Note: Several members of the Van Andel Millennial Board will offer individual perspectives on the visit to Grand Rapids. Some posts will recap the entire visit, while others will discuss individual tour stops.
By: Courtney Dernberger, Hope College
As a graduating senior at Hope College, I was very excited to gain a deeper perspective on a city I had become more and more familiar with during the years. Throughout the two-day tour, we met many individuals who seemed to reflect the very character of the city. The pervading trait that seemed to resonate in each individual was passion.
Unlike many large urban areas, the people of Grand Rapids do not ignore the ugly aspects of the city. Rather than turning a blind eye, they passionately meet the challenges head on – and this is what was exciting to see on our tour – young and old leaders all over the city taking the initiative to make a difference and invest in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Heart-breaking statistics are quickly met with a creative solution. One in four children go hungry each night in the city of Grand Rapids. Though this is a devastating reality, it is not one that is ignored. One of my favorite visits was the Kids’ Food Basket. They are ferociously attacking childhood hunger in greater Grand Rapids, providing sack suppers to more than 4,000 elementary school children everyday. How amazing is that!
Another fascinating company was WMCAT, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology. They are responding to poverty in the city by providing after-school education as well as free adult education so families are able to survive and prosper indefinitely. It was inspiring to talk to Luisa Schumacher, the executive director of the program. She is a young leader who saw the hardship in her city and has made an enormous difference for families all over the area.
None of these programs would be possible without the generosity of fellow Grand Rapids citizens. It was amazing to learn that Grand Rapids is the second-most philanthropic city in the country. Families like the VanAndels and the DeVoses have stayed in Grand Rapids and given it the opportunity to become vibrant and alive once again. They have created the means for young and passionate leaders to meet the needs of the city and its people.
I would love to move to Grand Rapids in the near future. Not only are there countless opportunities to get involved and make a true difference, but the heart of the city – the people – are full of authenticity and passion.