Garfield Park-Alger Heights-Grandville Ave

Women of the avenue: The strength of Grandville Ave.

Para leer este articulo en español dale click aqui.

This piece is a collaboration between Amy Hinman, and Michelle Jokisch Polo, On The Ground GR Editor.

This photo series is a glimpse at the everyday life of women residing on Grandville Avenue through the lens of a visual narrative.

This art piece was created by women who live on Grandville Avenue. The activity was facilitated in the Cook Library Center by Rosa Corona, a local artist and Grandville resident. 

Corona sees art in everything—from the flower gardens that mark Grandville Avenue with bursts of color to helping teachers decorate their bulletin boards. She believes in sharing her passion to create community.

“Art is a talent God has given me. It’s like when someone has something they’ve never used until someone else comes and motivates them to use their talent—that’s what art is like for me,” says Corona

Corona facilitated the creation of a collage made by women of the Avenue. Together, they arranged strips of paper on a large poster board, creating a bright representation of life on Grandville Avenue—a living metaphor with school buses, flowers, monarch butterflies, families, and more.

Even when there’s struggle, Corona believes that perseverance itself is an art form. She began learning English at age forty, and when people said she couldn’t learn because she was too old, that just made her work harder.

“It’s important to try. Through sacrifice, anything can be accomplished. Giving it all you got, and finding people who feel the same way you do can help you remember that you can make things happen,” she says.

“Miss Sue” (Sue Garza from the Cook Library Center) helped Corona hone her artistic talents and improve her English. Corona considers her a mentor for helping her realize her dreams.

“There are no barriers. Whatever dream you carry in your mind you can achieve. I can say that I am proof of this,” she says.

Josefina Maldonado s from Mexico and has been living on Grandville Avenue for the last nine years.

Josefina likes farmwork, and she’s good at it. Being outside with the vegetables and the earth and the sun—it’s comforting, and a place she feels at home.

“I like to work in the fields. I like to work picking vegetables, pumpkins, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. I have also worked picking blueberries,” says Maldonado.

But she wants more for her children. Her own access to education was limited, so making sure her children can go to school means they can be safe, they can get an education, and that they can thrive.

“I want my children to stay in school so they have a better future,” says Maldonado.

Margarita Ortiz hails from Mexico’s capital city but has spent the last twenty-two years living on Grandville Avenue.

“My dream is for all of the kids in the neighborhood to be able to make their dreams come true,” says Ortiz.

Ortiz’s passion is children. She wants them to have opportunity—for careers, education, and the ability to grow in the community on Grandville Avenue.

That’s why she decided to become a volunteer Parent Action Leader (PAL) at Cesar Chavez Elementary. As a PAL, she worked with students on reading, tutored those who’d fallen behind, and even helped kids open their milk cartons.

“Through the program we went to see the nutcracker, to the museum, to Chicago, to the zoo. I learned a lot, and I loved to do these things—they filled my heart with joy,” says Ortiz.

It was the PAL program that kept Ortiz going through the midst of her divorce, and even allowed her to heal. Volunteering at Cesar Chavez helped her feel alive and joyful, and less depressed.

And it’s this joy that she wants to see spread throughout the neighborhood.

“I want my Grandville Avenue to show off the pride I feel for our culture with more flowers,” says Ortiz “We are a multicultural neighborhood made up of outstanding people.”

Blanca Santizo from Guatemala has been in the United States for 13 years. She moved to Grandville Avenue seven months ago.

At sixteen years old, Santizo started working at an artisan craft shop back in her home country of Guatemala. Eventually, she became the owner of the business and made enough money to be able to move to the United States.

Santizo first arrived to New York City, and although she had dreams of building her own business she didn’t have enough money to get started.

“When I first came here, I wanted to be able to build my own business, but I didn’t have any money so I started working the day after I arrived,” she said.

Once she had saved enough money, she started selling jewelry from a small stand in New York City. In time, she turned the small stand into a storefront in the Bronx after receiving a $4000 dollar loan from family. From the storefront, she sold jewelry, perfumes, and Ecuadorian music.

“We had the business for ten years People think that because you are not from here you aren’t able to achieve the same things, but that is not true. We have been able to get ahead with all of our business under my name,” says Santizo.

Even though she has been in Grand Rapids for only seven months, Santizo is anxious to get started with another business venture. This time, she wants to be able to do this from home so that she can have her two daughters, Kate and Kimberly, nearby. Both Kate and Kimberly attend Cesar Chavez Elementary School.

“I see the potential for starting something out of my house. Maybe something around selling clothes or hats or maybe even scarves. I have always dedicated my time to my daughters and I wouldn’t want to stop doing that," emphasize Santizo.

Monica Zavala is the Program Manager for the Cook Library Scholars program, she is from Mexico but has lived in Grand Rapids since she was fourteen years old.

Sue Garza is the Director for the Cook Library Center and has been working on Grandville Avenue for the last twelve years.

The pair first met six years ago at Cesar Chavez Elementary School where Zavala was a PAL. Sue was in charge of picking up and taking the Cesar Chavez Elementary students from school to The Cook Library Scholars program, an after school program to help kids in her neighborhood thrive academically. It was one of these afternoons that the two first met.

Upon finding out about the program at the Cook Library Center, Zavala knew she wanted to get involved. So she started bringing her three kids to the library every single afternoon so that she could help the neighborhood kids with their homework.

After seeing her commitment to the program, Monica was offered the position as Parent Outreach Coordinator and worked from ten to twelve hours a week, and eventually, she worked her way up to her current position as The Cook Library Scholars Program Manager.

Her youngest, Jocelyn, learned to read her first words in the library. Garza would read aloud to her while Monica was enrolling kids in the program.

“She listened to every parents’ needs and has the trust of the parents. That’s the beauty of a program that works,” shares Sue Garza, who serves as the Center Director.

Sue has been working on Grandville Avenue since the very beginnings of the library back in 2005. When she first applied for the job, she was looking for something part-time where she could put to use her degree in library science while being able to stay home and take care of her two sons, Nathan and Anthony, who were five and four years old at the time.

The fearless pair work hard to make sure every individual who comes in through the library doors are able to make their ideas a reality in an inviting environment.

“We take time to get to know the families. We get to know the kids and the parents and we try to make it feel like home” says Garza.

“When I make arroz con frijoles (rice and beans)—the library smells like home and in this way we make a small effort to bring the familiar to every visitor,” shares Monica.

Their purpose for the library is to help the residents of the neighborhood gain access to resources, educational opportunities and develop meaningful relationships.

“We make time because people matter and relationships matter,” emphasizes Garza.

Amy Hinman is a writer extraordinaire who moved to Grand Rapids five years ago with dreams of smashing the colonial patriarchy, eating locally sourced vegetables, and biking all around the city. She became connected to Grandville Avenue during the two years she spent working for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. During her time at The Center, her mother unexpectedly passed away; she found comfort and community in the forced vulnerability of grief.

On The Ground GR

On The Ground GR is a Rapid Growth series. This series will highlight and celebrate the communities found touching along the Grandville Avenue of Grand Rapids.

Over the next few months, On The Ground GR journalists will be knocking on doors and getting to know the neighbors and community members. We will dive deeper into topics concerning this neighborhood's residents and stakeholders while celebrating the diversity and strength found in this area. We are on the ground listening and want to celebrate the community's unifying spirit of positivity and vibrancy.

You can follow On The Ground GR's work via Twitter (#OnTheGroundGR @rapidgrowthmedia), Facebook and Instagram. To connect with On The Ground GR's editor, Michelle Jokisch Polo (read more about Michelle here), you can email her at [email protected] and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

On The Ground GR is made possible by The Frey Foundation, The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation organizations working to guarantee all communities thrive.

Photography by Dreams by Bella.