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October 26, 2001


An almost $400,000 grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is headed to Grand Rapids where it will fund a partnership that includes eight local organizations.

The Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) Program, an initiative of HUD's Office of University Partnerships, provides three-year grants of up to $400,000 to encourage institutions of higher education to join in partnerships with their communities.

Coming together in the Grand Rapids effort are Calvin College, the Garfield Development Corporation, the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association, the Burton Heights Business Association, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Neighborhood Business Specialists Program, Buchanan Elementary School, the Burton Health Clinic and Health Intervention Services.

They will receive $399,949 from HUD to form the Calvin@BurtonHeights.COPC and work to revitalize the Burton Heights area, bounded by 28th Street and Cottage Grove from south to north and U.S. 131 and Division from west to east.

"We want to build long-term relationships between the college and the community and between people and organizations within the community," says Steve Timmermans (below),who will be the project director. "And we want those relationships to contribute to the revitalization of the Burton Heights area and provide cross cultural engagement experiences for Calvin students."

Timmermans notes that the cross cultural engagement goal fits nicely with Calvin's new Core Curriculum, which has just been introduced for the 2001-2002 school year.

"Cross cultural connections are a new emphasis for the Calvin core," says Timmermans, who was involved in crafting the core document. "This COPC will fit right into that part of the core."

The HUD website says that Community Outreach Partnership Centers "are expected to play an active and visible role in community revitalization -- applying research to real urban problems, coordinating outreach efforts with neighborhood groups and residents, acting as a local information exchange, galvanizing support for neighborhood revitalization, developing public service projects and instructional programs, and collaborating with other COPCs."

Thus there are four overarching themes to the Calvin@BurtonHeights.COPC:

  • community organizing
  • housing and business district development
  • education
  • health

In each area partnerships between Calvin and area organizations will be crucial to the success of the project. For instance, in the area of education Calvin's Education, Spanish and Social Work departments will come together with the school's Office of Pre-College programs and the Alumni and Public Relations office. All of those Calvin pieces will be linked with Buchanan Elementary as well as area churches and community centers to improve educational achievement for young people.

In the area of housing and business development the Garfield Development Corporation, the Burton Heights Business Association and the Chamber's Neighborhood Business Specialists Program will partner with departments at Calvin such as History and Business and Economics and the school's Center for Social Research to create plans for economic revitalization in Burton Heights.

The grant proposal to HUD says that: "Vacancy in the Burton Heights business district is another sign of disinvestment." The proposal goes on to note that a City of Grand Rapids report from April 2000 pegged the vacancy rate for convenience retail space at 24 percent, contributing to an overall rate of 15 percent for the district.

Calvin's Nursing Department will work with Burton Health Clinic and Health Intervention Services to assess the needs and improve the health of the community. Both clinics have noted needs in the community ranging from high lead levels to hypertension. Compounding the problems are fears related to citizenship, lack of insurance and poor education.

"This will be a comprehensive effort," says Timmermans. "It will pull together in a very holistic way lots of people at Calvin and lots of people in the community."

Timmermans says the City of Grand Rapids identified many of the same challenges as the Calvin proposal to HUD when it did its Fiscal Year 2001-2005 Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plan, adding that "the city's strategies align closely with what Calvin and its Burton Heights partners plan to do."

Calvin and its partner organizations spent some six months working together to lay the groundwork for the partnership and pull together the grant proposal.

Notification that the project had been accepted and would be fully funded was gratifying to Timmermans.

"The combination of HUD funding and the community and college resources will make a significant contribution to the revitalization of the (Burton Heights) area," says Timmermans.

Timmermans notes that the Burton Heights area, though relatively small (it's about 1.6 miles from south to north and 1 mile from west to east), is an ideal place for the COPC to be. It has a residential area, a business district, two schools, two health clinics, several churches and a variety of non-profits. It has well-established neighborhood and business associations, yet faces many challenges.

"And it's changing," says Timmermans. "In 1990 Burton Heights was 61 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic and 17 percent black. A decade later it's 63 percent Hispanic, 21 percent white and 12 percent black. That sort of shift in demographics provides an interesting opportunity for our COPC. There are struggles there, to be sure, but also many positives. This has the potential to be one of the most satisfying partnerships Calvin has ever had."

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)