Lake Michigan is only 35 miles from Grand Rapids, but we often take for granted how quick and easy it is to enjoy a fun day in the sun and sand. To a kid from a lower income home, the distance may as well be 1,000 miles. Parents working more than one job or odd hours, a lack of funds, and no transportation often prevent kids from experiencing one of Michigan’s incredible natural resources. For the majority of west side Grand Rapids elementary school kids, Lake Michigan is sadly out of reach.
Parents working more than one job or odd hours, a lack of funds, and no transportation often prevent kids from experiencing one of Michigan’s incredible natural resources. For the majority of west side Grand Rapids elementary school kids, Lake Michigan is sadly out of reach. OST has teamed up with Grand Rapids Public Schools to give fourth-graders at west side schools the opportunity to experience the big lake firsthand.
“If one is struggling to make ends meet and gas prices are high, it’s too expensive to get to the lake,” says Michael Lomonaco, Director of Marketing for Open Systems Technologies
(OST), 605 Seward Ave. NW in Grand Rapids. “When you grow up in the city, it may not cross your mind. You’re focused on surviving. Every kid in Michigan should get to experience the big lake.”
The folks at OST have teamed up with Grand Rapids Public Schools
to give fourth-graders at west side schools the opportunity to experience the big lake firsthand. OST is paying for four field trips to Hoffmaster State Park
near Muskegon, beginning on Thursday, April 24, and ending on Friday, May 2. Fourth-graders from Sibley, Harrison Park, and Stocking schools will have the opportunity to explore some of the 1,100 acres of forest-covered sand dunes along the three miles of Lake Michigan sandy beach that comprise Hoffmaster.
These trips have been a year in the making. GRPS wanted to be very deliberate about the parents, teachers, and administrators being onboard. The focus is on fourth grade because that’s when kids have a natural resource and science curriculum. Bringing them to Hoffmaster Park allows them to have a hands-on experience, to touch and feel what they’ve been learning in the classroom.
“Our hope is that OST and GRPS collectively can find a way to provide the opportunity for every fourth-grader in GRPS to experience this” Lomonaco says. “It’s ambitious, but we dream big at OST. Maybe this will give the kids some hope along the way.”
It just makes sense. How can kids possibly understand the importance of green spaces, if they can’t get outside the city? “We take for granted these precious resources,” says Lomonaco.
Beyond that, numerous studies show that experiencing natural resources benefit children in many ways, including improved concentration, more imaginative and creative play, improved awareness, reasoning, and observational skills. Nature also buffers the impact of life’s stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. Source
According to researchers Roger Hart and Robin Moore, the culture of childhood that played outside is gone and children’s everyday life has shifted to the indoors. As a result, children’s opportunity for direct and spontaneous contact with nature is a vanishing experience of childhood. Source
. One researcher has gone so far as to refer to this sudden shift in children’s lives and their loss of free play in the outdoors as a ‘childhood of imprisonment.’ Source
Childhood and regular unsupervised play in the outdoor natural world are no longer synonymous. One researcher calls this the “extinction of experience,” which breeds apathy towards environmental concerns. Society today has become “so estranged from its natural origins, it has failed to recognize our species’ basic dependence on nature as a condition of growth and development.” Source
The trips to the lake are something new for OST, whose employees volunteer and offer pro bono IT services for nonprofits in Michigan.
“Writing a check can be an easy way out, so we want to work alongside the community and be a true partner,” says Lomonaco. “Sometimes it means getting your hands dirty, and sometimes it means peeling back the onion. We want to go beyond our comfort zone, to innovate, and think big.”
OST chose to focus on Grand Rapids’ west side because the company’s home office is located there. Lomonaco points out that the trips would not be possible without OST’s CEO Dan Behm and his wife Barb, who have a passion for helping children.
“Although OST doesn’t have a mission statement, its culture encourages community involvement,” Lomonaco says. “We put employees and families first and customers second. We believe that if we take care of those things first, profitability will follow. We ask how can we help ourselves by doing this and provide inspiration to other companies to provide hope for kids. If one kid says he wants to go into environmental science, that’s a win.”
Founded in 1997, OST’s headquarters are located within a renovated building on GR’s west side. OST began as a $5 million company with seven employees in one location. Today, it also has offices in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, and London. The $100 million company provides information technology infrastructure services and products, application development, and management services.
- Follow OST on their Facebook page
- Take your kid to Lake Michigan… and bring some friends!
Victoria Mullen is the Do Good editor for Rapid Growth Media.
Photos by Adam Bird