Thursday, January 8, 2015

Teen Leaders Partner with GR Forward

On December 16, GAAH’s Teen Leaders in the Arts held a successful meeting in collaboration with GR Forward to engage neighborhood residents in developing a vision for Downtown and the Grand River.

Despite their previous efforts to involve the Grandville Avenue neighborhood (also known as the Roosevelt Park neighborhood) in the process, Jay Steffen, Assistant Planning Director at the City of Grand Rapids, said the turnout for the first meeting on December 2 was not what they had hoped. Our Teen Leaders saw this as an opportunity to inspire their peers, family and friends to be a part of the process.

Cook Arts Center Program Director Steffanie Rosalez, the Teen Leaders, and professionals from GR Forward collaborated to create an exciting buzz around the meeting and provide information-packed workshops and activities for residents of various ages from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, more than 120 people, including Cook Library Scholars, Achievers, students from Schools of Hope and their parents, filled the Cook Library Center that Tuesday. Library Director Sue Garza and her staff juggled people in groups throughout the packed facility, and consensus is that the event was a resounding success.

The main activity led by the teens was an invitation-making session. Children were asked to create informational flyers for their families written in both English and Spanish. To accomplish this, teens had to not only understand the purpose, scope and meaning behind the work of GR Forward, but also communicate that message to the children in order to engage them. They distributed the colorful invitations to their families in hopes that they would encourage an equal amount of participation at the next meeting on January 8. What’s more, the teens were invited to the city planning office to help shape the future conversation. This motivated them to spend many hours taking photographs, working on scripts for a WOODTV 8 story in which they were featured, writing an article for The Rapidian, and creating flyers. In this partnership, they will continue to be an integral part of the work done in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

During the same time as the youth workshops, an information session with the adults was led by multiple leaders from GR Forward. The meeting began with a short breakdance performance by three teens from Aerial Tactic, Antonio, Carlos, and Danny. The main material, translated by staff members Javier and Monica, touched on concepts such as attracting business, drawing talent, maximizing the asset of the Grand River, and creating jobs. The solution presented, to remove the dams to restore the river, was explained as a way to build recreational activities, improve the habitat, promote better water quality, enhance aesthetics, create economic opportunities, enrich underserved communities, and instill stewardship of the natural habitat within the citizens.

The presenter then showed a concept plan and asked for suggestions about how to connect the river with trails, create walkable streets, fix parking issues, and make the city a more livable, walkable place for all residents. Attendees were encouraged to remain involved in the conversation for the next seven months by attending public meetings, participating in surveys, and voicing their opinions. After the formal presentation, the families participated in visual activities gathering this feedback. Participants were eager to share their ideas and visions for downtown Grand Rapids.

As a result of this overwhelmingly positive experience with GR Forward, it is GAAH’s hope that the families in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood will continue to dialog about building a vision for the future of the city together. It is only with the participation of people from all parts of the city that groups like GR Forward can be sure to shape a more interconnected, inclusive, functional place for all residents to enjoy.

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