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'Good Neighbor Orientation' connects GVSU students to West Side neighborhoods


The common narrative is as old as the hills. Students start school, move into neighborhood rentals, party, go to class, party, finish the semester, and go home. Students come and go and often get a bad rap that they could care less about getting involved or about getting to know longtime residences, appreciating the neighborhood’s history or supporting the local businesses.

Not so fast.

For many Grand Valley State University students, when they attend their student orientation on August 25,  they will have an opportunity for a very unique learning opportunity: an opportunity to totally flip that narrative and participate in an ongoing dialogue on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Thanks to an invitation from GVSU to participate in the student orientation program, the WestSide Collaborative, two local neighborhood associations and several  local nonprofits will share with students a little history of the West Side and provide encouragement and simple ways to get involved in the community outside of GVSU as part of a program called the “Good Neighbor Orientation.”

Sergio Cira-Reyes, project director at the WestSide Collaborative, says the orientation is an important initiative meant to engage students and help better integrate them into the local neighborhoods.  “The narrative has always been that students are coming into the community and displacing long time residents,” he says. Instead, Cira-Reyes wants to inspire students to learn more about the West Side, engage them in serious discussions about economic development and gentrification, and ultimately help them discover their voice so they can speak up and express their opinions. “We want students to be part of this community and they should be part of the discussion,” he says. “We see them as future leaders in our neighborhoods.”
 
This event comes at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published late last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explains the tension behind the changes occurring on the West Side.
 
“Currently the market rate for a studio apartment is about $1,000 a month,” Sisson says in that article. “That’s bringing in wealthier residents, and that means people living here are being forced out. About 40 percent of those living in these neighborhoods have incomes below the poverty level. People with children are having a hard time renting, because kids are hard on a house and the new owners don’t want to rent to them. And those who lost their houses in 2008 to foreclosure — the majority of those were sold to investors with cash, buying up single family housing and turning them into rental homes.”

During the orientation students will listen to peers who live and work in the West Side and be pitched on different ways to get involved.  There will also be a table in the back with representatives from West Side organizations to welcome students to the community and provide background information on their work. The program will end with a walking tour of the West Side with specific stops at local organizations and dinner.

Ultimately, Cira-Reyes hopes that students will begin to understand their impact on the West Side community and be inspired to get involved and make a difference.

The 'Good Neighbor Orientation' will take place from 7-9pm at GVSU's downtown campus on August 25 . For more information, including how to register, please go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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