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GVSU explores being a good neighbor on the Westside

A recap of the Good Neighbors orientation event, hosted by Grand Valley State University, that took place in downtown Grand Rapids.
Sergio Cira-Reyes and Melissa Baker-Boosamra speaking to those in attendance

Sergio Cira-Reyes and Melissa Baker-Boosamra speaking to those in attendance /Ashley Benedict

The L. William Seidman center on Grand Valley's Pew campus, where the orientation took place

The L. William Seidman center on Grand Valley's Pew campus, where the orientation took place /Ashley Benedict

On Thursday, August 25, 2016, Grand Valley State University hosted its first ever Good Neighbor Orientation on the downtown Pew Campus. There, a group of West Side community partners, GVSU faculty and staff and nearly 50 students all gathered to explore what it means to be a good neighbor. Community partners wanted to find ways to connect college students with information and opportunities on the West Side so that students can better understand and engage with their neighbors on the West Side.

The main goal of this forum was to provide students with a better sense of the historical and contemporary context of the West Side, as well as GVSU’s impact on the area. The biggest lesson these collaborators wanted the students to take away from this experience was that it is important to listen to local communities and learn to value what it means to be a part of a community. Sergio Cira-Reyes, of the West Side Collaborative said, “Our vision is a diverse west side community marked by equity, inclusion, and hope.”

During the presentation, Jennifer Lardie, a long time West Side resident and Megan Galvin, a GVSU student and West Side resident, talked to students about how to be a good neighbor. A few pointers included: introduce yourself, consider your neighbors’ lifestyles (and how yours may impact theirs), be aware of shared walls, practice good parking etiquette, etc. The presenters also promoted local businesses that the students can support while living on the West Side.

Community partners were asked to describe the west side in one word for GVSU students. Descriptions included: "diverse," "passionate," "prideful," "fun," "front-porch" and "colorful." In addition to these descriptions, community partners admitted that we as a community still have a lot of challenges to face, such as development and housing. “The demographics are changing,” Cira-Reyes explained, “The percentage of people renting on the West Side tend to be lower income and also people of color…these are people who are already paying more than what they should be in rent. They are vulnerable to changes in the economy.” Problems exist within our community that many people don’t often think about, and this is one issue the forum tried to face head on by persuading students to be more aware and engage in community affairs.

GVSU students appeared to be thoroughly interested in the discussion and eager to become involved. Once the discussion completed, students were free to meet and greet community partners including the Kent School Services Network, Grand Rapids Public Library, The Other Way Ministries, West Grand Neighborhood Association, John Ball Area Neighbors and Harmony Hall. Students were encouraged to engage in conversations with these representatives in an effort to better understand how they impact our community at large and to explore opportunities for engagement on the West Side.

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