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Community updates: Monday, July 20

Grand Rapids leaders propose expanded mental health partnerships with police; Grand Rapids Public Schools gives update on return to school plans; and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launches Green Team summer youth employment program.
Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Green Team, watering newly planted trees around Grand Rapids.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Green Team, watering newly planted trees around Grand Rapids. /Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Grand Rapids leaders propose expanded mental health partnerships with police

The City of Grand Rapids intends to expand partnerships between mental health professionals and the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), it announced Monday.

Within the proposed expansion is a co-response model for responding to public safety calls, which would pair a mental or behavioral health professional with a police officer for certain calls.

City Manager Mark Washington, Police Chief Eric Payne, and Fire Chief John Lehman are working together to develop the partnership plans, which aim to improve public safety outcomes through closer work between police, mental health professionals in the city government, and mental health professionals from other governments, authorities, and nonprofit organizations.

“We all understand that the traditional model of response – one that relies on police, fire, and EMS – is not the most effective way to serve people suffering from a mental health crisis,” said Washington. “As we continue to re-evaluate our strategies, especially around policing, partnerships like this are another important step in our ongoing efforts.”

Washington hopes to pilot the expanded partnerships by focusing on responses to those experiencing homelessness. Police, fire, and mental health professionals will pool their efforts to help connect these residents with the services and support that can lead to transitional or permanent supportive housing.

I think we all acknowledge the need to divert these responses away from emergency departments, inpatient facilities, and jails, and into timely mental health and substance use treatment,” Washington added.

The types of public safety calls the city leaders are considering involving mental or behavioral health professionals in are:

  • Disorderly intoxication
  • Drug overdose
  • Intoxicated persons
  • Mental health crises
  • Suicide crises
  • Mental health transports
  • Disorderly youth/juveniles
  • Panhandling
  • Neighborhood disputes

The city leaders hope to announce more formal plans for the expanded partnerships during Chief Payne’s update on the GRPD’s strategic plan, set for August 11 during the City Commission’s Committee of the Whole meeting.


Grand Rapids Public Schools shares update on return to school plans

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ (GRPS) Superintendent, Leadriane Roby, gave parents and guardians a July 17 update on the school district’s fall plans, saying it continues to work closely with health and safety experts to ensure protection against COVID-19.

In alignment with Gov. Whitmer’s Return to School Roadmap and June 30 executive order providing structure for Michigan schools’ return, Roby said GRPS is still developing three return to school options: in-person, virtual, and a hybrid of the two. Protocols regarding face coverings, health screenings, sanitizing hands and surfaces, and other safety measures are all being factored in.

There has been no final decision yet on which of the three plans we will implement for the start of school on Tuesday, August 25,” said Roby. “If we do decide to return to school in-person, we will also be offering a 100% virtual option for families that may not be comfortable with in-person schooling.”

Roby said a large portion of the district's initial work has been preparing for safety protocols listed for phase four of Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, including the areas of personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene, spacing, and cleaning.

“I want to assure you that the safety of our students and staff is the top concern as we plan to reopen,” the superintendent continued. “We are relying on health and safety experts and will keep you informed about what we know, when we know it. We will be sending weekly updates now through the start of school, so please stay tuned for additional updates.”

GRPS is also in the process of surveying families about the three return to school options. The Returning Student Questionnaire, found on the district’s website, is open until July 23. GRPS’ weekly updates may also be found on its website.


Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launches Green Team summer youth employment program

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP) has launched its first-ever Green Team to help maintain newly planted trees around Grand Rapids, with a group of youth residents employed to help get the job done.

Tree planting activities in Grand Rapids have ramped up in recent years, FGRP said in a July 16 statement, which increased the need for ongoing watering and maintenance to keep the trees healthy and growing strong.

We recognize that Friends is positioned to help fill this need,” said FGRP’s Executive Director, Stephanie Adams. “And [we] want to do so in a way that empowers our community to join in cultivating vibrant green spaces.”

In response, FGRP collaborated with the City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Urban League to develop a paid summer youth employment program, funded in part by the AT&T Foundation.

The Green Team is made up of four youth residents ages 15-20 from the Roosevelt Park area. They’re working part-time alongside FGRP staff to help water almost 300 trees planted by the organization during the 2019 Mayor’s Greening Initiative. Each of the trees will receive 10-15 gallons of water every other week throughout the summer in order to thrive.

In addition to building job skills through the summer program, the Green Team is also helping the City of Grand Rapids reach its 40 percent tree canopy goal. Helping to reach this goal is something Adams believes helps local youth have meaningful environmental experiences and empowers them as change agents.

Friends is excited about the potential of the program to promote a place-based mentality and foster civic pride among the youth and community,” Adams added.

FGRP hopes to expand the Green Team program to include more youth in future summers. More details about the program are available on FGRP’s website.


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