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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."
 

The Women's Resource Center: Providing pathways to self-sufficiency and success

We all enter the workforce at different ages and with different backgrounds. There is of course the tale of a young Warren Buffett and his paper route where he displayed a high business acumen at such an early age. The young Buffett made sure to write off his bicycle on his taxes because of its use during his paper route.

Now, we all know what that young boy grew up to be, and the legend he has become. The Oracle of Omaha is now worth just under $74 Billion and is considered to be one of the world’s most savvy businesspeople. No one would deny that Buffett was born with an innate gift for business, but we cannot overlook the time and systems of privileges that allowed him to use his full talent and hard work to achieve and overcome.

It is very easy to look at those from our community that have fallen on hard times or were born into systems of perpetual structural violence and disadvantage, and not see talent, potential, or passion. Yet it is there, and time and time again we are reminded of those of us that rise from adversity. In big ways and in smaller ways, whether it is a mega star like Oprah Winfrey or a home grown star like Latesha Lipscomb, the talent is there alongside all the barriers.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have a team of dedicated and talented people at the Women’s Resource Center, and a newly named CEO in Sandra Gaddy. The proverb states it takes a village to raise a child, yet in many ways when we live in community with each other it should be better said it takes a village to raise a person.

When entering or re-entering the workforce it can feel daunting and scary, and many try to go at it alone not knowing that no one ever makes it completely on their own. Behind every successful person there is a long story; the successful stand on the shoulders of their mentors, coaches, sponsors, family, network, and friends.

This is what the Women’s Resource Center provides for its members, and they take it to heart. Newly appointed CEO Sandra Gaddy refers to herself as the newest member of the team, and speaks about how it takes the entire team, at times other program members, to empower each and every woman in the program.

Gaddy says “Our purpose is simple yet powerful. We empower local women to become economically self sufficient and improve their lives through career development, meaningful employment, and powerful growth.”
Servant leadership shows itself at the core of this amazing team, where they have several pathways aimed to empower and uplift women.

The Empower Pathway “..helps women who are in a life transition to move toward economic self-sufficiency by providing career and life skill development” states the organization’s website, and is provided by professional staff Career Coaches.

The Women Mentoring Women Pathway provides “caring volunteer mentors who offer one-on-one advice and encouragement while developing a personalized plan of action with each participant.” states the organization’s website

The New Beginnings Pathway operates with the “understanding that incarceration presents unique challenges for future job seekers, and provides enhanced gender-responsive mentoring services to women at Kent County Jail pre-release and up to 18 months post-release. Offering one-on-one and/or group mentoring, employability assessments coupled with individual employment development plans, employability and life skills workshops, job placement and retention assistance, and strength-based case management services to connect returning women with collaborative community partners for substance abuse and mental health treatment, education/training, housing and basic needs, and other services critical to their successful community reentry.” states the organization’s website.

If these programs were not already multi-faceted, the center also provides: a business center, computer classes, resume coaching, a seeking employment together- support group, interviewing techniques, resume writing, personal finance management, a working women’s clothing closet - where you can pick out a full work outfit, a divorce information workshop, and a scholarship program available for the women participating in the intensive program and is designed to assist women in becoming economically self-sufficient.

Gaddy adds “Not everyone comes to the Resource Center at the same time and place in their lives and careers,” so the center has a diverse set of resources to overcome the barriers and challenges that women often encounter.

I have no doubt of the quality of work that the Women’s Resource Center provides, but I do know that a team can always use more players for the long game. If you fancy yourself a leader or a skilled teammate, consider looking at the growing talent at the Women’s Resource Center and reach out to the team to learn more how you can continue to lead by having a hand in inspiring and growing more leaders.

If you want to become a participant or are unsure if the Women’s Resource Center is right for you and would like to learn more please reach out to the team here. Take Gaddy’s words to heart “We empower local women..”, and indeed they have, are doing so, and will continue to do so.

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.

Summer science camps: Van Andel Education Institute makes learning fun for local students

We are rounding that spring corner, and before you know it we will be right in the middle of summer! If you found yourself scrambling this spring break for educational activities for the little ones, we are here to make sure you are prepared for the summer. The folks at the Van Andel Education Institute have a plenty of programs to help fill up your kid’s, and entire family’s, summer.

“Kids love hands-on science. They enjoy getting messy, seeing how things work, and exploring,” says Terra Tarango, director of the Van Andel Education Institute.

The institute will be offering two summer camps geared towards students in fourth through seventh grades.
The fourth and fifth graders will be joining the “Animal Survivor: Pill Bugs, Newts & Geckos, Oh My!” program.

As part of this week-long day camp, students will explore the world of animal adaptations, including studying animal behavior, observing structural traits and discovering what helps animals survive in the wild. Plus, the youngsters will have the chance to learn about a variety of species, including invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, through hands-on exploration.

“The students love getting to interact with the different animals we have in the lab,” Tarango says. “They have seen geckos and bearded dragons, but most of them have never been able to hold them, so they can’t wait to get their hands on them and learn about their survival mechanisms and habitat preference.”

There will be two sessions held, with the first running from June 26 to June 30 and the second starting July 17 and wrapping up July 21.

The sixth and seventh graders will get to dive into the “Environmental Forensics: What’s in the water?” program.
As part of this, students will “explore solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental concerns,” the institute explains.

Also a week-long day camp, this program will allow the children to “discover how oil spills, chemical contamination and other threats to water quality affect our environment.”

By using hands-on investigations, learning water monitoring techniques and working with peers, students will brainstorm how to protect Earth’s water.

“In this camp, students study real-world challenges to our water resources, giving them a strong foundational understanding of water quality and environmental influences,” says Tarango.

There will be two sessions held for this as well: one from July 10 - 14 and the second from July 24 - 27.

The cost for each of these summer camps is $185. For more information, head on over to the VAEI site for registration.

Not ready to take the full dive just yet? The institute has a great weekend option for you and your little ones to dip your toes into. Science on Saturday provides a great exposure to science for those who might not be ready to take the plunge. The program is $20 for teams of a student and an adult, but financial assistance is available. Space is limited to 16 teams per session, so be sure to contact the institute at information@vaei.org or call 616-234-5528 to register.

There will be a session for first and second graders at the end of this month so be sure to reserve your spot as they tend to fill up quickly!

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.
 

Human trafficking in West Michigan: How Ferris State University is fighting modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is a deeply rooted problem that’s growing in Kent County, and throughout Michigan, according to human rights advocates. As an increasing number of people are forced into modern day slavery, leaders across Michigan, a state that has more trafficking victims than almost anywhere else in the country, are determined to combat this epidemic.

The Ferris State University Coalition Against Slavery and the Professional Convention Management Association Student Organization are holding a two-day public “Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness” from April 5 to April 6 at the FSU University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan.

FSU conference attendees are welcome to register for one or both days and will learn more about trafficking, signs of exploitation, root causes, the trauma experienced by a person who has been exploited, and tips for keeping family and friends safe through cyber security.

Day one will be held on Wednesday, April 5 in the University Center Ballroom from 7:00pm-9:30pm. It will include a presentation given by Jason Otting and the Women in Cyber Security Student Organization titled “Fighting for the Silenced: How Cyber Security Can Curb Human Trafficking.” The evening will conclude with a screening of “The Long Night” by Tim Matsui and Media Storm Productions.

Day two will be held on Thursday, April 6 in the University Center from 9am to 4pm. For a small fee ($15 for students; $30 for non-students), registrants will attend breakout sessions, enjoy a catered lunch and participate in a panel discussion with guest speakers, including Carmen Kucinich, FBI Victim Specialist; Nikeidra Battle-Debarge, Wedgewood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator; and Jane White, Chair of the Michigan State Human Trafficking Task Force.

Human trafficking: A growing problem

The FSU conference comes at a time when there has been a nationwide push to address human trafficking. In the last weeks of his final term, former U.S. President Barack Obama declared January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s website defines trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”

Human trafficking continues to be a growing problem in Michigan. In 2016, 246 human trafficking cases were reported in Michigan alone, The National Human Trafficking Hotline saw a 37.5 percent increase in calls in 2016. Of those 246 cases, 191 were sex trafficking cases, 30 were labor trafficking, eight were sex and labor, and 17 were not specified. The majority of the victims, 216 individuals, were female, and 29 were male, according to Polaris, an organization that works to eradicate human trafficking.

While 246 cases were reported in Michigan last year, advocates say the actual number of trafficking victims is far higher. It’s difficult to gauge how many people are being trafficked in the region, but Women at Risk International, a Wyoming, Michigan-based nonprofit that’s working to eliminate human trafficking, reports there could be as many as 2,400 minors who are currently trafficking victims in West Michigan -- and that number doesn’t take into account the women and men forced into slavery. People of all ages are subjected to the horrors of trafficking, though the U.S. Department of Justice states that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking in the country is 13, with 12 being the average for a boy and 14 for a girl.

Trafficking touches all corners of Michigan, and the group Hope Against Trafficking notes Michigan was ranked as the second highest state for the number of sex trafficking victims in 2015.

“Over the last decade, criminal dockets have detailed tragic accounts of children sold for sex at truck stops, servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced to enter the sex industry and provide profit for their traffickers,” Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission states in a 2013 report. “From urban centers like Detroit and Grand Rapids to rural communities in the state’s Upper Peninsula, reports of trafficking have made headlines. Cases like these vividly illustrate the need for a comprehensive response to this crime.”

While Michigan has strengthened its laws regarding human trafficking in recent years, communities such as Kent County is facing a growing problem, according to the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force, which first convened in March 2015.

“Like others, our community possesses characteristics that can be easily exploited by traffickers in what is, at its core, a highly lucrative commercial enterprise,” the task force writes, citing West Michigan’s agribusiness sector as a draw for labor traffickers and truck stops and rest areas dotting well-traveled highways as “attractive places for sex traffickers to sell their victims.”

“Our local hospitality industry has grown as our region becomes an increasingly popular location for large-scale events and national conventions,” the task force writes. “Hotels — filled with guests frequently coming and going and often unfamiliar to hotel staff — provide convenient, temporary cover for traffickers looking to service sex workers.”

Additionally, the task force notes that “the socio-economic conditions that can make people vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in the first place are widespread in our community.”

“The economic growth Kent County has experienced in recent years remains stubbornly out of reach for thousands,” the group writes. “One in six people in our community lives in poverty. With few economic options, adults and children alike are often coerced into dangerous situations to simply put food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

How you can help

As an everyday citizen, there’s much you can do to help fight human trafficking, from lending a hand financially to just keeping an eye out for signs that someone may be a victim.
 
  • There are numerous signs that may show someone is being forced to have sex or work against their will, a list of which you can see here and here.
  • If you are a victim, or you think you know someone who is, call the Kent County Human Trafficking hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 616-726-7777.
  • You can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • There are numerous groups in West Michigan that support human trafficking victims, many of which accept donations and/or volunteers. You can see a list here.
  • Increase awareness by talking to your friends neighbors about trafficking, donate items that trafficking victims and their children need, and more. See the numerous ways to help at the Wyoming, Michigan-based Women at Risk International.

The Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness will be held April 5 and 6 at Ferris State University’s University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan. Pre-registration is required and will close Monday, April 3 at 11:59pm.

Additional reporting by Anna Gustafson

Smashing glass ceilings: The women running Grand Rapids

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have called for a “Day Without a Woman” to coincide with an international women’s strike. This united effort is meant to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system -- while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job security,” as the Women’s March website states.

“We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting,” the website goes on to say. “We believe in gender justice.”

Similar to the Day Without Immigrants and the Women’s March, the event is a chance to stand up for those in our society who have been, and continue to be, marginalized and oppressed. As part of the event, individuals can participate by: women taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor and all people supporting small, women- and minority-owned businesses.

“Let’s raise our voices together again to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless fo a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age, or disability,” the organizers write.

The women of our city are indispensable, and without them our very functioning would jolt to an immediate full stop. Let us take the time to recognize and honor the amazing women of our city.

Just a few of the remarkable women that work tirelessly to run our city government include: Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly, Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear, Economic Development Director Kara Wood, Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, Managing Director of Administration Services Mari Beth Jelks, 311 Custom Service Manager Becky Jo Glover, City Clerk Darlene O’Neal, and City Attorney Anita Hitchcock.

Below are more brilliant women who are not always in the spotlight but help shape, run and push our city forward every day. This list, of course, could go on almost endlessly, and we’d love to hear from you about the women who aren’t on here in the comments below.

Adriane JohnsonChief
Creative Director at Rebellious Creative, Membership Director at AIGA West Michigan

Andrea Napierkowski
Owner of Curly Host, Founder/Host at Doc Night

Anel Guel
Community Engagement Organizer at the City of Grand Rapids

Breannah R. Alexander
Director of Strategic Programs at Partners for a Racism Free Community

Denavvia Mojet
Board Member of Equity PAC

Heather Duffy
Exhibitions Curator at Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, Founding President of Throwbactivists

Kelsey Perdue
Program Manager at Grand Circus, Co-Chair of Equity PAC

Keyuana Rosemond
FitKids360 Program Coordinator at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks

Kiran Sood Patel
Managing Editor of The Rapidian

LaTarro Taylor
Community Relations Coordinator at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

Lis Bokt
Executive Director of The Geek Group National Science Institute

Lisa Ann Cockrel
Director at Festival of Faith & Writing, Managing Director at Calvin Center for Faith & Writing.

Lorena Aguayo-Marquez
Adult Education at Grand Rapids Community College

Lydia VanHoven
Creative Team Leader at Meijer, Adjunct Professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, Co-founder of Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival

Michelle Jokish-Polo
On The Ground Editor at Rapid Growth Media

Milinda Ysasi-Castanon
Executive Director of The Source, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Rebeca Velazquez-Publes
Director of Programs at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Samantha Przybylski
Welcome + Inclusion Specialist at HQ

Shorouq Almallah
Director of Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Steffanie Rosalez
Program Director at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities - Cook Arts Center

With women still earning on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, there is still much work to be done -- even if the gender pay gap has shrunk over the decades. Grand Rapids can count itself lucky to be the home so many talented women.

Let's continue to recognize, honor and work harder for all the women in our lives who have given so much, been denied more, and have been compensated even less. The time is now.

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 Child Discovery Center students raise more than $1K to help rebuild Rising Grinds Café

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 café, 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 café itself.

“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.

Giving back: A guide to volunteering in Grand Rapids

Giving back through volunteering does more than just help the organization that receives your efforts. It expands your mind, extends your network, creates new friendships, and in some cases gets you into events for free!

Check out our roundup of some of our local organizations that are easy to sign up for, have lots of programming, and are really fun. (Click on the name of the organization for the groups' information on volunteering.)

Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the many wonderful groups in our area who are looking for volunteers. Please feel free to share who you love supporting in the comments below.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA)
Become a docent (a guide) to expand your knowledge, improve your speaking and presentation skills, and gain access to nationally recognized art. Remember, nothing beefs up your dinner party conversation more than a little insider art information from the latest exhibit.
Training Required: Yes



Grand Rapids Main Library & Branches
Whether it’s special events, helping with the Summer Reading Program, or assisting the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Department, you will be able to find a great way to give back to your community. The Main Library’s Instagram account is a great example of how to make learning cool and funny. See their post from Aug. 2 for a good chuckle.
Training Required: No

Organizations serving refugees in Grand Rapids
Michigan has long been one of the top states to welcome refugees in the country. Here in West Michigan, we are fortunate to have numerous organizations serving those who come to the United States as refugees, including: the Refugee Education Center, Bethany Christian Services, Samaritas, Thrive: A Refugee Support Program, and Justice for Our Neighbors. At these various sites, you can lend a hand by doing everything from helping individuals settle into their new lives immediately after they move here to furnishing apartments and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRTV, WYCE, Rapidian, and Wealthy Theatre)
The aspiring PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) training ground of Grand Rapids, this local organization has it all, from spinning records to ushering seats. If you happen to volunteer at the Wealthy Theatre you’ll find yourself being treated to a free pop, popcorn, and a free seat if any are open. That’s a hefty reward given that a night at a normal cineplex will cost you at least $20.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.



Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

This is the perfect choice for the green thumbed citizen. Our city parks can always use a little TLC whether it’s spring, summer, or fall. Did I mention they have a Citizen Forester program? There’s no official patch for your jacket arm sleeve just yet, but they do have other neat FGRP swag!
Training Required: No, Offered

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
If you find you need to break out of your bubble, then check out the Hispanic Center. Located on the southwest side of the city, this organization welcomes volunteers from all skill levels. Although speaking Spanish does help, it is not required. Experts say the best way to learn a language is through immersion!
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Ballet
This is the only professional ballet company in Michigan, and we have it right around the corner. To witness extraordinary people defy gravity and push the human body to its limit, you’ll want to grab a seat of your own with your volunteer discount.
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Building sets, sewing costumes, helping with props, and that’s just on stage! If you rather stand away from the limelight, the theatre has plenty of other off-stage opportunities. But beware, once you get a taste for the lights and glow, you may begin to hear the stage calling!
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Well House
You can increase access to safe, affordable housing in Grand Rapids by lending a hand to this nonprofit that purchases vacant, boarded-up houses in the city and brings them back to life to provide housing for our homeless neighbors. Work in their garden, help fix up homes and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Red Project
For more than a decade and a half, this organization has been dedicated to improving health, providing health resources, and preventing HIV, accidental drug overdose, and Hepatitis C. Volunteers are always needed to help build a stronger community, including to work during the Walk To End HIV, World AIDS Day, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Be a docent, assist in the gift shop, or help with the youth or family programs. Pick anything from the list of opportunities; any one of the options will bring you up close and center to world renowned art.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Autism Support of Kent County
From friendship support groups for children and teens with autism to free movie screenings for families, there are plenty of ways to get involved with this nonprofit. The group holds monthly family activities for anyone affected by autism, and they’re always looking for volunteers for these events.
Training Required: No

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
With its Cook Arts Center and Cook Library Center, the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities aims to empower and enrich the lives of youth who live in the Grandville community. (Recently, for example, GAAH teamed up with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan to offer teenagers the chance to paint a gorgeous public mural on Grandville Avenue.) Both centers depend on student and community volunteers to run their many classes and programs, including their Teen Leaders in the Arts, Girls Rock! Grand Rapids, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you'd like to do.

West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
Are you tech savvy? Want to work with some seriously talented teens? There’s some very fun ways to volunteer with WMCAT, an organization that does everything from empower the city’s teens to affect social change through design thinking to provide free job training for underemployed adults.
Training Required: Yes

Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
Volunteer with this nonprofit to help promote health care parity in the city’s African American community. Through advocacy, education and research, the organizations ensures that all residents have access to excellent health care.
Training: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Kids Food Basket
One in five children in Michigan experiences hunger, but the Grand Rapids-based Kids Food Basket is changing that with its Sack Supper program, which ensure thousands of our community’s children can receive nutritious evening meals that their parents often cannot afford. This is a great organization to volunteer for as an individual or a group -- you can do a wish list drive, help with the sack suppers, raise money through school dances or benefit concerts, and more.
Training: No

Dégagé Ministries
There are more than 1,200 volunteers who give their time to Dégagé, and the organization is always on the lookout for more. This group plays a big role in supporting our neighbors who are homeless, providing services like transportation, funding for prescription co-pays, appointment scheduling, meals, showers, storage space, trips to places like Lake Michigan and Whitecaps games, and an overnight women’s shelter. There are endless volunteering opportunities, from taking people to a baseball game to hosting movie nights, when you’ll have a chance to get to know your homeless neighbors better.
Training: No

HQ
A drop-in center for youth ages 14 through 24 who are experiencing homelessness, HQ gives teens and young adults a place to rest, connect with resources and spend time with friends. Volunteers provide a huge range of services at this center, which provides individuals everything from meals and showers to help with job searches and housing, and a whole lot more.
Training: Yes

Your local neighborhood association
Want to see something in your neighborhood change? Or have an idea that you think could make your area even better? Throughout the city, there are numerous neighborhood associations that would love to see volunteers help with a huge range of activities: street festivals, community meet-and-greets, official association meetings, and a whole lot more. You can find contact information for your neighborhood association here.
Training: No

Catherine’s Health Center
This nonprofit, community-based health facility offers medical care to low-income, underinsured residents -- and support from volunteers is vital. Right now, they have opportunities for primary care professionals, registered nurses, health coaches, computer assistants, and more.
Training: Yes

Literacy Center of West Michigan
One in eight adults in West Michigan struggle with low literacy. The Literacy Center of West Michigan offers a variety of literacy programs for adults, and volunteer tutors are needed to work with adult learners. You’ll get to meet people from all over the city -- and globe -- who will enrich your life as much as you enrich theirs.
Training: Yes

Whether you’re looking to get more involved in our city or fulfill that New Year’s resolution of spontaneity be sure to bring a family member, a friend, maybe even a date! Just don’t forget to snag a picture and tag these great organizations online before you leave!

Literary sensibility: Books & Mortar and Congress Elementary partner to provide books to students

When Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell opened Books & Mortar in East Hills this past fall, they knew they wanted their passion for books, reading and literacy to translate to support for the inclusive, empathetic and caring community that surrounded them.

So, when many of their customers would relay their fears about the incoming administration in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration, Roe and Shotwell began to think: what could they do to showcase, and lend hands to, a community that thinks globally and acts locally? In the face of a divided nation, what could they do to continue the unity sewn by so many in their neighborhood and city?

To answer these questions, they looked to their neighbor: Congress Elementary.

Roe and Shotwell have just announced that they are partnering with Congress to create a fund that will provide books for every student in March, books for teachers and school workers, and other financial support for a wide range of literacy opportunities.

“We were getting people all day who are very down about the climate of the country and the administration,” Roe says. “We thought, ‘We should be promoting the little things that we can do.’ We felt helpless, but there are so many things that keep us going forward in our community. Congress is in the backyard of the store, and we’re both huge public school advocates.”

Essentially, Books & Mortar will be partnering with Congress “for forever,” Roe says, explaining that the fund is meant to support the elementary school with any of its literacy programs and goals. In the coming months, the fund will pay for books -- chosen by the teachers -- for the entire student body, and, come May, every fifth grade student will get to go to the store and select a book for free. Additionally, the fund will provide books for the teachers, and the shop will keep educators’ book dream lists on file, allowing customers to purchase, at a discounted price, books that the teachers want.

“At the most rudimentary level, this is about making a value statement and saying, ‘These children and this school have a huge amount of value in this community,” Roe says. “It’s really just about putting out there that the school matters. It’s as simple as people coming to the store and realizing there’s a really great school resource in this community.”

A big component to this partnership is an emphasis on it being just that: a partnership.

“We really want this to be a mutual relationship; we’re giving to Congress, but Congress already gives so much to the community,” Roe says. “Congress is putting out all these children, teachers and families that are awesome assets to this community.”

And, Roe says, they’re looking forward to seeing how their work with Congress, and the community at large, continues to grow.

“When we started [Books & Mortar], we always wanted to be part of the community,” he says. “This is the first step; we’re really excited about this. This is a tangible way to respond to the state of the union.”

To support the Congress Elementary literacy fund, you can make a donation of any amount at the store, located at 955 Cherry St. SE. When you donate, you can put your name and a thoughtful message on a recycled paper heart that Books & Mortar are using to fill the shop's windows. On March 1, there will be an all-day event to kick off March Is Reading Month, and the store will be having special discounts for those who donate to the fund that day.

For further information, 
email Books & Mortar at info@booksandmortar.com, call 616-214-8233, visit its website, and follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design program gains national recognition

The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design (DAGD) program could easily be one of West Michigan’s best kept secrets.

Of course, it is not a secret, but, unless you are directly involved with the program, you probably would be surprised by the success and scope of this innovative initiative.

Let’s review a few facts.

The program is nationally recognized. The Ferris DAGD program was recently ranked number 16 by the Princeton Review in its 2016 rankings of the top 50 undergraduate schools worldwide for game design instruction (the list includes institutions in the United States, Canada and abroad). This is the second consecutive year for Ferris’s number 16 ranking, which is based on factors such as lab facilities, academic offerings and starting salaries for graduates of the program.

The program is focused on helping students to become successfully employed after graduation. The DAGD program was designed by industry professionals  to teach students the entire spectrum of skills needed to be successful in the digital animation and game design industry. Among the industries the DAGD program helps prepare students for include film, game design/asset creation, medical visualization, educational software and game/animation development. DAGD program coordinator David Baker is an award-winning media producer, animator and educator with extensive background in media production and animation. He has produced projects ranging from instructional videos to children's CD-ROM games for organizations such as the Children's Television Workshop, MTV and Amway.

This emphasis on the gaming industry translates to big career opportunities for the students. After all, from an economic standpoint, the gaming industry had total revenues of $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 -- an increase of five percent from 2014, according to Forbes.

The program is designed to not only help students gain the needed skills to be successful, but also help them post-college, with a very active and supportive alumni group, a network of digital animation employers and access to an online portfolio where students can share their work with the world.

But the real magic of the DAGD program is best understood from a student’s perspective.

Rapid Growth was able to interview Emma Alvarez, 17, a graduate of the West Michigan Aviation Academy and current DAGD student, via email.

RGM: When did you start the program?

Emma: I started at Ferris this fall (of 2016) at the age of 16.

RGM: Why did you choose this program?

Emma: I was originally planning to go to Western Michigan University to pursue Biomedical Engineering, but around May of this year my mother showed me a video on Facebook of this new Ferris University program. After watching the introductory video for the program, I was immediately hooked. I have always had a passion for art and video games, so the collaboration of the two that the program created was a perfect fit for me. I have always appreciated video games for their visual aspects, such as intricately animated environments and the graphic design behind game's UIs (user interfaces). Not only would this program allow me to expand on my own personal creativity, but it would also be training me for one of the most booming career fields in the current time: game design. How could I not want to be part of such an innovative and immersive program right in my own city? I did not even think twice about applying to the program.

RGM: What excites you about this program?

Emma: Frankly, everything about this program excites me. Though, if I had to make a choice, I would say the aspect that excites me the most is the opportunity to be able to join the VR (virtual reality) community. Day by day, the VR community is expanding and discovering new and innovative ways to bring its audience into a whole new side of gaming that they could not have ever imagined. It amazes me that the gaming community is experiencing such an awesome way to delve into their online interfaces, and it excites me even more that I could be part of the VR game making process. It has always been a dream of mine to create video games, and now this program has taken my dream and raised it a level, going beyond what I could have imagined.

RGM: What do hope to do after you graduate?

Emma: After I complete the program, I would like to start off working as a graphic designer at a video game studio, as well as doing PR (public relations) work for various companies. As I work my way up, gaining experience and networking, I would then like to see myself be able to start my own video game company that focuses on rebooting classic video games into VR versions, as well as creating new video games for the VR scene.

Well done Ferris State University. Well done.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

First Lady Michelle Obama presents WMCAT with national award

There is big news.

There is REALLY BIG news.

And there is this.

First Lady Michelle Obama invited the 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the White House on November 15th to recognize their programs’ effectiveness in developing young people’s learning and life skills by engaging them in the arts or humanities.

One of the winners, one of only 12 in the country, is Grand Rapids’ own West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT). 

The award recognizes the country’s best after-school and out-of-school creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The 12 awardees—chosen from a pool of more than 251 nominations and 50 finalists—were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

Representing WMCAT at the event  was 17-year-old WMCAT alumnus  Keloni Seawood-Walton.

Daniel Williams, executive director at WMCAT, says that Seawood-Walton was the perfect choice to represent WMCAT. “She embodies the work we do at WMCAT,” he sais. “She attended all four years while in high school and completed the labs. She then stayed with us and also apprenticed at Ambrose.” 

Seawood-Walton became a part of WMCAT while attending Grand Rapids Montessori School and graduated in spring 2016. She now is working part time as an apprentice at WMCAT’s Ambrose Print Shop while attending Grand Rapids Community College.

Williams says this recognition is reflective of the entire WMCAT community: staff, instructors, mentors, students and supporters and will impact organizations throughout the country by showcasing the opportunities that exist to invest in creative youth development programs. “This expands our ability to share the work we are doing,” he says. “It takes our program to the national stage and showcases what is going in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

This recognition is built on years of hard work. Since 2005 the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program has engaged more than 2,000 high school students in studio experiences in fine arts, technology and design. The impact is illustrated through 95 percent of WMCAT teen students graduating high school on time and 85 percent being accepted to college. This past year, 90 percent of teen students said WMCAT makes them believe they can be successful in college and career.
 
The Teen Arts + Tech Program at WMCAT is grounded in design thinking and project-based learning. In partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT has empowered teens through learning studios, such as photography, ceramics, and leadership by design. WMCAT encourages teens to elevate their voice and affect social change by applying their skills learned in the programs. Now in its 11th year of programming, WMCAT has helped more than 2,000 teens to achieve both academic and personal success. 

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities initiatives that celebrate the creativity of the United States’ young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self discovery, and achievement. Each year, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize 12 outstanding programs in the United States, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

Recipients receive a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to visit the White House and accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Awardees also receive a full year of capacity-building and communications support, designed to make their organizations stronger. In addition, 38 exceptional youth-focused arts and humanities programs across the United States receive a Finalist Certificate of Excellence.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Ferris State University helping students to succeed in college with Promesa Summer Success Program

Getting ready for college is hard. Layers and layers of hard.
 
There is an increased rigor in classes. Pressure to study and score high on ACTs. Of course, there is confusing paperwork, forms and even more paperwork for admissions and financial aid. Once that is done, you just have to figure out where to live, meal plans,possible roommates, juggle family and work, and the list goes on and on.
 
Now, you take those layers and wrap it around students and families for whom attending college has not always been an expectation, and you have a good idea of why programs like Ferris State University’s Promesa Summer Success Program are playing an important role in West Michigan.
 
The free program is part of FSU’s Woodbridge Promise Summer Success program – a college prep program that focuses on getting high school students ready for post-secondary education through development classes, ACT readiness, and an overall college level awareness upon graduation.
 
Students interested in enrolling in Promesa must possess a 2.50 cumulative high school grade point average and have ACT sub scores that place them into both Ferris developmental courses (MATH 110 and READ 106). Applicants must be recommended by their high school. Accepted students must commit to an eight-week long program of half-day instruction during the summer following their junior year.
 
The program, which is in its fourth year has grown from 16 students from the Grand Rapids area only to 60 individuals from the Grand Rapids, Holland and Hart/Shelby areas this past summer.
 
Although the program is open to any student, the program was designed with a focus on the Latin@ community. Kaylee Moreno, Director of Latin@ Students at Ferris State University provides perspective and a little background. “FSU looked at Latin@ rates of students entering college, and they were low. We researched where large pockets of these students were living and began targeting those schools.”
 
Moreno says for many of these students, college is not on their radar. "Latin@ students in general are first generation. Access is to college is not discussed or viewed as a possibility,” she says.
 
To identify these students, Moreno says they take a very hands-on and personal approach. "We work with community leaders and the schools to identify students on the edge but are not being engaged. They are just on the brink of being eligible for college. "
 
Promesa combines fundamentals of algebra, college reading methods and college study methods with a cultural infusion by partnering with community organizations such as the local school districts, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, LAUP (Latin Americans United for Progress) and the Believe2Become Program.
 
Like the program’s name, the results have been promising, according to data shared by Moreno. The 2016 cohort of 60 participants produced 57 “successful completers” – a 95 percent success rate. And for the last three years, students from the Hart/Shelby area have posted a completion rate of 90 percent, while Holland has a program finisher rate of 88.24 percent. Grand Rapids has seen 84.09 percent of its students complete the program since 2013.
 
The most recent data available shows that 21 Promesa students from the 2014 cohort group were enrolled in post-secondary schools – six at Ferris and the remainder at other four-year institutions and community colleges. And 24 students who participated the 2015 program have been accepted to Ferris for the 2016-17 academic year.
 
To learn more about the program, you can visit their the FSU site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor
 

Beer and business: GRCC's Fountain Hill Brewery responds to industry's growing hiring needs

Beer City needs beer employees — and who better to provide high quality education and training for our metropolis’s brewing and food operations than Grand Rapids Community College and the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education?

The Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is the school’s response to the industry’s growing hiring needs that go beyond solely understanding the brewing process and includes mastering the entire brewery operation that is needed to run a successful business.

The certificate program includes fieldwork experiences and an internship at a brewery or brewing-related operation. Course topics include brewing, fermentation principles, packaging, labeling, merchandising, marketing and operations management — including laws and tax regulations.

Amy Koning, Associate Dean of Operations, says industry partners, including many of the largest brewers in the city, were the catalysts for the program at a time it became apparent that the rapid growth of the industry and the demands of the job market far exceeded the supply of trained workers. With a highly successful culinary arts program that is routinely named one of the best in the country and established connections with the restaurant industry, GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education was a logical place to design and offer a program.

The centerpiece of the Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is a fully functional brewpub, The Fountain Hill Brewery, which is operated by students enrolled in the program which began in the summer of 2016.  “The brewpub is a lab, just like the Heritage Restaurant,” Koning says, referring to a restaurant run by culinary students. “Students are in class when they are brewing and serving when the brewpub is open.”

The program is two semesters long and  includes an internship for completion. Koning says the next cohort is full, with 18 students enrolled. There is currently one full-time instructor and two part-time faculty serving in the program.

The Fountain Hill Brewery is open to the public but has limited hours.

Hours of operation are:

5:30-7:30 p.m. on the following Thursdays/Fridays

Fall 2016
  • September 22-23, 29-30
  • October 6-7, 27-28
  • November 3-4, 10-11, 17-18
  • December 1-2
Winter 2017:
  • January 19-20, 26-27
  • February 2-3, 9-10
  • March 16-17, 23-24, 30-31
  • April 6, 13-14

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Help wanted: Must be interested in making a difference in the community

Are you interested in helping to end homelessness in Grand Rapids? How about making sure the West Michigan business community grows and local neighborhoods thrive? Or being in a classroom and shaping the next generation of citizens?

If any of these descriptions describe you, check out these three organizations that have openings for jobs that can make a significant impact in the community and in the lives of people throughout our area.

1. Well House is growing and looking for a Chief Operating Officer.

If you interested in being an agent of change in the community and being part of an organization that is tackling the issue of homelessness in an innovative way, Well House Executive Director Tami Vandenberg has the job for you.
 
“This is an incredible opportunity to help shape the future of Well House and the movement we are building to change the conversation around homelessness in our community,” Vandenberg says. “This position will interact with a wide cross-section of the city including people living on the street, elected officials, funders and service providers. A rare opportunity to have lasting impact in people's lives as well as the city's housing future."

For more information, you can view the application here and the Well House website here.

2. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has two new leadership positions posted.

If you are  interested in economic development and being part of the team that has significant impact on West Michigan’s business growth and success, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has recently announced  two new opportunities to join its senior leadership team. The two available positions are Vice President of Talent Development and Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

You can view the jobs here and learn more about the Chamber here

3. The GVSU Charter School Portfolio has multiple job openings in both east and west Michigan

If education, teaching and learning is your passion, Erin Abel has a series of job openings in the GVSU Charter School Portfolio that might be what you are looking for. “We’re the first accredited charter authorizer in the nation,” Abel notes. Beyond the intrinsic value of working in education, Abel explains there are significant professional and personal development opportunities. “What you get working at a GVSU charter school: M.Ed tuition reimbursement, free professional development, a statewide support network, and career satisfaction,” Abel says.

You can view the employment opportunities through the GVSU Charter Portfolio here.

If you’re looking for a new career or position, keep an eye on our jobs and innovation section. Rapid Growth will be highlighting other interesting jobs across many sectors in the upcoming months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Building respect: Grand Rapids launches bicycle safety campaign to curb crashes, grow awareness

It’s no secret that motorists and bicyclists don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to navigating the streets of Grand Rapids.

Individuals have aired frustrations over how to interact with the 80 miles of new bike lanes introduced in the city since 2010, others are unaware of the bicycle ordinances, and people are fed up with bad behavior displayed by both motorists and bicyclists, according to research commissioned by the city in 2015.

Still, that same research reports residents believe that drivers and bicyclists can share the road together in harmony — something that is particularly needed in a city with the second highest fatal bike crash ratio in Michigan.

But, how, exactly can this happen?

City and state officials hope much of the answer lies in a bicycle safety education campaign, Driving Change, they unrolled Monday at City Hall.

“Our number one goal is that Grand Rapids is a safe place for everyone,” whether you are a bicyclist, driver, skateboarder, or pedestrian, Bliss said at Monday’s campaign launch.

A multi-tiered education plan that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is funding to the tune of $632,000, Driving Change culminates local officials’ year-long effort to better understand the reasons behind the high rate of crashes involving vehicles and bicycles. The campaign will feature television ads (which can also be seen here), billboards, radio commercials, and social media and other digital ads that aim to educate drivers and cyclists about safe behavior on the roads.

“We know we need to build respect between cyclists and motorists,” Bliss said.


Additionally, the city will be handing out 1,000 free bike lights on a first-come, first-served basis. The lights will be given out at various community events, and individuals can pick them up at the Development Center at 1120 Monroe.

The initiative will promote a series of key rules, including:
 
  • Motorists passing a bicycle must leave at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and a bicyclist, a standard that was passed by the City Commission in 2015 and went into effect this year.
 
  • Bicyclists must make sure they’re visible on the road and use a forward white light and rear reflector, or white light, when riding at night.
 
  • Motorists need to watch out for their cyclist colleagues, particularly when making a right-hand turn.
 
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
 
  • Bicyclists should stick to the roads, not the sidewalks. Additionally, there are places where cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited, including downtown Grand Rapids.

Police noted during Monday’s event that the goal will not be to issue citations against drivers or cyclists who violate the bicycle-related ordinances, unless officers believe them to be necessary. Instead, law enforcement and more than 60 community partners, including the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, will focus on distributing the educational materials.

“Grand Rapids will be a model for cities in Michigan and beyond,” said Grand Rapids Bicycle Police Officer Eric Gizzi, who was joined at Monday’s event launch by police officials from throughout Kent County, including East Grand Rapids and Walker.

Grand Rapids is the first city in Michigan that MDOT is working with on an initiative like this, and Josh DeBruyn, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at MDOT, noted that the decision to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in support stemmed from the fact that the city has one of the worst bicycle-related crash rates in the state. Between 2008 and 2014, the most recent data available, Kalamazoo had the highest fatal bicycle crash ratio, Grand Rapids had the second highest, and Detroit and Lansing came in at the third highest. In Grand Rapids, there were 71 bicycle-involved crashes in 2014, 85 in 2013 and 93 in 2012. Of these crashes, there was one fatality in 2013 and another fatality in 2012.

De Bruyn also noted that Grand Rapids has a large, and growing, bicycle culture, making it that much more important that a sustainable truce between drivers and bicyclists occurs. An MDOT-commissioned study shows the annual economic and health benefits for Grand Rapids associated with bicycling total approximately $39.1 million each year, including $8.3 million on the purchase of bicycling-related items, $2.6 million in manufacturing, $13.5 million in avoided health care costs, $10.3 million in reduced absenteeism (i.e. people are able to make it to work), and $4.3 million in event and tourism spending.

Plus, the community has the largest bicycle industry presence in the state, and bicycling is a crucial element of the city’s larger commitment to sustainability in the city, Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz said.

“Our Driving Change campaign fits with the city’s placemaking strategies and aligns with the vision of Grand Rapids business and civic leaders who understand bicycling can serve as a tool to help attract and retain talent in an ever-increasing competitive employee recruitment landscape," Schulz said.

For more information, you can visit the Driving Change website and Facebook page.

Photos by Tommy Allen, logos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.

Have an idea to make your neighborhood, city & world a better place? Pitch it at GVSU's 5x5 night

GR Current's March 5x5 Night is rather unique. Instead of entrepreneurs pitching ideas for their own business ideas and $5,000 in funding, individuals will be pitching ideas to develop new or existing community-based initiatives that provide value to local neighborhoods, communities or the world.

Kevin McCurren, Executive Director, The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ruth Stegeman, Assistant Dean and Director for Community Engagement at the College of Community and Public Service, are part of the team that is organizing this event.

Stegeman says the key component of this 5x5 Night are the connections between community partners, the owner of the idea and Grand Valley State University.
 
"We use a very broad description of the community partner: It could be a business, a non-profit organization, a faith-based initiative or a loose group of neighbors,” Stegeman says. “We are looking for ways to help these organizations sustain initiatives with the help of our school." 

She says the ideas can be new, or it can be about growing an existing program. These types of programs can be as diverse as funding for a research project, a development of an app that would help an organization with their mission or an after-school program. It is wide open. (You can get a sense of the range of  ideas by visiting the 5x5 Night site here and review the currently submitted ideas.)

McCurren says any GVSU faculty, staff, or student, preferably in collaboration with a community partner, can submit an idea. He also says the program is open to anyone in the community, but the goal will be to connect these individuals and community partners with GVSU resources.
 
"We think 5x5 is important and unique to West Michigan,” McCurren says. “For the university, it is a great way to foster community involvement."
 
For community partners or individuals without an existing GVSU connection, the organizing team is available to help facilitate a match.
 
"It is not just about the $5,000, it is about putting your idea out there and building a community of supporters and followers,” McCurren adds.

This approach to 5x5 Night is somewhat of pilot program and will be evaluated after it is over, but the goal would be to do it once every semester, McCurren says.

The program follows the same basic format as the more traditional 5x5 Nights. The top 5 ideas based on a public vote will be pitched to a panel of five judges for five minutes and with five presentation slides in efforts to win $5,000 in funding for the project. Submissions for new and existing initiatives are welcome.

If your initiative is selected as one of the top five, pitch coaching is available. The event is open to the public.

Submission deadline: Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Time of the public event: Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 5-7 pm¨Location: L.V. Eberhard Center (Room 201), 301 West Fulton Street, Grand Rapids.

Please visit www.5x5night.com in order to submit an idea, vote, or receive updates. For more information, send an email to: hello@5x5night.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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