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Latinx Restaurant Roundup

Our city has a wide array of immigrants from around the world, and we are enriched with the diversity of culture that each group brings to our neighborhoods and business districts. The most easily recognizable contribution is culinary diversity. 

Grand Rapids, and the Greater Grand Rapids Area is fortunate to have a great extent of food options from Latin America. We have varying styles of Mexican cuisine, El Salvadoran, Dominican—and if you know where to look and who to ask you can find Honduran, Cuban and Guatemalan.

Some of these food spots will have to remain secret and hidden in the secret phone lists and Facebook groups that are spread throughout the city, but we have plenty of brick and mortar restaurants serving up amazing authentic food.

Here’s a small taste, pun most certainly intended, of the Latinx restaurants in the city, as well as the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Taqueria San Jose - 1338 Division Ave S
A charming appeal as if you are going to an old drive in, but you’ll have to walk in and wait in line for the tasty array of all the familiar Mexican foods. This southside gem has long been discovered by Grand Rapidians, so be ready to wait if you hit rush hour.

Tacos El Cuñado - 1024 Bridge St NW, 455 Burton St SW,  and Downtown Market)
With three locations, it’s hard to beat the array that this city staple serves up daily—from the westside to the southside and in between. 

Luna - 64 Ionia Ave SW
Come in for the pozole and stay for the city life vibes. 

El Globo Restaurant - 2019 Division Ave S
Tucked further away in the southside, this Burton Heights restaurant is right off the Silverline stop for your lunch rush convenience.



Mi Casa Restaurante - 334 Burton St SW
In the heart of Burton Heights, this cozy caribbean restaurant serves up everything from fried sweet plantains to stewed goat. A must try if you are in the neighborhood.

El Granjero - 950 Bridge St NW
A westside favorite, this restaurant has had a recent remodel and has never looked better. Come in and have your pick from an assorted menu.

Mi Tierra - 2300 Division Ave S
On the edge of Burton Heights, this quiet restaurant will leave you full and coming back for more.

Maggie’s Kitchen 636 Bridge St NW
A westside staple that will keep you coming back for more.

El Rincon Mexicano Taqueria - 2055 28th St. SE
Serving up great Mexican standards that will leave you wanting to come back.

Lindo Mexico - 1292 28th St Wyoming, MI
A pleasant atmosphere highlighted with local artwork, this restaurant is located just southwest of Grand Rapids proper.

Tamales Mary - 1253 Burton St SW Wyoming
Specializing in tamales both savory and sweet. It is sure to be a treat if you’ve never had a sweet tamale before.

As our city continues to grow business districts will begin to solidify where they were once in decline. If you have been keeping track of the locations provided many of the Latinx restaurants are located on the southside of the city, and as Burton Heights begins a revival we may see a flourishing of new Latinx restaurants and shops. Only time will tell, but the prospect has many excited already.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Blaquebox - A new way of #buyingBlack and boosting the economy for all

As Black Entrepreneurship month wraps up, we want to share with you another way members of our community are addressing lack of economic capital and empowering their communities through something as simple as a “Blaquebox,” a subscription box of products sold by black-owned businesses delivered to your door in a black box.

Sonja Forte, resident of Grand Rapids and founder of “Blaquebox,” is using her entrepreneurial skills to build wealth within the black community while creating an easily accessible opportunity to buy from black-owned businesses. According to Forte, the long-term impact for the Blaquebox is a mindset change.

“Unfortunately, Black people have been told and often times, convinced that they are subpar, unworthy, not enough, and incapable. The goal is to restore and rebuild confidence, pride, and faith in our community. The mindset change will spill over to the economic arena,” says Forte.

According to a 2015 study from The Pew Research Center, based on an analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black individuals earn about 75 percent of what white individuals earn per hour. In other words, for every $1.00 a white man makes, a black man makes 75 cents. The wage gap is even greater among women: white women on average earn $17 per hour and black women are at a $13 per hour. When using our economic capital to buy from black-owned businesses, we help employ more black people and consequently, become a part of wealth-building for communities who have been systematically excluded from accessing equitable economic capital.

For the cost of $44 dollars every other month, subscribers receive three to five products to their doors. Each box has a specific theme for that time of the year.

“May was a brunch-themed box (there are a lot of Mother's day brunches) which included a Waffle Mix from Alaska, a Lapel Pin, Organic Honey, Fennel Seeds, Wax Melts, and a Chicken Fry Mix (what are waffles without chicken?),” says Forte.

Customers can also purchase special, one-time boxes at various price points. Products are sourced from across the globe, including from the city of Grand Rapids. Additionally, folks can find out through social media information about various black-owned business, causes, and community initiatives.

“My hope is that the Blaquebox can be a go-to source when it comes to black-owned businesses: be it discovery through knowledge or experience. We want to grow to be a trusted source,” says Sonja Forte.

To find out more about Blaquebox and how you can subscribe, visit www.blaqueboxsubscription.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Blaquebox.
 

“Black Girls Be Like” – A love letter to Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Black Girls Be Like” is the title for Racheal Floyd’s debut feature film, or what she calls, “a love letter to Grand Rapids.” Floyd, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids, tells the story of Ta’Sheena, a young black girl growing up in the “hood” of Grand Rapids. The film is currently in pre-production stages expected to be released in the Winter of 2018.

The films begins with Ta’Sheena finishing up her last year of middle school, providing us glimpses of the how she’s fighting to find a place to be the girl she wants to be. Battling against the identities dictated by her environment, we see Ta’Sheena learn about herself and find the freedom she has always dreamed.

“We're living in a time in American history where marginalized people don't feel safe in this country,” says Floyd.

For the young film-maker, the story of Ta’Sheena is personal, as she remembers growing up and having little to no content representing girls like herself. “As a filmmaker it’s been a personal mission statement for me to create content that little girls can look up to, see themselves in, and be empowered by,” says Floyd.

Floyd, the brain behind the film, has teamed up with local filmmakers Virginia Anzengruber, Elizabeth Merriman, and Thom McGuire to produce Floyd’s love letter to Grand Rapids.

“I plan on making it as ‘Grand Rapids’ as possible. I want to incorporate the culture, the community, and how it feels to grow up there,” says Floyd, who is currently based in Atlanta.

Anzengruber, producer of the film, sought to get involved with this film to help make change in diversifying the industry, and ultimately help empower young women and girls facing racism and oppression.

In the words of Floyd, this film is coming at a time when people of color and people with marginalized identities are being represented more than ever helping create the stage for a production like Black Girls Be Like.

“This story needs to be told no just for black girls, but for every person that's ever had a dream or ever had a desire to better themselves and improve their situation by hard work and determination,” shares Floyd.

To find out more about how to support this film please visit the website at www.BGBLmovie.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


A guide to GR's black-owned businesses

Showing up for each other economically is one of the ways we can ensure livability and economic prosperity for our community as a whole. To celebrate our talented entrepreneurs and commemorate Black Entrepreneurship Month, we have crafted a short guide of a few of our favorite local black-owned food establishments working hard to satiate our taste buds!

 

Ellnora's Kitchen - 547 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in grilled meat, ribbed tips, pork chops, turkey knuckles, and chicken—here you can find homemade soul food with every side imaginable of greens, macaroni cheese, potato salad, spaghetti or black eyed peas. A locally owned restaurant, this joint is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am-9pm or until thefood runs out. Catering is also available upon request.

 

Ma’Dear Soul Food – 817 Franklin Street SE

Serving up the award winning barbeque, the southeast community knows as Sandman’s, this joint serves up home-made soul food. The restaurant located near the corner of Eastern and Franklin street and serves barbeque every Wednesday through Saturday. Every Sunday, you can expect to be served their soul food specialty home made grilled chicken with barbeque and a side of warm mashed potatoes.

 

Irie Kitchen - 6630 Kalamazoo Ave SE

If you are looking for some local Jamaican delicacy, look no further than Irie Kitchen. They promise to provide you with healthy, non GMO food every time. They also offer vegetarian options filled with flavors unique to Jamaica. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Icons Coffee – 2433 Eastern Ave SE

Located in the Alger Heights neighborhood, this eclectic coffee shop features ice chai tea lattes, bubble tea, blackberry vanilla lavender lemonade shaken iced tea, and of course the all-time crowd favorite: a good warm cup of coffee. At this joint you can also find eight delicious Hudsonville ice cream flavors, D’arts Donuts, and bagels. Open Tuesday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays until 9 p.m. and Sundays until 7 p.m.

 



Go-Jo Ethiopian Cuisine
- 956 Fulton St E

Offering traditional Ethiopian dishes all served with Injerra, Ethiopian flatbread. Expect to get your hands messy if you want to enjoy your meal the traditional Ethiopian way. If you call ahead, you also also have the opportunity to observe an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a daily tradition to welcome visitors. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available upon request.

 

Local Mocha Coffee – 96 Monroe Center NW, Suite 100

A downtown Grand Rapids stable, this coffee shop specializes in serving premium, fairtrade and organic coffee. Also offering fruit smoothies, home-made tomato soup and chili, delicious espresso drinks with homemade chocolate and caramel. Opened 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Malamiah Juice Bar - Downtown Market / 435 Ionia St SW | Suite #128

Located inside Downtown Market, this family-owned juice bar offers specialty juices and smoothies to help you glide with energy all day. Or, if you are recovering from a particularly long weekend, you can pick up a quick booster shot packed full of vitamins and minerals. This Juice Bar unlike any other juice bar, partners with local organization to hire and employ youth from the community and provide them with meaningful employment. Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 



Boston Square Ice Cream & Café
– 1553 Kalamazoo SE

Looking for a new place to grab brunch? Visit Boston Square Ice Cream & Café and get a taste of their delicious Boston Big Breakfast of home-made eggs, pancake, sausage, and crispy hashbrowns. Breakfast and lunch are served all day. A welcoming feel to all visitors, expect to be greeted by cheerful staff. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday for Soul Food from 12 to 6 p.m.

 

Daddy Pete’s BBQ - 2921 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in delicious, Southern, slow-smoked meats served with a homemade, finger-lickin’ BBQ sauce, Daddy Pete’s is a must-visit. You can also find their smoked meats at their food truck. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

 

Load-A-Spud - 2919 28th Street

Hungry for a loaded potato or a loaded tacos? Visit Load-A-Spud or schedule a delicious delivery of hearty potatoes and all the toppings you can think of. Offering delivery and catering or dine-in service—you can enjoy a loaded potato from anywhere. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m.


Creston Brewery - 1504 Plainfield Avenue NE

If you are looking to quench your thirst with a cold beer, or a cider on the northeast side of town make sure to check out this brewery. Featuring seven hot sauces ranging from mild spiciness to dangerously hot. Vegan and vegetarian dishes also available for those with dietary restrictions. It’s ample and beautiful space outside and in is just the perfect atmosphere to host your next work meeting. Open Monday through Thursday 12-11p.m., Saturdays 11-12 a. m., and Sundays 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

 

If you are looking for more local black-owned restaurants, and businesses check out Grand Rapids Area Black Business (GRAAB) directory here. This list has been collaboratively compiled thanks to Jamiel Robinson, founder of GRAAB.
Let us know if we missed your favorite spot in the comments!


Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


Meet Rachael Miller: Full-stack developer who isn't afraid to represent

“Helping humans do amazing things has been embedded in software’s DNA from the very beginning. Becoming one of the people that enables that kind of human advancement was a no-brainer for me.” – Rachael Miller, Software Consultant & Developer at Atomic Object.
 
This week, we conclude our three-part series on local women in the tech industry who are taking strides to empower, create, and do good. Meet Rachael Miller, a transplant to Grand Rapids. Miller, originally from Oxford, Michigan on the east side of the state, moved here after completing her undergraduate studies to begin her career as a developer. 

Miller, a full-stack developer, has been coding for the past seven years, and credits her success in the industry to being exposed to technology's potential to help humans do amazing things.
 
At Atomic Object, Miller is what the small, West Michigan company calls a “generalist, in other words, the focus of her work falls under the umbrella of’ 'whatever the customer needs.’” A graduate from the highly competitive computer science program at University of Michigan, Miller has developed the expertise to work in each layer of software technology.
 
The developer extraordinaire stays in Grand Rapids because she wants to contribute to a small, local economy.
 
“There’s interesting technical work, there are growing local companies in need of talented technologists, and the economy is such that laying down roots with eventual homeownership doesn’t have to be a pipe dream,” says Miller “Having spent some time there, I can’t say as much for the West coast. I think that elements of the Silicon Valley culture can be unwelcoming, and even hostile to women."
 
“What makes that easier is having other people to ‘share the pain’ with," she adds. "if there are other women developers around, I don’t have to bear the weight of being the token women developer for all speaking engagements and outreach efforts.”
 
To help address the lack of representation of women in the field, Miller tries to be as visible as she is able to and get to know as many women in the industry as possible. By building relationships with other women, and talking about her own experiences, Miller believes she can be part of the solution through representation.
 
“I want to be visible as a representative, so that other women know they’re not alone,” shares Miller.
 
“There isn’t one way to be a developer,” she adds. By having a representation of diverse work styles, women and girls can have the opportunity to be different and get to see their approach to technology isn’t wrong. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Local firm Mindscape redefines marketing through relationship building

Mindscape, a 17-year old digital marketing firm located on Grand Rapids' West Side, has been upping its game with community involvement. Offering services that educate its clients, but also engaging community members for free, Mindscape is in hot pursuit of better digital marketing for everyone.

"We're always looking for opportunities to engage the community," says CEO Pete Brand. With this in mind, Brand developed various content marketing workshops for small business owners, nonprofits, and marketing professionals who want to make the jump from traditional marketing and learn "how to navigate the digital space effectively," says Brand. Mindscape also provides training for inbound marketing strategy.

In addition to paid training, Mindscape has expanded their educational opportunities to be accessible to all. "We made the decision that we'd like to teach other people as well so we can not just help the people that are paying us," says Brand.

Two years ago, Mindscape began facilitating Lunch & Learn events, in which interested community members can visit their West Side office for a free lunch and an hour of education on a particular topic in the industry.

This fall, Brand and his cohort will embark on an exciting new project as part of their Create & Execute strategy building program. Working with Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University, Mindscape will act as the go-between for recent graduates and nonprofits seeking digital marketing talent. "We do the matchmaking," says Brand, for organizations "who typically have limited resources and capacity internally to tap into digital marketing," he adds.

Contributing half of the cost of the nonprofit's participation in the program, Mindscape assists in developing a strategic digital marketing plan for the organization while at the same time mentoring the recent grad. At the end of this experimental program, the grad will have to then present their plan in front of the nonprofit's board of directors for approval. "We want to help the nonprofit and also hep the marketing student so they can stay here," says Brand.

All of these efforts are part of Brand's desire to reach to and improve his community. From carefully crafted educational programs to fun events like National Margarita Day at the Widdicomb building, Mindscape is making strides in their mission to spread the marketing love. "It's not just about the bottom line," says Brand. "It's about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in to the community that you're a part of."
 

Meet Joanie Davis: empowering girls to code for good

Continuing our three-part series highlighting local women in the tech industry, who are navigating often unwelcoming spaces to use their expertise and skill as developers for good, we present you, Joanie Davis from West Michigan and an intern at Collective Idea.

Davis was not always interested in the field of coding and web development, but after enrolling in a course in scientific computer programming at Hope College, where she is currently a senior, Davis was exposed to what she calls a “mixture of creativity, problem solving, and collaboration,” she decided to change her career course and pursue a major in computer science.  “I haven’t regretted it since,” shares Davis.

Because Davis is still growing her skills in code, she has not yet decided on her specialization. Davis has experience in back-end development, a kind of coding that handles database and behavior logic, and also has interest in front-end development, which focuses more on styling and user experience.

“Here at Collective Idea, I've had the opportunity to participate in the development process for web applications that help people plan and coordinate events, manage their company's resource usage, and event keep a better track of whether or not their own programs are running correctly,” says Davis.

For Davis, the biggest challenge is reminding herself that she has a place in the tech industry.

“Most of the guys have a self-confidence in their abilities that stems from messing around with computers since they were kids or young teens. I didn’t start being interested in computers until college and a lot of the time when I’m talking to guys who've been messing around with code for most of their lives, I struggle with the idea that I’ll never catch up to them,” says Davis.

Despite these barriers, Davis has found a place in an industry where she uses her skills to help create programs to help others.

Last summer, computer science professor at Hope College, Mike Jipping worked with Davis and three other students—Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind—to develop “Bilancio” an iOS application designed to help students with learning disabilities learn budgeting skills. The app is currently being used in Hope’s Ready for Life’s budgeting unit, the college’s program for college-age students with learning disabilities.

“Not every girl is going to want to be a developer, of course. But instead of assuming girls won't want to work with computers, we have to make it easy for them to explore this possibility, and decide for themselves if it's a career they want to pursue,” says Davis.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Look good, feel good, and do good–the Delasie ripple effect

Alongside her family, Rhoda Abena Klomega made the 5,477 mile journey across west Africa and the Atlantic Ocean to Saline, Michigan. The transition was difficult for Klomega who was faced with having to adjust to a new place, language, customs and traditions when she immigrated to the United States at eleven years of age. Experiencing challenges fitting in and acculturating to her new environment, Klomega began dealing with depression
.
For immigrants, the process of coming to a new country can lead to increase in stress and anxiety as they try to wrestle with understanding and being a part of a new culture while respecting and holding on their own customs and traditions from home. Amidst all the tumultuous changes, Klomega found solace through a sewing machine.

“One day in high school I decided to walk into my teacher’s room and ask for a sewing machine. My teacher told me I couldn’t take the one from school home, so the very next day she gave me her own sewing machine,” shares Klomega.

The very first time Klomega attempted to make an outfit, she asked her brother to trace her out on a piece of paper while she laid on the floor. Although the outfit did not come out the way Klomega wanted it to—this experience gave her the courage to keep on. 

“It became my escape. It became my release,” says Klomega.

As a young Klomega developed her sewing skills throughout high school, her reputation as a fashion designer followed her later on as a student of computer and information systems at Grand Valley State University. Gaining so much notoriety among her peers, Klomega took the leap and launched the brand “Delasie” under which she began selling clothes two years ago at different pop-up shops around town.

“Delasie means ‘the savior heard me’ in my father’s native dialect, ” explains Klomega.

Now Delasie has become much more than just a brand of clothes, it has become a tool of empowerment and education for Klomega, who wants to design clothing that can fit anybody.

“I want everybody to feel good, wearing my clothing, any ethnicity, age or size. I sew for everybody. If you have a body we can measure it and fit you in something,” shares the fashion-designer.
The patterns Klomega uses in the clothing she crafts are purchased directly from textile and supply companies from her home country of Ghana.

“I inquire about the naming of the fabric and I then get to decide if that’s the meaning that I want my clients to have when I create the clothing. I then educate my clients on what they are wearing,” shares Klomega.

After completing Spring GR Business Academy winning second place and winning the grand prize of $5000 at the Start Garden 5x5 competition in April, Klomega has been using the funds to help grow her business. As Delasie has grown, Klomega sees opportunity in using her brand to benefit mental health services for immigrant women in the community of Grand Rapids. In the fashion launch of “Nsubra,” a Ghanaian graphic fabric pattern that represents the ripple effect of a stone thrown in a water well, Klomega decided to donate a portion of the proceeds received at the fashion event this past Friday, July 28, to Arbor Circle’s programming.

“Arbor Circle has an art therapy program specifically benefitting immigrant women—which is exactly what I am,” states Klomega.  

As a woman, and an immigrant to this community, Klomega hopes other women create their own ripple effects as their pursue their passions despite any obstacles faced.

“The ripple effect was my teacher giving me the sewing machine – I want my clients to create a positive ripple effect. I want others to believe that challenges do not hold you down,” says Klomega.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Meet Kaitlyn Califf: Developer breaking down barriers for other women

Ever since the boost of the tech industry in the early 2000s, stories surrounding app developments, and the evolution of technology has been male dominated. Although the technology industry continues to be a white-cis-male dominated industry, there are women from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences who are working hard to ensure others have access to these spaces.

To explore this narrative, we begin this three-part series highlighting brilliant women who are developing apps, websites and turning ideas into screen realities with Kaitlyn Califf, a developer and marketing professional in Grand Rapids.

Califf, a woman of color, originally from Guatemala and raised in Muskegon, began her career as a developer after finishing a boot-camp course at Grand Circus C# Coding Bootcamp where she got to build a web application from scratch.

Califf believes it's not about what you know but who you know when navigating what she deems as an “unwelcoming environment.”

“For me, that means networking to meet those willing to mentor and guide you. If those in the industry are not open to creating this environment of inclusion, the industry will continue being a white-cis-male dominated industry,” shares Califf. The front-end developer stays in Grand Rapids because she sees the budding growth and opportunities here.

“I have been on the front line of this change and see great potential,” says Califf.

As the Project Coordinator for Vias Latino Market Consultants, Califf spends her days coding in HTML, CSS, and ASP.NET, and advocating to ensure other women and women of color have access to the tech industry. She does this by continuing to collaborate with Grand Circus and by serving as the Marketing Co-Chair for BL²END whose mission is to foster an environment of growth and belonging for young professionals of color in Grand Rapids. The young professional uses her skills towards the efforts of diversity and inclusion through non-profit organization and hopes her visibility encourages other girls to want to follow in on her foot-steps.

“It is all about creating an open environment where women and their talents are valued. Girls will not chose a career with more roadblocks than opportunities,” says Califf.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Ag Help: Optimizing connections between migrant workers and farms

Many of us have the privilege to not have to know where our food comes from. We don’t have to know about the hands who worked from sun-up to sun-down on our countries’ fields carefully selecting and inspecting the curves of the tomatoes that eventually end up decorating our lunch plates and filling our bellies with nutrients.

For eighteen years, Feliciano, Ivan & Sadoc Paredes worked alongside their father, mother, younger brother, and four sisters picking fruits and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan. Often having to rely on word of mouth, and outdated flyers to find work and faced with the unpredictability of whether the site would have appropriate housing for their family—uncertainties plagued the Paredes family from year to year as migrant farm workers. Not only was the network of work unreliable, but constantly having to be newcomers at every site proved difficult when trying to find support services like health clinics and education programs.

With their childhood history of farm work and familiar with the many barriers it brought, Feliciano wanted to use his passions for technology to ensure every migrant farm worker is well connected to a stable site of employment, housing, basic needs, and educational and health support services.

The project was born in 2011 with the three brothers, and it quickly took off when the three pitched the idea to one of the of the CIS app development classes in hopes that a student would be interested in helping them tackle the project. The project inspired graduate student, Xiaomei Huang, who immigrated from China, to take on the development of the app as her capstone project transforming the idea into a reality with AgHelp.

AgHelp is the name of the free application available for Android and Apple operating systems connecting farmworkers with agricultural employers, and support services near them.

“We wanted to address the needs for agricultural employers to attract more talent, so that they can harvest their crops, and to help farm workers find the local support services and work as they travel across the country and within their own state,” shares Feliciano Paredes.

“This helps increase a farmworker’s earning potential by allowing each to continue to earn money during downtimes at their home farm. A farm worker would do this by simply using AgHelp to find available agricultural work near them," says Paredes.

The app also provides the user with instant notifications of crop conditions to help every farm worker know what to expect when they arrive at the site, or know if they need to find work elsewhere.

“Farmworkers will feel more safe and secure knowing that they can locate support services, like migrant health clinics, migrant educations programs, legal assistance no matter where they go to find work,” says Paredes.

To help minimize any barriers, a user only has to provide their name and an email address to be able to apply for jobs, follow agencies and farmers, and use some of the other features of the app. The app also functions as a platform for employers to post their jobs.

“We've had some great reactions from farmers who say they are spending thousands of dollars a week pre harvest doing a kinds of recruitment, with poor results. They see this as an option for them to have access to a national pool of agricultural labor, they would never be able to connect with,” explains Paredes.

In addition, this app could function as another great tool for agricultural employers to use to help with labor crisis in Michigan and across the country, according to Adam Kantrovich from MSU Extension, program of Michigan State University providing expertise of the institution to communities, individuals, and businesses, who has been working with Paredes to expand their work across the state.

Currently the pair has been able to attract 10 employers in West Michigan, and a couple out of state who are eager to start using the app to post jobs.

To find more about this app please visit their site at www.aghelpusa.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Catch The Wave and ride The Rapid: a faster, easier and more convenient way to ride

Coming to riders in early 2018, The Wave, a new tap-and go method, will offer riders a more simple, seamless, and cost-effective way of riding. The Wave is new smart technology available through the use of a smart card and a smart-phone application.
 
Every rider will be able to purchase a smart card for a small, one-time fee, then add funds through the app, website, phone, or at transit locations. In addition, riders will have the opportunity to add funds automatically by linking their bank account to their smart-card. Every smart-card can be registered online, giving riders balance protection in case of loss. Riders do not need to have a bank account to reload their card, as they are able to use cash to reload by visiting the Information Center at Rapid Central Station.  
 
For those riders who may be more tech savvy, or have a difficult time keeping track of a wallet and other small miscellaneous items, The Wave also offers the option of using a free smartphone application to tap and ride. The rider will be able to add funds to their account online and use the barcode on the application to get on the bus and ride.  
 
The Wave also introduces a capped fare for every rider, showcasing a more equitable way of riding the bus. The capped fare allows every passenger who is using the smart card or the phone application to work towards the cost of 1-day, 7-day or 31-day bus pass without having to up front the cost.
 
“With capped fare, each time a passenger taps their smart card or scans their mobile phone to get on board, they essentially buy their way towards the value of a period pass. Once they reach the dollar value of a day pass, 7-day pass, or 31-day pass, they are no longer charged for the rest of that period each time they board the bus,” explains Michael Bulthuis, Public Outreach Coordinator of Community Engagement for The Rapid.
 
The current system requires every passenger to pay the entire value of a period pass up front (day pass is $3.50, 7-day pass is $16.00, and a 31-day pass is $47.00), and the value is tied to the physical ticket. When the actual ticket is lost, or the magnetic stripe is damaged the rider loses the value on the card. This will no longer be an issue with The Wave as the value will be tied to a registered account. Riders do not need to have a bank account to register their card.
 
Riders will be able to purchase smart cards online, at the Rapid Information Center, Ticket Vending Machines at Central Station, at area Meijer, D&W, and Family Fare stores, and at various other retail locations located throughout the six-city region.
 
The pilot testing will begin late August and early September. Anyone who is a bus rider and at least 18 years old is encouraged to apply to test the program here. For more information on this new system and any questions on the new transition please visit The Rapid’s dedicated website to The Wave here

Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

New City Urban Café: Social enterprise empowers and builds community

In the fight for empowerment of community youth, New City Neighbors, an organization in the Creston Neighborhood working to build meaningful community and urban renewal projects for youth in the neighborhood, is using a social enterprise model to launch their newest endeavor, New City Urban Café and continue to empower youth from the Creston Neighborhood through employment and leadership development opportunities. New City Urban Café opened its’ doors on July 13 of this year, serving wood-fired pizzas, soups, and salads made by high school student staff from New City Farm produce. The cafe also features baked goods made by the New City Bakery program, a job skills and leadership training program for middle school students.
 
Overall, in 2016 New City Neighbors hired 29 high school students to work in the farm, the bakery and the after school program. The farm and cafe is employing 15 high school students this summer, and will employ six during the school year. Additional, high school students will be employed in New City Neighbors' elementary afterschool and summer day camp programs. 
 
“Our employment and leadership opportunities are the first building blocks for their resumes and college applications. Being employed in high school gives students greater hope for future job prospects and encourages them to stay engaged in their education,” shares Alaina Dobkowski, executive director of New City Neighbors.
 
For New City Neighbors, the social enterprise model is not anything new. When Lance Kraai was hired as Farm Director for New City Urban Farm in 2012, the farm was an empty lot behind Fourth Reformed Church. Kraai saw the promise of possibility and life in the land. He saw the empty lot as an opportunity to help employ youth from the neighborhood, grow, harvest and sell  food for their community.  

New City Neighbors is located in a United States Department of Agriculture designated food desert in Grand Rapids. In other words, a significant large number of the neighborhood residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.   
 
The farm uses the community supported agriculture model to sell produce to 180 shareholders, while offering customers the option to pay with food stamps and participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
 
“We are able to create opportunities for families to access fresh produce that is grown in their own neighborhood,” explains Dobkowski.
 
New City Urban Café brings it all to full circle, shares Dobkowski. By adding a kitchen into the farm programming, employed youth are able to complete their journey from seed to plate.
 
“Growing leeks is one thing, but growing, cooking, and eating leeks is another. We also wanted to incorporate more cross-age partnership and mentoring. By bringing the kitchen work of the high school students and adding it to the existing bakery program of the middle school students, New City Cafe provides a space for students of different ages to work together and learn from each other,” says Joel Schramm, Farm & Kitchen Manager.
 
For Schramm, the success of the program has been due to the social enterprise model that allows for a  diversification of funding.
 
“While we work hard to create and maintain relationships with donors, the revenue stream of our enterprises gives us a little more financial sustainability. It is also possible that constantly considering things with a business perspective has been one of the aspects of our organization that has made us lean and responsible with our money,” says Schramm.
 
At New City Urban Café, you can expect middle and high school students learning job skills to provide every customer with a high quality product, served in a professional manner.  Outside, you will see a three-acre working farm with high school students learning to grow, and harvest produce. Inside, you will find dozens of elementary youth studying, building relationships, and having fun.
 
New City Urban Café is open every Thursday until August 10, 12-6:30 pm. The café is located on 1226 Union Avenue NE.

Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

MetaFi: Local App developed to track mental health

There’s an app for that! We have all heard it, and while most new apps are finding elaborate new ways for you to pony up cash through an addictive game, there are still new apps aimed at bringing traditional services into the digital age.

The co-founders of MetaFi, a self-awareness app that supports mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and body awareness, are looking to bring some aspects of counseling to the digital age. Rapid Growth caught up with both co-founders Benjamin Reisterer MA, LPC and Tom Engelsman to chat about their new app and how it works.

The duo chose to build an app around mental health and emotion tracking because of experience, a frustration, and desire to help.

Reisterer says, “I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice here in Grand Rapids at Mindful Counseling GR. I was noticing that a common theme that, regardless of background, reason for coming in, etc., most of my clients were engaging the vast majority of their experiences from the neck up. Most people had very little awareness of how their body experienced emotions, relationships, day to day activities, etc. So I often found myself helping clients cultivate and be more aware of their own mind/body connection and then being able to take that information to spur positive change in their lives.

The body can often give us clues before we are cognitively aware of what is going on. It's kind of like foreshadowing in a book or movie; it's not outright telling you what is going on, but if you pay attention, you can get a pretty good idea. So through doing this work, I found myself looking for effective tools and didn't really find much that I was liking. So the idea for the app was born through that.”

With such a complicated subject matter as emotions, it can be difficult to find an easy way for users to learn and effectively use the app, yet MetaFi has found a way.

Engelsman states “Via a simple interface, you can identify your primary and secondary emotions, and visually locate where they are causing a sensation on a map of a body. You then apply tags for categorization, and can also attach notes. Over time, this collected data is visualized into a complete picture of your history of emotions, in the form of graphs and heatmaps. You can also filter by dates and compare time periods.”

Learning to help ourselves can seemingly add more work to our day, but Reister says that there is a benefit to tracking your emotions. “Many of our problems stem from our reactionary (knee-jerk, unconscious, etc.) behaviors, thoughts, and feelings," says Reisterer. "The more we can cultivate self-awareness around how we are reacting, the more ability we have to make an intentional and authentic response to something."

Both co-founders have ambitious goals for their new venture as Reisterer says, “I think the biggest goal for MetaFi is that it becomes a well known, reliable, and personalized tool for people to begin to cultivate self-awareness and approach themselves and their lives more mindfully.” 

An app that could have the potential to be heavily used and gain notoriety would send most teams to Silicon Valley or New York, but Reisterer says if the app gains popularity, the team would stay based in Grand Rapids. “The biggest reason is that this is home. I am married with three kids and we want to provide some stability in a part of the country that we feel is beautiful and that we have made some great relationships in. Additionally, I love the way my career as a counselor in private practice has been built here and the clients that I am honored to sit with every day,” he says.

The MetaFi team is already hard at work for their latest update of features. “In the near future we plan to expand the analytics side of MetaFi, allowing more comparisons to real-world events; for example, an upcoming feature is the ability to correlate emotions with weather patterns. In the long-term, we aim to become the gold standard for emotion tracking and mindfulness,” says Engelsman.

You can find the app available for download here on iOS and Android devices

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Lajanae Smith: Local artist and filmmaker

Grand Rapids is full of talented young people from all fields. It can be difficult to get around the Beer City USA moniker that we have found for ourselves, but there are some young people who are pushing to make Grand Rapids known for more than just beer.

The film industry can be as tough and cut throat as Wall Street itself, and it takes talent, persistence, and the right connections to make a dent. We are lucky to have a growing group of young filmmakers in our growing city that have chosen Grand Rapids as their home base.

One such person is Lajanae Smith, so we caught up with her to find out more about her travels, work, and why she chooses Grand Rapids as her home base.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

LJS: I say that I am a filmmaker: I write, produce content on a short scale, and freelance crew in film production for feature films. The long term goal is to become a director and I plan to direct a short I wrote late this year. In creative work, I am an ideas person and I like to exercise my imagination. When working in the music scene, I do public relations for three artists that are my clients.  Sometimes my worlds collide and I meet major artists, Ty Dolla $ and Lizzo for example, that I want to consider acting for a movie I’ve been developing for the last year and a half so that’s always a fun conversation to entertain, Lizzo was into it…

RG: Why Grand Rapids as home base?

LJS: Grand Rapids is where I was born and raised. It’s where the majority of my family and friends are and even though I love visiting new places, GR is home. Over the last few years major changes have been taking place (so much construction!). I’ve since learned that what may equal positive change for a select few isn’t always positive change for all. If I didn’t get my start here I would not see myself trying to start anything here. GR has not always been inclusive. I haven’t always seen the change I want to see as an artist here in my hometown. I laude Carbon Stories and laFEM for who and what they are and do. 

So perhaps because the infrastructure to feature films doesn’t seem as accessible here already, I feel the need to be part of the change I want to see. To create community surrounding that idea and make opportunities and avenues for those that remind me of myself and want to collaborate. For them to see those possibilities for themselves and to tell new stories. If nothing else really just to believe in people.

RG: What potential do you see in Grand Rapids?

LJS: Currently there seems to be a lot of potential in Grand Rapids if you’ve been in line awhile. It’s difficult to play the long game and have patience when it feels like you’ve been waiting 400 years just to live freely and expressively create sans boundaries. Grand Rapids seems ripe for great change with the new technologies and innovation already taking place. I see we’re building leaders and the culture is shifting to better reflect metropolitan cities. We believe in family and children here and I genuinely think our kids are the future. 

RG: When you’re not traveling and working, what do you do for fun around the city?

LJS: I bike, I read, I love studying my field, I watch a lot of movies, enjoy time with friends and family. I Love Downtown GR and Movies in the Park. We have a few weekly watering holes for filmmakers that I frequent to catch up with people. My work is my passion and purpose so it’s very fun for me to work on projects I care about when I’m home.

RG: What are you currently working on?

LJS: Currently my main focus is the creative arts company Cinema Bijøn Enterprise that I’m launching mid-August. I’m planning a community-wide business and movie pitch at Chez Olga in Eastown so it’s a bit unconventional and scary but I know it’s needed and I’m very excited. Chez Olga is opening on a Sunday just for that and customizing a brunch menu with me, so that kind of creative collaboration with minority women and immigrant business owners has been a total blessing. After that I hope to freelance on two films shooting in GR and then heading down to Atlanta to finally collaborate with The House Of June, an independent arts production company founded exclusively by black women. I’ve been developing two projects with them since late 2015.

RG: Anything else you would like to tell us?

LJS: My hope for opportunities in the city include sharing more of my experiences/narrative on a city/communal level. Specifically, what it was like to experience Sundance and SXSW and to work on the movie Mudbound. Just to provide context and hopefully inspire people that want to embark these journey’s that anything is possible! 

Mudbound is already on Netflix’s website here

Lastly, Open Projector Night at the UICA has been an awesome opportunity for new and experienced Michigan Filmmakers. Everything we show is actually required to have a tie-in to Michigan. The last big show of the year is August 16 and I’d love to extend a personal invitation to those that haven’t been but are curious to come check us out!


Catching up with Smith was a breath of fresh air for another long time resident of the city. She sees the city through different lenses and knows Grand Rapids intimately, so she can speak about it with both critique and love. 

The words of James Baldwin come to mind when hearing Smith talk about her hopes for her industry’s growth in Grand Rapids, where Baldwin says “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” 

Smith dishes it out as it is, and chooses everyday to stay and make a change. This city is lucky to have one Lajanae Smith, let’s hope she succeeds in inspiring more just like her.

The date for Smith’s “Hollywood Pitch & Brunch” is August 13th and will go from 11AM-3PM at Chez Olga in Eastown

Smith’s company Cinema Bijon Enterprise is a creative arts company focused on producing avant-garde digital multi-media content by and largely for women of color. Launched in 2017, founded in Grand Rapids, MI. The mission is to bring celebratory, thought-provoking stories to life in order to improve the self perception and external opinion of people of color. Specifically Black women. Respecting diversity in order to change our world for the better. These are new stories. 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Grand Rapids Coffee Shop Guide

When Grand Rapidians are not out at the nearest brewery, they can usually be found at one of the many coffee shops that continue to pop up across the city.

Here is a short guide to all the local shops serving up a different kind of brew. Roasted beans and sweet treats are the way to a freelancer's heart. That and of course, very strong wifi. 

The Sparrows Coffee Tea and Newsstand - 1035 Wealthy St. SE
Cozy environment with plenty of seating for a long work session. Just a few steps away from local restaurants and The Meanwhile bar for those marathon work sessions that go late into the night. Its new West Side location is soon to open its doors at 442 Bridge St NW.

The Bitter End Coffeehouse - 752 West Fulton
A long standing classic study and work spot on the West Side, few things have changed at this beautiful location that is situated in a century-old bank building. 

Madcap Coffee - 98 Monroe Center NW
The favorite spot for all the downtown movers and shakers. Madcap is beautifully designed from its exterior down to its tea serving boards and pots. With two other locations at The Downtown Market and at 1041 East Fulton St., Madcap is everywhere, and if for some wild reason you haven’t been inside, just explore your instagram feed. A friend in your group has likely instagrammed their latte art...this week. 

Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar - 955 Wealthy St. SE
You read the correctly...AND wine bar. Sure, The Meanwhile is on the other block, but when you are settling into a good book or on a killer work streak, why break it with walking out? Especially during a harsh Michigan winter. (It’s never too early to say Winter Is Coming in Michigan)

Lightfast Coffee + Art Collective - 944 East Fulton St.
A selection of tasty baked goods, chocolates and art is a recipe for success for this newer coffee shop on Fulton Street.

Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge - 100 Commerce SE
Art, cozy environment and some of the comfiest seats to sit back, forget about work and concentrate on a strong brew.

Mayan Buzz Cafe - 208 Grandville Ave SW
A stone’s throw from Founder’s Brewing and The Rapid Central Station, Mayan Buzz has long been the home for marathon work sessions thanks to their early and late hours. If you’re looking for something more be sure to head on Thursday nights for their open mic nights!

Rowsters Coffee - 632 Wealthy St. SE
Clean lines in design, strong coffee and regular art showings from local artists. Rowsters recently opened the Rowers Club on the West Side at 616 West Fulton to expand access to their delightful brews.

Ferris Coffee & Nut - 227 Winter Ave NW
With locations on both the West Side and downtown in the Trust Building, Ferris coffee carries all the treats and brews you could need for a relaxing time. 

Lyon St. Cafe - 617 Lyon St. NE
It is hard to beat a coffee shop nestled in the border of Midtown, that sources its treats from Nantucket Bakery and has Martha’s Vineyard just a few doors down. An excellent spot to work, meet and to just lose yourself in a tasty cup.

As always, if we missed your favorite spot let us know in the comments!

R.I.P. Kava House for all those who remember...but also check out That Early Bird

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of The Bitter End, Rowster, The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand, Mayan Buzz Cafe, MadCap Coffee, Lyon St. Cafe, Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge, Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar


 
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