having a Corridor Improvement Authority will bring about of a safe and walkable corridor, improved and enhanced public infrastructure, and thriving locally-owned businesses. The City hopes the CID will prevent further infrastructure deterioration, encourage neighborhood economic growth, and preserve the area’s unique identity.

“They want it to feel welcoming for all businesses and be an exciting place to do business,” Wood says. “The focus of these authorities in on the business aspect as opposed to residential, as a foundation for improving the district.”

Now that the City has established the new Corridor Improvement Authority, the city commission can seat its actual board members, who will then meet to set plans in motion. Ideas for improvement discussed during the public input meetings included improved lighting, art and murals, bilingual wayfinding signs, traffic calming measures, improved walkability, more parks and green spaces, roofed benches at bus stops, and trash receptacles.

“Hopefully, the CID will attract new businesses who are willing to invest long term and give back to a community investing in them while building unity,” says Synia Jordan, CID steering committee member. “Utilizing the CID is one way our business district might leverage beautification efforts, which will attract the attention of visitors who may be willing to spend money in our area on a continual basis.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids

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