One by one, hundreds of students file into the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center’s cavernous gym this past Friday, filling the space with a sea of colorful book bags and talk of the impending weekend. They do the things kids do when they gather together: they laugh; they braid each other’s hair; they excitedly wave to friends, parents and teachers as they wait, winter hats in hand, to exit the school doors and welcome the weekend. Like every Friday afternoon, they cover the school’s wooden floor to bid adieu to an eventful week and cheer on each other’s accomplishments. There is much to celebrate this past week: children’s birthdays, students’ artistic feats, lessons on Martin Luther King Jr., and more.
On this day, however, something different is happening. Today, the students will learn how much money they raised for Rising Grinds Café
, a coffee shop that, after nearly three years in the making, was set to soon open its doors at 1530 Madison Ave. SE before it burned to the ground this past November
. And they will present a check to the folks behind the café, who are working to rebuild the space that is slated to empower young adults from the Madison Square community with employment and training opportunities.
“We’ve been talking about Martin Luther King and one person making a difference,” GRCDC Principal John Robinson, whose school, located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Lafayette Avenue, is situated about a mile and a half from Rising Grinds, says to the students. “You have a voice, and it’s so important to hear from all of you.”
Then, the students, who spent the past month holding a drive to collect change for the c
afé, are told how much they have raised: $1,090.10. It’s a number that brings cheers and gasps from the students -- after all, it’s hundreds more than many of them expected. And it was done almost entirely by collecting change (plus a few $10 and $20 bills).
“I feel like I’m going to cry; I’m so touched,” says Justin Beene, who, along with his brother, Nathan Beene, is working to reopen Rising Grinds, which lost
more than $50,000 worth of equipment and donated materials in the blaze. “It was devastating for me -- it was a three-year process of trying to get a cafe that everyone could own, where everyone could feel comfortable.”
Nathan Beene too tells the students what a difference their efforts have made -- for their morale and, of course, for the
“This is a perfect example of what it really means to be a community,” Nathan Beene says. “With all of your help and support, we will rise from the ashes again.”
Nathan Beene’s daughter, Tayden, a 9-year-old student in the fourth grade at GRCDC, is the mastermind behind the fundraiser: she was the one to call for the school to step in and help. Following Tayden’s original call to action, Sheryl Veeneman, a parent whose son, Hunter Veeneman, 11, attends the school, helped build upon the idea, suggesting the students conduct a drive entailing collecting change. All of the school’s 264 students immediately got involved, doing everything from scouring couch cushions to keeping an eye out on the street for change and more, and their efforts were incredibly successful. (Plus, as a reward, all of the students will receive a much-anticipated pizza party with food from Eastown's Harmony Brewing.)
“It felt really important to me,” Tayden says, explaining her desire to launch the fundraiser -- an initiative she told her father about on Christmas. “If the
café didn’t open, it would affect the community.”
Veeneman echoes these sentiments, explaining that when Hunter, her son, told her about the fire, “it broke my heart.”
“We’re such a community-driven school that something like this is very devastating,” Veeneman says. “I said, ‘Let’s do a penny drive -- I thought we’d get a couple hundred dollars. When I heard how much we we’d raised, I cried.”
That the students poured so much of an effort into this has inspired Nathan and Justin Beene, along with everyone behind Rising Grinds, a project from the
Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation -- a collaborative entity created by Bethany Christian Services
, Tabernacle Community Church
and Double O Supply & Craftsmen Inc
. With the café, the Beenes say they want to focus their recruitment efforts on disenfranchised members of the community: for example, individuals in foster care and immigrants and refugees. Alongside decent wages, the café would offer such benefits as a social worker to assist with housing and other issues, enrollment in the Center for Community Transformation’s GED program, and more.
“We grew up in this neighborhood, and to see the kids have a voice and make such an impact, it’s powerful,” says Nathan Beene, the director of operations at Building Bridges Professional Services, an initiative also from the Center for Community Transformation that focuses on employing disenfranchised youth. “One voice really can make a difference.”
“That the kids got to witness Tayden having this idea and it becoming a reality, it says, ‘I matter; I have value,'” Beene continues.
If you're interested in learning how you can help support Rising Grinds Café's rebuilding efforts, please visit their Facebook page here or call Rosie at Rising Grinds at 616-224-7409. You can also visit the Center for Community Transformation at 1530 Madison Ave. and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Rising Grinds incubation site.