The Rapidian

Time Has Come Today

The STRONG program is now based out of the LifeQuest Center at 1050 Fisk. Open planning meetings take place every other Friday at 1:30 p.m. Please contact [email protected] for more information.
Underwriting support from:

STRONG Summer Program

Beginning June 13, 2011, STRONG will be a food program location for the community in partnership with with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), facilitating food programs for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Thursday.

Additional ongoing summer programs begin June 13, including martial arts training, basketball training (coached by DeMarco Wilkins, coach for the Grand Rapids Sparks), reading and writing programs, mandatory health and nutrition classes, dance, group participation games, audio-engineering internship classes, and community service programs.

Community improvement projects are a big part of the STRONG program, making Wealthy Street and the immediate area a better place to be.

The STRONG program also partners with 17th U.S. Circuit Court for community service projects.

The STRONG program is now based out of the LifeQuest Center at 1050 Fisk. STRONG is open to all and charges local youth nothing to participate, except the commitment to stick with the program through the entire summer.

STRONG is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Contributions to fund the summer program would be most welcome, to ensure this community organization may continue to benefit the neighborhoods it serves.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The neighborhood around Wealthy Theatre has had its share of ups and downs. Much of the city's history was written here. Mr. Adrian DeVos (grandfather of Mr. Richard DeVos) raised a family of seven children in this neighborhood, overcoming the odds to great effect. Mr. Peter Wege and Mr. Gordon Varneau worked at Wealthy Theatre as young men. Their contributions to the neighborhood helped turn the tide against despair.

Eddie Grover was born and raised at 350 Fuller Avenue, with a front row seat to the long, slow decline of Wealthy Street. Every day, from the porch of his family home, he watched kids walk by with nothing to do but get in trouble.

Until one day, ten years ago, when he stood up and undertook a simple but significant work.

"I just invited them onto our yard and began teaching them martial arts," said Mr. Grover, who holds a sixth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

"The classes were free and open to all the kids who showed up, and we did it every day," Mr. Grover said.

These impromptu front yard classes attracted positive attention from local business owners and the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) officers on patrol, who drove by and saw Mr. Grover giving lessons.

More importantly, giving local youth something to do and providing structure. Soon GRPD patrol officers began dropping by with lunch, snacks, and words of encouragement.

"Officers would drop by with some cheeseburgers, or juice, and thank us for doing something positive," Mr. Grover said.

 


This was the inauspicious beginning of something much larger than pickup martial arts classes in the front yard. Within two years Mr. Grover founded his own nonprofit organization, STRONG (Systematically Training & Revitalizing Our New Generation).

GRPD Lt. Ralph Mason (Ret.) noticed the grassroots potential of Grover's work right from the start.

"Martial arts can be a particularly effective way of giving kids structure, encouragement and something rewarding to keep them interested in coming back," Mr. Mason said.

 

Time Has Come Today

Earlier this year, several incidents of vandalism and crime refocused attention on the core issues that confront the Wealthy Street neighborhoods. A coalition of business leaders and others organized an open meeting at Wealthy Theatre to discuss the issues that underly the tension in the neighborhood.

Grover attended the open meeting with hopes of better understanding the incidents and, if called on, to lend his own perspective.

"I was struck by the fact business owners were so committed to providing support to the community," Mr. Grover said. "Their community. Our community."

"This gave me hope because these efforts are worth of our time, resources and energy. I suppose I've been playing my part, in my own way, for over ten years now. I don't have the resources but I do have experience, time and energy. It's going to take all of us."

Mr. Grover said he focuses his efforts on giving structure to youth who have almost no structure, were it not for his summer program. He hopes to expand his efforts, which have been limited to a couple dozen youth each summer, due to the expenses of operating an entire program on a wing and a prayer.

He believes these open opportunities help relieve some of the tension that otherwise leads to conflict in the neighborhood: tension that results from a lack of opportunities and activities in young lives.

"The youth here find themselves not directly involved with the ever-thriving business district that now surrounds them," Mr. Grover said. "I feel like these business owners are now trying to get more involved with the youth, and that's where I hope I can help. The timing may be right for me to play some kind of role between these two worlds. Because I can tell you that I've had my feet on both sides of the tracks, and one side is a dead end. The other side, there's hope there. There's something better in store for you when you're part of something positive."

 

Better Things In Store

During the 1990s, Mr. Grover worked as a counselor's assistant to prison inmates - helping the counselors connect with those serving time. He helped many inmates get their GED diplomas.

"Eddie is a great example of someone who gives back," said GRPD Lt. Mason. "He has become a leader in helping others to make long-lasting change, positive change, and that's exactly what we need right now."

Lt. Mason said Grover's work with the youth is critically important, because young people in the urban core often find themselves at a crossroads, making choices with long-term consequences without knowing what they're getting into.

"We can do great things," Mr. Grover said. "Being a lifelong resident, I can't help but feel a sense of satisfaction as the neighborhood is realizing our dreams: a community that would band together to relieve the lifelong pressures that I experienced as I grew in this neighborhood."

"But there's still a disconnect between the successes here on Wealthy Street these days and the youth from troubled homes who don't see the direct benefits from that success."

Mr. Grover said his goal always has been to prepare the most at-risk youth to seize their potential.

"There's just no structure for some of these kids," Mr. Grover said. "That's where STRONG comes in, and we do what we can."

 

STRONG Summer Program

Aside from his work running the 501c3 STRONG program, Grover serves as a father, minister and assistant to the pastor at True Light Baptist Church. But come summer, it's all about the kids.

"And every year, it seems to get bigger and bigger," Mr. Grover said. "We're trying to fill needs wherever we can."

This summer, the STRONG program is partnering with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) to facilitate food programs for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Thursday, for the immediate community.

Additionally, the regular summer program is expanding. Now much more than martial arts, STRONG includes basketball training (coached by DeMarco Wilkins, coach for the Grand Rapids Sparks), literacy programs, health classes, football and physical education training, dance, group participation games and community service programs.

Community improvement projects are a big part of the STRONG program, which Grover balances out by rewarding the kids with fun activities.

"We give the kids a lot of structure, which isn't always as fun as games, and then the problem becomes retention," Mr. Grover said. "We try to do field trips every other week, but those costs money."

"Money is always the problem," he said.

Additionally, STRONG tries to take the kids who stick with the program to Cedar Point in August.

"It's a carrot that keeps the kids in the program, honestly," Grover said. "We don't have the funds to do it at this time but we put our faith in the fact that it will happen. It'll happen somehow, I believe that."

The STRONG program also does free home security checks and installs free smoke detectors, as a help to the city.

"We do hundreds of hours of community service in partnership with the 17th U.S. Circuit Court and we continue to offer leadership development classes, and we assist other organizations," he said.

The STRONG program is now based out of the LifeQuest Center at 1050 Fisk. Open planning meetings take place every other Friday at 1:30 p.m. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

Disclosure: STRONG Program board member Erin Wilson (Director, Wealthy Theatre) co-wrote this article with Mr. Grover.

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