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Annual Heartside Cleansweep Inspires Community Through Volunteering

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Aquinas students, community members, and area residents join forces in a long-standing tradition of community action
Last year's Cleansweep crew celebrate and show off the vast, freshly-cleaned lawns of Heartside Park

Last year's Cleansweep crew celebrate and show off the vast, freshly-cleaned lawns of Heartside Park /Dwelling Place

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Participate in this year's Cleansweep event!

Cleansweep kicks off at 9:00 am at Heartside Park on the 27th of April.

The event organizers provide a free lunch for all volunteers!

Contact Amy Henderson, Dwelling Place volunteer coordinator: [email protected] to sign up.


As flowers bloom along downtown sidewalks and  grass becomes greener, debris and trash leftover from the previous winter’s snow banks litter the sides of our city’s streets. Come summer, these piles of rubbish disappear, unnoticed by many. But where do they go?

For over two decades, Aquinas College’s student-run group Community Action Volunteers of Aquinas (CAVA) has partnered with the Dwelling Place and the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association (HDNA) to carry out the Heartside Cleansweep. Groups of students, neighbors, and Dwelling Place residents volunteer alongside one another to plant flower beds, pull weeds, lay mulch and collect trash around the Heartside neighborhood. Cleansweep is more than just an afternoon of hard work because its payoff is so much larger than just a clean neighborhood-- It advances cooperation and relationship building amongst community members.

“These events bring together people that may have never known each other otherwise... and helping your community is a great way to get to know your neighborhood and build your network” says Alex VanSumeren, CAVA student coordinator. VanSumeren says that this tradition is important in building a strong community connection between Aquinas, Heartside residents and volunteers. By participating in Cleansweep, Aquinas students can connect with local organizations and learn more about the history and culture of Heartside. VanSumerenbelieves students involved in the project gain a “better understanding of the Grand Rapids community and what it looks like outside of the campus of Aquinas.”

Dwelling Place resident James Fruge strongly believes in the tenants of volunteerism and community connection that Cleansweep works towards. As a Heartside resident of nearly three years, Fruge dedicates most of his time and energy to giving back to the community that he lives in. “Hospitality is something I learned from my mom” James expressed, “she taught me that the pay off of working in and with your community is the greatest reward.”

Fruge exemplifies what it means to be personally involved in his community. He is a community gardener, hosts his own neighbor gatherings and has participated as a Cleansweep volunteer. Being involved with your neighbors at a volunteer or at a community event allows you to “share your light with others” which, according to Fruge, is “priceless.” Working with the gardening club in the Herkimer apartments, he has been able to put his 20 years of landscaping experience to work, growing various vegetables and fruits! James wants to continue to work on creating a positive impact in his community, and he sees volunteering as a great start!

Dwelling Place Community Garden Coordinator Jonathan DeHaan sees the value that goes beyond just having a garden. “It’s about connecting individuals with tools to support and beautify their neighborhood, to empower them to maintain and upkeep their property”, DeHaan states. According to him, it’s a way to “enact a sense of pride and ownership.”

Specifically for Heartside Cleansweep, DeHaan and Fruge share a similar goal: gain control of the weeds at Pekich Park so that there is precedent for a community garden to be planted in the historically under-utilized pocket park. They see Pekich Park’s garden as a way to help promote education on various fresh foods as well. DeHaan’s goal for this garden space is a place for the community to have “readily accessible fresh fruit and vegetables.” To celebrate this non-traditional access point, he’d like to plant purple carrots!

Join us on Saturday, April 27th for the annual Heartside Cleansweep! Volunteer kick-off will begin at Heartside Park at 9am and then disperse for various projects in the neighborhood. Projects can be general debris and trash collection along South Division, planting flower beds in Dwelling Place properties, weeding Pekich Park to name a few. The day ends with a volunteer lunch. If you’re interested in working alongside neighbors and students, contact [email protected] to register!

Dwelling Place Property Days series is another opportunity to get involved in a spring or summer volunteer event.These days are what Amy Henderson, Dwelling Place Volunteer Coordinator, calls the “golden volunteer opportunity” where residents, staff and outside participants can engage and learn about the work Dwelling Place does and meet a need for the organization. With a sustainable volunteer series as the goal, Amy makes a clear point that all talent is welcome for these days! Heartside Cleansweep is serving as a “kick-off” for this year’s Property Days series with a focus on planting and weeding flower beds at various Dwelling Place properties. Each of the group days have different tasks to maximize volunteer impact.

Whether you choose to be involved in Heartside Cleansweep on April 27th, or any of Dwelling Place’s upcoming Property Days, there are various volunteer opportunities for spring! To find out more information, or sign up to volunteer, contact Amy Henderson and Dwelling Place at [email protected].

With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Community Organizing Coordinating Intern Lauren Gerich for her support of the 2019 Community Building and Engagement activities at Dwelling Place.

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