Focus Area: Series stories that propagate joy and inspiration within our community

At the end of 2023 the “State of Local News Project” report hit my desk as the Medill School of Journalism reported that local newspapers faced a staggering decline in 2023, surging in this year to a new decline “high” at an average rate of 2.5 per week. This result of this alarming trend has led to the emergence of what we often refer to as “news deserts,” which in turn leaves numerous communities with drastically reduced news coverage and its consequential impact we continue to feel more and more regardless of where you live.

Rapid Growth, as a partner within a growing international network of magazines committed to the power of solutions journalism, seeks with each story we publish to push back against this disheartening news desert trend working in concert with like-minded members of our creative community made up of journalists and creatives and made possible via our sponsors to ensure that topics of interest and importance are elevated within our society via the stories we create and share weekly. 

As I reflect on the many stories we have shared last year, I am first most proud of what we are able to deliver for West Michigan with an inspiring resonance as our diverse team seeks  to amplify the triumphs of perseverance, innovation, and inclusivity found within our reporting. 

From musicians with autism breaking barriers and becoming role models to the transformative power of design stepping in to address local housing shortages, these narratives reflect to us and those who seek to learn more about our region of Michigan a community dedicated to celebrating our hard won achievements, fostering accessibility for all, and why the power of embracing diversity is still a driver for all that we attempt to deliver. Whether delving into historical archives, revitalizing design communities, or uniting around technology to transform a community once known just for our furs and furniture-making, each theme converges on the common thread of inspiration, weaving a vibrant tapestry that seeks to uplift and unify the diverse voices and stories shaping our ever-emerging West Michigan's narrative.

Please join me in celebrating these few stories that represent just the tip of the iceberg of reporting we have delivered since our humble beginnings in April 2006. It is my hope that these stories resonate with you as well as propagate the joy they have unleashed in our vast and diverse communities and sponsors we serve each and every day.

And as publisher of Rapid Growth, I ask that if you are passionate about shaping the narrative of our community (and in all the ways this area is defined) to join us in bridging the information gap by reaching out to learn more about the sponsoring opportunities within Rapid Growth — a gateway to our 14 Michigan-based magazines and nearly 25 across the nation. Reach out to us, and let's create positive change together.

Disability Inclusion: 

(Arts & Inspiration) Rock musicians with autism to be honored with Discover Ability Award

"My biggest takeaway from this story is the inspiring journey of Keegan Russell and Keenan Miller, two musicians with autism who formed the band K-Rock. Despite facing the challenges associated with autism, they have not only pursued their passion for music but, in stepping up, have become role models for others with disabilities. I am also proud to say that I was lucky enough to see them receive recognition at the 2023 Discover Ability Award during the Invest In Ability Gala by Disability Advocates of Kent County. As publisher, I hope other young people with disabilities will find inspiration, as I did, stepping into the light of being authentically you and considering how they, too, can contribute their talents to the empowerment of others in West Michigan and beyond."

(Elevating Talent) Accessibility in the Workplace: Forum to explore ‘going beyond compliance’

“As we are now completing nearly two years of impactful reporting within our “Disability Inclusion” story series examining the disability “wins” in West Michigan, excitement continues to surround the series as evident by our first partnership as a magazine with the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America and Special Olympics Michigan as we joined other sponsors of this informative event, "Accessibility in the Workplace," which highlighted via a panel of passionate advocates who implored us to consider as a society of change agents to explore and better understand the best practices for fostering equitable environments. This one-night-only event also included a tour of the new facility of one of our Disability Inclusion sponsors, Disability Advocates of Kent County, whose mission hopes to break down physical barriers and promote a culture of belonging. I am hoping there will be more future story-telling opportunities in other cities of Michigan for this series so that we can continue to build on the momentum of advancing accessibility for all.”

Literacy Matters:

(Placemaking via personal history) Library and museum help residents research family trees, learn local history

"A lot of folks are moving to West Michigan these days, and in record numbers. Many who do venture here still grapple with connecting beyond the array of countless eateries and extensive lists of watering holes that some use to "define us," attempting to comprehend our identity and history. I liked this story as it showcases the rich historical resources available in West Michigan, encouraging residents to explore local archives for a deeper understanding of the city as well as their own personal past. 

The Kent District Library (KDL), Grand Rapids Public Library, Western Michigan Genealogical Society, and the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives are all featured here, offering valuable tools and collections to aid those seeking to become grounded in place while also seeking to better understand their own history. In the end, this series continues to help people connect more intently through the offerings of our KDL, who continually emphasize the importance of understanding one's roots and our community’s history."

(Being seen) Rural library branches impact on communities by providing connections and resources 

Libraries, such as our Kent District Library (KDL) system, play a valuable role in fostering community connections and addressing specific needs not only in our cities and suburbs but also in the smaller towns that constitute Kent County. With the digital divide prevalent in all areas of society, rural libraries have become vital hubs for internet access, supporting residents' online activities, from essential tasks to education, and even assisting in seeking answers to life’s significant questions. This story highlights how KDL is addressing these challenges with a profound impact on the betterment for the communities they operate within. It is an insightful read!”


Designed in Michigan: 

(Designing Housing Solutions) Modular housing provides affordable homes to help address the housing shortage 

"I love design, and after more than a year of building this series, we finally launched our ‘Designed in Michigan’ series in November 2022, showcasing the transformative power of design. What I loved about this story specifically is how it addressed the pressing issue of housing shortage in Grand Rapids. And while we still await a host of “bumps” in the process to deliver these in our city, we do want to center on the collaborations within, from nonprofits like Seeds of Promise who remind us in this story why we need to emphasize the inclusive design approach, whose goal is still to provide attainable housing options for marginalized communities, ultimately making design a catalyst for positive social change and community development. This story perfectly encapsulated what I had hoped when we began our series, that we would be able to share with our community about the power of place to create a welcoming community so that all can feel like they belong."

(Community Building) Creating community and pride within the design scene in West Michigan
"Amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Grand Rapids design community is experiencing revitalization driven by events like No Agenda, organized by Sara Klele. These gatherings, which are free from rigid agendas and void of expensive-to-attend fees, provide designers within a neighborhood business setting an invaluable opportunity to leave their digital screens behind as they return en masse to network, socialize, and foster a sense of community. The response to the first No Agenda meetup highlighted the profound craving for in-person connections, emphasizing the enduring power of community-driven events to reshape and strengthen the design landscape, ultimately creating a more inclusive, collaborative, and vibrant post-pandemic design community in Grand Rapids. To follow up, they held two more such events since we reported on this event and broke attendance records at each, thus showcasing the growing need for more in-person activities to be produced in 2024 by Klele."

Technology and Talent:

(Tech Week Inspires) Unleashing innovation: Tech Week's impact on Grand Rapids and beyond

"We seem to have no shortage of events in the city, but in the heart of Grand Rapids, Tech Week by The Right Place continues to emerge under its president & CEO Randy Thelen’s vision that technology is a transformative force gaining economic power and speed within our region of Michigan, thus exemplifying our commitment to becoming a Midwest tech hub. With an expansive lineup of events added to 2023’s event, this week-long celebration not only showcases the region's technological prowess but also amplifies its potential for growth and innovation. If you missed it in 2023, have no worries, as your FOMO can end when Tech Week returns in 2024, promising to be even bigger and better than ever."

Voices of Youth: 

(Listening to Youth Voices) Increasing entertainment accessibility for the hard-of-hearing community

“In a most powerful installment of the Voices of Youth series, Northview High School Senior Evan Arnold shed an inspiring light on the critical importance of inclusivity and accessibility in the performing arts, urging us to consider the experience of those in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Our debut story from our Voices of Youth journalism project highlights the challenges faced by residents in Michigan who are hard of hearing or Deaf and emphasizes the need for greater interpreter coverage in various performing events. I’m not going to kid you when I say that this insightful piece generated so much dialogue both within my inbox as well as within our social spaces as Arnold’s story encourages us to reflect on the importance of continually striving for a community where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate in and enjoy the arts. 

I think if you read this debut piece you might find yourself like I did suddenly singing, ‘And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they're goin' through,”’ from David Bowie’s iconic song “Changes.’” This story and all the stories in our Voices of Youth series, made possible by Kent ISD, PNC Bank Foundation, and the Frey and Steelcase Foundations, is just the thing we need more in our culture as we as adults, anticipate the day we lovingly pass the reins to this precious planet we all call home.”

Team Highlights:

(Congrats, Lucia) Disability Inclusion Series Editor Lucia Rios receives 2023 Ability Award

“Lucia Rios, the co-editor of the Disability Inclusion series, stands as a beacon of inspiration for West Michigan and beyond, driving positive change for the disability community and those who ally with their needs and goals. In 2023, she was not only recognized with the prestigious Ability Award from the Disability Network Lakeshore but also received the esteemed Media Person of the Year award from the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America. Rios's award cycle is partly a result of her commitment to accessibility, advocacy, and empowerment, demonstrated through her writing, activism, and leadership roles, including her work with Salesforce Inc."

While we have much to be grateful for in 2023, I want to focus on the role and ever-evolving friendship I've had with Rios over my more than two decades in media work. Her life exemplifies a career dedicated to breaking barriers and fostering inclusion, and this is why Lucia Rios's impactful contributions continue to be recognized in our world. Thank you, Lucia Rios, for elevating the voices and stories of individuals with disabilities, creating a more accessible and empowered community right where we live.”

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