A HISTORY OF THE HEARTSIDE NEIGHBORHOOD COLLABORATION PROJECT
February, 2010, to December, 2011
The HNCP Mission is to facilitate the possibilities for increased collaboration between ministries, agencies, neighbors, governmental agencies, and others who have a stake in the Heartside neighborhood. It is a ministry of Bethlehem Church which provides a place, in kind support and services. Other financial support comes from grants from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Dyer-Ives Foundation, the Amos Fund, and individual and congregational gifts.
In the late winter to early spring of 2010 Pastor Jay Schrimpf of Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Commerce Street in the Heartside Neighborhood just south of downtown Grand Rapids, MI, invited the executive directors of non-profit social service agencies and service providing churches in the neighborhood to gather and counsel together in this new collaborative association, the HNCP. Jay invited Charlie Homeyer to serve as facilitator of large group meetings and Kate O’Keefe to serve as secretary and web master. On April 22 Kuyper College Social Work students presented their findings about service coverage and gaps and types of services provided by agencies in the Heartside Neighborhood. On May 10 eighteen people representing seventeen agencies or churches responded to the invitation by attending the first large group HNCP meeting at Bethlehem Church. Jay had invited about 57 people.
These meetings have continued at 10:00 AM on the first Monday of almost every month since then. They serve as a monthly opportunity for ten to twenty or more people working in non-profits in the area to meet, see one another, share news from their own organizations, hear about issues in the neighborhood, discuss them, and support action steps in response. For example, some of the issues discussed have included the filming of movies along South Division Avenue in the neighborhood, the Human Rights Guiding Principles for the Neighborhood agencies, the proposed Urban Market, Bike Week, health issues in the neighborhood, food issues, and housing issues, as well as working with the public library to list all programs and services in one central posting. In the beginning the group brainstormed subjects for discussion. Other subjects came to the agenda unsolicited. For instance, recently Marla Ehlers of the Grand Rapids Public Library brought to the Collaboration Project her serious concerns for the provision of adequate warming locations for the homeless during all periods of every week in the winter. The cause of this concern was the need to relieve the library of serving as a de facto emergency warming location for residents and others. In issues like this one the Collaboration Project has garnered the support and collaboration of agencies, churches, the Grand Rapids police and fire departments, the Downtown Development Agency, Grand Action, the Inner City Christian Federation, the Rapid, and ACCESS among others.
By July of 2010 Jay Schrimpf was convening the HNCP Advisory Board, usually meeting on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Besides Jay, Charlie, and Kate, those on the Advisory Board included Anne Weirich of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Charlotte Ellison of Heartside Ministries, Marge Palmerlee of Degage Ministries, Stuart Ray of Guiding Light Ministries, Cheryl Schuch of Family Promise, and Kent Vanderwood of Mel Trotter Mission & Ministries. It was in these meetings that agendas have been formed, accountabilities have been made, and frank discussions have begun regarding potential areas of collaboration on bus passes, meals, health provisions, and beds in the neighborhood. This requires the executive directors, and not just program directors, to grapple with issues of duplications and gaps in services, as well as with pressures on the neighborhood from outside forces and influences. In this context the realities of boards and donor bases and their expectations, as well as of neighbors and their needs, are raised. The HNCP also determines how to respond in a united and collaborative way to these pressures. Primarily it is the intention of the Project and its stakeholders to earn a seat at the table and a voice to be heard in the deliberations and decisions regarding the present and future of the Heartside Neighborhood, For example, HNCP submitted to John Nunn, the Executive Director of Grand Action, the names of people from its agencies to become and serve as full members of the advisory groups in the development of the proposed Urban Market to represent the perspective of the agencies and neighbors from the neighborhood. The overall purpose is to help the Market to succeed in this environment in collaboration with the agencies, clients, and neighbors. Over time the Advisory Board has added Deb Nykamp of Catholic Human Services as a member and has replaced Kent Vanderwood with Bob Evans of Mel Trotter. The focus of all of them is more and more on the work of the Advisory Board. Anne Weirich and Char Ellison have moved on with their lives and ministries.
In March of 2011 the HNCP hosted a large meeting of executive directors and selected representatives from their boards of directors. Sr. Carmelita Murphy facilitated the meeting as a consultant. One of the primary learnings from that gathering is that the neighbors and clients see the social service providers in the neighborhood as a single organism, and that the city also sees them this way. Therefore, it would serve the agencies and churches well to see themselves more nearly this way, too, and begin behaving and acting more closely in collaboration with one another to approximate becoming more closely aligned as a unified organism.
During the summer of 2011 the HNCP took a step forward by adopting three attainable, measurable goals. These include a Community Events/Opportunities Communication System. This system will provide monitors inside or in the streetside windows of the agencies and churches to communicate, to everyone interested, a schedule of all meetings and services offered in Heartside on each day. The second initiative is a Shared Data Base System so that every service provider can have the same information about clients and share information with one another. Stuart, Cheryl, and Jay are working to contract with a potential provider of such a System. The third initiative is to engage the neighbors in developing an Area Specific Plan for the neighborhood to overlay the City of Grand Rapids Master Plan.
All of these initiatives and collaborations, e.g. the merger of weekday meals on behalf of God’s Kitchen and Guiding Light Ministries, give impetus for Heartside Neighborhood to move forward into its constantly changing and fluid future, facing its needs, celebrating its promise and contributions, and its part in the ongoing, unfolding, and dynamic life of the City of Grand Rapids and of all her citizens.