Bates Place, a nonprofit founded in 2006, has come to be known as the neighborhood hub in the South Hills area that has succeeded in strengthening the community. A big part of their presence has been the strong desire by a team of connectors who have invested their energy and time into making connections in their neighborhood.
Luke De Haan, community connector at Bates Place, describes the small nonprofit as being made up of a small team of community connectors and practitioners of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) who work in the area between Wealthy, Eastern, Franklin and Madison. The approach of ABCD entails utilizing strengths and potentials of community members in the sustainable development of their communities, which results in the empowerment of the people as they use the resources they have.
“It is the connectors’ jobs to get to know neighbors and build trust and rapport with neighbors in that area,” De Haan says. For him, these interactions add value to the overall community by creating connections and building bonds between neighbors.
The connectors of Bates Place become acquainted with individuals in the neighborhood to learn not only their passions, but also their gifts and talents, which come to serve as assets to the neighborhood. As the connectors get to know more neighbors, De Haan says, they begin to work at connecting neighbors with mutual interests or even those in need of the gift or asset of another neighbor. “As relational collateral develops between connectors and neighbors, and more importantly between neighbors and other neighbors, the bonds...grow stronger and the community as a whole grows stronger.”
The existence of Bates Place is to serve the neighborhood, according to De Haan, the married father of one busy toddler. There are no programs or bureaucracy involved, just a team of individuals working collectively to serve the neighborhood that is close to their hearts. The First Christian Reformed Church and Grand Rapids Urban League both connect and work with Bates Place in reaching the neighbors.
Before the COVID pandemic hit, Bates Place brought neighbors together for a variety of hospitality events for every season.
One Saturday per month, neighbors came together to brunch at the Bates Street location to share food and socialize over a potluck. This is the only location although Bates Place does much of its work out in the community and neighborhood. Other neighborhood efforts have included assisting neighbors in obtaining and maintaining their own raised-bed gardens as well as in community garden settings. These gardens have further contributed to building and maintaining individual empowerment by offsetting the scarcity of food and providing for their own individual needs. Allen Manor Gardens was a collaborator in May 2019 when they hosted a community brunch and build event for the neighbors.
Photo courtesy of Bates Place
The desire to give back to the neighborhood was even felt by younger generations in the area, as demonstrated by a Christmas project that was brainstormed by a young man from the community who sent a letter via social media with his idea to place luminaria bags along the sidewalks in his block, which resulted in several community connectors and members stepping up to assist him in planning and executing his idea. Also, during the later winter months, Soup’s On! gave the community time to come together for fellowship and fun over soup and bread.
A resident of the Baxter Neighborhood for over six years, De Haan is approaching his fourth year on the Bates Place team. Returning to Grand Rapids after working as a teacher in West Africa, he jumped at the chance to work in his neighborhood after learning about the plans for developing a team of community connectors in the Baxter and South Hills neighborhoods.
True success for Bates Place, most importantly, comes in the form of the relationships that have developed and extended deeper into the neighborhood. It brings hope to the neighbors by keeping them connected to society and pushing them toward a sustainable future. As De Haan says, “the community is stronger because neighbors have been empowered to use their gifts, talents and energy to make things happen.”
Southeast Strong is a series funded by the City of Grand Rapids that is focused on the multi-faceted neighborhoods of the city's southeast corridor. Through the exploration of the neighborhoods' entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and community members, the series' local storytellers will highlight the resiliency of resident voices and projects, especially during COVID-19 recovery.
Shanika P. Carter is an author, freelance writer, editor, and adjunct communications instructor. She is also the Principal Consultant of The Write Flow & Vibe, LLC (www.writeflowandvibe.com), offering writing, editing, and content development services to a variety of clientele, including fellow authors and businesses. Shanika is the author of the book To Lead or Not to Lead, which was released in 2019.