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Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association Leaps Into Organizational Status

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Heartside and Downtown neighbors come together to form the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association, unifying neighbors in downtown Grand Rapids.
The HDNA Steering Committee members celebrate their final meeting and work together.

The HDNA Steering Committee members celebrate their final meeting and work together. /Dwelling Place

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Have a stake in the past, present, or future of Heartside / Downtown? HDNA is for you.

If you are a developer, a resident, a storyteller, an artist, a community advocate, or prospective resident in Heartside-Downtown, consider being a part of the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association. Email [email protected] and attend meetings on the third Tuesday of every month at the Harris Building, 111 Division Avenue South from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. 

“We hope we can elevate ALL neighbors that live downtown, from all walks of life and every type of background. We envision a downtown for everyone, and a neighborhood voice that is powerful and heard. We, collectively, are the heart of downtown!”

This is the vision of the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association through the eyes of co-chair Alysha Lach White. Neighborhood associations play a vital role throughout Grand Rapids by doing the work of building community and advocating for the rights of neighbors and residents. If you live, work, or spend time in the Heartside or Downtown neighborhoods, the HDNA wants to help you feel at home in your neighborhood. They want to do this by inviting you into a community where your voice can be heard, your leadership can be empowered, and you can be a part of creating positive neighborhood change that improves the Quality of Life for all.  

The newly-established HDNA is unique to the times, but its existence is not without precedent. There is a rich history of organizational maneuvers from the neighborhood, starting in 1976, when the Heartside Neighborhood Association (HNA) was formed. The HNA brought  neighbors together to advocate for different issues including better street lighting along South Division Ave and more trees in the neighborhood. In the 1990s, the HNA expanded its boundaries outside of Heartside and into the Downtown area north of Fulton St, which had not yet been represented by an association, and became the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association (HDNA).  A few years later, the HDNA dissolved, but in 2016, two Heartside dwellers decided they wanted to start up the neighborhood association once again. They recognized that Heartside and Downtown had spent a significant amount of time without proper resident representation. These two dwellers, Mallory Patterson and Alysha Lach White, have spent the last two years cultivating community through monthly potluck dinners and outreach events such as the History of Heartside event, the annual Heartside Cleansweep, and more.  

At the beginning of this year, the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association brought together a group of residents, advocates, and business owners to form a steering committee who tackled the laborious process of writing the association’s bylaws, articles of incorporation, operating procedures, and mission statement, as the Association had not yet filed the paperwork necessary to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Committee members met over a period of four months to do this work.

Kelli Jo Peltier, an HDNA steering committee member and chair of the newly convened Downtown Neighbor Network, praised the level of commitment shown by members who were willing to give up time during their weeks to be invested in this process.  “When you see people show up and make a commitment, you’re gonna see success because people care.” Lindsey Gadbois, steering committee member and HDNA board member, expressed that, “Seeing how diverse and resilient and creative our community is was really exciting and invigorating.”  A focus on this diversity and resiliency is what makes the HDNA unique. Equity is at the heart of the association’s bylaws. The careful language creates a foundation for an organization that is inclusive and welcome to people from all walks of life. After several meetings full of important decisions that laid the groundwork for the association, the steering committee completed their time together and is now passing the baton to the first board of the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association.  

Gadbois expressed her future hopes for the HDNA, saying, “I would like to see the Association be a safe keeper of things that are important and sacred to the community such as the architecture, the neighborhood identity, and the artist community.”  

Peltier also shared, “My hope for the future of these organizations is that people want to be part of it. That people see them as a place where they can make a positive difference for our community. That they know that if there's an issue in their community, or something great going on in their community, they can bring it to [the HDNA and the DNN] and get more people involved.”  

These hopes will continue to guide and inspire the future of the HDNA.  There is much work to be done, but there is much hope that can be found by looking around and seeing what has already been done as a result of organized residents. A great example of this is the Quality of Life in the Heartside neighborhood, which worked to assess the needs of their community through a series of listening sessions and work groups.  These work groups created 7 proposals to help combat identified neighborhood issues including street lighting, fresh food access, and public restrooms. On April 11, 2019 Grand Rapids City Commissioners voted to adopt these recommendations, committing to work on improving the quality of life of Heartside residents thanks to the hard work of committed neighbors.  The Heartside and Downtown neighborhoods are full of passionate advocates who have and will continue to elevate and empower the voices in their neighborhoods to bring about positive change.

How then, can one get involved with the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association? Co-chairs Mallory Patterson and Alysha Lach White invite you to join them at their monthly potluck meetings in the Harris Building at 111 S Division Ave on the third Tuesday of each month from 6-8pm.  Bring a friend, meet a neighbor, and eat some food in community together! You can also connect with the HDNA by joining the Facebook Group for weekly neighborhood updates. Whether you live, work, or hang out in the Heartside or Downtown neighborhoods, this is a community where all are welcome. 

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