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Community updates: Wednesday, Sept. 8

GRCC, Grand Valley receive $1.2M grants to help local adults earn college degrees; Kent County leaders reassert lack of legal authority in ending school mask order; and Grand Rapids Public Museum announces "Polish Halls in Grand Rapids" program.
The Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing southwest.

The Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing southwest. /Antonia Enos

GRCC, Grand Valley receive $1.2M grants to help local adults earn college degrees

Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) have each received five-year, $1.2 million grants from the U.S. Department of Education to help adult learners and low-wage students earn degrees at their institutions.

The funding will be used to create TRIO Educational Opportunities Centers at GRCC and GVSU, providing academic and financial support for those eligible.

For GRCC, its Educational Opportunities Center programs will support a range of adults, including those with limited proficiency in English, those with disabilities, and low-income or first-generation college students. Among support programs are tutoring and mentoring, career workshops, and help with completing the college admission process.

A community thrives when all of its members have access to higher education,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “We appreciate this support from the U.S. Education Department to help GRCC connect residents with services that can help them be successful on their educational pathway.”

GRCC is targeting residents belonging to West Michigan counties for participation in the center’s programs, according to the college. GVSU, for its part, is targeting Kent and Muskegon counties, it announced last week.

For GVSU’s Educational Opportunities Center programs, its support will include financial literacy training, assistance with postsecondary admission and financial applications, career assessments, and field trips to area businesses. Ideal candidates, according to the university, are adults 19 years old or older, from an underrepresented population, and the first in their families to attend college.

"The Laker Educational Opportunity Center will help adults in Kent and Muskegon counties break down the barriers to their career success," said GVSU President Philomena Mantella. "Its impact on West Michigan's economy will be almost immediate as participants will fill jobs and increase the area's productivity."

In Kent County, 34 percent of residents age 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or higher, based on 2019 statistics from GVSU. In Muskegon County, that number is 20 percent.

More information about federal TRIO programs are available on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.


Kent County leaders reassert lack of legal authority in ending school mask order

Kent County commissioners issued a statement on Wednesday upholding their position that they lack the legal authority to intervene in a public health order requiring face coverings in many Kent County schools.

The statement comes in response to an Aug. 20 order issued by the Kent County Health Department’s Director, Dr. Adam London, which required the use of face coverings in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade settings in Kent County as a COVID-19 precaution. The commissioners said they have subsequently heard from thousands of residents expressing their concern about the issue.

The commissioners also cited an Aug. 26 Board of Directors work session, where more than 150 community members provided comment on face coverings, parent rights, and the role of government.

Since this meeting, the Kent County Board of Commissioners has been working to further understand the authority of the Kent County Health Officer,” the commissioners said in their statement. “Our in-house legal team engaged in exhaustive research into this question and provided a comprehensive opinion to the administration.”

Next, we took the extraordinary step of seeking a second opinion from outside counsel, Warner Norcross & Judd,” they continued. “Both opinions concluded that neither the Kent County Board of Commissioners nor the County Administrator/Controller have the authority to intervene in the health officer’s performance of his statutory duties under Michigan’s Public Health Code.”

In the statement, the commissioners go on to acknowledge that when the Aug. 20 health order was issued, COVID-19 test positivity and case rates in the county were trending upward and continue to do so.

The full statement by the Kent County Board of Commissioners is available on Kent County’s website.


Grand Rapids Public Museum announces "Polish Halls in Grand Rapids" program

Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) has announced its “Polish Halls in Grand Rapids” event happening later this month, aiming to teach the community about the history and cultural significance of Polish Halls in the city.

Taking place at The Guest House on Sept. 27 at 6pm, the free event is part of the GRPM’s ongoing community-based programming series GR Stories. The Guest House is located at 634 Stocking Ave. NW.

“Polish Halls have served as community gathering spaces and benevolent societies locally and nationally,” the GRPM said in a Tuesday statement. “This program will feature a panel discussion led by Ed Sypniewski in honor of the upcoming Pulaski Days to celebrate the history and heritage of the Polish community in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.”

A full video recording of the event program will be added to the GRPM’s Digital Collections and made available on its Facebook and YouTube pages soon after the event, according to the museum. Registration is required and available through its website.

As part of the GR Stories series, the GRPM is looking to increase the amount of local stories in its collections. It is encouraging anyone with stories or artifacts related to the history of Polish Halls in Grand Rapids to contact a GRPM Curator, with a contact form also available on its website.


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