Kent County leadership is nearing the end of its process to name a new county administrator/controller — in essence the chief administrative and financial officer, as well as the person who oversees day-to-day operation of county government.
And the public will have opportunity in early January 2018 to engage and offer feedback on the process and the two final candidates for the job.
The final candidates for the position are Wayman P. Britt, from Grand Rapids, and Marc S. Ryan, from Land O’Lakes, Fla.
The importance of that job is evidenced in the fact that the county’s just approved 2018 budget of $417 million will be second highest in the area, behind only the City of Grand Rapids’ $528 million budget, and that the county will spend just over $350 million to fund the sheriff’s office and courts, social services, the county’s elections, veterans services and other programs.
The position answers directly to the Board of Commissioners. The position’s salary ranges from $110,300 to $171,078, according to the county, but the specific contract for the new administrator/controller is as-yet undetermined.
“The (recruitment) committee is proud to hold the community forum and ask for public feedback in the recruitment process for this important role,” Sandi Steensma, commissioner and Administrator/Controller Recruitment Subcommittee Chair, said in supplied material. “The community’s input in the process is critical to making the right decision for such an important leadership role. We hope residents will make their voices heard as we complete this process.”
Britt is currently the interim county administrator and previously served as assistant administrator. He also played basketball for University of Michigan, and played in the NBA for two seasons before continuing his education. Ryan is currently Chief Strategy and Compliance Officer at MedHOK, Inc., and previously served in the State of Connecticut Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management/State Budget Director.
One of the two will replace former Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio, who retired in June of this year after 22 years of service to county.
On Jan. 10, from 5-7:30 p.m., the county will host an open Candidates Community Forum in the Multi-Purpose Room at the Human Services Complex, 121 Franklin SE, Grand Rapids. This will provide an opportunity for the public to provide feedback regarding the candidates, according to supplied material.
On Jan. 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the finalist candidate interviews with the full Board of Commissioners, will take place and will be open to the public.
Finally, also on Jan. 11, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., recruiting subcommittee will review member commissioner feedback and identify the top candidate to be recommended to the full Board of Commissioners for consideration.
Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) recently announced that they signed an agreement to purchase nearly 200 homes in Grand Rapids and Lansing from a Chicago developer. ICCF will work with other affordable housing advocates to make sure these homes remain affordable for individuals and families with limited incomes.
While Kent County—and Grand Rapids, in particular—is seeing tremendous population and economic growth, it is creating a housing shortage that is driving up the cost to buy or rent a place to live. In many cases, people who have lived in neighborhoods for decades can no longer afford to live there.
There are several agencies in Kent County that are working to ensure that all residents have access to affordable housing and thriving communities. When the broad community is engaged in addressing the urgent need for adequate, affordable housing, we all become less vulnerable and more resilient:
Kent County Housing Commission provides rental assistance to families on extremely low incomes through a voucher system. They also educate property owners and the community on the need for affordable housing.
LINC Uplinks community organizations with real estate developers to “help neighbors, business owners, and community stakeholders realize their visions for the community.”
Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org.
June 24th was an action-packed day on the grounds of Grace Bible College, and the weather couldn’t have been any better. Happy people, food, ice cones and family friendly activities brought the community and businesses together with firefighters, police officers and other first responders.
It was all part of ‘Boots and Badges’, an annual event hosted by the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce to honor and show appreciation for the area’s first responders. The idea is to get people connected with their local law enforcement outside of an emergency or distress call.
A fun-filled game of kickball between firefighters and police was just one of the highlights. Families posed for photos with mascots of the White Caps and Drive #1, hit the button on the dunk tank, competed in 9 Square (a volleyball-type game), checked out the vehicles used by first responders, and even became “honorary” first responders, complete with hats and badges.
By Tara Hernandez, Gerald R. Ford International Airport
All passengers traveling through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) are now being processed in one consolidated security checkpoint, the focal point of GFIA’s Gateway Transformation Project. Construction on the checkpoint was completed Saturday evening, and opened for passengers on Sunday, June 25. Concourse B passengers were processed through the area starting on Sunday, June 4th, but now both Concourse A & B passengers are being screened at the new checkpoint.
The checkpoint is one part of the Airport’s $45 million Gateway Transformation Project that also includes new terrazzo flooring, lighting fixtures, new restrooms & nursing rooms, family restrooms, pre- and post-security business centers, new retail and food & beverage space, and much more. Different portions of the construction will open throughout the summer with phase one set to be complete in late August. Construction on the Gateway Transformation Project began in December 2015.
“We could not have asked for a smoother transition bringing all of our passengers together in our new consolidated checkpoint,” said GFIA President & CEO Jim Gill. “We have to thank our engineering staff for their tireless efforts, and our partners at the TSA for assisting in this transition. It really is a collaborative effort to pull off projects like this, and we’re already hearing from our passengers about how much they appreciate the new space.”
The new consolidated security checkpoint allocates TSA screening in one central location to fully utilize staffing, and make screening lines faster and more efficient.
A post-security Starbucks is set to open Friday, June 30, along with a redesigned Kids Play Area in the pre-security area.
Because some of the construction will have an impact on passenger operations throughout the terminal building, there will be updates, maps, photos, and other helpful tips listed on GFIA’s website: www.grr.org/construction. Signs and airport ambassadors are also available in the terminal building to assist with any passenger needs or directions.
Passengers are still encouraged to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their scheduled flight due to high volumes of traffic with the busy summer and holiday weekend ahead.
One of the resources that allows ACSET Community Action Agency (CAA) to address the most urgent needs of Kent County residents is its diverse board. CAA boards are made up of representatives from the private and public sectors as well as consumers of their services.
Public and private sector representatives bring a wealth of experience, resources and community connections to the board. They represent government, business, religious organizations, welfare, education, law enforcement or other groups and interests in the community served.
Consumers provide meaningful input and insights that are essential to fighting the causes and symptoms of poverty.
By bringing together this diverse group of individuals, the CAA board can:
Help ACSET CAA better understand the needs of the community
Ensure ACSET CAA focuses on the greatest needs of low-income families in Kent County
Make a difference for everyone who seeks the services of ACSET CAA
ACSET Community Action is currently seeking new consumer sector members. Consumer representatives must be low-income and qualify for a CAA service at the time of their appointment.
This is a great opportunity to make your voice heard, gain leadership experience and help others.
Questions? To learn more or find out if you qualify, contact Sarah at 616.336.2228.
People wearing bright red t-shirts are canvasing some of the neighborhoods and festivals in Grand Rapids starting this June – but they’re not stumping for a political candidate: They’re hoping that homes in the city will Get the Lead Out!
Armed with free lead-testing kits and brochures, these team members from the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan are letting people know about federal funds available to make lead abatement possible.
“Lead lurks in the paint of homes built before 1978 – and most houses in the City of Grand Rapids were built before that year. Paint flakes and peels, and when improperly scraped or sanded off, dangerous lead dust can be kicked up,” said Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan and gubernatorial appointee to the State of Michigan’s Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission.
That flaking, peeling lead paint and dust — ingested or breathed in — can be dangerous to anyone. But lead is especially toxic to babies, children and pregnant women. Lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and other health issues. (See GTLO 2017 Fact Sheet for more information on the dangers of lead.)
It doesn’t take much lead to create a toxic situation. One gram of lead dust is enough to make 25,000 square feet of flooring hazardous for young children, according to Haan.
“We’re talking an amount as small as the equivalent of a packet of Sweet’N Low — just that small amount is enough to contaminate a dozen homes in Grand Rapids,” said Haan. “The good news is that lead poisoning can be prevented, and there’s funding to help people get the lead out safely with professionals trained in lead abatement.”
The funding is through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The City of Grand Rapids administers the grant locally and partners with the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, the Kent County Health Department, LINC, and the Rental Property Owners Association to facilitate the Get the Lead out! program. June has been designated “Healthy Homes Month” by HUD but team members will be encouraging applications as long as funding lasts.
The most common types of work done to remove lead hazards from homes are repairing or replacing windows, and re-painting or replacing siding.
Funding is available for eligible homeowners and landlords. Anyone living in the City of Grand Rapids in a home built before 1978 is encouraged to contact the Healthy Homes Coalition to learn about eligibility. For more information, please call the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan at 616.241.3300 or visit www.GetTheLeadOutGR.org. Or, contact the City of Grand Rapids Community Development Department at 616.456.3030 or Doug Stek, Housing Rehabilitation Supervisor, 616.456.3672.
Well, the stats are in from the big Earth Day event at the 2017 Community Clean Up Day in the City of Wyoming and they are nothing short of amazing. Wyoming residents showed up in droves — the stats speak for themselves:
Approximately 400 vehicles went through the site
15,000 pounds of electronics recycling — including 140 Tube TVs — were collected
5,096 pounds of household hazardous waste was dropped off
4,400 pounds of metal were recycled
43 dumpsters were filled and
60 tons of refuse hauled away by Plummer’s Disposal
Five Godwin and Lee High School students pitched in, and so did nine family and friends of City of Wyoming employees. And 44 City of Wyoming employees were on hand to make sure the big Earth Day event was a success.
By Mary Eilleen Lyon, Grand Valley State University
The annual economic impact that Grand Valley State University (GVSU)has on the region is estimated at $816 million. Grand Valley issued its yearly tri-county economic impact report during its April 28 Board of Trustees meeting held at the L. William Seidman Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
The economic impact report covers Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties and used 2015-2016 data. Grand Valley employs more than 3,600 people and enrolls more than 25,400 students who spend money and pay taxes in the region.
Some additional highlights of this year’s report include:
New construction and renovations pumped more than $83 million into the local economy in 2016, creating more than 1,760 trade and construction jobs.
Construction of the $37.5 million Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall will be finished in May 2018 and will expand Grand Valley’s health campus in Grand Rapids.
On the Allendale Campus, an addition to the Performing Arts Center will add 44,000-square-feet of additional space to the existing building. The $20-million project will be finished in August.
Grand Valley alumni now number more than 106,000 and nearly half are living or working in West Michigan’s tri-county area.
The Committee to Honor César E. Chávez has partnered with the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Unity Committee to host the 2017 César E. Chávez “5 de mayo” Celebration.
The public is invited to this annual event,Friday, May 5, at the museum, 272 Pearl St NW, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 per individual, or a table of 10 for $300; purchase tickets online here.
“We are proud to be a partner with the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez in hosting this important community celebration,” said Dale A. Robertson, Grand Rapids Public Museum president and CEO. “The museum is a fitting place for this historical event; we believe in the value of working together to share stories and lessons that inspire and expand cultural opportunities for all.”
Three community members will be honored for their service and social justice work:
Andrés Abreu, editor-in-chief, El Vocero Hispano;
Carol Hennessey, Kent County commissioner, 14th district; and
José Reyna, community health programs director for Spectrum Health.
The celebration will feature authentic Mexican food, music and dancing.
Area colleges and universities joining the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez to support this event include: Aquinas College, Calvin College, Kendall College of Art and Design, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, and Western Michigan University-Grand Rapids.
“Many of our campus partners serve a diverse populations and Grand Valley is proud to partner with and support this annual cultural event alongside our partner universities and colleges,” said Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity at Grand Valley.
The Proud Aguila sponsors of the event are AT&T, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Valley State University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Lupe Ramos-Montigny “Si Se Puede” Legacy Endowed Scholarship at Grand Valley. Scholarships will be awarded in October to Hispanic students who are pursuing college degrees.
Questions about the event can be directed to Lupe Ramos-Montigny, chair of the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616.443.5922.
GRandJazzFest presented by DTE Energy Foundation returns to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., this Aug. 19 and 20, for the sixth annual festival. The popular family-friendly festival is West Michigan’s only free, weekend-long jazz festival.
At the 2017 festival in August, 11 diverse jazz artists and bands will perform, including a student jazz band and two major headline acts. Free face painting by Fancy Faces will be available for kids and, if lines aren’t too long, for “kids at heart.”
The two-day festival will again be free thanks to Presenting Sponsor DTE Energy Foundation, the City of Grand Rapids and other sponsoring organizations, individuals and volunteers.
“There’s something special about jazz that brings people together like no other art form. It’s because jazz is so diverse – it has so many styles, from Big Band to Latin to Contemporary, and I’m just naming a few,” GRandJazzFest Founder Audrey Sundstrom said. “GRandJazzFest is what community is all about.”
GRandJazzFest typically draws thousands to the heart of downtown Grand Rapids for the two-day, outdoor event always held the third weekend in August.
Holding the festival in the center city is by design, to enable festival-goers to take in all that downtown has to offer: restaurants, clubs, museums, microbreweries and shops. The festival typically occurs during Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids. The festival’s location provides easy access to those who ride the bus, walk or bike, and is also close to parking.
The 2017 festival lineup will be announced on April 26 at the House of Entertainment and Music (H.O.M.E.) at The B.O.B.
Sometimes life can bring unexpected challenges. The loss of a job, unexpected medical bills or a house fire can make a financially stable family face homelessness. Unfortunately, unexpected emergencies can happen at any time. There are many organizations in Kent County that provide assistance in these situations. But how do you know whom to contact? What if you need help with food and paying utilities and rent all at the same time?
There is one resource that connects residents to more than 2,900 services in Kent County. The Heart of West Michigan United Way’s 2-1-1 database is the first place families should go in their time of need. Information can be easily accessed by calling 2-1-1 anywhere in Kent County, emailing HWReferral@incontactemail.com or online at: http://www.referweb.net/hwmi/. They even have their own app available for androids and iPhones — just search Kent 2-1-1 to download.
Whatever your situation, you are not alone. In Kent County, it is estimated that 39% of households are struggling to afford basic needs. Last year our local 2-1-1 answered 65,000 calls for help. Most calls are for assistance with:
The database also offers resources specifically for Veterans and information on employment services, education and arts & recreation.
Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org
In this lightning-paced, online world, one of a business’s greatest challenges is to get noticed and set itself apart from a plethora of similar businesses. No mean feat — the Internet is a bottomless sea of noise, images and information.
One only need look at co-founders Jonathan and Beth Mast’s foundational values to understand what sets Valorous Circle apart from its competitors.
‘We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients’
“Obviously, a website has to work — no one is going to use a website that doesn’t work,” said Beth Mast, Owner and Chief Operating Office of Valorous Circle. “But beyond that, it has to be able to engage with the actual client’s audience. That was the primary focus that we began from.
“From there one thing that makes us very unique is that we give our clients full access to their website where that’s not typical. And we’re here to support them, to empower our clients to know that this is their asset, this is their website.”
The Masts work very closely in the community with nonprofits, ministries and primarily with businesses throughout the area, helping them create an online presence that “creates credibility for their business and then drives traffic to their website and more importantly, the right traffic,” said Jonathan Mast, Founder and Chief Internet Strategist. “We don’t just want to provide the client with a pretty website. We want to provide them with a website that’s going to appeal to their target audience.”
It is against this backdrop that the Masts received word that Valorous Circle was being honored as the Chamber’s 2016 Service Business of the Year.
“We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients, obviously,” said Jonathan. “We just feel real honored that the Chamber is recognizing the work we’re doing in the community and showing some appreciation. We’re thrilled, very honored.”
The folks at Valorous Circle are big believers that a company should be involved in the communities where it does business.
“And although we are based in Grand Rapids, we do work throughout West Michigan and as a result of that, we’re members of the Wyoming/Kentwood Chamber, among other chambers, because we want to be part of that community,” Jonathan said. “We want to give back.”
Valorous Circle has come a long way since its humble beginnings, in a chilly basement.
“We currently have 10 employees, 11 if you count our dog, Yoshi, who is our Barketing Director and Happiness Hero,” said Beth. “We have employees that are in sales and marketing, we have developers and support and doing website design, project managers and marketers.”
Jonathan said the Wyoming Chamber does a fantastic job of understanding that a company’s first and primarily goal is to serve and at the same time make a fair profit.
“The Chamber is very focused on helping us become better businesses, become more involved in the community and do a better job of reaching that community, Jonathan said. They help promote each of the businesses that are members and encourage networking and collaboration among the members.
‘Our involvement with the Chamber is mutually beneficial’
“My grandfather taught me many years ago that a rising tide raises all boats. And it’s part of how we do business, it’s part of what we really respect about the chamber, that they understand that concept. That the better the area is doing, whether that’s the individual community, whether that’s the businesses in the community, or whether that’s other aspects related to that, it helps everybody out.
“And so by creating a stronger community, whether that’s a jobs area, whether that’s a business community, whether that’s better networking, whether it’s better collaboration between nonprofits and business, that rising tide benefits every single individual, and organization within the area and I think that that’s one of the things I’m so thankful that I learned early on and we’re really thankful for that the chamber seems to embody.”
After conducting an annual rate study and holding a 20-day public comment period, the Grand Rapids City Commission has set the water and sewer rates for 2017.
Because a portion of the Kentwood system is owned and maintained by the City of Grand Rapids (generally east of Breton Avenue), Kentwood residential customers will see some very slight changes in their quarterly water/sewer bills.
“The average residential customer will actually see a very slight overall decrease of 0.21% in their quarterly water/sewer bill for 2017,” said Tim Bradshaw, Director of Engineering & Inspections with the City of Kentwood.
The approximate changes to quarterly billing for the average customer are as follows:
Water: $2.15 (2.59 percent increase)
Sewer: ($2.46) (3.71 percent decrease)
There were no significant upgrades to the system, and Kentwood experienced minor growth via commercial and residential development.
“The main driver for the increase in the water rate is the need for the City of Grand Rapids to maintain a debt service coverage ratio of 1.2 to maintain their AA bonding status,” explained Bradshaw.
By Area Community Services Employment & Training Council (ACSET)
The New Year is here! It’s also the beginning of tax season. For many, income tax preparation can be an overwhelming process.
What tax credits am I eligible for? What if I make a mistake?
There are plenty of services that can prepare your taxes for you, but if you’re on a limited budget, that might not be an option. Did you know that ACSET Community Action Agency (CAA) provides free income tax preparation and filing for qualifying residents of Kent County?
According to the IRS, last year in the State of Michigan, $2 billion dollars was received by low-income workers in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC. This averaged out to $2,488 in tax refunds per qualifying household. However, it is estimated that 20% of eligible workers in the United States do not claim the EITC. Are you one of those missing out on a larger tax refund?
To benefit from the EITC, you must file a tax return for 2016. If you are not sure where to begin, the CAA Tax Preparation Assistance program can help. The program was developed to increase the number of low-income families receiving the EITC.
Want to know if you qualify for a larger refund in 2017?
Find out if you meet the EITC basic qualifications. Visit the EITC website to learn more.
See if your income meets the limits required by the program. Visit the IRS website to find out the 2016 tax year limits.
Contact ACSET CAA’s Tax Preparation Assistance program at 616-336-4000 for additional assistance.
Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org.
It’s the $64,000 question after a huge snow dump: When will my street get plowed? Watch the video above to learn about the City of Wyoming’s snow removal policy. In a nutshell, there are priorities: first, the busiest streets get plowed; next, the collector streets; and last of all, the quiet cul-de-sacs. More info is available here. The goal of the City of Wyoming’s snowplowing operation is to have all streets plowed within 24 hours after the end of a storm.
Major Streets inthe City of Kentwood with the most traffic — such as 44th, 52nd, Kalamazoo and Eastern — get plowed and salted first during a snow “event”.
Collector Streets — next in line are the “main” streets throughout many of the subdivisions where you live. The streets you use to enter or exit an area adjacent to the major streets are plowed and salted after the major streets have been cleared and are as safe as possible to travel on. Some examples of collector streets are: Baileys Grove Dr., Stauffer Ave and Gentian Ave.
Local Streets are the streets within the subdivisions themselves. These are plowed after the collectors are cleared and safe for travel. Salt is typically not spread on the local streets.
Cul-De-Sacs/stub streets are the last to get attention. Smaller pick-up trucks direct the snow to areas in the cul-de-sac that are suitable for snow storage. It’s important that items are removed from the cul-de-sacs — soccer goals, portable basketball hoops and any other miscellaneous items.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned — maybe a busy street has been plowed and the City has moved onto another when Mother Nature disrupts the routine. When this happens — say, the major roads deteriorate — attention is shifted back to them and the cycle starts over.
Both cities make every effort to have all the roads cleared within 24 hours after the snow event has ended. During most snow events crews are working around the clock with trucks on the road 24 hours a day, sometimes for several days in a row.
If you live in the City of Wyoming and park on the street, there are no worries three seasons out of the year.
But during the winter months, it’s a different story — parking on both sides of the street can restrict the width of the street to a point where emergency vehicles are unable to have access.
To provide better access, the City implements Odd/Even Parking restrictions from December 1 until March 31. See the Odd/Even Parking ordinance for specific information.
According to the ordinance, from December 1 through the end of March of each year and during any declared snow emergency, any motor vehicles and other licensed trailers or equipment “shall be parked only on that side of the street having even numbers on even numbered calendar days and on that side of the street having odd numbers on the odd numbered calendar days between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 7 pm of the same day with the following exceptions:
When a residence is on a cul-de-sac, on-street parking shall only be on the even numbered calendar days.
When a residence is on a street already posted “No Parking”, the no parking restrictions shall apply.
Parked cars will not be ticketed from 7 pm to midnight. At any other time, cars must be parked on the correct side of the street according to that day’s date.
So, in a nutshell: On even numbered calendar days, park on the side of the street with even numbers (addresses) between midnight and 7 pm. On odd numbered days, park on the side with odd numbers. OK to park on either side from 7 pm to midnight.
To promote enhanced safety during storm response and other road maintenance efforts, the Kent County Road Commission (KCRC)joins state, county and municipal transportation agencies throughout the state in installing green strobe lights on road maintenance vehicles. When motorists see green strobe lights, they are asked to slow down and be alert – a KCRC snowplow or road maintenance truck is performing work on the right of way.
“Our vehicles generally travel at speeds of 25-35 mph when conducting storm response efforts or other road maintenance activities. The ability for motorists to identify our vehicles quickly improves their own response time in reducing their speed, which provides the necessary space between vehicles and improves safety for both the motorists and our workers,” said Jerry Byrne, KCRC’s Deputy Managing Director of Operations.
Public transportation agencies advocate the use of green lights because they:
Improve the visibility of authorized public agency trucks while working in the right of way
Differentiate a public agency’s vehicles from other private motorists and companies using amber lights
For the past few years, KCRC has been advocating the use of green strobe lights on road maintenance vehicles. On September 7, 2016, an amendment to the Michigan Vehicle Code, Public Act 16 became effective, giving state, county and municipal transportation agencies the right to use green lights on their vehicles.
“Amber lights are used on vehicles performing all sorts of jobs: mail delivery, refuse pick-up, private plowing, even pizza delivery,” said Jerry Byrne, KCRC’s Deputy Managing Director of Operations. “By combining amber and green lights, public road agencies can differentiate themselves and, hopefully, motorists will learn to equate the green lights with storm response efforts or road repair. We think this will keep motorists, and our crews working along the right of way, safer.”
KCRC has been working with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the County Road Association of Michigan and other local road agencies to spread the word about the implementation of green lights on their road maintenance trucks.
“This winter, motorists will see the green strobe lights throughout the state,” said Byrne, “so it’s important we collaborate to get the message out: green strobe means go slow!”
One of the topics of discussion will be the newOvertime Lawthat goes into effectDec. 1, 2016. If you would like to comment or have figured out how much this will cost your company, please come to the Forum and share with us your input.
This meeting is an opportunity for business owners and the community to face our appointed officials and bring to light any issues or concerns they would like to address. You are welcome to be recognized by the moderator — and present your questions at the allotted time.
Bring your top issues and interact with policymakers from
City of Kentwood
City of Wyoming
County of Kent
Michigan House of Representatives
This monthly meeting will be televised by Cable Channel 25 WKTV.
As we creep ever closer to the snowy weather, the City of Wyoming has received a number of questions regarding which snow removal vehicles are authorized to use green flashing lights.
According to Michigan law, all vehicles engaged in the removal of snow are to be equipped with at least one (1) flashing, rotating or oscillating yellow or amber light. (MCL257.682c).
Last year, the Legislature enacted a change to MCL-257.698 that only allows state, county or municipal vehicles to use a green flashing, oscillating or rotating light — in combination with a yellow or amber light — while engaged in snow removal or other activities.
So, short answer: unless you’re driving a state, county or municipal vehicle, no green flashing lights for you.
KCRC is once again urging motorists to take advantage of the fall conditions and Shake Your Mailbox. Give the mailbox an aggressive shake; if the mailbox moves, it most likely needs maintenance to withstand the winter season and storm response efforts.
Over the years, a mailbox post can rot or become wobbly. By grabbing and shaking it, a resident can determine if it’s secure.
“The average speed of a snow plow is only 25 to 30 miles per hour, but a large enough amount of snow pushed off the road can damage a mailbox that is not in optimal condition,” said KCRC’s Deputy Managing Director of Operations Jerry Byrne.
Addressing necessary repairs now will help residents avoid the potential hassle of delayed mail or the need to make alternate mail delivery arrangements that a damaged mailbox can cause. The colder is gets, the greater the chance of below freezing conditions, and this makes it more difficult to install or fix a mailbox.
“Quick fixes like duct tape, bungee cords and string won’t last the season,” said Byrne. “Tighten screws and ensure that your mailbox post and receptacle are secure enough to endure large amounts of thrown snow.”
KCRC receives a number of calls from residents who believe road commission snow plows have hit their mailbox and caused damage. Byrne said that every complaint is investigated. “What we find, nine times out of ten, is that the snow coming off the truck’s blade, not the truck itself, made impact with the mailbox. We also find that, had the mailbox been in appropriate condition, it likely would have withstood the velocity at which the snow hit it.”
Esperanza Mercado wants her children — kindergartner Coral, first-grader Yra, and fourth-grader Adrian — to have big goals. “I want them to get their master’s degrees,” she said.
“I didn’t get much education,” she said while attending an English literacy class at North Godwin Elementary School. Mercado’s formal education ended in sixth grade. An immigrant from Mexico, she moved to the United States more than 20 years ago.
She’s attending the intermediate-level class, offered by the Literacy Center of West Michigan and led by Americorps instructors, for two hours twice a week to improve her English-speaking and reading skills. At North and West Godwin elementary schools, where more than 40 percent of families are English-language learners, basic and intermediate classes are offered all school year long. Grand Rapids Public Schools also offers the program.
Mercado already speaks basic English, but wants to build confidence.
“I want to be able to communicate with people who speak English,” she explained. “I want to help my kids with their homework, attend meetings with no helper interpreting. I want to be capable to speak without someone else to help me.”
The fact classes are held at school is ideal, said Sarah Schantz, North Godwin Kent School Services Network community school coordinator.
“Having it here makes it a lot easier,” Schantz said. “It’s right after school starts. Parents stay for class after dropping off students. Having them here gives them the extra opportunity to stay after class and help out with things that they like to.”
The class helps parents connect in other ways too. It’s for all non-native English speakers, not just Spanish-speaking.
“It helps them be able to communicate with us, with their students, with helping them with homework,” ” Schantz said.
Helping Students Read Proficiently
Marti Hernandez, director of the Family Literacy Program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, said the program serves a huge need as the Hispanic population continues to grow.
The program’s aims are tied to third-grade literacy, helping parents help their children be fluent readers by then, said Hernandez, a former principal at Burton Middle School. “Our goal is to help the parents learn English so they can be more involved in their child’s education, and be more informed on what’s going on in their child’s school and what the goals are for their child,” Hernandez said.
“It also helps them with employability,” she added. “You need to have some sort of English in order to get a job and to just survive.”
Parents also learn the importance of promoting literacy in the home. Monthly Family Activity Nights are offered for families.
“I am so pleased to see so many of my parents participating in our English Literacy classes,” said North Godwin Principal Mary Lang. “They are so committed to learning the language so they are able to better support their children through their educational process.”
Participant Maria Nunoz, mom to kindergartener Gadiel, sixth-grader Adan and seventh-grader Lorenzo, said she’s continuing to study English so she can better help them in school.
“I help Gadiel with homework, and the alphabet pronunciation,” she said.
Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!
WKTV takes seriously its role as a communications provider. We want our community to be well-informed and more involved in local matters. Note: Wyoming City Council seats are nonpartisan.
Kent County 911 Dispatch
Kent County Under Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young sat down with WKTV to explain the Kent County 911 Central Dispatch millage that will be voted on during the general election on November 8. If you would like to watch the whole interview, you can view it here.
John Ball Zoo/Grand Rapids Public Museum
Dale Robertson of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, CEO of John Ball Zoo Pete D’Arienzo, and Kent County Commissioner Harold Voorhees sat down with WKTV to share information regarding the upcoming millage to help fund the Zoo and the Museum. The millage will be voted on during the general election on November 8. If you would like to watch the whole interview, you can view it here.
At the age of 23, Grand Rapids native Leighton Watson is striving to leave a legacy that matters, and he is confident that his life path is on target to achieve that goal.
Watson was in Grand Rapids Sept. 26 to share with Grand Valley State University students the importance of finding solutions to social injustice within each community. The former student body president of Howard University was the keynote speaker for a presentation called ‘The Power of Student Voices,’ a component of GVSU’s Student Assembly Week. The purpose of the assembly was to encourage students to actively engage in conversation about social and political issues and have their voices heard.
Although he is active in addressing the issues of Civil Rights and social injustice, Watson says he doesn’t think of himself as an ‘activist.’
“I’d rather be called a human being,” he said. “Everyone wants to put you in a box and label you. I’m an American.”
Watson’s current life path crystallized during his senior year of college, around the time of the Ferguson riots. Deeply disturbed by the increasing civil unrest and injustice, he gathered fellow students for a photo, ‘Hands Up’ (as in ‘don’t shoot’). He also traveled to Ferguson to see the situation firsthand.
“You can’t prescribe a remedy for a situation you don’t know about,” Watson said.
Meanwhile, the ‘Hands Up’ image rapidly went viral on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and CNN took notice. The station invited him to the studio to share his views and possible remedies for civic unrest.
“We don’t have to wait until we get to the point of Ferguson,” he said. “A lot of the same symptoms are happening now in other cities, but people don’t realize it until things blow up. If America was what it’s supposed to be, what it says on paper, you’d never have the movement, women’s rights, etc. I still think that there is a gap and that means there’s work for me and us to close that gap.”
After seeing Watson’s CNN appearance — and impressed with his proactive approach to identifying solutions (rather than simply pointing out the problems) — the White House invited him to Washington to be a part of a task force on policing.
“The President asked me what I wanted him to do about Ferguson,” said Watson. “There is no national solution to this issue. It’s something that must be addressed state by state, local government by local government — it has to happen on a local level.”
Since then, Watson has kept busy visiting communities across the country to talk to school children and organizations, discussng concerns and organizing movements. He stresses the importance of preparation and solution-finding, even at the middle school level.
“And I say to middle-schoolers, ‘You have to be prepared to answer the question. Preparation is an ongoing process; you must be prepared to meet the president in that moment.'”
Watson learned the importance of legacy from his grandfather, who started the Section 8 Housing Authority in South Bend, Indiana. Years after his death, people remember and speak very highly of him.
“I was about four years old when he died,” said Watson. “My grandpa taught me that achievement is not a resting place, it’s a trampoline.
“Fifty years from now, history will have written about this time, that these police shootings happened. The question I’ll have to answer my grandchildren is, ‘Grandpa, where were you when this happened?’ And I’ll want to answer that question confidently, that I did do something about it.
“Legacy is important. What you do with your time is important,” said Watson. “I want to look back on my life and be confident about what I did with my time.”
You are pulled over by the police for a headlight being out on your vehicle. You receive a defective equipment ticket and you forget to pay the ticket, so your driver’s license gets suspended. You get pulled over again and this time you are cited for a suspended driver’s license and not only end up paying fines for the suspended driver’s license, but also, a few weeks later, receive a $500 driver’s responsibility fee. Then a year later, you receive another notice from the State of Michigan for a second $500 driver responsibility fee.
Now those fees are only one year as the second wave of phasing out the driver responsibility fees took effect on Oct. 1, 2016.
“A lot of people were calling the state and asking what the second bill was for,” said Kentwood District Court Judge William Kelly, who with former 90th District House Representative Joe Haveman, lead the charge to abolish the state’s driver responsibility fee.
“People would say “Didn’t I already pay this?’ and “Why I am getting hit again with this fee?’ It really became a punishment on a group of people who really could not afford it.”
On Monday, Kelly hosted a small celebration marking the second phase of the gradual elimination of these fees.
“When we brought this before the state government, there was some hesitation because it is such a revenue generator for the state,” Kelly said. Enacted in 2003 when the state was in an economic recession, the fines generate about $100 million for the state treasury. However, about $600 million in fees have gone delinquent or unpaid since the fees were put in place.
“I have a woman who has come into this court and because of the vicious cycle the fees create, now has 56 driver responsibility fees,” Kelly said. This is because if a person does not pay the fee, his/her license can be suspended. If the person gets caught driving with a suspended license, they will get another driver responsibility fee and so the cycle goes.
“They can’t pay the fines unless they work, yet they can’t work because they have no way to get there since their license has been suspended,” Kelly said. “In the end, for many, the only way to get out from under these fines is to declare bankruptcy.”
In 2013, Kelly meet Haveman and the two decided to tackle the driver responsibility fees. The following winter, Haveman presented a bill to eliminate the fees and through a compromise, it was agreed that the fees would be gradually eliminated. The first phase took place last year, with fees being 100 percent the first year and 50 percent the second. On Oct. 1, that was reduced to just a one-year fee assessment. On Oct. 1, 2018, the fees will be reduced by 50 percent and on Oct. 1, 2019, the fees will be completely eliminated. Haveman noted that when he introduced the bill, he had the support of the entire house.
“There was some hesitation due to the revenue it generated but most were pretty much saying ‘Heck yes, this is the dumbest thing,’” said Haveman who is now the director of government relations at Hope Network. Haveman was forced out of the State House because of term limits but before leaving, Haveman said he made it clear that this was the one item at the top of his bucket list that he wanted to complete before leaving.
“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Kelly said. “We are very, very happy. Obviously, we wish we could have done it sooner, but we realize that a compromise was going to have to be made in order to get it done.”
So pleased is Kelly that he plans to celebrate each phase of the elimination. “So make sure to come back in October 2019. We should have a pretty big celebration then,” he said.
Since our story on Tom Gunnels’s project, Waiting On Division ran on September 6, Gunnels has been keeping busy — visiting and filming people on the streets, setting up art shows at The Collective Artspace on Division and filming musicians jamming at Rocky’s Bar and Grill — all to showcase the talents of the people he has come to know as his friends.
And on Friday, November 18 at 6-9 pm, the public is invited to check out a photography exhibit at The Collective Artspace, 40 Division Ave. S. in Grand Rapids.
The exhibit will showcase Gunnells’s photography from throughout the summer as well as stories of how the photos and friendships came to be.
“I am extremely excited to announce that VAGUE photography will be making a trip up from Kalamazoo to help contribute to this show,” said Gunnels. “He will be doing tintypes of some of our friends and some of the veterans who are currently out on the street.
“Come down, learn more, and maybe meet some cool people along the way,” Gunnels said.
Gunnels does not intend to sell the photos for profit and has limited resources for printing. Anyone with a lead on a resource for discounted printing rates, please message Gunnels on the project page.
UPDATE: 36th Street was reopened in the evening of Thursday, Sept. 29.
Motorists are being asked to stay away from 36th Street for the next couple of hours due to a crash investigation at 36th and Wyoming Avenue.
On Thursday, Sept. 29, at approximately 2:00 p.m., the Wyoming Department of Public Safety responded to the report of a serious vehicle traffic crash on 36th Street SW and Wyoming Avenue. The crash occurred when a west bound vehicle driven by a 79-year-old male from Wyoming turned left in front of an east bound vehicle driven by a 43-year-old female from Cedar Springs. The 79-year-old male was transported to a local hospital in critical condition.
The initial investigation indicates that the male driver may have been having a medical condition prior to the crash.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Wyoming Department of Public Safety at 616-530-7300 or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.
On Saturday, September 24, 2016, at approximately 10:53 p.m., the Wyoming Department of Public Safety responded to the report of a serious vehicle traffic crash on 28th Street SW and S. Division Avenue. The crash occurred when a west bound vehicle driven by a 25 year old female from Grand Rapids struck a male pedestrian that ran south across 28th Street in front of her vehicle. The male was pronounced deceased at the scene by the medical examiner. The victim did not have identification on his person at the time of the crash.
The deceased victim has since been identified as Marcos Perez-Ramerez, age 32. Unfortunately, the information found may indicate that both of his parents and a sibling are deceased. The Wyoming Department of Public Safety has been unable to locate any other family members with the limited information available at this time. The public is being asked to assist if they know Mr. Perez-Ramerez or any other potential family members and to call the Wyoming Department of Public Safety with that information.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Wyoming Department of Public Safety at 616-530-7300 or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.
The sun sat high in the sky beating down on the hot, black pavement. Midday was in the rear view mirror, the competitors in front of me had come and gone, and there I stood face-to-face with more than 50,000 pounds of metal that I was expected to control through a timed obstacle course.
“Do you have your driver’s license?” asked the judge to my left as I stared at the vehicle.
A grapefruit sized lump made its way into my throat as the little voice inside my head said what everyone was thinking, “you entered a snowplow driving competition and you left your license in the car?” It was a rookie mistake, and I answered back in a way only a novice can, with false confidence and a dash of ignorance, “No, I left it in the car.”
The judge chuckled and made a couple of marks on his score sheet. I hadn’t even entered the snowplow yet and my score was already sitting in the negatives.
As a celebrity driver at the American Public Works Association (APWA) Snowplow Roadeo, hosted this year by the Wyoming Department of Public Works, I had the opportunity to personally get behind the drivers wheel of a snowplow to catch a glimpse of the challenges the snowplow drivers face come winter. While the competition is all fun and games for myself and the other celebrities, the Roadeo acts as a training seminar for drivers to prepare themselves for the winter ahead.
“This is a training session, but it looks very much like a competition because that’s the way we run it,” explained William Dooley, Wyoming Director of Public Works, “The Roadeo is all about preparing the drivers that have to remove snow and ice from our roads in the winter. It’s really about getting all of the drivers in West Michigan thinking about it again, getting in the trucks, and getting used to where those blades start and stop.”
The idea for the Roadeo was started by the City of Wyoming where they hosted the event for 21 straight years before cutbacks in the department forced the event to come to a close.
“At that time we said we could no longer host it every year but that we would take our turn,” said Dooley. “Well, here we are in 2016, and we’re happy to host the Roadeo once again!”
The drivers take turns driving through a timed obstacle course that tests their fundamentals inside the snowplow. Those fundamentals include basics like having your driver’s license and medical cards on hand, entering the snowplow properly and adjusting the mirrors. After the intial prep is completed, drivers make their way through a course lined with cones and barrels designed to test driving ability with maneuvers like going around a turn to the left and right, backing up, and moving snow in-between parked cars.
Oh, and it’s all timed.
“This event is an opportunity to get drivers back in the trucks to see some real life situations. In addition to the course, we have classroom training on how to interact with the public and stay alert behind the wheel,” said John Gorney, Kentwood Director of Public Works.
“Every element they’ll face on the job, we test them on,” added Dooley.
And the tests are anything but easy. For starters, from the driver’s seat, both blades – the big one in front and the one underneath – aren’t visible. Yes, you read that correctly, you cannot see the blades. The front blade has one orange pole on each end that acts as a guide for the driver. They give a frame of reference on how wide the blade is and an idea on where it’s located. It’s very much a ‘feel’ thing where a driver must become one with the snowplow.
Unfortunately for me, I did not feel one with the machine, and my Master Yoda was nowhere in sight to teach me the ways of the force. During the serpentine I ran over a barrel like it was nothing more than a fly on the windshield. The obstacle that mimics pushing snow between two parked cars was also an epic fail as I distinctly clipped a barrel acting as the rear bumper of a car. Hopefully they had insurance. As I rounded corners, I assume I trucked numerous cones because, truthfully, I couldn’t really see whether I did or not. The sight lines in a snowplow aren’t the most advantageous to a roadway vehicle.
Thankfully the obstacles that involved backing up were taken out of the course for the celebrity drivers. After making my way through the course, I know why, it would’ve been a disaster.
Upon completion of the course, scores were gathered and tallied. Shockingly, yours truly didn’t bring home the celebrity hardware.
I never thought driving a snowplow would be easy, but it didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was. Even with a beautiful day and no true stress of hitting other cars or pedestrians, it was still a lot to process and handle. The ability to drive one of those on a busy street in the middle of winter is daunting, but the Public Works Departments take their biggest job very seriously.
“The event is very important,” Gorney emphasized. “Snow removal for all of the Public Works Departments is the biggest efforts we have. It costs the most money and the trucks are the most expensive piece of equipment. To get back in the truck and get some training is critical.”
Join the Lakeshore community for an evening of flavors, brews, baked goods and more at Coppercraft Distillery! The chef from Coppercraft Distillery will go head-to-head with Butch’s Dry Dock in a live cook-off. Each restaurant will compete to create the most mouth-watering dish using items provided by a Visser Farms.
Presenting sponsor, Coppercraft Distillery, is working with the Township to finalize plans to build a kitchen making the Lakeshore Fork Fest a good opportunity to showcase their Chef and some of the food they’d like to offer in the near future. According to General Manager Paul Marantette, “Local First does great work and it is always fun joining their team to plan a successful event!” Look for Coppercraft at other community events throughout the year. So far in 2016 Coppercraft Distillery has participated in four large-scale events including being the official sponsor of Tulip Time for the third consecutive year.
Coppercraft Distillery started in Holland in 2012 by Kim and Walter Catton when they decided to take their passion for whiskey and bourbon to a new level by opening a distillery. Marantette says Coppercraft “focuses on a premium product using quality ingredients from the very start with our grain that comes from a farm just five miles from our location, to the locally sourced produce and citrus we incorporate into our cocktail program.” Coppercraft chooses to support local businesses such as Central Park Market and the Farmers Market to secure these needs, and let the freshest ingredients speak for themselves as featured on the weekly cocktail specials menu.
Coppercraft will host this year’s Lakeshore Fork Fest, which will feature samples from an array of local food vendors while you enjoy the live cook-off. The cook-off will feature a Chef from Butch’s Dry Dock and Chef Kelsey Winter-Troutwine of Coppercraft Distillery. The Grand Rapids native has spent the last six years working in some of the finest restaurants in downtown Chicago – most recently as a Sous Chef at mk The Resturant, a staple in the Chicago dining scene.
Feast on an array of flavors with Local First at the Lakeshore Fork Fest on Tuesday, September 27 from 6-8:30 PM at Coppercraft Distillery. For tickets, click here.
To learn more about Local First and upcoming events, visit the group’s website, www.localfirst.com.
To many people, ‘homelessness’ is just a word. Maybe we understand this state of being intellectually and academically, but it’s next to impossible to empathize — unless we’ve experienced similar circumstances or have a friend or family member who has lived on the streets. Putting a real face on this dilemma helps humanize the condition, and that’s what Tom Gunnels’s project, ‘Waiting On Division‘ is all about.
You may recognize the name — Gunnels played banjo with local folk band, The Crane Wives for five years (2010-2015) before moving on to work on the Great Lakes Natives music project. Currently, he’s a free-lance photographer and videographer.
Interested in humanitarian efforts since he was a kid, Gunnels originally considered joining the Peace Corps to help disadvantaged people in other countries. Then one day, he realized that there were people in dire straits right in our own backyard.
It doesn’t take much
Earlier this year, he began documenting his encounters with homeless folks by writing a nearly daily diary on Facebook, taking still photos and videotaping people’s stories. Some days he doesn’t unpack his equipment. It all depends on whether or not people feel like being filmed or photographed. Some days are better than others.
“Several of [the street people] are now my friends,” said Gunnels. “They’re people with feelings, just like you and me, it’s just that their circumstances have one way or another led them down this path.”
I shadowed Gunnels one day as he made his “rounds” visiting the street people of downtown Grand Rapids. Soft-spoken and unassuming, he walks with a heavy backpack containing camera and video equipment on his back, trudging through downtown everyday on a personal mission to help folks less fortunate than him by listening, offering a hug when needed and making sure his friends are OK.
“Sometimes, all someone needs is a listening ear or a hug or just a kind word,” he said. “Such simple things make a huge difference in someone’s life. It really doesn’t take much.”
He carried a book with him, Ending Homelessness: Why We Haven’t, How We Can, edited by Donald W. Burnes and David L. DiLeo, as well as a blank journal and a scan disk. He planned to give the journal to a friend who loves to write. The scan disk was for another friend whose camera needed more memory. He’s been in touch with Burnes, who wants Gunnels to be involved with a major project.
The day was hot and muggy and it was only 9 am. Less than an hour in, I was already dripping and wilting. How do people tolerate this day after day after day? I just can’t fathom it.
What is going on in our world? To say this is not okay would be a major understatement. ~Tom Gunnels
“This project is so much more about process than it is anything else,” Gunnels wrote in a Facebook post. “The process of walking downtown with all of the gear, being recognizable on the street as ‘that guy who is filming.’ I try to make a morning walk downtown every day that I can, just to say hi and maybe catch someone who has been wanting to film, but maybe just waiting for the right day.”
Puritan values still rule
Homelessness in Grand Rapids is a microcosm of what is happening across America, where the impact of 1600s Puritan values still thrives. Many people hold on to the notion that one only needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and into the pursuit of the American dream. Those who can’t “deserve” to be destitute, as they are thought to bring no added value to society.
Many homeless folks are disabled or suffer from addiction, some are war veterans, all face social disadvantages that go far beyond the lack of a safe and suitable home. They have reduced access to private and public services, as well as limited access to vital necessities such as healthcare and dental services. They are often seen as unsuitable for employment and their travel options are few.
Getting proper help when one is homeless can seem insurmountable. First, you have to know what services are available. That may take some time to figure out if you’re new in town or mentally ill, as many homeless folks are. Or perhaps you’ve been homeless for a few years and have given up on “the system,” but for whatever reason, today you’re going to give it another shot. Either way, you’ll need to fill out the correct forms. If you don’t have the proper I.D. — like a Social Security card or birth certificate — you can’t apply for basic social services.
If you don’t get it right that day, you’ll have to start all over again. The process is demeaning, time-consuming and frustrating.
On a more basic, day-to-day level, homeless folks are discriminated against at every turn. People cross the street to avoid them. Access to drinking water is limited, even on the hottest days, and some people suffer from dehydration as a result. Access to restrooms is another huge problem.
Then there is the matter of trespassing and loitering. Gunnels showed me a small patch of grass between a building and a fence. It was maybe eight square feet.
“See how small this space is,” he said. “A couple of my friends were just standing here the other day, not bothering anybody, when the owner of the property came out and threatened to call the cops.”
Moving onto the sidewalk was not an option.
“They tell them that it’s still trespassing,” said Gunnels. “Now, if I were to stand here for a while, that’s OK, because I don’t look homeless.”
Everybody is waiting
‘Waiting On Division’ is not simply about a street in downtown Grand Rapids.
“It’s about division in every sense of the word,” said Gunnels. “What divides us as people, as humans.”
One observation became apparent to Gunnels early on: Everybody was waiting for something, whether waiting in line for food, to get in a shelter or waiting for a social services facility to open.
“There’s just a lot of waiting,” said Gunnels. He was convinced that one of the first people he met was just waiting for someone to be his friend.
I was with Gunnels when his friend, Michael offered up some photography equipment. Michael has some camera lenses in storage and wants to give them to Gunnels — for free. This, from a man who has little to nothing in the way of possessions.
Gunnels said he sees countless such acts of giving and selflessness on the street. And he noted that many street people are surprised when Gunnels tells them he’ll be back and then returns. They’re so used to people blowing them off that a simple gesture of showing up moves them to tears.
Later on our walk, Gunnels introduced me to Amber and her friend, George. Amber looked rough around the edges. She was in pain and told Gunnels that she had pancreatitis — probably a result of her heavy drinking — and would be going to the hospital later in the day. Gunnels spent a good amount of time with her, listening and offering support. I found out later that Gunnels gave Amber a cell phone so that she could call him if she needed anything.
Such simple gestures as this go a long way.
“Amber writes poetry when she can, but it’s easy to lose things on the street,” said Gunnels. “It’s easy to lose a notebook or have it ruined by the rain, while you’re sleeping outside.”
All I can do is listen, film, be a messenger, and shed a few tears along the way.
On the ‘Waiting On Division’ Facebook page, Gunnels wrote, “It’s easy to lose things like pencils and paper, or even motivation to write. Motivation lost because somebody gave you a black eye and a swollen jaw, like Amber received just a few weeks ago. Motivation lost because of dehydration and difficulty staying in the shade on a 92-degree day, or out of the rain during a mid-summer thunderstorm.”
(To see Gunnels’s film of Amber reading her poem, ‘I’m a Bum,’ go here.)
Many of the people Gunnels meets are initially shy to be photographed, but once they get to know him, they open up.
“When I first met a man named Henry, he didn’t want my camera out,” Gunnels said. “After meeting him a few more times, he apologized because he said he thought he was rude towards me, and he then asked me to take his photo.
“This time, we were all hanging out and he asked if I would take my camera out again, so I did.”
Making a difference
“I guess I just hope that by explaining what I see and hear, I hope that others will hear and these stories make their way to somebody who can step up and actually help,” said Gunnels. “Respect is an important thing. If it is given, it will be received.”
One by one, Gunnels is making a difference. Since beginning the project earlier this year, Gunnels has helped get three people into rehab. A fourth was considering the option.
Social media plays a huge role in the project. People enjoy seeing themselves in photos and videos and proudly share these with their Facebook friends. The exposure gives them confidence. They feel they are valued.
Many of the folks downtown have a presence on Facebook — yet their own friends may have no idea that the person they see on Facebook has nowhere to live.
Being pushed out
Gunnels’s project comes at a time when friction between business owners and people on the street has steadily been increasing. Business owners in downtown GR see these folks as a nuisance and a deterrent to business. Signs in windows warn, “No Sitting” or “No Public Restrooms, No Soliciting, Thank You.”
ArtPrize Eight will take place in downtown Grand Rapids from September 21-October 9, 2016 — when everyone is invited to voice their opinions on contemporary art and select the winners of $500,000 in cash prizes.
Seven artists with ties to Wyoming and Kentwood, Michigan have artwork in this year’s ArtPrize Eight. Here is some information about the artists, their work and where to see their entries.
Nicole Burkholder Bluekamp
Nicole is a self taught artist born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan. Painting and drawing always having been a love and main interest since childhood.
Further education was not an option for Nicole, leading to much experimentation and use of available materials for painting.
Being introverted and an empath, Nicole loves to hide out at home with her family.
Malia Rae was born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan and spent her childhood creating memories by exploring nature. she first picked up a camera 20 years ago. She received her BFA in Advertising Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She spent 10 years post-graduation living in Chicago and about a year ago, moved to Austin, Texas for a new perspective.
Her ArtPrize entry, ‘SoulTribe‘ is the next step of her photographic journey and in many ways the journey of her life. She is inspired to bring the spirit of her everyday self exploration into her images.
“The love of human transformation, the will of spirit, and the growth that takes place when you embark on the journey of finding your truth in life… is the passion that drives me to create,” she said.
Nona (Voss) Bushman is a graduate of Wyoming Park H.S. and Western Michigan University. Her degree is in Art Education with an emphasis in jewelry. She has been making jewelry from silver, gold, copper, brass, precious & semi- precious stones for the past 47 years.
Nona was in Art Education for 34 years with 33 years at East Kentwood H.S. specializing in the 3-dimensional areas of Jewelry, Sculpture and Ceramics. Bushman makes one-of-a-kind custom designed jewelry pieces.
Growing up just south of Grand Rapids in Wyoming, Mark Minier went to school at Godwin Heights High School. He is an alumni of Eastern Michigan Universities School of Technology and has been painting oil on canvas since 1998.
“I love the self expression aspect of painting,” Minier said. “The best explanation I can give here is to quote Paul Klee, ‘art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.’ When I look at groups of my paintings, I see them autobiographical pages. For many of my paintings I can still recall the song I was listening to during the rendering.”
Current resident of the Wyoming area, Mitchell Eilers was born and raised in the small town of Shelby, Mich. and has been involved in the arts from a very young age, from sketching to photography. He graduated from Central Michigan University where he completed his Bachelor of Science graduating in May of 2014.
Eilers described his entry, ‘The Soul’s Shadows’ thus: “An entrancing stare and a beautiful face; but who really knows what demons hide behind her beautiful mask.”
“I’ve always found beauty by taking the time to just look around and I love the symbolism of an image that describes or conveys a feeling better than words ever could,” said Matthew Piechocki.
Piechocki was born in Muskegon in 1970 and grew up in Wyoming where he attended school in Grand Rapids. Art has been part of his life from the earliest days of drawing unicorns for classmates to working in the art room in high school, then on to doing private portraits or other paintings as commissioned sales as an adult.
“My influences range from the Great Masters of the Renaissance, Classical and the Baroque and simply can’t get enough of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles,” Piechocki said.
Eric J. Hartfield was born in Benton Harbor Michigan in 1962, where the influence of his older brother took hold. With only one art class under his belt in the ninth grade, he drew pencil sketches of racing cars. After leaving Benton Harbor in the tenth grade, he attended East Kentwood High School, where he took a few more art classes.
His medium of choice is oil paint, but he has shown promise in oil pastel, color pencil, watercolors, acrylic, chalk (pastels) and a variety of mixed media. Eric is presently known as a Neo-mannerist/Surrealist which he calls ‘Mann realism’. He has developed a mixed-media technique that involves yarn, hair, string and calking placed on canvas and with the use of oils or acrylics, his works tell a story with imagery.
ArtPrize Eight Preview Week: September 14-20
ArtPrize Eight: September 21-October 9
Jurors’ Short List Announcement: September 26
Public Vote Final 20 Announcement: October 2
2016 ArtPrize Awards: October 7
The ArtPrize website and mobile app provide an interactive map feature to help visitors navigate to various Neighborhood HUB locations, including:
Center City HUB @ GRAM — located on Monroe Center, in the heart of one of West Michigan’s largest communities, outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum gift shop as well as inside the museum lobby;
Heartside HUB @ UICA — close to many galleries, studios and architecturally significant buildings;
Hillside HUB @ Women’s City Club — one of the nation’s oldest and grandest neighborhoods with a collection of preserved 19th and 20th century homes;
Rumsey Street HUB @ SiTE:LAB — located at the three-acre public project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity;
Monroe North HUB @ DeVos Place — just steps away from many new Venues along the Grand River;
Westside HUB @ Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum — placed near Featured Public Projects, Artist Seed Grant and Venue Grant Winners;
Meijer Gardens HUB — featuring ArtPrize Artists as well as their permanent sculpture collection that blends art and nature; and
ArtPrize HUB/HQ @ 41 Sheldon
The ArtPrize HUB/HQ will open to the public on September 14, at the start of ArtPrize Preview Week — and will remain open throughout the event from 11 am-8 pm Monday through Saturday, and 11 am-6 pm on Sundays.
The ArtPrize Clubhouse will be open from 11 am-7 pm throughout the event, including ArtPrize Preview Week.
Recently, the meaning behind Labor Day has faded into the background with the passing of each year. While some still honor and observe the holiday’s significance, a national holiday since 1894, most see it solely as a day off and an end to the summer. Since 2009, the West Michigan Labor Fest has kept the celebration alive and at the forefront with a festival surrounding the Spirit of Solidarity Monument in downtown Grand Rapids.
“The festival takes place around the Spirit of Solidarity Monument out at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum because of what it represents,” said Committee Chair, and Grand Rapids Employees Independent Union member, Tracey Roerig. “The monument represents the furniture factory workers in Grand Rapids and the fight they endured for workers rights.”
The West Michigan Labor Fest celebrates the rights of all workers and unions with a local focus. The Spirit of Solidarity Monument was completed in 2007 to honor the bravery of the striking immigrant workers in 1911. The strike lasted four months, from April to August, and demanded a nine-hour day, a 10 percent raise to offset the rising cost of living, the abolition of pay based on piece work, and the right to have unions to bargain with factory owners. The strike ended on August 19 when strikers voted to end the walkout without reaching their demands. While the strike didn’t yield its stated goals, the will of the worker lives on.
During West Michigan Labor Fest – which takes place from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Ah-Nab-Awen Park (located in front of the Ford Museum) – families can enjoy free admission to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, free live entertainment, rides and games for children, arts and crafts, food vendors and a beer tent.
“If the weather is nice, we expect about three to four-thousand to attend the festival,” said Roerig.
While beautiful weather, live music, fun and games can lead to a wonderful day to spend with family and friends, it’s important to remember the serious nature behind Labor Day.
Such was the case in 1893 when the Pullman railroad company was caught in the nationwide economic depression and was forced to lay off hundreds of employees while levying wage cuts on the employees that remained. In May of 1894, the employees went on strike and it immediately became a national issue. Then President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent 12,000 troops to break it up. Violence and riots ensured resulting in deaths of more than a dozen workers. The strike ended on August 3, 1894 with the mid-term election on the horizon. Cleveland and the Democratic held Congress worried about a fallout in the polls due to a weakened economy and stressed worker relations. So Congress quickly, and unanimously, passed a bill declaring Labor Day a national holiday.
West Michigan Labor Fest looks to keep those who attend educated on the importance of labor unions.
“Ten local unions will have booths set up to help educate those regarding the unions and why Labor Day is important,” said Eric Vandersteel, a member of the G.R. Federation of Musicians and on the committee for the West Michigan Labor Fest. “They tell stories about organized labor. Everyone from retirees to current working union members are there to share their stories.”
“The different labor booths around the festival help keep the spirit of Labor Day alive. One year we had a test with Labor Day information on it!” added Roerig.
The history is heavy and important, but ultimately Labor Day is a celebration, and Roerig and the rest of the West Michigan Labor Fest committee wants to make sure everyone has a great time.
“Kids and families come down and dance with the band in the grass. It’s a nice family atmosphere and is free for everyone to attend.”
The old South Kent Landfill — formerly known as the Paris Township Dump — has been closed since 1976 but 40 years on, the community is still dealing with the consequences of waste disposition during an era with no environmental protection standards in place. The 72-acre landfill is one of 65 sites in 30 Michigan counties that are designated as Superfund sites — sites that were polluted decades ago and are now eligible for federal funding for cleanup.
The closed Kentwood Landfill is under regular monitoring by the Kent County Department of Public Works (DPW) with oversight by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (The City of Kentwood owns the property; Kent County manages it pursuant to a consent agreement between Kent County and the EPA.)
Recently, testing at the site at 4900 Walma SE in Kentwood — off Breton Road north of 52nd Street — found methane gas underground at several depths to the west of the landfill site; it has spread farther beyond the landfill boundary. Eleven monitoring wells detected methane in the ground at depths of 5 feet to 50 feet. Concentrations of the gas are high above flammability levels and could cause an explosion if not vented and flared.
It’s important to note that residents don’t face any higher risk than they have been in the past, according to Kristi Zakrzewski, the DEQ’s project manager for the landfill.
If you are one of the 150 households located within 1500 feet of the west edge of the old South Kent Landfill, you should receive — or have already received — a letter from Kent County about arranging testing for methane gas. You’ll be able to request quick, on-site testing for methane through the Kent County Department of Public Works at no cost to you.
“Safety is our priority as we move forward with this investigation,” said Dar Baas, Director of the Kent County Department of Public Works.
“We are hiring an engineering consultant and have already started investigating methods to resolve the gas migration. We also have been in contact with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA.”
Methane, caused by the natural breakdown of organic materials — such as paper, cardboard, branches and wood — normally forms in landfills. Escaping methane is flared (burned) at gas stand wells on the site to prevent the gas from reaching the atmosphere, where it is detrimental to the ozone layer. An alternative to burning it is to convert it to electricity, and Kent County is looking into the feasibility of doing so, but there is no way of knowing how much methane is trapped under the landfill and whether it would be economical to build an electrical facility there.
Although the migration of methane beyond the landfill boundary is concerning, the DPW did not detect methane inside any neighboring buildings. They are working with the Kent County Health Department; if methane is found at the outer edge of the landfill, they will expand the gas stand wells.
Methane gas likes to spread upward. When it can’t, it seeks alternative ways to travel — horizontally — which is why it may be found outside the perimeters of the dump site. Any leaks are most likely to occur in crawl spaces and cracks in a building’s foundation, any place where methane gas can get through.
We’ve come a long way since the 1800s when people simply opened their back doors and threw their trash out. The Pantlind Hotel once had a piggery where people dumped their organic matter to feed the pigs.
Baas said that the South Kent Landfill dates back to the late 1940s when dumps had no environmental standards for the waste that was deposited there.
“The Baby Boomers started these dumps after World War II,” Baas said. “There’s a little bit of everything here.”
In the early 1950s, the area was the town dump, then became a licensed solid waste facility in 1966. The City of Kentwood operated the landfill from 1968 to 1970; Kent County operated it from 1971 to 1975. It was closed in early 1976 and capped in 1995 with several layers of clay — 6-inch layers creating a 2-foot cap — after which it was covered with topsoil and seeded with grass seed to keep the methane gas trapped. The site is mowed regularly to keep plants and trees from taking root and contributing to the methane problem.
In addition to organic materials, the site contains industrial waste.
“We used to have to treat the leachate waste water after the dump closed in 1976,” said Baas. “Forty years later, we are still dealing with the ramifications of this landfill, but we no longer have to treat the leachate as it’s a lot cleaner.”
Cleanup, operation and maintenance activities and groundwater monitoring are ongoing.
“We will always have to watch over it,” Baas said. “Today, it looks like a meadow, but we have no way of knowing how long it will be before it can be used for other purposes.”
The public is invited to attend a Q&A session presented by the Kent County Department of Public Works on Wednesday, August 31 at 7 pm at Kentwood City Hall, 4900 Breton Ave. SE. Officials from the City of Kentwood will also be at the meeting to answer questions.
If you have questions, contact the Kent County Department of Public Works at 616.632.7920.